Agenda item

Agenda item

Report of the Scrutiny Inequality Panel - Combatting inequality: Is Oxford City Council doing all it can to make Oxford a fairer, more equal place?

The Inequality Panel of the Scrutiny Committee has submitted a report which considers issues of inequality in the city.


Councillor Van Coulter, Chair of the Inequality Panel, will present the report.


Scrutiny Inequality Panel’s recommendations to the City Executive Board:


Recommendation 1 - We recommend that the City Council leads on the development of a long-term multi-agency inequality strategy for Oxford. This should be informed in part by the evidence gathered in this Inequality Review and enhanced when Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group produces its report on health inequalities. The Strategy should be supported by an Action Plan that includes any accepted Inequality Panel recommendations.


Recommendation 2 – We recommend that the City Council ensures it has sufficient staffing resources in partnership posts to play a leading role in working with partners to deliver on a multi-agency inequality strategy for Oxford (see recommendation 1). We envisage that savings are achievable from overcoming silos and working in partnership to tackle long terms issues associated with inequality.


Recommendation 3 - We recommend that the City Council commissions Professor Danny Dorling and the City Council’s Social Research Officer to develop an Oxford City Inequality Index based on aspects of inequality that that the City Council can influence either directly, or indirectly to a significant extent. Council Performance should be assessed against the movement of this index.


Recommendation 4 - We recommend that all strategy papers and major decisions should include an assessment of their short, medium and long term impacts on inequality. This assessment could be based on an Inequality Index (see recommendation 3), and guidance should be available to assessing officers.


Recommendation 5 - We recommend that the City Council progresses all options for boosting the supply of affordable housing, including by:

a)    Continuing to push for a review of the Green Belt around Oxford as part of a wider county land review to identify sites for new housing,

b)    Enforcing the City Council’s 50% affordable housing policy,

c)    Considering greater use of Compulsory Purchase Orders to buy derelict land and properties that aren’t coming forward for development,

d)    Evaluating the potential local impacts of the new Government’s housing policies, such as the extension of the Right to Buy scheme to housing association properties,

e)    Encouraging ethical or institutional investors to rent good standard accommodation to people in housing need at affordable rates,

f)     Aiming to make Oxford a centre of excellence in innovation for new social and affordable housing solutions, ensuring that its own policies (such as the Balance of Dwellings Policy) are compatible with this aim. Affordable Oxford could be asked to provide advice on what options would be viable in Oxford,

g)    Considering whether there is scope for the City Council or the Universities to promote ‘inter-generational shared living’.

h)   Considering whether there is a way the City Council could assist groups of older people in downsizing collectively while staying together as a

i)     community, perhaps by creating a group or register that people can join or sign up to.


Recommendation 6 - We note the significant difficulties that schools, hospitals and universities (as well as businesses) face in attracting workers to settle in Oxford, and recommend that the City Council:

a)    Gathers evidence as soon as possible to identify the best way of delivering new build keyworker housing within the 20% of affordable housing provided as intermediate housing,

b)    Seeks to extend its keyworker housing intervention to more teachers (this is currently offered to senior teaching staff),

c)    Considers whether there is scope to assist key workers (particularly teachers in priority schools) in accessing housing in the private rented sector, for example by encouraging registered landlords to offer 3 year tenancies and agreeing to raise rents by no more than the CPI measure of inflation.


Recommendation 7 - We note that the City Council is developing a Private Rented Sector Strategy and recommend that this aims to extend the City Council’s interventions in the private rented sector to address abuses in the student housing market and poor standards across the wider private rented sector. This should include the extension of discretionary licensing to cover more properties where possible, enhanced enforcement of the HMO licensing regime and further promotion of landlord accreditation to encourage take up.


Recommendation 8 - We recommend that the City Council:

a)    Calls on the new Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford to provide reinvigorated engagement in Oxford’s housing sector by learning from the Cambridge model and providing new accommodation to house academics.

b)    Tasks the new Assistant Chief Executive with working closely with the University sector and encouraging a greater degree of input into city matters, including financial contributions where appropriate.


Recommendation 9 – We recommend that the City Council builds on its commendable work on addressing fuel poverty by:

a)    Making a fuel poverty calculator available online that directs people in fuel poverty to contact the City Council for advice on what support they may be entitled to,

b)    Asking Trading Standards whether they would like the City Council to refer cases to them where an Energy Performance Certificate is required and whether they would be prepared to give the City Council any enforcement powers.


Recommendation 10 - We recommend that the City Council builds on its work with Oxford Clinical Commissioning Group and other health partners by:

a)    Supporting the delivery of more proactive health interventions in areas of multiple deprivations, such as contacting people who miss appointments,

b)    Working towards the concept of pooled budgeting in areas where evidence suggests that this approach can improve health outcomes.

c)    Utilising the City Council’s assets (such as leisure centres) and the agencies we support to facilitate social prescribing, and encouraging more GPs to take up social prescribing,

d)    Working with partners to develop a single online point of access for multiple services in Oxford, including health, housing and social care.


Recommendation 11 - We recommend that the City Council explores how factors around inequality and public health could be designed in to the planning and development of sites. These factors should include cycling and walking provision, the accessibility of parks, and the provision of a variety of housing within the street scene. Consideration should also be given to shaping new communities. For example, new communities should include a centre and shared open space.


Recommendation 12 - We recommend that the City Council:

a)    Assists in bringing about negotiations with local health, housing and social care commissioners and providers so that a county wide discharge policy for people experiencing homelessness can be adopted as per best practice guidelines,

b)    Extends interventions aimed at supporting homeless people with complex needs (e.g. substance abuse and mental health issues), who are often excluded from accessing the services they need.


