Members considered a number of recommendations arising from the meetings of the Executive Committee held on 14th August and 11th September 2018 respectively.
Members discussed the following items in detail:
Care Leavers Scrutiny Task Group
Members noted that the proposals would involve the introduction of interim measures to provide Council Tax support to care leavers through the Hardship Fund. This would help care leavers aged up to 25 years until permanent changes were made to the Council Tax Support Scheme, which was the subject of public consultation.
Reference was made to the work of the Care Leavers Scrutiny Task Group, which had been established earlier in the year following consideration of a Motion on Notice at a Council meeting. The group had investigated the matter in detail and the changes that had been proposed would bring the Council into line with arrangements at other district Councils in Worcestershire.
Town Centre Regeneration
The proposals for the regeneration of Redditch town centre were discussed in detail, with the following points being considered:
· The potential for housing to be included within the plans for the regeneration of the town. Members were advised that as this part of the report had been resolved by the Executive Committee no changes could be proposed by Council.
· The new market evidence that had emerged since March 2018 which had informed the proposal for the public sector hub to move from Church Green to the Town Hall.
· The Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s pre-scrutiny of the report and how this helped to enhance the transparency of the decision making process.
· The potential for new restaurants to be introduced in sites located close to the Palace Theatre.
Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 – Implementation of Provisions
Members considered the proposals detailed in the report which outlined changes that would need to be made at the local level, including in relation to the Officer Scheme of Delegations, in response to guidance that had been issued by the Home Office. A key requirement in the provisions would be for the Executive Committee and Council to agree any requests for the introduction of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) in particular locations within the Borough. Members also welcomed the Executive Committee’s proposal that the use of these orders should be monitored by the Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Panel every six months.
During consideration of this matter concerns were raised about how anti-social behaviour (ASB) in neighbour disputes, particularly where Council tenants were involved, would be resolved given the financial challenges for the Council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA). Members were advised that the Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Regulatory Services was working closely with Officers to ensure that the Council could address all scenarios relating to the anti-social behaviour guidance and ASB between neighbours would be taken into account as part of this process.
Redditch Local Lottery
Council considered proposals to introduce a Redditch local lottery and in so doing noted the following points:
· The lottery would help to support the Council’s grants process whilst providing an additional source of funding for local charities.
· Any profits for the Council would be reinvested in discretionary rather than statutory services.
· There were many other organisations that had their own lotteries which residents could choose to participate in.
· Residents would make their own choices about whether to participate in the lottery and could buy a maximum of five tickets.
· Charities would receive 50 pence in the pound from the lottery, which was more generous than many other lottery schemes.
· Concerns were raised that the lottery could encourage gambling and that vulnerable people, particularly those on low incomes and young people, might take part potentially causing financial difficulties for the future.
· Similar lottery schemes had been introduced at over 50 Councils in the country and the jackpot had only been won twice.
· Members noted that limited market testing in the local community appeared to have been undertaken so it was difficult to ascertain the level of demand for a local lottery, though Redditch was considered to be similar to many places in the country where a lottery had been introduced.
· Concerns were raised about the potential impact that the introduction of this scheme could have on the Council’s grants programme and the work of the Grants Panel. However, it was noted that there was continuing support for a grants process that met the needs of Voluntary and Community Sector groups as well as residents.
· The local lottery would provide participants with the opportunity to choose the charitable organisation(s) that would receive funding following their purchase of a ticket.
· There was general consensus that local Voluntary and Community Sector groups delivered valuable services within the community.
Finance Monitoring Quarter 1 2018/19
Members considered the content of the Finance Monitoring update report for the first quarter of 2018/19 and noted that the financial position of the Council, like that for many local authorities, remained challenging. The Council needed to achieve £770,000 in unidentified savings and there was a further £1.6 million deficit to address across the four year period of the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP). There were also significant challenges for the Council in relation to the HRA.
