Agenda item

Report from Chairs of Scrutiny Committees

To receive reports from the Chairs of the Council’s Scrutiny Committees in accordance with Standing Order 46.  The reports have been attached as  follows:


12.1    Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee


12.2    Housing Scrutiny Committee


12.3    Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee


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 Scrutiny Chair’s in relation to the remits of their Committees.


NOTED the update reports provided by the Chairs of the Community and Wellbeing, Housing and Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny Committees along with the responses provided by:

·                Lead Member for Children’s Safeguarding, Early Help and Social Care in relation to the issues raised under the Community and Wellbeing update around the funding and restructure of Local Children’s Safeguarding arrangements as a result of the recent legislative changes and how these would be expected to drive forward further improvements and mitigate issues such as the impact of child poverty, on which the Lead Member advised she would provide a written response.

·                Lead Member for Adult Social Care in relation to an issue raised under the  Community and Wellbeing update around the monitoring and quality of care providers.

·                Lead Member for Housing & Welfare in relation to issues raised under the Housing update regarding renewal of the contract for tenancy advice, decision taken in relation to the landlord licensing fee and update on the programme for installation of fire sprinkler systems in Council high rise blocks (on which the Lead Member advised she would write to the Committee with further details).

·                Deputy Leader in relation to issues raised under the Resources and Public Realm update regarding the classification of savings proposals under the budget consultation process and anticipated outcome of the consultation exercise.


Responses were also provided by the relevant Scrutiny Chairs on the following additional questions raised during the open session for this part of the meeting:


·                Councillor Ethapemi regarding the funding and review of street cleansing activities.

·                Councillor Choudhary regarding the review of funding for Adult Social Care as part of the budget consultation process

·                Councillor Nerva regarding the impact of proposed budget reductions in relation to the effective operation of the scrutiny function.

·                Councillor Chan on the need to ensure, as an outcome of the budget consultation process, that detailed impact assessments were provided for all savings proposals.


Before being presented with the updates from each Scrutiny Chair, the Mayor reminded Members that the time set aside for this item was now 20 minutes, with each Chair having up to three minutes in which to highlight any significant issues arising from the work of their Committees on which they would like the relevant Cabinet Member to respond.  Once these updates had been provided, the remaining time available would then be opened up for any other non-Cabinet members to question (without the need for advance notice) the Scrutiny Chairs on matters relating to the work of their Committees.


The following updates were provided by each of the Scrutiny Chairs:


13.1    Community & Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee


Councillor Ketan Sheth introduced the report from his Committee, with the following issues identified for response by the relevant Lead Members:


a.         Given the recent review undertaken by the Committee in relation to the Annual Reports from the Safeguarding Adults and Safeguarding Children Boards further details were requested on the impact of the legislative changes being introduced to the future structure of safeguarding arrangements for children in terms of:

·                what improvements the new system had been designed to deliver;

·                the role of the current independent chair under the new arrangements and any change in funding formula; and

·                how the new arrangements had been designed to mitigate the negative impact of poverty on children and their families.


Councillor Mili Patel (responding as Lead Member for Children’s Safeguarding, Early Help and Social Care) advised that she would provide a detailed written response on the first two bullet points raised.  In relation to poverty, she highlighted the complex and varied nature of the issues needing to be addressed and additional impact likely to be caused by the roll out of Universal Credit.  The Council was, however, continually looking to review provision and support available in order to mitigate the issues in relation to children as far as possible.


b.      Moving on to then focus on Adult Safeguarding arrangements, details were sought on how effective the arrangements for monitoring the quality of care providers were felt to be.


In response, Councillor Farah (Lead Member for Adult Social Care) assured the Chair that he was confident with the current quality of monitoring being undertaken, which was led through an independent review process involving the Care Quality Commission.


13.2  Housing Scrutiny Committee


Councillor Long introduced the report from her Committee, and began by highlighting that amongst the items to be considered at their next meeting, the Committee would be reviewing:


·                the proposed change to the Housing Allocation Policy, currently on consultation involving provision for residents in Temporary Accommodation within Regeneration Areas;

·                the impact of changes to administration of the Selective Landlord Licensing fee.


The following were then raised as issues for response by the relevant Lead Member in relation to the work of the Committee:


a.      reassurance was sought that as part of the award of the interim contract for provision of tenancy advice there would be a requirement for the new provider to ensure the necessary equipment was available to support the gathering of evidence for use in legal proceedings.


Councillor Southwood (responding as Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) advised Members that as part of the change in contract provision she would ensure the opportunity was taken to review the quality of support available, including the type of facilities to support any evidence gathering process.  Councillor Southwood also took the opportunity to assure Members that the change in arrangements for administration of the selective landlord licensing fee whilst affecting cash flow would have no impact on the overall level of income available to support ongoing enforcement activity.


b.      Whilst the Committee was due, at their next meeting, to receive an update on the response to their review on fire safety in low rise properties the Chair advised that she had been disappointed with the focus to date on only Council housing stock.  Clarification was also sought on proposals she understood were now being developed for a programme of fire sprinkler installations in Council high rise blocks, which had not been referred to in the update provided for the Committee.


