Scrutiny Committee Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 23rd March, 2010
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Committee Room 1, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor Lawrence Oliver (Chairman), Councillor R.L. Shakespeare - Smith (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Mrs A.G. Ashley, Councillor David Billing, Councillor Melissa Davey, Councillor S.K. Jarvis, Councillor Marilyn Kirkland, Councillor Alan Millard, Councillor Elliot Needham and Councillor Michael Paterson
In attendance:
Councillor Mrs C. P. A. Strong (Portfolio Holder for Policy and Green Issues), Strategic Director of Finance and Regulatory Services, Head of Housing and Environmental Health, Strategic Housing Manager, Environmental Health Manager, Scrutiny Officer and Committee and Member Services Officer
Also Present:
Councillor Tom Brindley and 1 members of the public
Item Description/Decision
PART I
107 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors John Bishop, Simon Bloxham and H Marshall.
108 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meetings held on 19 January 2010 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and signed by the Chairman.
109 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meetings held on 22 February 2010 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and signed by the Chairman.
110 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
No other business was submitted for consideration by the Committee.
111 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
There were no presentations from members of the public.
112 URGENT/GENERAL EXCEPTION ITEMS
No urgent or general exception items were received.
113 CALLED IN ITEMS
Since the last meeting, no decisions had been called-in by the Scrutiny Committee.
114 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
(1) The Chairman advised the Committee that the Scrutiny Committee Finance Sub-Group did not meet on 22 March 2010 and therefore Item 14 “Scrutiny Committee Finance Sub-Group” had been withdrawn;

(2) Members were reminded that any declarations of interest in respect of any business set out in the agenda, and the nature of the interest, should be declared as either a prejudicial or personal interest at the commencement of the relevant item on the agenda. Members declaring a prejudicial interest should leave the room and not seek to influence the decision during that particular item;

(3) The Chairman gave a further reminder that any advice from a Member of the Committee concerning a party whip direction should also be declared.
115 PRESENTATION BY THE PORTFOLIO HOLDER FOR POLICY AND GREEN ISSUES
Councillor Mrs C. P. A. Strong, the Portfolio Holder for Policy and Green Issues, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee focusing on the Policy element of her portfolio.

Councillor Strong informed the Committee that policy was discussed by the Administration who drove issues forward, which were shaped by the Council, who then had an opportunity to vote on those issues.

She advised that issues under the remit of the Policy and Green Issues Portfolio included:

• The setting of NHDC priorities;
• The Corporate Plan;
• The Climate Change Strategy;
• LSPs Where NHDC signs up to work with partners;
• Equalities;
• The Rural Strategy;
• Partnerships;
• Green Issues Signed up to the Nottingham Declaration.
Currently in the process of taking measurements.

She stated that the Head of Policy, Partnerships and Community Development was responsible for the Policy unit and was responsible for informing Members of Government Guidance and informed Members that a restructure of Officers had had a major effect on the department, which now consisted of one Policy and Scrutiny Manager, two Policy Officers and one Scrutiny Officer.

Members asked several questions including whether there were any policies which did not have a financial implication; whether the Corporate Plan process was effective and how would Total Place affect the way in which NHDC is measured.

Councillor Strong informed Members that in terms of promoting the green agenda many departments were involved and that many issues could only be addressed as and when contracts were due for renewal. She also stated that value for money would be considered when considering green issues and that an example of this was changes to the types of recycling, which were unable to be incorporated into the current contracts, but that it was hoped to do so in the future. She advised that the Corporate Plan was used to set NHDC priorities and that the associated action plans supported the process. She informed the Committee that customer surveys and issues were incorporated into the Corporate Plan thereby ensuring that residents views were incorporated. Councillor Strong stated that NHDC needed to be better at telling people what we achieve and that best practice was always considered, but that, as a small Authority, we would focus on statutory responsibilities and work within financial constraints.

