Venue: Virtual Meeting/Remote - Please use the links on the agenda front sheet to join the virtual meeting
WELCOME AND APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Councillor Birsen Demirel (Chair) welcomed everyone to the meeting and invited Panel Members to introduce themselves.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Lee David-Sanders and Councillor Yasemin Brett.
NOTED, that Cllr Joanne Laban was attending the meeting as a substitute for Councillor Lee David-Sanders.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Members of the Scrutiny Panel are invited to identify any disclosable pecuniary, other pecuniary or non-pecuniary interests relevant to items on the agenda.
NOTED, that there were no declarations of interest in respect of any item listed on the agenda.
Members are asked to confirm the minutes of the previous Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 5 November 2020 as a correct record.
AGREED, that the minutes of the previous Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 5 November 2020 be confirmed as a correct record.
NOTED, in response to a question raised, Fay Hammond (Executive Director – Resources) advised Members that the Council had not yet received confirmation of its Public Health Grant for 2021/22.
HOUSING REVENUE ACCOUNT - UPDATED BUSINESS PLAN
Members will receive a presentation at the Panel meeting.
(7.05 – 7.55)
Councillor Birsen Demirel (Chair) invited Joanne Drew (Director of Housing and Regeneration) to the meeting and invited her to present the information being provided to the Panel on the Housing Revenue Account – Updated Business Plan. Councillor Demirel also welcomed Councillor Nesil Caliskan (Leader of the Council) to the meeting who was present to respond to questions raised and provide any further clarification required.
A detailed presentation followed with questions raised by the Panel Members. A copy of the presentation slides had been provided to the Panel in advance of the meeting. The discussion and presentation in summary included the following points.
1. That the presentation outlined the context including the external factors that affected Council housing; an introduction to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA); the HRA ringfence and what it means; a review of year 2020/21; the revised Strategy for 2021/22 and beyond; and, a financial summary.
2. The national policy framework and the forthcoming Social Housing White Paper which would provide increased enforcement powers to the Regulator for Social Housing and the Social Housing Ombudsman. The strong voice of residents; funding mechanisms for new homes; impact of the Building Safety Bill; and, investment in Green Homes were explained in detail to the Panel.
3. The detailed information provided in the presentation explaining the Housing Revenue Account, including the numbers of properties involved and the relevant financial information. An explanation was given on all of the financial aspects of the HRA including the borrowing levels, investment in new housing and how income was generated. The Council had a significant planned development programme over the next 10 years. The requirements for and limitations on both capital and revenue expenditure were outlined.
4. That the HRA was a ring-fenced account within the general fund and was used to support the Council’s landlord function. Joanne Drew explained what the HRA could be used for.
5. A review of 2020/21 as outlined in the presentation including delivering a development and regeneration programme; major works programme; health and safety compliance; and, stock disposals of £1m. In addition, the level of reserves; operating efficiencies; de-pooling of service charges; the launching of Enfield Repairs Direct; and support to residents were explained in detail.
6. In response to questions raised, the service charges in relation to sheltered housing were explained in detail.
7. Councillor Nesil Caliskan (Leader of the Council) outlined the long-term challenges of the HRA and the additional pressures that had resulted from the pandemic including general economic instability and the impact on the Council’s finances. The Government had introduced significant funding changes which presented additional challenges to the Council in meeting its estate renewal and housing provision aspirations. There were many factors beyond the Council’s control including the impact of Brexit and the volatile housing market.
8. The presentation continued looking at the Strategy for 2021/22 covering the areas of development; investment in Council Homes; and, investment in quality housing services. The financial challenges were set out. The long-term housing aspirations were outlined ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
To note and discuss the attached presentation slides.
(7.55 – 8.45)
Councillor Birsen Demirel (Chair) invited Councillor Mary Maguire (Cabinet Member for Finance and Procurement) to introduce the presentation to the Panel on the Council’s Income and Debt Recovery Strategy, as set out in the presentation slides previously circulated to Members.
Councillor Maguire briefly outlined the Council’s approach to Income and Debt Recovery and the proportionate approach that is taken in dealing with vulnerable residents by assisting those in financial difficulty and differentiating between those who “can’t pay” or “won’t pay”. The ongoing financial impact of the pandemic was highlighted. It was noted that Enfield’s debt collection rates were in line with other London boroughs. The Council would seek to maximise its income and debt recovery whilst continuing to support vulnerable residents.
