Agenda and draft minutes

Agenda and draft minutes

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Contact: John Mitchell, Committee Services Officer 

Items
No. Item

43.

Declarations of interest

Minutes:

In relation to the item on Oxford’s Waterways, Councillor Howlett declared a non-pecuniary interest as someone who lived on a boat in the City and Councillor Fry declared a non-pecuniary interest as the Chair of the Oxford Canal Festival.

 

 

44.

Chair's Announcements

Minutes:

The Committee agreed with the Chair’s proposal to re-order the agenda for the benefit of the Committee’s guests.

 

45.

Universal Credit pdf icon PDF 1 MB

The Committee has asked for a report on the impact that the roll out of Universal Credit is having on the Council’s finances, and on residents. The report  will be presented by Councillor Marie Tidball, Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities; Councillor Nigel Chapman, Cabinet Member for Safer Communities & Customer Focused Services; Tanya Bandekar, Service Manager, Revenue & Benefits; and Laura Bessell, Benefits Manager.

 

 

Minutes:

Councillor Marie Tidball,  Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities, introduced the report, drawing attention to some of its key elements.

The administrative burden of processing Universal Credit was considerable, greater than anticipated and exacerbated by inaccurate (and changing) information from the Government. This sometimes resulted in over or under payments which, in turn, required more administration to resolve. Despite increased and increasing administrative costs, Government grants to assist with the administrative burden were decreasing.   Claims had to be re-visited once a month and the costs of doing so (c. 2000 a month) were estimated to be about £50k pa for which there was no funding from the DWP. These concerns and others about the introduction of UC had been the subject of a Council Motion in July 2018 and the Leader and Portfolio holder had subsequently written to the then Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. A non-committal reply had been received in response to this letter. 

The nature of UC payments (in arrears) combined with the possibility of over or under payments was often a source of considerable psychological distress to claimants, particularly those who were already vulnerable. The application of UC to those who had a disability and single mothers had been found to be discriminatory.

Councillor Tidball concluded her introduction by saying that  the  Housing Benefit element should be taken out of UC so that it could be paid direct to landlords, as it had been hitherto. Ultimately UC should be withdrawn because of its impact on the vulnerable.

The Committee shared Councillor Tidball’s view about the iniquity of UC and was appreciative of the team’s work to mitigate its detrimental consequences to the extent that they can. They went on to raise a number of detailed matters to which the officers responded.

Eviction of any tenant sat uncomfortably alongside the Council’s declared intention to reduce and, ultimately, have no rough sleeping in the City. In practice eviction was only ever a very last resort and the number evicted  was very small.  The team had to go through a lengthy and detailed process, which sought to take full account of a person’s circumstances, the Homeless Reduction Act and consultation with relevant support agencies. It was unusual for those who were evicted to have no alternative provision at all.

The irrecoverable sum of £900k cited in the report related to all debt write offs and not just those associated with UC. Those in receipt of UC were offered advice about maximising energy efficiency in their homes.

Discretionary Housing Payments are funded through an annual allocation of  money by the Department of Work & Pensions to the Council.  The Council is at liberty to devote more money to this purpose if it wishes and the Committee agreed that there would be merit in moving to a needs based policy for its allocation in future. Many of those families in receipt of UC were affected by long term issues and while there would be merit in exploring connections with such  ...  view the full minutes text for item 45.

46.

Workforce Equality Report & Update on the Equalities Action Plan pdf icon PDF 309 KB

At its meeting on 13 November 2019, Cabinet will consider a report on the Workforce Equality Report & Update on the Equalities Action Plan. This item provides an opportunity for the Committee to comment on the report and make such recommendations to the Cabinet as it wishes. The report will be presented by Councillor Nigel Chapman, Cabinet Member for Safer Communities and Customer Focused Services; and Paul Adams, HR and Payroll Manager.

