Agenda and minutes

Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee
Monday 27 November 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Boardrooms 4/5/6 - Brent Civic Centre, Engineers Way, Wembley, HA9 0FJ. View directions

Contact: Bryony Gibbs, Governance Officer  020 8937 1355; Email: bryony.gibbs@brent.gov.uk

Note: This meeting was originally scheduled for 7 November 2017 but has been moved to 27 November 2017 

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for absence and clarification of alternate members

Minutes:

Councillors Crane and Davidson submitted apologies for absence. Councillor Maurice was attending as an alternate member in place of Councillor Davidson.

2.

Declarations of interests

Members are invited to declare at this stage of the meeting, the nature and existence of any relevant disclosable pecuniary, personal or prejudicial interests in the items on this agenda and to specify the item(s) to which they relate.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

3.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 96 KB

To approve the minutes of the previous meeting as a correct record.

Minutes:

RESOLVED: That the minutes of the meeting held on 5 September 2017 be agreed as an accurate record.

4.

Matters arising (if any)

To consider any matters arising from the minutes of the previous meeting.

Minutes:

There were no matters arising.

5.

Complaints Annual Report 2016 -2017 pdf icon PDF 848 KB

This report sets out complaints performance in Brent Council and Brent Housing Partnership (BHP) for the period April 2016 to March 2017. High level data for the previous 2 years has been included where available for the purpose of comparison over a 3-year period. This 2016/17 Complaints Annual Report was presented to Cabinet on 23 October 2017 and the report recommendations were agreed.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Irene Bremang (Head of Performance and Improvement) introduced the Complaints Annual Report 2016 – 2017, which had been presented to Cabinet on 23 October 2017. The report set out complaints performance in Brent Council and Brent Housing Partnership (BHP) for the period April 2016 to March 2017 and included high level data for the previous two years for comparison.

 

Summarising the key trends, Irene Bremang advised that the volume of first-stage complaints had fallen by 32 per cent and the level of first-stage statutory complaints had also decreased. The Council upheld 43 per cent of complaints at the first stage; however, fewer complaints were being upheld at the second-stage, confirming the robustness of the first-stage decisions. It was noted that there had been an increase in second-stage complaints and the number of complaints referred to the ombudsman was still high. The main cause of complaints was service delay and failure but other issues included staff attitude and communication. The level of compensation paid with regard to first-stage complaints had decreased significantly but there had been a slight increase for second-stage complaints. Members’ attention was drawn to the eight recommendations set out in the report, which had been included in the report presented to Cabinet and subsequently approved. The eight recommendations formed the basis of the complaints action plan detailed at Appendix E.

 

Members welcomed the report and commented that it would be improved by the addition of comparative data for other authorities and data on the level of service interactions against volume of complaints. The committee questioned the cost of complaints for the council, querying the size of the complaints team and the number of officer hours spent. Members queried the reasons for some complaints not being dealt with within timescales. Acknowledging the impact of central government’s policy of austerity on local government services, the committee queried whether timescales for departmental responses had been adjusted to accommodate reduced resources and if so, whether this was communicated to Brent’s residents. Officers were asked to comment on the impact of the Customer Access Strategy. The committee expressed concerns regarding the level of complaints due to staff attitude.

 

In response, Irene Bremang advised that the Complaints Team comprised three full time equivalent case workers. The team managed Stage two complaints on behalf of the Chief Executive and worked with departments to reduce and troubleshoot complaints. Although the team manage the final review complaints, they also  focussed  on preventing the number and escalation of complaints. Attempts had been made to obtain benchmarking data and this would be further pursued.

 

Addressing queries on timescales, Irene Bremang explained that the expectation was that an acknowledgement would be sent within 5 working days but cautioned that the detail of the complaint would determine the speed of the full response. Overall, timeliness in dealing with complaints was improving across the council and corporate timeframes for the complaints process had not changed with any staff reductions.  Analysis of the causes of complaints did reveal some complaints about policies and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Report for Scrutiny on Call In Report on South Kilburn Regeneration Programme - Carlton & Granville Centres Site - Development Options pdf icon PDF 131 KB

The committee previously considered a call-in of the decisions made by the Cabinet on 15 November 2016 regarding the South Kilburn Regeneration Programme - Carlton and Granville Centres Site – Development Options. This report provides a detailed update to the committee, twelve months on from this meeting.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Growth, Employment and Skills) presented an update report to the Committee on the South Kilburn Regeneration Programme, Carlton & Granville Centres Site, detailing the consultation undertaken and progress made. The committee had requested the update at its meeting on 30 November 2016, when it had considered the project in response to a call-in of Cabinet decisions taken on 15 November 2016. Councillor Tatler advised that a lot of progress had been made as a result of recommendations implemented by the previous Lead Member, Councillor Mashari. In addition to the update in the report, the committee heard that Phase 1 works had started and were due to be completed in March 2018. The South Kilburn Trust were now in the building and the Carlton & Granville Centres Site had been incorporated into the South Kilburn Masterplan