The Strategic Director of Finance and Regulatory Services advised Members that initial discussions regarding Total Place had taken place with Hertfordshire County Council, but as yet, there was no indication as to how NHDC could contribute

The Chairman thanked Councillor Strong for her presentation.
116 ADOPTION OF A NEW COMMON HOUSING ALLOCATION SCHEME
The Strategic Housing Manager presented the report of the Head of Housing and Environmental Health regarding the Adoption of a new Common Housing Allocation Scheme. He advised that there were approximately 10,000 Housing Association properties in the area of which 600 became vacant per year. He informed Members that the housing policies of the Housing Associations and NHDC had previously been harmonised into a single policy and that the proposed scheme clarified and enhanced certain elements as listed in Appendix 2 of the report and drew attention to the following:

Paragraph 4 Added text to reduce risk
Paragraph 5.9 Ensures that Social Housing goes to those who need it and qualifies who should be housed
Paragraph 8 Clarifies overcrowding issues in respect of children
Paragraph 9 Clarifies that children are considered to be those under 18 years of age
Paragraph 17.2.2 Highlights that injured soldiers would receive priority
Paragraph 19.2 Seeks to prevent homelessness

Members asked a number of questions including whether time limits had been set regarding failure to pay rent; who had the burden of proof in relation to anti social behaviour; whether any reviews of decisions had been requested; whether paragraph 17.1.6 of the Policy required further clarification and whether clarity was required regarding property owners seeking housing.

The Strategic Housing Manager informed Members that the onus was on NHDC to establish the current situation which may include talking to the Police, Health Teams etc; that a panel made the decision regarding issues, to ensure consistency and that a right to request a review was included in the policy, although this had not yet been taken up by anyone He further advised that paragraph 17.1.6 would be reworded to ensure clarity; that other avenues would be explored with property owners such as accessing funds through the property, however they could access social housing although would be given a shorthold tenancy pending the sale of their home at which time a permanent tenancy would be offered.

The Head of Housing and Environmental Health informed Members that circumstances such as non payment of rent are considered at a specific point in time, although people could always reapply to be placed on the list and that cases involving anti social behaviour, rent arrears or tenancy issues would be judged on their merits

RESOLVED: That the Strategic Housing Manager be requested to reword paragraph 17.1.6 ensure clarity

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That recommendations in the report be supported;

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Scrutiny Committee to comment on the report entitled “Adoption of a New Common Housing Allocation Scheme”, prior to consideration by Cabinet on 30 March 2010.
117 THE ADOPTION OF A POLICY ON STATUTORY NUISANCE
The Environmental Health Manager presented the report of the Head of Housing and Environmental Health regarding the Adoption of a Policy on Statutory Nuisance. He advised Members that a policy on neighbourhood noise was already in operation and that this policy widened the scope of issues and tightened procedures to make the definition of statutory nuisance clearer. He drew attention to Appendix 1 of the policy which explained the prioritisation of nuisance complaints and Section 4 of the policy which detailed how complaints would be dealt with. He stated that the aim was to understand a nuisance issue as quickly as possibly to enable it to be dealt with effectively.

Members asked several questions including whether licensed premises were covered by this policy; what was the trigger for the District to be inspected as detailed in Paragraph 3.1 of the policy; whether there was a timeframe to which complaint investigation works; whether there was a procedure for dealing with alarms; whether there was a procedure for entering homes to shut down nuisance alarms and whether diary keeping was effective.

The Environmental Health Manager advised Members that the policy covered any premises whether it be licensed or not; that inspections occur after a complaint or when a problem had been bought to Environmental Health attention; that a first response to a complaint would be within 3 working days and that most problems would be concluded within a month. The Environment Health Manager informed the Committee that complaints regarding alarms had reduced significantly and that diary keeping was very useful and was used to guide Officers as to when to visit as well as acting as evidence if required.

The Head of Housing and Environmental Health advised the Committee that every NHDC Officer could inform Environmental Health of problems within the District; that entry to homes regarding alarms was rare and required a warrant, although all other avenues to resolve the problem would be taken before seeking a warrant.

Members considered that the person complained about should be visited to ensure that the issues were fully understood and that the wording of Paragraph 4.2 of the policy should be amended to reflect this

RESOLVED: That the first sentence of Paragraph 4.2 of the Policy on Statutory Nuisance read “Usually, the first action will be to speak to or visit the complainant and person complained about to ensure the issues are fully understood.”