 

 

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor Nigel Chapman, Cabinet Member for Safer Communities and Customer Focused Services, introduced the report. Good progress was  being  made in increasing the proportion of the Council’s BAME employees.  The number of BAME candidates is increasing and twice as many new starters are from the BAME community as in the recent past.  Much more needed to be done, however, both to increase the proportion (so as provide a closer match to City’s overall BAME community) and, more urgently, to increase the proportion holding senior positions. Similar efforts were needed to increase  the proportion of women holding senior positions. More employees were declaring themselves to have a disability. There was a significant lack of voluntary disclosure of sexual orientation (the voluntary nature of such disclosures was emphasised). These declarations assisted the Council in enabling it to respond more effectively to the workforce’s need.  The recent ‘Everyone Matters’ Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week had been a success and created a “palpable sense of enthusiasm.”

 

Helen Bishop, Head of  Business Improvement, said a “step change” was needed in relation to the employment of those from the BAME community and women in senior positions as described by Councillor Chapman. To do this there would be a focus on the existing BAME and female workforce, combined with some targeted recruitment of apprentices and graduates. Following the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week, some employees had expressed interest in acting as ambassadors for recruitment to the Council. The Council’s recruitment process was being looked at very closely. This included taking positive action at the interview stage and consideration of whether the person specifications were, on occasions, unnecessarily stringent. In relation to the absence of BAME and females in more senior positions, discussions would be held with those in post  who might aspire to more senior roles to see what could be done to support  their development.

 

Appointment Panels were as representative as possible and it was agreed that it  was desirable to have adequate BAME representation on them  but, regrettably, this was not  always possible. For more senior positions in particular it was noted that other local institutions (eg the Universities) had been successful in recruiting members of the BAME community to senior positions and might be able to assist in the process, to the extent, perhaps, on occasions, of  providing someone to serve on a panel. Exit interviews provided  important intelligence to inform future recruitment and employment practices. The take up rate of exit interviews had increased to about 60%, helped by the  new practice of having them conducted by HR colleagues rather than line managers. The majority of departures were accounted for by the need for  career progression of one kind or another.

 

In discussion it was suggested that the increase in the proportion  of BAME employees (1% over the previous year) was not enough and that the proportion cited (13.1%) was itself flawed because the total BAME population in the City was much greater   than the base figure which had been used. In  ...  view the full minutes text for item 46.

47.

Oxford's waterways pdf icon PDF 249 KB

The Committee has asked for a report on the current condition of the waterways network, and plans or options for improving its offer. This includes facilities and plans for future mooring provision for permanent long-term dwellers. The report will be presented by Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for  Zero Oxford; and  Tim Wiseman, Oxford Waterways Coordinator. This report will be published as a supplement.

 

 

Minutes:

Tim Wiseman, Oxford Waterways Coordinator, introduced the report. His post had been established a year previously in recognition of the complexity and wealth of benefits the waterways could offer the City. The post was temporary, due to end in September 2020. He was hopeful that the post would be extended to enable his initial work to be developed.    A vision for Oxford’s waterways had recently been published, identifying areas to deliver against the Council’s priorities. A significant  benefit of the vision had been its success in getting partners to sign up to its  aspirations, so recognising  their shared responsibilities. While the waterways touched specific parts of the City, he was keen to find ways in which they benefited the whole City. It was noticeable that few of the Council’s policies made reference to  the City’s waterways.

 

Communications with those living on the waterways could be challenging, in part for historical reasons. He tried to develop a good relationship through, for example,  small initiatives, such as dropping  off letters to encourage people to vote or sign up with a GP. 

 

The Committee congratulated Tim Wiseman for the significant improvement  he had made to the Council’s relationship with those who live on the City’s waterways. Among the many initiatives, the potential development of  biodiversity “corridors” and waterways as a sustainable transport option were particularly welcome. 

 

There was wide acknowledgement of the potential offered by the waterways to contribute to the City’s housing crisis. If and when new homes become available on the water, serious consideration will need to be given to how they will be allocated on an equitable basis.  For those currently living on the  water it was not without significant challenges (e.g. supply of fresh water; toilet emptying facilities; and refuse collection). Some city  moorings (e.g. Port Meadow) needed  considerable investment to bring them up to an acceptable standard. Little  seemed to be made of the significant historical role played by the waterways in the history of Oxford which was a regret. The potential of waterways to serve as locations for social prescribing/health walking was noted.