 

The committee was pleased to  note that stakeholders had been involved in the drafting and finalising of the brief for appointment of design teams and endorsed the approach for similar projects. Councillor Mashari added that she was particularly pleased about the consistent level of consultation throughout. Members subsequently questioned whether the public turnout for the consultation events was considered good and suggested that any public events be held both on a weekday and at the weekend to maximise opportunities for attendance. The committee queried what lessons had been learned from this approach to consultation, particularly regarding controversial developments and further queried how the perception of a Wembley-centric council could be addressed.

 

Emma Sweeney (Senior Project Manager) confirmed that the turnout to the public events had been reasonable. Councillor Tatler added that extensive consultation activities had been undertaken with regard to the South Kilburn Masterplan during this period and praised the work of officers in delivering the project. Discussing lessons learnt, Councillor Tatler emphasised the value of enabling stakeholders to have a voice in the development and confirmed that communication between Lead Members and senior officers was essential to ensure success of cross-portfolio projects. Addressing the question of a Wembley-centric perception, Councillor Tatler advised that it was important to take decision making out to the areas affected and ensure that there was good communication with ward councillors and residents.

 

RESOLVED:

 

i)     That the Lead Member for Regeneration, Growth, Employment and Skills, in conjunction with officers, ensure that lessons learnt from the collaborative approach undertaken for the South Kilburn Regeneration Programme, Carlton & Granville Centres Site are applied to similar projects.

 

ii)    That the Lead Member for Regeneration, Growth, Employment and Skills, in conjunction with officers, consider the committee’s suggestion that all public consultation events undertaken regarding regeneration projects in Brent, include both a weekday evening event and weekend daytime event to ensure maximum opportunities are provided for members of the public to attend.

7.

Tree Management Policy pdf icon PDF 76 KB

Brent Council is committed to managing the Borough’s tree stock successfully. The revised Tree Management Policy has been developed to consider the benefits and importance of maintaining our trees. It aims to raise the profile, value and appreciation of trees in the borough, to improve understanding of tree issues, manage expectations and to meet the challenge of adapting to climate change in the coming decades. The revised Policy will be considered by Cabinet at its meeting on 11 December 2017. The Scrutiny Committee is asked to review the policy and provide recommendations for officers to consider in advance of the Cabinet meeting.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Environment) introduced the report setting out a revised Tree Management Policy for the borough. The policy was being presented to the committee for pre-scrutiny, prior to consideration by Cabinet at its meeting scheduled for 11 December 2017. The revised policy had been developed to consider the benefits and importance of maintaining the borough’s trees, aiming to raise the profile, value and appreciation of trees in Brent. In doing so, the policy aimed to improve understanding of tree issues, manage expectations and meet the challenge of adapting to climate change in the coming decades. The revised policy was a comprehensive document which drew together all the relevant services covering the management of trees including Street Trees, Parks & Cemeteries, Planning, Highways and Infrastructure and Housing Management. The policy also set out a risk management based approach to mitigate against insurance claims arising from damage to property and/or personal injury cases caused by trees. Gavin Moore (Head of Parking and Lighting) and Anthony Vartanian (Policy Manager) were present to address the committee’s queries.

 

During the discussion, members questioned whether the council targeted the planting of new trees to areas most affected by poor air quality and suggested that an aspirational target for the planting of trees in the borough be set. Queries were raised regarding sources of funding, including the use of Community Infrastructure Levy and the Mayor of London’s Tree Fund. Reflecting on the success of other boroughs in engaging community support to deliver tree planting schemes, members queried whether the council had explored these approaches for use in Brent. Questions were raised regarding the maintenance of trees on land in Brent owned by other public authorities, and members asked officers to ensure that the Woodland Trust was consulted on the policy.  The committee further requested that, following the meeting, officers provide information detailing the overall budget allocated for the maintenance of the borough’s trees, and data on the number of fines awarded for poorly maintained trees on private land.

