Venue: Room 102, Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, London E8 1EA. View directions
Contact: Tracey Anderson
Apologies for Absence
1.1 Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Yvonne Maxwell and Tim Shields.
1.2 An apology for lateness was received from Cllr Coban.
Urgent Items / Order of Business
2.1 In the absence of Tim Shields, it was agreed that Chief Executive Question Time would be deferred to the following meeting in April 2019. The planned update on the Council’s contingency planning for Brexit would still be provided however, though this would be presented by the Group Director for Finance and Resources.
2.2 Item 8 would be taken in two parts: (a) Update on the Introduction of Universal Credit and (b) Quarterly Finance Update. As an advisory lawyer to the DWP, the Chair noted that she had a conflict of interest in the Universal Credit item and would therefore leave the room. This item it would be overseen by the Vice Chair.
Declaration of Interest
3.1 The following declarations of interest were made:
· Cllr Gordon was an Advisory Lawyer for DWP.
4.1 Members considered the draft minutes of the meeting held on 9th October 2018.
4.2 The Chair reported back on a number of matters arising from the meeting of the 9th October.
· (At 5.5) The Panel requested that members were informed when a Member Enquiry would take longer than the standard process (10 days). In response, it was noted that a review of the Member Enquiry process was planned and that in the interim, officers had been briefed of the Panel’s request;
· (At 6.9) It was reported that the Group Director for Finance and Resources had circulated the Councils response to the Department of Housing and Communities consultation on the borrowing cap;
· (At 6.7) It was confirmed that a paper was being prepared on recycling and the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) for submission to the relevant Budget Task and Finish Group (BTFG);
· (At 8.16) The Director of Communications was in attendance to update the Panel on the communication, consultation and engagement support offer to scrutiny bodies.
4.3 The Panel agreed the minutes of the meeting held on 9th October.
5.1 The Chair welcomed Polly Cziok, Director of Communications, Culture and Engagement for this item, who would cover the following areas:
· Scrutiny and the Council’s community engagement work;
· Ward Forums and the members community engagement work;
· How scrutiny and the consultation and engagement function work together;
· Raising the profile of scrutiny.
5.2 It was noted that there were a number of drivers that warranted an examination of the communication support for scrutiny commissions. Firstly the scope and ambition of the work of Scrutiny Commissions had increased and secondly, there was much more coverage of the work of Scrutiny Commissions work in the media as a result of the appointment of a Local Democracy Reporter at the Gazette. This has resulted in an increased public awareness and interest in the work of scrutiny which, given its public engagement function, was to be welcomed.
5.3 Although support from communications department had been provided to scrutiny on an ad hoc basis (e.g. Unregistered Schools Review by the Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission), it was felt that this support should be more formalised and structured. In this context, it had been agreed that a communications officer would be assigned to each scrutiny commission who would attend all meetings of the Commission, work proactively with the press to explain items for discussion and actively publicise and promote scrutiny meetings and events. In particular, the assigned communication officer would meet with the relevant scrutiny Chair to identify those topics from the forward plan which might benefit from additional support from the communications department.
5.4 Panel members noted that additional communications support was needed to support high profile scrutiny meetings in which there was substantial public interest. The Chair of Living in Hackney Commission reported that, due to lack of defined budget, it had been difficult to obtain promotional leaflets to support the scrutiny of Thames Water following recent floods in the Lea Bridge area of the borough. Similar concerns were raised by the Chair of Working in Hackney Scrutiny Commission. Given the centrality of the public engagement and involvement function of scrutiny, Members of the Panel suggested that additional support would be needed to enable them to carry out this function effectively.
5.5 The Director of Communications informed the Panel that whilst there was no dedicated budget to support the consultation and engagement function of scrutiny at present, there would be no reason why a modest budget could not be found within existing resources to support the work of the scrutiny commissions. This budget could be used, for example, to support publicity for a specific item (such as a review of the Commission) or to provide leaflets to promote scrutiny meetings.
Agreed: That a budget would be set aside from existing resources to facilitate communication and public involvement function of scrutiny commissions.
5.6 The Commission indicated that it would welcome a broader discussion as to how the communication and engagement function interfaced with the both scrutiny function and Ward Forums. It was noted that ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
6.1 The Chair welcomed Rob Miller, Director of ICT to the meeting. A presentation was provided to the Panel on the use of digital solutions to improve service delivery and innovation, and how such developments may impact on respective equality groups.
6.2 The Panel noted that a key principle underpinning the digital switch in Hackney was that new digital services should be better than the existing service offer, to the extent that residents would prefer to use digital rather than other media platforms. In this context, IT services worked closely with council services and users of their services to develop systems which
6.3 It is recognised that significantly more people now engage with digital platforms through mobiles and other handheld devices than through laptops or desk top devices. As a result the Council has sought to prioritise and improve the experience of mobile users which has resulted in a significant improvement in uptake of digital services.