The causes of the financial problems were briefly discussed, with Members noting that funding from the Government in the form of the revenue support grant had been significantly reduced in recent years and changes to the New Homes Bonus had resulted in a further reduction in funding for the Council. However, it was also noted that the government appeared to be indicating that the negative grant, whereby Councils had been informed they would need to pay an element of funding over to Government, might not now be implemented.
Leisure Services Business Plan
Members discussed the Leisure Services Business Plan report in detail and noted the following:
· The hard work of the two previous Portfolio Holders for Leisure and Tourism, Councillors Roger Bennett and Pat Witherspoon, and the contribution this had made to the development of the business plan.
· The previous work of the Abbey Stadium Task Group and Leisure Services Provision Task Group in 2013 and 2014 respectively to investigate appropriate ways to deliver Leisure and Cultural Services.
· The contribution of the public to the development of the Local Authority Trading Company (LATC), including the responses that had been received in completed surveys from residents.
· The most appropriate name for the leisure company. Members were advised that, whilst previously the name Forge Leisure had been discussed, the proposal was for power to be delegated to officers to determine this, following consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Tourism, once legal matters had been resolved.
· The valuable work of all volunteers who assisted the Council with the provision of Leisure and Cultural Services, including at the Palace Theatre.
· The need for the company to be provided with flexibility to operate in a commercial manner.
During consideration of this matter Councillor Bill Hartnett proposed an amendment to the seventh recommendation detailed in the Executive Committee minutes from 11th September 2018. The amendment was seconded by Councillor Greg Chance. The amendment read as follows:
“The Council arrange a local competition with a nominal prize asking the public to suggest a company name and Logo for the proposed new company.”
In proposing the amendment Councillor Hartnett noted that in the past competitions had been held for various matters. Should a competition go ahead it would not need to take long and would ensure that residents could engage with the development of the company.
In seconding the amendment Councillor Chance commented that he was keen to have as much public engagement as possible in the Borough.
Members subsequently discussed the amendment and concerns were raised about the timeframes available for a competition to name the company, given the LATC was due to launch shortly. Leisure and Cultural Services in their existing form was costing the Council £33,000 per month to run and in order to achieve savings the Council needed to establish the company as soon as possible. Members noted that there was the possibility that pupils at local high schools would be interested in participating in such a competition. However, Members also noted that there were significant pressures on schools in relation to the curriculum and therefore they might not have the time to participate.
Reference was made to the normal way in which companies were named and it was noted that the LATC needed a commercially vibrant name. Concerns were raised that, should a competition take place, residents might suggest a name such as Boaty McBoatface, which had been the winner of a national competition to name a polar research ship. On the other hand it was suggested that by holding a competition to name the company residents would feel involved with the LATC which could impact on custom.
On being put to the vote the amendment was lost.
Housing / HRA Overview and Recovery Plan
The housing / HRA Overview and Recovery Plan was discussed in some detail, with Members noting that the report had been produced at the end of a difficult 18 month period. During this time external legal advice had been sought and Members panels had been established to consider disciplinary and appeals matters. There were problems with the HRA, partly due to the impact of a one per cent reduction on rents over a four year period since 2016/17, in line with Government requirements.
Members concurred that it was important to move forward and to support Officers in making the changes needed to the service. Action would be taken to improve the position of the HRA, in particular by improving the speed with which void properties could be placed in a position to rent out to tenants.
1) the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee held on 14th August 2018 be received and all recommendations adopted; and
2) the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee held on 11th September 2018 be received and all recommendations adopted.
(During consideration of this item there was a comfort break which lasted for ten minutes.
Whilst considering this matter Councillor Michael Chalk declared an other disclosable interest due to his personal connection with the Palace Theatre, which included previously volunteering to support the venue and his wife’s involvement with local theatrical groups. However, as this was not a pecuniary interest he stayed in the meeting during consideration of the Leisure Service Business Plan and voted thereon.
Councillor Joanne Beecham also declared an other disclosable interest in respect of the item as she sometimes hired the facilities at the Palace Theatre. However as this was not a pecuniary interest she stayed in the meeting during consideration of the Leisure Service Business Plan and voted on the matter).