Venue: This meeting will be held virtually via Zoom
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To receive apologies for absence.
An apology for absence was submitted on behalf of Councillor Kaye. It was noted that Councillor Ward-Booth was substituting for Councillor Kaye.
To approve as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 16 June 2020.
Councillor Hollebon asked that the report of the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) be presented to the next meeting of the Committee it was available.
The Scrutiny Officer said that a draft version of the report had been received but that the final version had not been sent to Officers yet. She said that the Chief Executive and Leader had commented on the draft report. Members were advised that the final report would be available shortly.
Councillor Hollebon said that Members should have had the opportunity to review the draft and final reports. The Scrutiny Officer said that she would pass on her comments to the Monitoring Officer.
It was moved by Councillor Goldspink and seconded by Councillor Devonshire that the minutes of the meeting held on 16 June 2020 be confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, this motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that the minutes of the meeting held on 16 June 2020 be confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
The Chairman reminded Members to use the blue hand function in Zoom to indicate that they wished to speak.
The Head of Housing and Health, on behalf of the Social Housing Task and Finish Group, presented a report that made a series of recommendations for how East Herts Council could enhance the way it works with local registered providers of affordable housing to maximise the quality of housing services for those wishing or needing to rent or buy an affordable home or who were already an affordable housing tenant in East Herts.
Members were reminded that the Social Housing Task and Finish Group had been established in November 2019 to investigate the working arrangements between the East Herts Council and registered providers. Members were advised that the aim of the group had been to explore how the working relationship could be enhanced for tenants and those seeking affordable housing in East Herts.
The Head of Housing and Health said that much ground had been covered in a focus group with tenants of Network Homes and Clarion Housing. Meetings with senior representatives of both organisations were also held and Members were advised that the notes of those meetings and focus groups were appended to the report and a number of very specific issues were being followed up by the housing team.
Members were advised that the report presented a series of recommendations from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for improved joint working being recommended to the Executive.
The Head of Housing and Health referred to the recommendations and the suggestions of the Task and Finish Group. He said that a key finding of the Task and Finish Group was that Housing Officers should be involved at an earlier stage in the planning process for new housing developments.
The Head of Housing and Health said that it was for Housing and Planning Officers to determine how best to incorporate the in depth knowledge of Housing Officers regarding East Herts housing need at the crucial pre application stage.
A number of Members expressed thanks to Officers and the Task and Finish Group Members for what was an excellent report. Councillor Goldspink said that she fully supported all of the recommendations as they would help Councillors and the housing associations to better understand each other and she hoped that the recommendations would benefit tenants.
Councillor Goldspink said that paragraph 5.1 which related to “risks” could be amended to read “that the Scrutiny Committee could choose not to recommend any actions”. She expressed a hope that the recommendations could be implemented as soon possible and before the end of 2021/22.
Councillor Devonshire asked whether an interim report could come before Members before the end of 2021/22. The Chairman said that he understood that the Executive Members would be joining Members of this Committee at meetings more regularly and the Executive Member could update Overview and Scrutiny Committee on progress.
Councillor Frecknall said it would be good to see the early involvement of the Executive Member with the short term actions as part of this ongoing process.
Councillor Curtis said that it would be helpful ... view the full minutes text for item 162.
The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability submitted a report that allowed Overview and Scrutiny Committee Members to consider the latest available information around the current local Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme at East Herts and whether any changes to the scheme should be considered for 2021/22.
The Shared Service Manager said that Members were being asked to support the approval of the Council Tax Support Scheme for 2021/22. The scheme had been operated since April 2013 and replaced Council Tax benefit under the provisions of the local government finance bill. The scheme was required to be confirmed by Council by the 11 March in the preceding financial year.
Members were advised that since the scheme had been introduced in 2013, various changes had been considered although the scheme had remained the same. The Shared Service Manager said that Appendix A set out the history of the scheme and she advised the Committee that modelling had proved that a banded scheme would be unviable. She said many processes in respect of universal credit had been automated following changes in circumstances for customers on Council Tax Support.