Recommendation 13 - Oxford City Council is leading the way in defining, measuring and tackling fuel poverty and we recommend that the same priority should be given to the issue of food poverty. A part-time role should be created to tackle food poverty, which should involve facilitating the work of the not-for-profit and voluntary sector to maximise their impact, and developing a food poverty strategy for Oxford. This strategy should aim to replicate best practice established by Bristol to reduce food bank demand and increase access to good and affordable food across the city.


Recommendation 14 – We recommend that the City Council:

a)    Identifies how it can provide a greater degree of funding security to Asylum Welcome. Consideration should be given to including their work within the remit of the Council’s Community Grants commissioning programme, which awards funding for 3 years rather than annually. This will reduce Asylum Welcome’s administrative workload and help to ensure that they remain viable over the medium term.

b)    Explores whether it could provide low cost accommodation to third sector organisations by utilising unused capacity in Council-owned assets such as Community Centres.


Recommendation 15 - We strongly endorse the City Council’s approach to combatting financial exclusion and recommend that the City Council:

a)    Ensures that the Welfare Reform Team are fully and best deployed in order to provide greater assistance and proactively reach more people, particularly those moving on to Universal Credit,

b)    Moves towards implementing a ‘single view of debt’ in order to identify multiple debts owed to the Council, and where possible, consolidate these,

c)    Gives a high priority to continuing to protect the current level of funding for the advice sector over the medium term,

d)    Explores longer term funding options for a housing needs money advice caseworker, and evaluates the impact of this provision over time,

e)    Continues to work closely with CAB and other agencies to encourage the take up of unclaimed benefits.

f)     Aims to make full use of its Discretionary Housing Payments budget.


Recommendation 16 – We recommend that the City Council establishes a reliable directory of charities for Oxford, setting out the aims, principle client groups and types of relief provided. This will help to ensure that local charities have a greater awareness of what other charities do.


Recommendation 17 - We recommend that the City Council continues to prioritise improving educational attainment in the city by:

a)    Offering a new educational grant programme to which Head Teachers from schools serving deprived areas can apply. This programme would provide tangible output-based funding to reduce educational inequalities in city schools. The criteria for awards should be non-prescriptive but grants could be used to fund specific line items in School Improvement Plans focused on Pupil Premium and Special Educational Needs pupils, for example.

b)    Engaging with partners and considering whether it has a role in ensuring that eligible year 1 and 2 pupils are registered for the Pupil Premium so that their schools receive the additional funding they are entitled to.


Recommendation 18 - We recommend that the City Council utilises skills within communities and works with partners to maximise every opportunity to provide employment and career paths for more residents living in areas of multiple deprivation, including by:

a)    Seeking to influence and improve the provision of targeted careers advice in schools, extending this to younger pupils (years 7-8), as well as offering mentoring into adulthood,

b)    Extending the use of social clauses to create more and better opportunities for young people. Clarity is required as to how the City Council will ensure that developers deliver social clauses,

c)    Extending the offer of reduced fees for tutors to all Community Centres situated in areas of multiple deprivations. The City Council should also continue to make better use of Community Centres and promote them as vibrant local hubs.

d)    Maximising links with universities, private schools, the student hub and businesses to get more volunteer help for appropriate programmes. These opportunities could include coaching and mentoring to help

a)    vulnerable people into work, assisting young people to whom English is not a first language, and broadening access to resources such as arts provision.



Recommendation 19 - We recommend that the City Council calls on local employers to put an end to exploitative employment practices in the city. These practices include employers charging restaurant staff to wait tables, paying less than the minimum wage, and employing workers on zero hours contracts against their will.


Recommendation 20 – We recommend that the City Council continues to look to raise wages by:

a)    Creating a Living Wage Hub in Oxford based around the Oxford Living Wage. This should involve a programme of activities to promote the Oxford Living Wage, and a distinct logo that Oxford Living Wage employers are encouraged to display. Ideally these activities should be led by engaged citizens but they may initially require some officer resource. The Hub could also look at other related employment issues such as pay ratios.

b)    Identifying a public face of the Oxford Living Wage. This could be a member champion.

c)    Working constructively with the Living Wage Foundation in promoting Living Wage Week and seeking to raise wages and improve working conditions in Oxford, particularly in low paid sectors such as hospitality, health and social care.


Recommendation 21 - We recognise that Oxford City Council is a major employer in the city, and recommend that the City Council continues to develop its own employment practices through:

a)    More flexible recruitment practices such as accepting CVs and more widespread use of assessment centres,

b)    An annual managed calendar of interventions targeting black and minority ethnic communities and other underrepresented groups,

c)    Better targeting of constructive feedback to unsuccessful applicants,

d)    Interactive and accessible recruitment webpages with guidance for applicants,

e)    Uplifting the salaries of lower paid staff at a higher rate than those of higher paid staff to ensure that the pay gap between them doesn’t increase over time.



The Inequality Panel of the Scrutiny Committee submitted a report (previously circulated now appended) which considers issues of inequality in the city.


Councillor Van Coulter, Chair of the Inequality Panel, presented the report.


On behalf of the Board, Cllr Price thanked the members of the Inequality Panel and the Scrutiny Committee for an excellent report which raised significant issues of concern.  He said that he proposed to remit the report to all party groups for consideration and to prepare a substantive response from CEB.  The Board suggested that the Scrutiny Committee should consider circulating the report to a wider audience such as the County Council and the Oxfordshire Strategic Partnership.


The City Executive Board resolved to:


1.    REFER the report for discussion at the next meeting of the Cross Party Group;


2.    INCLUDE the report on the agenda for the City Executive Board meeting in September.



Supporting documents: