This report sets out activities and progress on work areas within the Housing and Community Services Portfolio, which fall within the remit of this Committee. This information is provided in relation to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services being held to account.
Members received an overview of activities and progress made on work areas within the Housing and Community Services Portfolio, which fell within the remit of the Committee. These were as follows:
· Disabled adaptations to housing
· Homelessness and housing options
· Housing management and allocations
· Housing strategy
· Private sector housing
· Housing Landlord Services
· Development of the Council’s housing stock
· Libraries and Community Hubs
· Adult Learning
· Climate Change
· Voluntary Sector
· Medway Development Company Ltd (MDC).
· Medway Commercial Group Ltd (MCG).
Councillor Doe, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services attended the meeting and responded to Members’ questions and comments as follows:
• Capacity of the Welfare Reform team – Asked whether the team had enough resource to support residents, the Deputy Leader stressed the importance of providing advice in this area to people whose mental health might be under pressure. Adding that it was not easy to measure need, given that it was variable, he assured the Committee that if it was established that the team was under resourced, this would be addressed.
• Adult Learning – In response to a question on the role the service would play in helping people get back in to work post-Covid, the Deputy Leader advised that he had joined the Members’ Skills Board to facilitate closer liaison and a joined-up approach to this issue. He added that the Board was very sensitive to the need for more adult education referrals and better incentives for people to take up skills training opportunities as a way of increasing their confidence. This required the co-operation of the Job Centre and Job Centre Plus and this was being addressed.
The Deputy Leader also cited the example of funding that had been secured for an education centre at the Britton Farm Development.
• Libraries and Community Hubs – The Deputy Leader agreed that the role of libraries had evolved beyond the traditional model and said that the Community Hub principle was applied to every library so that they provided a central position for the Council within neighbourhoods. The aim was for each Community Hub to offer a range of services to meet the specific needs of its local area.
In response to a question on the click and collect service that had been in operation during the Covid pandemic, the Deputy Leader highlighted that the Community Hub concept was to encourage people back into the buildings as this would allow them to access a range of Council services as well as encourage them to take out books by a range of authors rather than sticking to their favourite author, thereby enhancing their reading experience. He was confident that previous customer levels would be achieved through a post-Covid relaunch of the service.
Asked about the proposal for a Community Hub in Rainham, the Deputy Leader referred to the challenge in finding a suitable venue and feedback that had been expressed in favour of retaining the existing building. The proposal therefore required further consideration during which the views of the community would be taken into account.
• MDC properties/right to buy protection– The Deputy Leader explained that the main purpose was to build homes for sale. Leasehold properties were protected from the right to buy whereas affordable homes did not necessarily have that protection.
• Promotion of Universal Credit payments direct to landlords – The Deputy Leader considered that making Universal Credit payment to tenants rather than direct to landlords did not necessarily empower the tenant to manage their finances effectively. In cases where tenants were in financial difficulties efforts were made to make payments direct to landlords.
• Reduction in staffing at Kingsley House due to the Covid pandemic – The Deputy Leader recognised the need to reduce face to face interactions during the pandemic but acknowledged that not everyone was in a position to access services on-line.
• Selective Licensing - The Deputy Leader responded to a question on why this had not been taken forward, by assuring Members that it had not been rejected and that, as part of a new scheme to increase licensing, the need for selective licensing might be identified in certain areas.
• Children in temporary accommodation - The Deputy Leader stressed that every effort was made to avoid placing children in temporary accommodation, including offering guarantees and other incentives to private sector landlords.
• Performance against the Government housing delivery test and the implications for the Planning Committee – In response to concern about Medway’s performance on the delivery of housing, the Deputy Leader stressed that the key was to encourage developers to develop land for which planning permission had been granted, which was dependent on the ability of customers to buy properties. He considered that imposing a high number for the Council to achieve was counterproductive as it could lead to developers focusing on easy to develop greenfield sites rather than more difficult brownfield sites that helped areas to regenerate.
• Appointment of a new contractor for phase 4 of the development of new Council stock – The Deputy Leader stressed his determination that this be achieved and envisaged that the new contractor would be a local company.
• Progress on climate change – In response to whether 2050 was a sufficiently ambitious target for Medway to become carbon neutral, the Deputy Leader considered that steady progress was being made year on year and that 2050 should be regarded as a back stop rather than a target. Should additional Government funding schemes become available, the Council would take advantage of them. For example, 13,000 trees would shortly be planted through the Challenge Fund. He referred to progress on charging points for electric cars which had been at a slower pace due to the Council joining the Kent wide scheme as it offered a better deal due to Kent’s greater purchasing power.
The Deputy Leader agreed to establish when the Council would be publishing its annual carbon emissions data.
• Rough sleepers and Homelessness– The Deputy Leader praised the team for their effectiveness in helping rough sleepers back into society, often in challenging circumstances. Although it was difficult to establish exact figures, he was in no doubt that the number of rough sleepers was reducing.
With regard to homelessness, the Deputy Leader stressed that prevention remained the first priority and a range of solutions were employed such as liaison with landlords and training on how to be a tenant. One current challenge was that people were not vacating council properties to buy their own property.
On behalf of the Committee, the Chairman thanked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services for his attendance and for his detailed responses.