64.1 The following question had been submitted by Councillor R D MacRae for the Leader of the Council:
“As you know both Councillor John McGrath and myself have asked several times if we can restart the Stapleford Working Group. We have been told this is not going to happen but told there will be a meeting with ALL Ward Councillors to discuss matters relating to Stapleford. My question is when will this meeting take place?”
The Leader responded that there was an intention to circulate potential dates to ward councillors in early January with a view to holding the meeting in late January or early February.
64.2 The following question had been submitted by Councillor J W McGrath for the Chair of the Housing Committee:
“Councillor Kerry, at the last Housing Committee meeting, it was announced that we as a Council intend to build 230 affordable houses, can we have a breakdown of how we are going to achieve this?”
The Chair responded that members of the Housing, Finance and Resources and Policy and Performance Committees would know that there were plans to build two new dementia friendly bungalows in Willoughby Street, Beeston. These would be delivered through the Capital Works Team. Proposals would be presented to the next Policy and Performance Committee to augment the Capital Works Team to build more capacity to increase delivery of social affordable and intermediate housing schemes to meet the target set by the Housing Committee.
The Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Executive were having systematic meetings with a range of registered social housing providers to explore potential partnership relationships and a sequential plan was being drawn up to ensure that best use was made of all existing assets. A meeting was planned for 9 January at which this plan, which would align with the recent social and affordable needs study, would be discussed, with a view to bringing it before the first available committee for approval.
64.3 The following question had been submitted by Councillor S A Bagshaw for the Chair of the Finance and Resources Committee:
“Would the Chair of the Finance and Resources Committee outline details of the risks associated with the roll out of Universal Credit across the Borough? At the recent Housing Performance Group it was said that up to 29% of all rental income was at risk of not being collected. Would the Chair of the Finance and Resources Committee give the total amount in figures of the rental actually at risk and what measures are being implemented to reduce the risk to the Council’s finances?”
The Chair of the Finance and Resources Committee stated that the Council had known the timetable for the implementation of Universal Credit and officers had drawn up comprehensive arrangements to mitigate its effects on both recipients and this Council.
There were two major challenges to the roll-out. Firstly, the transition period from the old to the new systems of operation. The government had made changes and these had gone some way to mitigate issues. The second major change concerned payment of housing rents. Previously for clients on housing benefit, payments were made directly to the landlord. This aspect of the policy was flawed; it would inevitably lead some clients who had chaotic financial planning lifestyles into serious debt. However, this was government policy and the Council had to deal with the consequences.
The Council had been working with Mobysoft Housing Intelligence in respect of identifying the potential impact of Universal Credit. Mobysoft were market leaders in respect of housing intelligence software and had helped the Council identify the maximum exposure to be 29% of its current rental charge, equating to £4.5m in financial terms. This figure was the total amount that the Council was likely to have to collect directly from tenants, whereas now they received directly from Housing Benefit. Of those who do transition over to Universal Credit, there would be a significant amount that would continue to pay their rent using the housing element they received from Universal Credit. In line with this transition, the Council were setting up direct debits for rent payments, which were anticipated to be live by February 2019. This additional payment method would help those who were able to manage their finances ensuring payments were prompt and controlled.
In addition to the above, on 4 December 2018 the Housing Committee agreed the restructure of the Rents Team. This restructure was put in place to mitigate the impact of Universal Credit and transition to the Housing Department. The new structure created an Income and Housing Manager as well as three additional Income Collection Officers. The role of these individuals would be to ensure robust processes and timely recovery action was taken, whilst working with tenants to explain their obligations and relevant payment methods available.
The Rents Team will be utilising the Rents Sense software, provided by Mobysoft, which will enable the team to prioritise the high risk tenancies and address relevant early intervention as well as providing relevant timely support for those experiencing difficulties maintaining their tenancy and finances.
There was an awareness of the issue and it was believed that the Council had taken the necessary steps to mitigate the effect of the revised payment scheme on the Housing Revenue Account.
A supplementary question was submitted by Councillor Bagshaw which queried whether the risk of non-collection could be a contributing factor on the usage of food parcels.
The Chair of the Finance and Resources Committee responded that the Council had worked with the voluntary sector and people were in place. The Council was doing the best it could and would continue to work with tenants.
64.4 The following question had been submitted by Councillor G Marshall for the Chair of the Jobs and Economy Committee:
“Approximately how many businesses in Broxtowe are registered and how many of these businesses employ people on temporary, short term or zero hours contracts?”
The Chair of the Jobs and Economy Committee stated that there were currently 3,310 registered businesses in the Borough. These could be split in to business size based on employee numbers:
· Micro (0 to 9) - 2,975
· Small (10 to 49) - 275
· Medium (50 to 249) - 40
· Large (250+) - 20
There was no information on the contracts companies offer out, and this information is unobtainable as it is usually commercially sensitive.
A supplementary question was submitted by Councillor Marshall which queried whether benefit receivers are in-work recipients and how fluctuating incomes would be mitigated of those receiving benefits.
The Chair of the Jobs and Economy Committee responded that the Council would be sympathetic to people’s cases and the situation would be mitigated when the information was received.
64.5 The following question has been submitted by Councillor M Radulovic MBE for the Leader of the Council:
“Is the Leader of the Council now in a position to say that the external investigation in relation to senior members of staff has been concluded? And is he now in a position to state what the total was of all costs associated with the external investigation as a whole sum”.
The Leader responded that the external investigation in relation to senior members of staff had been concluded. The total associated external investigation costs stood at £206,900, of which 75% would be met by the HRA and 25% by the General Fund.
A supplementary question was submitted by Councillor Radulovic which asked if the figure was actually closer to £600,000 when considering the cost of pay-outs and temporary staff?
The Leader responded that if the chosen course had not been followed and by not employing temporary staff the cost to the Council would have been far greater.