The Shared Service Manager said that the current economic impact on residents due to Covid-19 was uncertain and due to the changes to the furlough scheme and employment uncertainty, the report recommended that the current Council Tax Reduction Scheme remain the same for the new financial year. She said that after further consideration, Officers might come back to Members next year with a possible change to the scheme. She said in conclusion that Members were invited to support the use of the current Council Tax Reduction Scheme into 2021/22.
Councillor Snowdon asked for clarity as to the changes that could be made next year. Members were advised that Officers felt that the changes that had been considered would not be beneficial and that the current scheme, which had been in place for the last 8 years, should continue.
The Shared Service Manager said that one option that had been considered was a change to a banded scheme. She advised that this scheme would have to be subject to a full public consultation and would require changes to software; there would be cost implications with no benefits to the Council.
Councillor Goldspink said that previously, the Council had been reimbursed for the cost of Council Tax Support Schemes and she wished to know if the Council received any reimbursement towards the cost of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
The Shared Service Manager confirmed that the Council received no direct funding for the scheme. Councillor Goldspink asked for clarity as to eligibility for universal credit as there were some many variables to be taken into account.
The Shared Service Manager said that housing benefit was included in universal credit in a majority of cases. She said it was imperative that customers tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about housing costs when claiming universal credit. She said that it was also important that claims ... view the full minutes text for item 163.
The Executive Member for Neighbourhoods submitted a report that presented a policy regarding the enforcement of standards for private sector landlords in East Herts. The Service Manager (Environmental Health) said that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 gave the Council some new enforcement powers for dealing with landlords and property agents.
The Service Manager (Environmental Health) advised that the Council needed to have documented policies to make the council’s use of these powers lawful and to provide transparency and consistency in respect of civil penalties. He listed the policies included.
Members were advised that a 10 week consultation was still ongoing and the results of this would feed into the report to the Executive.
Councillor Goldspink asked how judgements would be reached in a consistent and transparent way in terms of Officers deciding on the use of civil penalties on a case by case basis. She referred to banning orders and sought clarification of the phrase “at a time when they were a landlord or property agent”.
The Senior Officer Environmental Health (Residential) said that each potential civil penalty case differed, and depended on the offence committed, the circumstances of the landlord and the tenant. She said that the offences covered were not directly related to the landlord or agent role and hence the qualification that such offences could only be taken into account while the person was a landlord or agent. She said that the matrix allowed Officers to take into account a series of factors in each case and this included the culpability of the landlord and other factors specified in the guidance, this is similar to the matters a magistrate may take into account when determining a fine on prosecution.
Councillor Goldspink said that if the wording included a reference to the matrix then it would be clearer than just saying that each instance was assessed on a case by case basis. Members were advised that this suggestion was certainly something could take forward when making a recommendation to the Executive. The Senior Officer Environmental Health (Residential) acknowledged the Member’s suggestion and explained that in developing the Council’s guidance, Officers were adhering as closely as possible to the original wording within legislation to ensure that the Council was complying with the law.
Members were advised that Officers had discretion to not apply for a banning order and’ even where applied for, not to force a landlord to give up rental properties immediately. Officers could still put that landlord onto the database of rogue landlords so that other local authorities were aware of that landlord.
The Head of Housing and Health said that the wording might appear a bit cumbersome but given that it relates to significant actions with serious implications the policies needed to fit within the wording of the legislation itself.
Councillor Drake asked whether the banning orders would be UK wide or would only apply in a district or county and she also wished to know how the database was used in terms of who ... view the full minutes text for item 164.
Environmental Climate Change Forum Update
The Head of Housing and Health gave a verbal update in respect of the Environmental Climate Change Forum. He reminded Members that the forum arose from a recommendation of the Task and Finish Group set up by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to explore this topic.
