Overview and Scrutiny Panel
Minutes of the meeting held on 1 May 2012 at 7.00 pm in Council Chamber, Council Offices, Cecil Street, Margate, Kent.
Councillor Thomas King (Chairman); Councillors D Green, Wiltshire, Campbell, Driver, Gideon, I Gregory, Harrison, Hornus, Marson, Lodge-Pritchard, D Saunders, M Saunders, W Scobie and Watkins
251. Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received from Councillor Day substituted by Councillor M. Saunders.
252. Declarations of Interest
There were no declarations of interest.
253. Minutes of Previous Meetings
Members agreed that under minute number 241 (Canvass Budget Growth Bid – 22 March 2012) the following should be added that:
“CEx gave assurance that the next audit report on electoral registration will be shared with the Governance and Audit Committee.”
Member agreed that the attendance list for the meeting held on 22 March 2012 should show that Councillor Lodge-Pritchard was in attendance.
254. Responses of Cabinet / Council to Recommendations of Overview and Scrutiny Panel
The report was noted.
255. Cabinet Member Presentation on Community Services (Including Housing Strategy) - Councillor Johnston
Councillor Johnston, Cabinet Member for Community Services made a presentation on Community Services including Housing Strategy. She said that Council was working on the draft strategy which will be ready by 13 June 2012.
Councillor Johnston said that the Council was working well with East Kent Housing (EKH). She had attended the Local Area Board meeting. The current void performance was 17 days and was the best of the four partner Councils. Rent arrears were decreasing and stood at £254,680 as at the end of 2011/12. Tenant Inspectors had been appointed and Estates inspections undertaken had been a success.
During 2011/12 586 homes were let through Choice Based Lettings. During the same period decisions were made on 215 homelessness applications of which 123 were owed a re-housing duty by Council and were accepted as being unintentionally homeless. There were 4,781 people on the housing waiting list as at the end of March 2012.
There was a need for Council to put in place a Tenancy Strategy by November 2012 that would provide a policy framework for registered social landlords for the district. There was a public health intervention programme called “Your Home Your Health” with street by street inspections currently underway in Cliftonville.
The Empty Property Initiative was a proactive approach to bring empty properties back into use by means of negotiation, interest free loans, enforcement notices, compulsory purchase orders and enforced sales. The Disability Facility Grants were aimed at improving the quality of life for disabled residents with appropriate adaptations to their homes.
Councillor Johnston said that the proposed Housing Intervention project was aimed at housing regeneration in Thanet, initially focussing on providing more family homes in Cliftonville and thereby promoting a change of housing profile and build sustainable communities. The project was collaborative working between Thanet District Council and Kent County Council.
The Localism Act had brought in changes the planning policy framework. This would see Neighbourhood planning influencing the district planning policy framework. Member training on planning had been scheduled for this May.
The successful delivery of the Olympic Torch Relay on Thursday, 19 July 2012 was a key priority for the Council. A new Community Safety Plan had been agreed by Council with four key priorities that include the following:
a. Anti-Social Behaviour
b. Substance Misuse
c. Domestic Violence
d. Violent Crime linked to Night Time Economy
Council was working on a new Economic Development and Regeneration Strategy because there was a need for a coordinated approach to economic development and regeneration of Thanet focussing on partnership working. Emphasis should be placed on tourism development, skills development and inward investment. Councillor Johnston said that the Building Control function was largely made up of statutory functions and some discretionary functions that Council was managing with a staff of four officers. She suggested that it might be good idea that an apprenticeship be started by Building Control Services to serve for the future needs of Council.
Members welcomed the comprehensive presentation by the Cabinet Member for Community Services. Some Members were concerned that Council may not be allocating enough resources for the disability facilities fund. Members also suggested that Cabinet could consider appointing a Domestic Violence Champion. Councillor Johnston agreed to the suggestion. Members indicated that the Localism Act requires that from April 2013, all Councillors would be the initial contact points for issues between tenants and housing associations; thereby making Members advocates for tenants. This role required prior training and would need to be planned for by the Council.
Councillor Johnston said that the Council would consider first local people in the allocation of housing, ahead of people coming from outside the district. She indicated that the Council’s new Allocations Policy would be influenced by changes being introduced by the Localism Act. Some Members expressed the view that any allocation of housing would have to be based on an allocations policy that paid attention to equality, consistency and observing human rights of vulnerable people. They said that the new Allocations Policy should also be influenced by anti-social behaviour issues and some consideration should be given to examining closely the governance arrangements of housing associations and suggested that more support be offered to the smaller associations. Councillor Johnston said that due attention was given to recommendations that came from the Panel and noticed that the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership Working Party had come up with some good recommendations for Council to take up with external agencies. She said that with smarter working approaches, Council would be able to achieve more.
Members of the Panel were concerned that some planning applications were coming to Council for a House in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) property near Christ Church University. The Cabinet Member said that any HMO would require a licence and they would be monitoring the situation. She said that Cabinet was prepared to share any information regarding the urgent decision made on the Dreamland. Councillor Johnston explained that the policy in relation to DFGs had changed so that policy on tenure is linked to the state of the property. Madeline Homer, Director of Community Services said that her team was aware of Council properties where disability facilities had been removed. These facilities would be recycled.