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That recommendations contained in the report entitled “The Adoption of a Policy on Statutory Nuisance” be supported.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Scrutiny Committee to comment on the report entitled “The Adoption of a Policy on Statutory Nuisance”, prior to consideration by Cabinet on 30 March 2010.
118 REVIEW OF THE AMENDED ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NOISE CALL OUT SERVICE
The Environmental Health Manager presented the report of the Head of Housing and Environmental Health regarding the Review of the Amended Environmental Health Noise Call Out Service. He informed Members that the Environmental Health Noise Call Out Service had been reviewed in 2008 due to finances, service level, service demand and impact on daytime service issues. He advised that an assessment of demand for an out of hours service had been undertaken and that as a result a trial of a reduced service was put in place. The Environmental Health Manager drew attention to charts 1,2 and 3 contained in the report which detailed the number of complaints received during the trial period and demonstrated that the current service level was sufficient to provide a good service.

Members asked whether complaints had been received regarding the change in the call out service

The Environmental Health Manager advised that there had been a few complaints regarding the level of service at the beginning of the trial, but that none had been registered in the last 12 months and that NHDCs service level was better than our neighbours and that this was the best level of service available for limited resources

RESOLVED:

(1) That the amended Environmental Health Noise Call Out Service be supported;

(2) That the Head of Housing and Environmental Health be requested to monitor
complaints and review the Noise Call Out Service Level on a regular basis.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Scrutiny Committee to comment on the report entitled “Review of the Amended Environmental Health Noise Call Out Service”.
119 SCRUTINY COMMITTEE ANNUAL REPORT 2009/10
The Scrutiny Officer presented the draft Scrutiny Committee Annual Report 2008 - 10. He informed Members that the format remained as used in previous years and advised that information such as the number of recommendations made would be calculated after this meeting of the Committee and inserted into the final report. He advised Members that due to the civic timetable, there would not be another Scrutiny Committee prior to this report being presented to Council on 20 May 2010.

Members agreed that the wording of Paragraph 2.5 and 4.23 of the Annual report should be amended to provide clarity and that Paragraph 7.2 of the report should clarify the difference between public participation and co-opted members and promote where users and residents had been involved. The Members discussed the ongoing need to review the progress of recommendations to Cabinet.

RESOLVED:
(1) That Paragraph 2.5 of the Scrutiny Committee Annual Report 2009 - 10 read “The Scrutiny Committee has not formally called in any items this year. However the Committee held two special meetings: one in May 2009 to review the decision to rationalize the museums service in North Hertfordshire; and another in February 2010 to scrutinize the Council papers prior to the decision to award the Churchgate development contract.”

(2) That Paragraph 4.23 of the Scrutiny Committee Annual Report 2009 - 10 read “The Group held its first meeting on 9 December 2009 and has since held a further (two) meetings. The Group expects to hold its final meeting in April and its comments and recommendations will be sent via the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee to the Waste Management Project Board followed by a full report on this Group being presented to the Scrutiny Committee in June 2010.

(3) That the Scrutiny Officer reword Paragraph 7.2 of the Scrutiny Committee Annual Report 2009 - 10 to:
(i) Clarify the difference between public participation and co-opted members;
(ii) Promote where users and residents had been involved.

(4) That the Chairman and Vice-Chairman be authorised to sign the final report on behalf of the Committee prior to consideration by Council on 20 May 2010;

(5) That the Scrutiny Officer be requested to present a report regarding the Final Scrutiny Committee Annual Report 2009 - 10 to this Committee at the meeting due to be held in June 2010.

RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL:That the Scrutiny Committee Annual Report 2009 - 10 be endorsed.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Scrutiny Committee to comment on the report entitled “Scrutiny Committee Annual Report 2009 - 10”, prior to consideration by Council on 20 May 2010.
120 SCRUTINY COMMITTEE FINANCE SUB-GROUP
The Chairman had previously announced that the Scrutiny Finance Sub-Group had not met on 22 March 2010 and therefore this item had been withdrawn.
121 SCRUTINY COMMITTEE WORK PROGRAMME
The Scrutiny Officer presented the report regarding the Scrutiny Committee Work Programme. He informed Members that he was investigating alternative methods to identify items for the Work Programme as the Forward Plan covered key decisions, but not the full range of Council Work. He stated that he would present suggestions for alternative methods at the next meeting of this Committee. The Scrutiny Officer drew Members attention to the methods used by the Trade Waste Task and Finish


Group, which had included considering 3 reports at various stages of completion and
noted that this had been an effective method enabling Members to have an input in policy as it developed He also advised that the Task and Finish Group regarding Services for Teenagers would start work shortly. He suggested that Members choose subjects for future Task and Finish Groups although consider whether topical subjects should be scrutinised throughout the year.