The Head of Housing and Health explained that much of the work of the Task and Finish Group had been incorporated into both the climate change declaration that had been made at Full Council in July 2019 and the commitments and action flowing from the declaration.
Members were advised that the Forum had held its first conference style meeting at Fletchers Lea in Ware in January 2020. The Head of Housing and Health explained that a virtual video conference was scheduled to take place at 3 pm on Monday 21 September 2020 and he hoped that a greater number of people could participate virtually. He detailed what he anticipated would be the primary topics of focus for this conference and he referred to the Council’s action plan following the Council’s climate change declaration.
The Head of Housing and Health summarised the broad headline categories of the action plan and said that the Environmental Sustainability Co-ordinator would present a detailed report to the 3 November 2020 meeting of the Committee.
The Head of Housing and Health concluded by referring to the proactive role of East Herts Council in the establishment of the Hertfordshire Climate Change and Sustainability Partnership.
The Head of Housing and Health explained that he was happy to incorporate the wider actions and priorities of the Hertfordshire Climate Change and Sustainability Partnership into regular updates for the Committee.
The Chairman said that a written update would be beneficial and did not have to wait until the next meeting as updates could be submitted by email.
Councillor Frecknall said that he had not heard about the virtual forum meeting on 21 September 2020 and said that more communication would be beneficial going forward as would a written update for the Committee.
The Chairman asked for an email invite to be sent to Members for the meeting due to be held on 21 September 2020. The Head of Housing and Health responded to a number of other queries from the Committee. Members received the update on the Environmental Climate Change Forum.
RESOLVED – that (A) the update on the Environmental Climate Change
Forum be received
(B) Members be provide with a detailed written updated at the next meeting of Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Scrutiny Officer submitted a report that reviewed the actions included in the Committee’s existing work programme and proposed amendments to the ongoing work programme.
The Scrutiny Officer advised Members of the changes in format to the work programmes for both Overview and Scrutiny and Audit and Governance and the Committee was reminded that an updated version had been forwarded to Members on 9 September 2020.
Members were advised that these work programmes had been consolidated as it was felt that this would provide a better overall advanced perspective of what was coming forward for consideration by both Committees.
The Scrutiny Officer said that paragraph 3.1 provided an update in relation to the review of East Herts Parking Policy and the report of the Task and Finish Group, which had been considered by the Executive on 11 February 2020. Members were reminded of the significant loss of income in relation to parking and the impact of this on the Council and the Medium Term Financial Plan and that this was under constant review by the Executive Member and Key Officers.
The Committee was referred to the updated appendix to the work programme for the November meeting, which included a number of new issues, including the Cultural Strategy, Performance Report Quarters 1 and possibly 2 and the Revenues and Benefits Annual report.
The Scrutiny Officer said that Overview and Scrutiny Committee was the Crime and Disorder Committee for the purposes of Section 19 of the Police and Justice Act and that Members might wish to invite the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire to a future meeting. This was supported. She also explained that Members might also be aware that the Executive had asked Project Managers to review Business Cases to support a review of its capital projects given the impact that Covid-19 has had on the Council’s income streams.
Finally, the Scrutiny Officer said that the Council was statutorily required to produce an Annual Scrutiny Report and this document would be submitted to this Committee before being presented to Council. She said that she had noted the request from Councillor Hollebon regarding the Committee having sight of the draft Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) report before the final version was received, perhaps in November.
Councillor Curtis commented on the climate change action plan and having sight of this so that Members could see which actions had been met and those that were yet to be met. He said that it would be good if the Committee could review the impact on town centres of work that was being undertaken, especially in light of the impact of Covid-19.
The Scrutiny Officer said that the thread coming through from the draft report of the scrutiny review was that Members should be very specific as to what they wanted to scrutinise and ask the question “what value could scrutiny add” before the Committee agreed to spend any time on a given topic. She said that, to that end, she would send ... view the full minutes text for item 166.