Questions from the Opposition and other Non-Cabinet Members
For questions to be put to members of the Cabinet in accordance with Standing Order 35.
Details of the seven questions received have been attached along with the written responses provided.
The Mayor advised that seven questions had been submitted by Members for response by the relevant Cabinet Member. The written responses supplied had been circulated with the Council agenda. The Mayor then invited supplementary questions from the Members who had submitted the original questions.
12.1 Councillor Ezeajughi thanked Councillor Miller (Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities) for his response and ask firstly for an assurance to be provided on the way crime hot-spots, particularly those within his ward, would benefit from the new CCTV system. Secondly he asked if it would be possible to ensure the installation of HD cameras on high rise blocks to enhance coverage
In response Councillor Miller highlighted what he felt to be the clear message provided for residents about the current Administration’s attitude and priority towards community safety demonstrated as a result of the renewal of the CCTV system. In terms of specific sites, he pointed out these would need to be assessed against the relevant evidence criteria taking account of the relevant Code of Conduct and RIPA regulations. The point raised relating to coverage on high rise blocks was recognised as an important issue, with discussions already having commenced with housing regarding the integration of the BHP and Councils CCTV system and on which he would keep members updated on progress.
12.2 Councillor Krupa Sheth thanked Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) for her response and asked for details on what barriers the Conservative Government had put in place to prevent the Council from building more homes and what plans the Council had to tackle these.
In response Councillor McLennan advised she was struggling to find any positives regarding the Governments current housing policy. The Administration was however aware of the housing crisis in Brent, which would require the building (based on targets within the Mayor for London’s Plan) of an additional 3,000 homes per year over the next ten years across the Borough. Whilst having a strategy in place to deliver the requirement there was also a need to ensure that these developments contained sufficiently affordable social housing. The Council continued to lobby the Government for lifting of the cap in order to maximise its ability to fund the building programme required. Other innovations included the setting up of I4B as a means of purchasing properties on behalf of the Council to assist in meeting housing demand and reducing pressure on Temporary Accommodation. Whilst the Council was not therefore standing still she felt much more could be achieved if the Government were to relax the current barriers in place.
12.3 Councillor Conneely thanked Councillor Farah (Cabinet Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) for his response and raised concerns about the proposed inclusion within current welfare reforms of the requirement for women who had experienced rape to have to prove this to HMRC in order to be able to access benefits. The proposals had been referred to as “non-consensual conception” and she asked Councillor Farah if he would be prepared to commit the Council to continue campaigning against this proposal and not to accept the conditions as laid out within the current legislation.
In response Councillor Farah advised he supported the concerns raised, especially with regard to the terminology being used. He felt the proposals being put forward by Government should not be regarded as welfare reform but as a welfare cut and advised that the Council would continue to lobby against the proposals whilst also working to support local residents in preparing for any changes.
12.4 Councillor Denselow thanked Councillor Hirani (Cabinet Member for Community Wellbeing) for his response and welcomed the outline provided of the way in which the issues highlighted within the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness were being addressed in Brent. He felt the appointment of a Government Minister for Loneliness was an indication of the seriousness with which the issue of social isolation was now being treated. The work being undertaken through the Social Isolation in Brent initiative was highlighted alongside the work being undertaken by many other community groups, including GoodGym Brent, which he agreed would be appropriate for a future member briefing and urged all members to support.
In response Councillor Hirani advised that welcomed Councillor Denselow having raised such an important issue.
12.5 Councillor Long thanked Councillor Farah (Cabinet Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) for his response which she noted had been focussed around debt advice rather than the promotion of Credit Unions, for which she was a strong advocate. Having checked, she pointed out that the Council’s website did not appear to make any reference to the Credit Union formally supported by the Council although others were. The need to promote the existence of Credit Unions was highlighted and the Cabinet Member was therefore asked when it was anticipated that full publicity would be provided in support of Credit Unions in Brent.
Councillor Farah advised, in response, that the Council was currently preparing for the roll-out of Universal Credit across the Borough for which a detailed communications strategy was being developed and this would include reference to Credit Unions.
12.6 Councillor Nerva thanked Councillor Southwood (Cabinet Member for Environment) for her response in relation to the Council’s Tree Management Strategy. As a ward councillor representing an area with a significant number of trees we was keen to see if the Cabinet Member would consider:
(a) exploring how the Council might take a more assertive approach towards Insurers, involving if necessary the British Association of Insurers, seeking the removal of trees as a result of insurance damage claims and also encourage a financial contribution towards the £250 cost of sponsoring a new tree; and
(b) the introduction of an easy to use payment system for residents wishing to sponsor new tree planting or the replacement of trees.
In response Councillor Southwood advised that she shared the frustration expressed in relation to insurers who she advised were becoming increasingly aggressive in their approach towards claims. She advised she would therefore be happy to write to the British Association of Insurers to highlight the concerns raised and encourage their members to consider contributing towards the cost of sponsorship or the replacement of trees removed as a result of damage claims given the significant environmental and economic benefits. She also supported the need to ensure that the tree sponsorship and payment process was as easy for residents to access and use as possible and advised she had already asked officers to investigate the possible use of crowd funding options. Residents had already been successful in attracting Neighbourhood CIL funding to provide new or replacement trees, which was also welcomed as a means of maintaining the tree stock and recognising the positive contribution this made to the local environment.
12.7 Councillor Maurice thanked Councillor Southwood (Cabinet Member for Environment) for her response regarding operation of the Civic Amenity site by Harrow, given its use by many residents in the north of the borough. He highlighted the difficulty many residents in the north of the borough would have in accessing Brent’s Civic Amenity site in Abbey Road and therefore asked if the Cabinet Member would be willing to explore the possible use of funding contributions with the West London Waste Authority (of which Brent and Harrow were both members) to invest in a new Civic Amenity site in the north of Brent.
Councillor Southwood advised that whilst recognising the frustration for many residents in the north of the borough who currently found it more convenient to use the Harrow facility, the policy introduced by Harrow would not prevent use but would require non Harrow residents to pay a charge. As a member of WLWA she would be willing to raise the matter but highlighted the significant investment that would be required to fund a new Civic Amenity facility within the borough. As an alternative she felt that was also a need to consider what alternative ways could be offered for residents to dispose of, or recycle their waste in the most consistent way.