Councillor Maguire drew Members’ attention to the progress made to date in the provision of improved welfare and debt advice and the creation of a new welfare advice and debt team to help maximise entitlement to benefits for residents, as detailed on the presentation slides. Examples were given of assistance provided to residents. The Council’s proposed Fair Debt and Income Strategy was due to be presented to the March Cabinet meeting for approval.
Sue Nelson (Director of Customer Experience) outlined in further detail the information set out in the presentation slides covering the areas of the national environment and context for the draft Fair Debt and Income Strategy; current performance; principles of the draft Strategy; the work delivered to date; the work to be delivered as part of the new programme; and, the next steps. The following issues arose in discussion.
1. The national environment and the impact of the pandemic on income and debt recovery, together with the Council’s approach. The anticipated “breathing space” legislation was highlighted and the benefit that this could offer to vulnerable residents.
2. The detailed information that had been provided to Members on the income raised in 2019/20 and the 2020/21 collection performance in relation to Council Tax; Business Rate; Rent and Benefit Overpayment; and, Sundry and Social Care income collection.
3. The aims of the Fair Debt and Income Strategy, due to be presented to the March Cabinet meeting, would be to: modernise council debt recovery; maximise income to the Council; deliver fair and equitable treatment of our customers; and, improve access to benefit advice and debt support and reduce the escalation of charges.
4. The 7 objectives of the Strategy were to: maximise collection; increase income to the Council; minimise the cost of collection; protect vulnerable and low-income households; improve the provision of co-ordinated welfare and debt advice; provide easy, consistent access for customers to transact with the debt and income services, including local business; and, protecting the public purse.
5. The work which had already been undertaken and the developments proposed in fulfilling the objectives including the introduction of e-billing and welfare advice and debt support as detailed in the presentation. Further examples were highlighted including improving online facilities and co-ordination of services. This was an ambitious programme of ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
The Panel’s terms of reference include the consideration of the quarterly monitoring reports provided by the Council, which are considered by Cabinet and circulated to all Members. Since the previous meeting of the Panel in November, the following quarterly reports have been received by the Cabinet and are attached to this agenda for ease of reference and for consideration/noting as appropriate:
Revenue Monitoring 2020/21: Quarter 2 (September 2020) – Cabinet – 11 November 2020 (Key decision – reference number 5200)
Capital Programme Monitor 2020/21: Second Quarter (September 2020) – Cabinet – 11 November 2020 (Key decision – reference number 5201)
Also attached to the agenda for background information/noting is the following report which was considered at the Cabinet meeting held on 9 December 2020:
Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2025/26 December Update and Savings (Key decision – reference number 5224)
The Panel may wish to raise any issues arising from the reports on which they require further explanation/information at a future meeting, as appropriate.
(8.45 – 8.55)
Councillor Birsen Demirel (Chair) reminded Members that the Panel’s terms of reference included the consideration of the quarterly monitoring reports provided by the Council, which were considered by Cabinet.
1. That since the previous meeting of the Panel in November, the following quarterly monitoring reports had been received by the Cabinet:
· Revenue Monitoring 2020/21: Quarter 2 (September 2020) – Cabinet – 11 November 2020 (KD 5200)
· Capital Programme Monitor 2020/21: Second Quarter (September 2020) – Cabinet – 11 November 2020 (KD 5201)
2. That Members had also received for background information/noting, the following report:
· Medium Term Financial Plan 2021/22 to 2025/26 December Update and Savings – Cabinet – 9 December 2020 (KD 5224)
3. The questions and points of clarification that Members raised in relation to the December Cabinet report listed above in respect of the proposed fees and charges. Fay Hammond (Executive Director – Resources) responded to questions raised and outlined the processes which had been followed in reviewing the fees and charges; the on-going impact of the pandemic; and, the regular financial reviews that would continue to be undertaken and detailed in the quarterly monitoring reports to Cabinet. Specific examples were discussed and outlined in response to Members’ questions.
To note the Panel’s agreed work programme for 2020/21.
NOTED, for information, the Panel’s agreed work programme for 2020/21.
DATE OF NEXT MEETING
To note that the next Panel meeting is scheduled to take place on:
Thursday 11 March 2021 – 7.00pm
NOTED, that the next Panel meeting was scheduled to take place on Thursday 11 March 2021 at 7.00pm