Madeline Homer said that as a result of the new Neighbourhood Planning requirements, the Thanet Regeneration Board would have local community representatives. Members were concerned that the work of the Board was not well advertised. Madeline Homer indicated that the Board was working on a communications strategy to publicise their work. She agreed to share the terms of reference of the Board with Members of the Panel.
The presentation was noted.
256. Electoral Registration Process Review Working Party - Final Report (Stage 1)
Councillor Cohen introduced the item. He said that some impressive progress had been made by the Working Party and the Council’s initiatives had been well received by the Electoral Commission (South East Regional Office).
Members of the Working Party had agreed to adopt Option 4. Mr Glenn Back, Democratic Services and Scrutiny Manager said that there had been a meeting with Royal Mail. It was mentioned at that meeting that the Council could use optical character recognition which would reduce the impact of the higher costs of the new Business Mail. He said that £25,000 of the Council’s Corporate underspend in 2011/12 had been set aside to support the changes to the way the canvass will be undertaken. Mr Back said that there will be a different approach to recruiting canvassers and this will involve drafting a detailed job description and a job interview for applicants in preparation for the canvassing of voters.
Members said that the report by the Working Party was an exceptionally thorough and excellent piece of work with good recommendations that included engaging Kent County Council in discussion on how best to introduce political education to create interest among the young people. They also added that it would be helpful to engage social landlords who could then let their tenants know about voter registration. Members said that since the Thanet Gateway attracts nearly 120,000 visitors; it may be a worthwhile idea to use electronic signage at the Gateway to encourage residents to register to vote.
Mr Back said a meeting had been held with staff at the Gateway and they had agreed to distribute claim forms and this was work in hand. Gateway staff had been very supportive. Members suggested that each Ward Member could encourage voter registration at their surgery sessions.
Councillor W. Scobie proposed, Councillor Wiltshire seconded and Members agreed to recommend to Electoral Registration Officer the following:
1. That officers liaise with Kent County Council (KCC) to ascertain to what extent local democracy is included in the national curriculum delivered in local schools;
2. That officers contacted student unions to encourage them to inform their members on the importance of registering to vote;
3. That officers check with KCC to ascertain to what extent voter registration is included in citizenship ceremonies and to see whether KCC would be willing to include the Electoral Commission’s (EC) ‘Registration form for new citizens’ leaflet in its citizenship packs;
4. That officers liaise with ‘Margate Task Force’ on the possibilities for distributing voter registration forms at any of its ‘roadshows’;
5. That officers liaise with disability rights organisations on providing practical advice on different aspects of the electoral process, including registration;
6. That officers contact local estate agents who may be able to provide some relevant information on home movers and/or who would be willing to include a voter registration form in any ‘welcome packs’ they may provide to people moving home;
7. That officers liaise with East Kent Services on the possibility of sending a voter registration form with all new Council Tax records throughout the year;
8. That officers target landlords of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) to ascertain who is living in their properties;
9. That officers try contacting ‘Porchlight’ a charity supporting vulnerable and homeless people in Kent;
10. That in order to complete a thorough review, the Working Party focuses its attentions on improving the level of voter registration across the District as a whole as a “first stage” of the project; and
11. That the remainder of the Working Party’s work programme be thoroughly investigated as a “second stage” after 1 May 2012.
257. OSP Chairman's Annual Report 2011/12
The Chairman introduced the item and said that in a number of cases some of the Panel’s working parties and not been able to produce substantive recommendations for the Panel’s attention. There was therefore a need to emphasise a Task and Finish Groups approach to the work of Working Parties when setting them.
There was general consensus among Members of the Panel regarding adopting a different approach for setting up future working parties in the next Municipal Year. Instead of reconstituting Groups that would have a year long timeframe to complete their work, the Panel said that it would be more helpful to create time limited topic specific Groups with a requirement to produce a final report for the OSP.
Members shared the view that the Panel would need to consider an options paper on new scrutiny arrangements for Thanet District Council and that this paper should be made available to Members at the first OSP meeting of the new municipal year. They indicated a desire to consider the possibility of allocating additional resources in order to ensure that Council undertook more effective scrutiny.
1. Members agreed that this report forms the basis of the Panel Annual Report to be presented to Annual Council by the Chairman.
258. Review of Overview and Scrutiny Panel Work Programme 2011/12
The report was noted.
259. Forward Plan
Members said that they would like to be consulted in time on all decisions where in the Forward Plan such decisions are indicated as passing through the Panel for consultation. These decisions include the Excellent Homes for All (EHFA) and Housing Intervention. Madeline Homer said that the initially proposed Joint Venture Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) between Kent County Council and Thanet District Council was now going to be a collaboration agreement instead. Members said that because of the significant amount on public funding involved in the Housing Intervention decision, the Overview and Scrutiny Panel should scrutinise the proposed decision and advise Cabinet.
Councillor Driver proposed, Councillor D. Green seconded and Members agreed the following:
Members thanked the Chairman for his contribution to the work of the Panel for this municipal year.
Meeting concluded: 8.05 pm