 

Tim Wiseman concluded by saying he was happy to make himself available to any communities in the City to encourage them to make use of and engage with the waterways and would welcome requests from Councillors to that end.

 

In conclusion the Committee recommended that:

 

1.    Where appropriate and relevant, council strategies and policies should reflect the contribution of the waterways to the city and that the review cycle be used to update those which are already in place.  For example, the Local Plan, Infrastructure Delivery Plan, Housing and Homelessness Strategy, Green Spaces Strategy and Leisure Strategy.

 

2.    The importance of the City’s waterways should be  recognised as an infrastructure asset, and there should be the requirement to support them through capital investment, alongside that of wider partners;

3.    Given the limited understanding of the diverse communities living on boats in the City, there should be a study to get a  better understanding  ...  view the full minutes text for item 47.

48.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 337 KB

 

Recommendation: That the minutes of the meeting held on 01 October 2019 be APPROVED as a true and accurate record.

 

Minutes:

The Committee resolved to APPROVE the minutes of the meeting held on 01 October 2019 as a true and accurate record.

49.

Report back on recommendations pdf icon PDF 128 KB

At its meetings on 03 and 09 October, Cabinet considered the Committee’s recommendations in relation to: Floyds Row; Air Quality Status Report; Integrated Performance Report for Q1; and Modernising Leisure Concessions. The Cabinet’s response to all the Committee’s recommendations is  attached.

 

 

Minutes:

The Chair spoke briefly to the paper which detailed Cabinet’s response to the Committee’s most recent recommendations, the majority of which had been accepted in full. There were however a few concerns.

 

Floyds Row The recommendation had not sought to “seek information on illegal activities” as the response had suggested.

 

Modernising Leisure Concessions This “partially” agreed  response had not given the number of over 60 year olds who would lose their existing discount.

 

Performance Monitoring The absence of any comment to the “agreed” recommendations failed to  respond to the question posed in the first recommendation.

 

The Chair agreed to feed these observations back to Cabinet.

 

50.

Work Plan and Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 319 KB

The Scrutiny Committee operates within a work plan which is agreed at the start of the Council year. The Work Plan is  reviewed at each meeting so that it can be adjusted to reflect the wishes of the Committee and take account of any changes to the latest Forward Plan (which outlines decisions to be taken by the Cabinet or Council). The Committee is asked to review and note its work plan for the 2019/20 Council year.

 

The Committee is asked to adopt the proposed Climate Emergency Review Group scope (to follow as a supplement).

 

 

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Scrutiny Officer updated the Committee with changes to the work plan.

 

Draft Corporate Strategy 2020 – 2024, originally due in November, would  now go to the December Committee meeting as a result of slippage in the Cabinet timetable.

 

Oxpens Lane Redevelopment would now go to the February meeting, as a result of slippage in the Cabinet timetable.

 

Climate Emergency /Carbon Management,  originally scheduled for the March Committee meeting had since been superseded by the review group. The March meeting would therefore be an item to consider the group’s  report. 

 

Community Wealth Building will  go  to April Cabinet as a subset of  an item on the Economic and City Centre  Strategy and so will go to the April Committee meeting.

 

Property Investment Strategy & Portfolio Strategy report going to Cabinet in December will go the December Finance Panel meeting.

51.

Dates of future meetings

Meetings are scheduled as followed:

 

Scrutiny Committee

           

·         03 December           

·         14 January               

·         04 February             

·         03 March                  

·         06 April                     

 

 

All meetings start at 6.00 pm.

 

Standing Panels

·         Housing Standing Panel: 07 November, 05 March, 08 April

·         Finance Standing Panel: 05 December, 06 January

·         Companies Panel: 14 November, 12 March

 

 

Minutes:

Meetings are scheduled as followed:

 

Scrutiny Committee

           

·         03 December           

·         14 January               

·         04 February             

·         03 March                  

·         06 April                     

 

 

All meetings start at 6.00 pm.

 

Standing Panels

·         Housing Standing Panel: 07 November, 05 March, 08 April

·         Finance Standing Panel: 05 December, 06 January

·         Companies Panel: 14 November, 12 March