Members debated that issues needed to be considered at an early stage rather than as a completed report and that choosing topical subjects for Task and Finish groups as the year progressed would be an effective way of working, although noted that sufficient time must be available to establish the group and complete the work within any deadlines before agreeing a subject. They also considered how the enhanced scrutiny powers would allow for scrutiny of Partnerships and were advised that the Constitutional Review Group was in the process of considering this and this Committee would be asked to consider the issue in the next Civic Year.

RESOLVED:
(1) That the report entitled Scrutiny Committee Work Programme 2009/10 be noted:

(2) That the Scrutiny Officer be requested to investigate alternative methods of identifying issues to be placed on the Work Programme for 2010/11 and advise this Committee of progress;

(3) That the Scrutiny Officer be requested to bring any suitable issues for topical Task and Finish Groups to this Committee as soon as they can be identified.

REASON FOR DECISION: To enable the Scrutiny Committee to plan and carry out its workload efficiently and effectively.
122 NORTH HERTFORDSHIRE DISTRICT COUNCIL - THE DRAFT FORWARD PLAN: 1 APRIL 2010 - 31 JULY 2010
The Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee presented the Draft Forward Plan to the Committee, which covered the period 1 April 2010 to 31 July 2010.

The Chairman reminded Members that a report regarding proposals to convert Hitchin Town Hall to a museum and community facility had been considered by this Committee on 13 October 2009 and that a further proposal was due to be considered by Cabinet in June 2010.

Members considered that the report regarding “Consideration of Proposals to Convert Hitchin Town Hall to a Museum and Community Facility”, due to be considered by Cabinet in June 2010, should be scrutinised by this Committee in order to ensure that evidence presented to Cabinet is complete, although they acknowledged the tight deadlines and agreed that the Chairman would discuss scrutiny of this report with Officers in order to clarify the Scrutiny Committee requirements;

Members also considered that the Pending Items List should be used to identify decisions due to be taken at a much earlier stage and that full reports were not necessarily required for this Committee, but rather verbal reports and Officers available to answer questions on process and expected outcomes. They agreed that the reports entitled “Submission Core Strategy Development Plan Document (DPD)” and “Submission Development Policies DPD” due to be considered by Cabinet in December 2010 be considered by this Committee. They expressed concern that the report entitled “ Preferred Options Land Allocations Development Plan (DPD)” due to be considered by Cabinet in January 2011 would be difficult to scrutinize as one document and that Area Committees should play a role in the scrutiny of this. In order to discuss the effective Scrutiny of the Land Allocation Documents it was agreed that the Strategic Director of Planning, Housing and Enterprise be requested to attend the next meeting of this Committee to discuss the issue.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the Draft Forward Plan, covering the period 1 April 2010 to 31 July 2010, be noted;

(2) That the item marked “Consideration of Proposals to Convert Hitchin Town Hall to a Museum and Community Facility”, due to be considered by Cabinet in June 2010, be considered by the Scrutiny Committee;

(3) That the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee be requested to discuss scrutiny of this report with Officers in order to clarify the Scrutiny Committee requirements;

(4) That the item marked “Submission Core Strategy Development Plan Document (DPD)” due to be considered by Cabinet in December 2010, be considered by the Scrutiny Committee;

(5) That the item marked “Submission Development Policies DPD” due to be considered by Cabinet in December 2010 be considered by the Scrutiny Committee;

(6) That the Strategic Director of Planning, Housing and Enterprise be requested to attend the next meeting of this Committee to discuss methods of Scrutinising the various DPD items.

REASON FOR DECISION: to ensure that the Scrutiny Committee is able to scrutinise key decisions prior to consideration by Cabinet.
123 QUESTIONS

There were no formal questions presented.
124 CHAIRMAN'S THANKS
The Chairman noted that this was the last meeting of the Scrutiny Committee to be held this Civic Year and took the opportunity to thank Officers and Members for their contribution throughout 2009/10.
Published on Wednesday, 14th April, 2010
9.35 p.m.