6.4 The ICT service has made a significant investment in user research to help understand local residents’ needs and how these can be met through a new and improved digital offer. The Governments digital service division is now located in Whitechapel and the Council has taken advantage of these facilities to test out new local systems and how they may impact people with sight impairment or problems with dexterity. This has helped to improve the local digital offer to residents.
6.5 A number of examples of successful service digitisation of were provided to the Panel.
· Hackney Works – the creation of a bespoke system to support local jobseekers had increased the reach of the service into the community and helped residents to find work;
· Housing services – rent accounts had only previously been available in paper form on a quarterly basis, but were now available on resident’s mobile phones. As residents now had access to live data, they were better able to monitor their account which had contributed to a significant drop in calls to the Contact Centre;
· Community Housing - the introduction of hand held devices has enabled live data to be recorded and viewed by officers in the community which has enabled them to be more responsive and reduced the amount of time that needed to be spent in the office.
6.6 The Panel noted that ICT had sought to develop and maintain digital skills and experience in-house. This approach has reduced the need for costly outsourcing of ICT development, but more importantly this had helped ICT to develop relationships with local services and to better understand their ICT needs. To support this approach, ICT was committed to developing local skills and knowledge of the local community and was a big supporter of the Apprenticeships Programme. It was recorded that apprentices make up 21 posts (or 8%) within the IT establishment. ICT was also seeking to develop access to apprenticeships among ‘non-traditional’ groups and it was recorded that women now make up 20% of the ICT apprentice cohort.
6.7 The digitisation ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
7.1 The Panel intended to question the Chief Executive on two main areas: the Councils corporate strategy in relation to bullying and harassment and the Council’s preparations and contingency planning for Brexit. Given that the Chief Executive was unwell and unable to attend, the Group Director for Finance and Resources provided an update on contingency planning for Brexit whilst the remaining item was deferred to the next meeting.
Contingency Planning for Brexit
7.2 It was noted that contingency planning for Brexit was difficult given the absence of a clear decision making process in Parliament. However, the Council was working with a number of stakeholders (residents of European origin, local businesses, council staff and the local community more generally) to raise awareness of the potential implications of Brexit and to mitigate any adverse impacts that could be anticipated.
7.3 Brexit had been discussed at Senior Management Team and with the Mayor and an extensive paper was prepared in December 2018 to outline some of anticipated outcomes and contingency planning in Hackney. A task and finish group (made up of a number of key officers and chaired by the Director for Finance and Resources) had been established to oversee this process. Some examples of the preparations included:
· Ensuring that contractors who provide key building services for the Council had access to adequate resources and finance to complete contracted works;
· Working with local NHS partners to ensure that there was a collaborative response to any adverse conditions that may result from Brexit;
· Making sure residents were aware of the potential impact of Brexit, particularly the 41,500 local residents who are European nationals;
· Ensuring that local job seekers were adequately supported to respond to any opportunities that may result because of Brexit.
7.4 The Council was also keen to support the welfare of staff who may be affected by Brexit. The Council had made it clear that it will pay for the registration fee (£65) for staff who, as European citizens, must register to continue to work and live here. It was noted that this would be a key element for business continuity in key health and social care services.
7.5 The Council had developed and published a web page to support local residents and businesses. The page provided information to local residents from the EU on how to achieve settled status. The page also provided a range of links to government websites so that local businesses were aware of the support available to them to help them prepare for Brexit. A partnership event was also held with the European Commission and the Hackney Business Network in Hackney House in October 2018.
Questions from the Panel
7.6 Given that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit remained, the panel sought to ascertain if any government departments had been in contact with the Council for any specific plans should such an eventuality occur? The Panel noted that the Council was preparing for a range of possible outcomes, including a no-deal exit scenario. The Group Director indicated ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
Cllr Hayhurst in the Chair
8a.1 Ian Williams, Group Director Finance and Resources, updated the Panel on the impact of Universal Credit (UC) in Hackney. The attached paper highlighted a number of issues with the roll-out of Universal Credit:
· Key risks and how council is responding;
· Headline data and how it’s impacted on local residents.
8a.2 As the housing benefit element of UC would be paid direct to claimants alongside other welfare support, the accrual of rent arrears and personal financial hardship was a significant risk to the local claimants and to the Council. In response, the Council had made a number of provisions within the Housing Revenue Account to support the transition to UC.
8a.3 There were a number of risks for UC in respect of the support provided to vulnerable client. The UC application process required claimants to identify their vulnerability (e.g. substance misuse, gambling addiction, mental health) which if omitted, appropriate safeguards and support may not be put in place (e.g. Alternative Payment Arrangement). In addition the operation of a centralised application and assessment UC process presented a number of risks in providing effective support to vulnerable clients:
· The needs of claimants might not be effectively communicated from DWP to local services;
· The Council would not be able to effectively signpost claimants to local services.
