Questions from the Opposition and other Non-Cabinet Members
For questions to be put to members of the Cabinet by opposition and non-Cabinet Members in accordance with Standing Order 35.
Details of the three questions submitted in advance have been attached along with the written responses provided.
Members are asked to note that this session will also include an opportunity (within the time available) for other non-Cabinet members to ask questions of Cabinet.
1. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Lead Member for Housing & Welfare Reform to a question submitted by Councillor Thakkar confirming the Council’s policy in terms of non-eviction of tenants experiencing rent arrears as a result of delays in receiving Universal Credit and work being undertaken with other housing providers to encourage the adoption of a similar approach with their tenants.
2. The written response provided by the Lead Member for Regeneration, Property & Planning to a question submitted by Councillor Ahmed regarding the level of Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy (NCIL) funding allocated since inception of the scheme to voluntary groups, residents and other stakeholders for community infrastructure projects. No supplementary question was asked
3. The written response provided by the Deputy Leader in relation to a question submitted by Councillor Chappell detailing the total financial value of Non-Domestic Rate Relief provided for small businesses and non-profit making bodies under the Council’s current policy. No supplementary question was asked.
Responses were also provided by the relevant Lead Members on the following additional questions raised during the open session of this part of the meeting:
· Councillor Kelcher requesting urgent consideration be given to a licensing issue identified in relation to operation of a car boot sale at Newman Catholic College and enforcement action in relation to illegal street trading activity in the surrounding area when the boot sales take place.
· Councillor Choudhary regarding:
Ø a review of the Council’s Housing Allocation Policy and potential to extend the offer of bidding rights to those categorised as on Band B in relation to housing need;
Ø the policy in relation to the use of materials for footway repairs and replacement in the Barn Hill Conservation Area;
· Councillor Long regarding:
Ø Housing Key Performance Indicators and the action being taken to secure a sustained turnaround in performance, with a particular focus around customer service;
Ø The action being taken through the West London Economic Prosperity Board to support and encourage the creation of Green Jobs;
· Councillor Chan seeking support for the ongoing lobbying of TfL regarding the upgrade of the Bakerloo line with a specific focus on the accessibility of station facilities within the borough and on the provision of step free access at Kensal Green.
Before moving on to consider the questions submitted by non-Cabinet members, the Mayor reminded Members that a total of 30 minutes had been set aside to deal with this item, which would begin with consideration of the written questions submitted in advance of the meeting along with any supplementary question. Once these had been dealt with, the remaining time would then be available for any other non-Cabinet members to question Cabinet Members on matters relating to their portfolio.
The Mayor advised that three written questions had been submitted in advance for response by the relevant Cabinet Member. The written responses supplied had been circulated with the Council agenda. The Mayor invited supplementary questions from the Members who had submitted the written questions.
11.1 Councillor Thakkar thanked Councillor Southwood, as Cabinet Member for Housing & Welfare Reform, for reaffirming the Council’s intention not to evict tenants falling into rent arrears due to delays in the payment of Universal Credit. As a supplementary question, she asked whether the Council, in the context of early intervention, would also be working with private and social housing providers in order to encourage them to adopt a similar arrangement and ensure monitoring of arrears and evictions.
Councillor Southwood responded by confirming that the Council met regularly with all social housing providers in the Borough and a major topic of discussion was around the difficulties encountered by those tenants in receipt of Universal Credit. Whilst the Council could not impose its own policies on other providers, Councillor Southwood advised that she would continue to work with them and to highlight emerging issues with the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) in order mitigate the risks to those falling into arrears.
11.2 Councillor Ahmed thanked Councillor Tatler, as Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Property & Planning, for her written response in relation to the allocation of funding under the Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy (NCIL) scheme for community infrastructure projects and confirmed that he did not have a supplementary question.
11.3 Councillor Chappell thanked Councillor McLennan, as Deputy Leader, for her written response on the impact and financial value of the policy adopted by the Council in relation to the application of its business rate relief scheme and confirmed that he also did not have any supplementary question.
The Mayor thanked Members for their written questions and Cabinet Members for the response provide to any supplementary questions. He then advised that the remainder of the time available would be used for an open question time session to the Leader and Cabinet. The following questions were raised and responses provided:
(i) Councillor Kelcher raised a query regarding the Sunday Car Boot Sale at Newman Catholic College in Kensal Green and whether the current issues with related paperwork could be expedited to allow sales to resume and also whether action could be taken against the illegal street traders operating in the area at the same time.
In response, Councillor Miller, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Engagement, confirmed that if the issue highlighted was related to a business licence he would ensure it received urgent attention.
(ii) With reference to a review of the Council’s Housing Allocation Policy, Councillor S Choudhary sought an update on whether the Council, in view of the additional housing now being delivered, would consider extending the offer of bidding rights to those households which had been categorised as Band B in relation to housing need back in 2014.
In response, Councillor Southwood, as Cabinet Member for Housing & Welfare Reform, clarified that Councillor Choudhary was referring to approx 19,000 households who had been moved into category B of housing need in 2014. Although these household had been recognised as being in housing need, they did not currently have bidding rights under the Council’s current Housing Allocations Policy. Whilst hoping that it would be possible to assist these households in the future, she pointed out that the position was made more difficult and would take time to address given the need to alleviate the chronic shortage of social housing, which the Council was seeking to tackle.
(iii) Referring to Housing Key Performance Indicators, Councillor Long sought further details and assurance about the action being taken to secure a sustained turnaround in performance, with a particular focus around customer service.
Whilst acknowledging the current improvements in performance being sought, Councillor Southwood, as Cabinet Member for Housing & Welfare Reform, highlighted the recent housing transformation activity and investment being undertaken which she felt would assist in delivering improved systems and levels of performance particularly in relation to customer experience.
(iv) Councillor S Choudhary raised a further question regarding the policy on use of materials for footway repairs and replacement in the Barnhill Conservation Area, which he felt was not in keeping with other areas.
Councillor Krupa Sheth, as Cabinet Member for Environment, responded by advising that the Barnhill Conservation Area was not being treated any differently to other areas, with asphalt being used for footway repairs and replacement due to economic and sustainability reasons.
(v) Councillor Long, also raised a further question, seeking details on the action being taken through the West London Economic Prosperity Board to support and encourage the creation of Green Jobs in Brent.
In response, Councillor Tatler, as Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Property & Planning, advised that as a member of the West London Economic Prosperity Board the Council was continuing to work with other partners, Town Centre Mangers and across its Regeneration function to encourage the creation of greener businesses and jobs.
(vi) Councillor Chan in highlighting the ongoing lobbying of TfL regarding the upgrade of the Bakerloo line sought further details on the action being taken by the Council to support this process with a specific focus on the accessibility of station facilities within the borough and on the provision of step free access at Kensal Green.
Councillor Tatler, as Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Property & Planning, responded by confirming that the Council was lobbying TfL to improve accessibility at Bakerloo Lane stations within Brent and had also backed a campaign being led by Lewisham and Southwark Councils aimed at securing an upgrade of the entire line.
At this stage in proceedings, the Mayor advised that the time available for the open question session had now ended and thanked all Members for their contributions.