 

In response, Gavin Moore cautioned that there were no resources available to Environmental Services to undertake the planting of trees on any significant scale. Resources were currently focussed on maintaining the borough’s existing trees and replacing, through external funding or resident sponsorship, any trees removed. There had been some success achieved via the planning process regarding the planting of trees in new developments across the borough. In the past, Section 106 funding for new trees had not included any contribution to keeping the trees alive for the first few years so had required match funding from the authority. The Mayor’s Tree fund now focussed on trees in green spaces, rather than street trees. Councillor Southwood emphasised that the team took every opportunity to apply for external funding.  She would discuss the value of a planting target with officers but expressed concern that this could create unrealistic expectations. Councillor Southwood further confirmed that she would support consulting the Woodland Trust on the Policy. With regard to the role  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Community Access and Vulnerable People pdf icon PDF 184 KB

This report provides analysis of access to all the residents of Brent including digital provision, as well as the factors which make some customers and users “vulnerable”.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

David Oates (Head of Service, Benefits & Customer Services) introduced the report on Welfare, Benefits and Customer Service provision for vulnerable residents. The report detailed the key factors used to determine if a resident was considered vulnerable within the welfare and benefit functions and provided an update on the former Community Access Strategy.

 

The committee heard that the Council was responsible for the administration and delivery of both national welfare benefit schemes and a number of local schemes designed by the Council. There was no universal definition of vulnerability applicable across these schemes; instead each scheme contained a variety of allowances and exceptions for certain claimant groups, which could broadly be interpreted as indicators of assistance available for “vulnerable” residents. Housing Benefit (HB) was the main national benefit administered by the Local Authority and whilst there was an extensive ability to recognise individual circumstances within this, welfare reforms such as the Overall Benefit Cap and Bedroom Tax cut across this provision and offered far fewer protections for claimants. The Council theoretically had wide discretion in the provisions it made for local schemes such as Council Tax Support CTS), Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) and Local Welfare Assistance (LWA). However, each of these schemes were subject to financial pressures and increased demand in future use.

 

David Oates further explained that the Community Access Strategy agreed by Cabinet in October 2014 was no longer in delivery, as it had been superseded by the Brent 2020 programme and the new Digital Strategy agreed by Cabinet in June 2017. The key aims of the Community Access Strategy, however, had been retained in Brent 2020 and the Digital Strategy, in particular the aim to ensure that residents are able to easily access services through digital channels and supported to use these wherever they could be expected to do so. The Council’s most personalised support and help would be targeted to those who were most vulnerable, through face to face and telephone channels. Staff had been trained to identify vulnerability via key indicators such as age, literacy and disability. Staff were not provided with a prescriptive list of such indicators as it was recognised that there were many circumstances which could result in vulnerability and instead, staff were given the flexibility to assess the support a resident may require to access services. This model of targeting support had been piloted between June and November 2017 and had worked well; it was now due to be rolled out more broadly via the Digital Strategy. 

 

The committee subsequently acknowledged that vulnerability could appear in many forms but emphasised the importance of ensuring that the council was able measure its performance in supporting its most vulnerable residents. Members suggested a working group or task group be established to determine a way to define this cohort, drawing on outside expertise such as that provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

 

Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) responded that the council provided support to vulnerable residents in varied ways and noted that with regard to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Food Banks and Poverty Task Group Report pdf icon PDF 107 KB

This report presents the findings and recommendations of the task group review of food banks and poverty. The task group undertook this work due to the significant rise in food bank usage nationally and lack of a detailed picture of food bank usage across Brent.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor Mashari (Chair of the Food Banks and Poverty Task Group) introduced the report detailing the findings of the task group.  The task group had been established due to the significant rise in foodbank usage nationally and the lack of a detailed picture of foodbank usage across Brent. The task group had focused on vulnerable residents, the reasons for needing to use foodbanks, and how to tackle associated stigma. Councillor Mashari highlighted a number of the task group’s 36 recommendations and emphasised the opportunity for the council to be progressive in creating policy regarding this issue.

 

Councillor Mashari concluded by noting that the task group had undertaken an extensive piece of research and expressed hope that the data obtained would be used appropriately across the council.  Additionally, a video had been made of the task group’s work, including interviews undertaken with foodbank staff and volunteers and this would be shared with the committee once finalised.

 

Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) welcomed the report and advised that she would work with the Partnership Team regarding the recommendations.  She requested that the likley costs and implications of the recommendations be included when the report came back to Cabinet.

 

RESOLVED:

 

i)     That the 36 recommendations set out in the report from the Foodbanks and Poverty Task Group be endorsed and referred to Cabinet for consideration;

 

ii)    That all outside organisations from which action is requested via the recommendations be informed of the committee’s endorsement and asked to provide a response.

10.

Any other urgent business

Notice of items to be raised under this heading must be given in writing to the Head of Executive and Member Services or his representative before the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 60.

Minutes:

None.