8a.4 It was important to note that as more claimants move to UC, the Housing Benefit caseload held by the Council would fall, and as a result, the caseload funding received by the Council from central government would reduce commensurately. Further still, the Panel noted that no additional funding would be made available for the Council to support UC related initiatives.
8a.5 It was noted that the roll-out of UC offered might offer benefit to some claimants in that this benefit offered greater flexibility existing benefits. It was noted that the level of entitlement under UC was responsive to the level of employment and income. Whether claimants would be better-off under UC was however a more complex assessment.
8a.6 As of December 2018, there were 1,490 UC claims made at Hackney Job Centre Plus (JCP), with additional claims made at other sites (Hoxton City) which is shared with Tower Hamlets. It was reiterated that this figure only represented single claimants who were the first cohort to be migrated across to UC since October 2018. Within this data it was noted that:
· 87-88% of claims were processed on time;
· 600 Hackney tenants were now in receipt of UC;
· Higher arrears were noted among UC claimants than Housing Benefit claimants.
8a.7 The DWP has made a number of changes to UC in five areas:
· Whilst child limit (of 2 children) remains in place, this would not be applied retrospectively (i.e. children born before April 2017);
· In response to concerns around Domestic Violence, UC benefit will be paid to the main caregiver within the family unit;
· Only 5% of UC claimants in the private rented sector have their rent paid direct to their landlord, ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
9.1 At the last meeting in October, the Panel agreed the Terms of Reference for the Budget Task and Finish Groups (BTFG) on Integrated Commissioning, Early Years Children Centres, North London Waste Authority and Fees and Charges. In addition the membership of the Fees and Charges BTFG was confirmed. The Panel had now been notified of the membership for the remaining BTFGs via the Whips and these were confirmed.
Agreed: The membership of the BTFGs for Integrated Commissioning, Early Years Children Centres, North London Waste Authority were confirmed as per attached report.
9.2 The Chair of the BTFG on Fees and Charges reported back on its work to date. The BTFG had two meetings between November and January. The group has covered a wide range issues including the financial context for the decision required around fees and charges. A wide range of services were covered within the fees and charges budget scrutiny process, including childcare fees, parking, skip-license and pest control. It was noted however, that there was there was more discretion to vary fees for some services than others.
9.3 The group has considered proposals from Officers and offered challenge by ensuring that these reflected the corporate priorities and key pledges within the Manifesto. The group had also sought to assess some of the risks and benefits of proposals put forward by Officers. The group had made a number of recommendations for action which would be submitted to Labour Group for consideration before ratification by Cabinet.
9.4 The Chair of the BTFG acknowledged that the work had been challenging, particularly as there were a number of new members within the group. In this context, the BTFG Chair was grateful of the support provided by the Chair of Scrutiny panel, the Head of Overview & Scrutiny and other members of the BTFG.
9.5 Members present noted that there would be just three meetings for the BTFG which would require that the planned work to be clearly focused. The Chair of the fees and charges BTFG reported that initial consultation with the Cabinet Member and the Group Director for Finance and Resources had proved very effective in guiding its work, and where it would be most helpful for additional scrutiny input.
9.6 The Chair of the Panel acknowledged that as there are no explicit protocols for Budget Scrutiny, BTFGs would need to adapt and respond to issues as they emerged. As there were just three meetings, BTFGs would also need to be practical about what can be achieved in those sessions, and focus on those areas where scrutiny can have most benefit.
9.7 The Chair thanked Cllr Lynch and Cllr Woodley for attending to talk about the work of their respective BTFG groups.
10.1 Members gave consideration to the latest update on the work programme for the Panel for the year.
10.2 The main item for the next and final meeting of the Panel was Sustainable Procurement. Given the level of public interest in this issue, the Chair hoped that evidence would be received from a range of stakeholders and that members of the public would attend and participate. The meeting would also take the Chief Executive Question time which was deferred from today’s agenda.
10.3 Cllr Sharman noted that a deep-dive study on the SEND budget was being undertaken by the Audit Committee. This Committee also intended to assess in-sourcing and out-sourcing which would overlap with the sustainable procurement item planned for Scrutiny Panel in April. It was hoped that respective bodies to could collaborate in assessing these respective items and that the Audit Committee would contribute to the April meeting. It was noted that training was being provided on 28th January to consider value for money and risk and would be open to all members.+
10.4 It was noted that a training session on questioning skills for scrutiny councillors would also be held on 13th February 2019 at 18.30-20.30.
10.5 The next meeting of Scrutiny Panel would be on the 29th April 2019.
Any Other Business
There was none.