In response, Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Housing & Welfare Reform) advised that reference to the programme for installation of fire sprinkler systems had not been included in the latest update provided for the Committee, given their focus on low rise properties.  In terms of the sprinkler installation programme, she confirmed this had been included as part of the £10m package of Capital funding pledged for refurbishment works to high rise blocks across the borough.  She advised that further details on the programme and timescales could be provided in writing for all members of the Committee.


13.3    Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee


Councillor Kelcher (as Chair of the Scrutiny Committee) introduced the report from his Committee with the following issues identified for response by the relevant Lead Members.


Referring to the start of the budget scrutiny process, Councillor Kelcher highlighted the progress made to date by the Scrutiny Task Group established to undertake the review.  The Task Group’s initial report was due to be presented to the Resources and Public Realm Committee in January 19 prior to being finalised for consideration as part of the final budget setting process in February.  In terms of issues identified to date through the review process, the following items were raised for response by the relevant Lead Member:


·                Having recognised that the budget consultation proposals included a number of policy driven as well as cost reduction proposals feedback was sought on the suggestion made that these proposals be more clearly categorised to assist understanding around the options being presented for consultation.


Responding to the issue raised, Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) advised that she also recognised the benefits of the suggestion and would be willing to consider the proposal as part of the development of the consultation process.  At the same time, she felt it important to recognise the improvements made to the consultation process and communication with local residents on the budget involving a range of different approaches and events.


·                Moving on to refer in more detail to the budget consultation proposals, Councillor Kelcher then highlighted the overall level of savings required (totalling £20m).  Whilst savings proposals of £26m had been identified within the budget consultation document £6m of these had been included in the list of those with the “most severe” impact and he therefore queried the scope for genuine consultation on these proposals.


In response, Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) advised that care was being taken not to prejudge the outcome of what she felt to be a genuine consultation process.  As an example, she pointed out that comments had been received in support of proposals with the most severe impacts and against those identified with less impact, with no final decisions having been made on final options pending the outcome of the consultation process.


The Mayor thanked each of the Scrutiny Chairs for their updates and it was RESOLVED that the content of each of their reports be noted.


Following the updates provided, the Mayor advised that the remainder of time available would be open for questions from non-cabinet members to the Scrutiny Chairs.  In opening this item, the Mayor reminded Members of the guidance recently issued and of the need to ensure that questions raised were focussed on the updates provided or work being undertaken by each Committee.


As a result of the update provided in relation to the review of the budget being undertaken by the Budget Scrutiny Task Group the following questions were raised and responses provided:


(i)      Councillor Ethapemi highlighted concerns regarding the funding and programme of street cleansing activities, which he felt also required review.


Whilst responsibility for the provision and funding of street cleansing services were matters that fell within the remit of the relevant Lead Member, Councillor Kelcher advised that the Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny Committee had regularly been involved in reviewing environmental issues including street cleansing with, as an example, their next meeting due to consider how environmental issues were tackled on private sector and non-council owned land.  The next session of the Scrutiny Budget Task Group had also been set aside to focus on environmental proposals so he would ensure the concerns highlighted were fed through as part of this process.


(ii)     Referring to the recent announcement by the Government of additional funding being made available for Adult Social Care, Councillor Choudhary sought details (linked to the budget consultation process) on how it was proposed the proportion of funding allocated to Brent would be used to support Adult Social Care provision.


Referring to the guidance provided by the Mayor at the start of the open question session, Councillor Ketan Sheth advised that as this was a matter that fell within the Executive’s remit it would be an issue on which the Lead Member would need to respond.  As a general principle he reminded members that each Committee had their own scrutiny work programme and if members had items they would like to recommend for review he would welcome them attending any meeting to discuss.


(iii)    Highlighting the extent of work being undertaken by each Scrutiny Committee and the budget proposal to reduce the number of Committee’s by one, Councillor Nerva highlighted what he felt to be the importance of ensuring all Members were involved in discussions on the future structure and effective operation of the scrutiny function from 2019/20 onwards.


In response, Councillor Long highlighted what she felt was a need to consider how scrutiny was currently operating within Brent as part of the review of any proposed change, with Councillor Kelcher also supporting the need for full member engagement in the development of any final proposal.


(iv)    As a final issue, Councillor Chan highlighted what he felt was a need to ensure, as an outcome of the budget consultation process, that detailed equality impact assessments were provided for all savings proposals being considered.


In response, Councillor Kelcher advised that he understood these were being provided as part of the ongoing consultation process.


As no further questions were raised, the Mayor advised he would move on to the next item and thanked all Members for their contributions.

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