Reports from the Leader and Cabinet
To receive the report from the Leader and Cabinet in accordance with Standing Order 31 setting out any key or significant issues arising from matters within their portfolios.
Members are asked to note that this session will include an opportunity (within the time available) for non-Cabinet members to ask questions of relevant Cabinet Members.
NOTED the report and accompanying updates provided by the Deputy Leader of the Council (on behalf of the Leader) in relation to the impact of Brexit on the borough; Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning in relation to the consultation on the Draft Borough Local Plan and encouraging support for Small Business Saturday on 1st December 18 and Lead Member for Housing & Welfare Reform on progress with the roll-out of Universal Credit across Brent and consultation currently being undertaken on the Housing Allocation Policy.
Responses were also provided by the relevant Lead Members on the following questions raised during the open session of this part of the meeting:
· Councillor Knight seeking details on plans to include all parts of the borough (including Stonebridge) within the programme of activities being developed for the Borough of Culture.
· Councillor Kansagra seeking support for the provision of free parking across all local high streets in order to support local businesses during the Christmas period.
· Councillor Long requesting confirmation of the Council’s “no fault evictions policy in relation to housing rent arrears created as a result of delays in Universal Credit payments being made.
· Councillor Choudhary regarding the parking and travel difficulties caused for local residents as a result of the traffic management measures in place during event days at Wembley Stadium.
· Councillor Kennelly requesting support for the USDAWs Freedom from Fear campaign seeking to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers.
· Councillor Daly seeking further details on the action being taken (including enforcement activity) by the Council to hold landlords and leaseholders to account in cases where properties leased to them by the Council are being poorly maintained. The Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform advised that she would provide a written response on the action plan being developed in relation to leaseholder services.
The Mayor referred Members to the written report which had been circulated with the agenda providing updates from the Leader and Cabinet Members in relation to their portfolios. He then invited the Deputy Leader and other Cabinet Members to provide updates on any significant issues to be highlighted. Once these updates had been provided, he reminded Members that the remaining time available would be opened up for any non-Cabinet members to question (without the need for advance notice) Cabinet Members on matters relating to their portfolios.
The following updates were provided by the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Members:
(a) Councillor Margaret McLennan, Deputy Leader
Councillor McLennan began by taking the opportunity to remind Members of Brent’s unique history, cultural diversity, unity and reputation as an iconic destination. Whilst these were all to be celebrated she felt there were still many issues to overcome, particularly in relation to the potential impact and divisions arising from Brexit. Welcoming the opportunity provided later in the meeting to debate these issues, Councillor McLennan recognised the efforts being made in Brent to ensure that everyone had the same opportunity to succeed alongside the hard work that was still required to achieve such an aim.
In accordance with Standing Order 14 (f) Councillor McLennan also reported that there had been no use of the Key Decision and Forward Plan urgency procedures since the last Council meeting.
Having completed her update, the Deputy Leader then invited Councillors Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning) and Southwood (Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) to present additional updates in relation to their portfolios.
(b) Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning)
Councillor Tatler took the opportunity to remind Members of the consultation which had recently commenced on the draft Local Plan which she advised provided an opportunity to help shape the future landscape of Brent and guide planning policy over the next 20 years. Members and residents were encouraged to participate in the consultation process.
In addition Members were advised of the various activities planned to support Small Business Saturday on 1st December 18. Again all members were encouraged to support the event in their local area.
(c) Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Housing & Welfare Reform)
Councillor Southwood advised members that implementation of the new Universal Credit regime had now gone live in Brent commencing at Harlesden Job Centre and shortly to be rolled-out at Wembley Job Centre. Given the difficulties with its implementation elsewhere, Members were reminded that residents experiencing problems with payments should initially be referred to the Department for Work & Pensions for advice. The Council would also be able to provide support, with Members asked to ensure the Housing Department was involved should it become apparent that tenants were experiencing difficulties in terms of maintaining rent payments as a result of the roll-out.
In addition, Members were also reminded of the consultation currently underway in relation to a review of the Council’s Housing Allocations Policy. Given the limited options available and difficult choices needing to be made all members were encouraged to participate in the consultation process.
Following the updates provided, the Mayor advised that the remainder of time available during this session of the meeting would be open for questions from non-cabinet members to the Deputy Leader and Cabinet. The following questions were raised and responses provided:
(i) Councillor Knight sought assurance that the plans being developed for the programme of activities relating to the London Borough of Culture would involve as much of the borough as possible, including the Stonebridge area.
In response Councillor Hirani (Lead Member for Public Health, Culture & Leisure) assured Members that he was keen to ensure the programme reached all parts of the borough. In terms of progress, recruitment was underway for dedicated Borough of Culture posts and the Brent Community Fund for the Borough of Culture was also due to open in January 2019. This would provide an opportunity for community groups to submit funding bids for events linked to borough of culture activities. If it appeared that any area(s) were underrepresented in terms of bids received then more proactive work would be undertaken to encourage submissions from groups in these areas. Given that the focus of the Borough of Culture bid had been on young people, work was also underway to ensure all schools (including those from the south of the borough and Stonebridge) were engaged in development of the programme and also that the Youth and Cultural Ambassadors were also as reflective of the borough as possible.
(ii) Councillor Kansagra, commenting on plans to provide free parking for local high streets over the Christmas period, requested that consideration be given to providing a 30 minute – 1 hour free parking period on all local high streets on a permanent basis in order to better support small local businesses.
In response, Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways & Planning) felt it was not parking charges which were having the most negative impact on local business on the high street but the Government’s current Business Rates regime. In relation to parking concerns she highlighted the parking review currently being undertaken, with Councillor Krupa Sheth (Lead Member for Environment) also commenting that if business had concerns regarding specific locations these could be raised direct with local ward councillors, officers or by submitting a petition.
(iii) Referring to the update provided on the roll-out of Universal Credit, Councillor Long sought confirmation on the Council’s “no fault” evictions policy in relation to housing rent arrears created as a result of delays in Universal Credit payments being made.
In response, Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Housing & Welfare Reform) advised that these concerns were the reason she had identified the need to ensure that support was sought as soon as possible in cases where tenants fell into arrears as a result of delays in Universal Credit direct payments. Support would be easier to provide for Council tenants in this position, which it was felt would assist in managing any arrears and therefore preventing evictions.
(iv) Councillor Choudhary took the opportunity to highlight concerns regarding the parking and travel difficulties caused for those needing to undertake business or visit the Wembley area on event days, particularly for those non-residents unable to directly purchase parking permits.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Lead Member for Environment) confirmed that she, along with the Leader, had received details of the specific concerns raised by Councillor Choudhary and would be looking at how best these could be addressed moving forward.
(v) Councillor Kennelly took the opportunity to highlight and seek support for the current Freedom from Fear campaign being led by USDAW seeking to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers.
In response, Councillor Miller (Lead Member for Community Safety) confirmed his support for the campaign, recognising the right for everyone to feel protected and safe in their place of work. He advised he would also be willing to meet Councillor Kennelly to consider what further action could be taken to support the campaign and in lobbying for Government support.
(vi) Councillor Daly requesting further details on the action being taken (including enforcement activity) by the Council to hold leaseholders to account in cases where properties leased to them by the Council were being poorly maintained.
In response, Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Housing & Welfare Reform) advised of the work currently being undertaken to review the services being provided by the Council to leaseholders and action plan being developed in response, which included a clear definition of responsibilities. In view of time constraints at the meeting, she advised she would be willing to provide further details as a written response.
Following on from the above response, the Mayor advised that the time available for this item had expired and thanked Members for their contributions.