Agenda and draft minutes

Overview and Scrutiny Panel - Monday, 9th May, 2022 1.30 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Fenland Hall, County Road, March PE15 8NQ

Contact: Niall Jackson  Member Services and Governance Officer

Items
No. Item

OSC47/21

Previous Minutes. pdf icon PDF 216 KB

To confirm and sign the minutes of the meeting of 7th March 2022.

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting of 7 March 2022 were confirmed and signed.

OSC48/21

Update on previous actions. pdf icon PDF 167 KB

Members to receive an update on the previous meeting’s Action Plan.

Minutes:

Members considered the update on previous actions and made the following comments:

  • Councillor Wicks expressed the view that the figures provided for the Levelling Up funding were disappointing compared to the needs in Fenland and stated that £24,000 seemed awfully low based on the need of the area. Councillor Mason agreed with Councillor Wicks point and informed the panel that he had recently written to the MP stating that the levelling up funding was not at the level it should be and stated that he would be following this up with the MP. Councillor Count noted that they had been provided with a technical answer but that it would be useful to get a comparator against the neighbouring authorities such as Cambridge City and Huntingdonshire. Councillor Booth identified that they had only listed one fund in the response which did not provide the full picture and agreed that a fuller response with comparators would be more useful. He stated that he was hopeful that this could be tied in with the visit from the Mayor. Councillor Miscandlon supported the points stating that it would be useful to know what the neighbouring authorities were receiving and stated that the levelling up fund was supposed to make areas level.

 

OSC49/21

Progress on Housing Enforcement Policy pdf icon PDF 3 MB

To receive an update on progress on the Housing Enforcement Policy that has been in operation since July 2018.

Minutes:

Members considered the update on the progress on Housing Enforcement Policy.  Dan Horn, Jo Evans and Councillor Hoy were welcomed to the meeting.

 

Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

  • Councillor Miscandlon thanked the team for their report stating that it was very comprehensive and deserved merit.
  • Councillor Booth made the point that Members had previously asked to receive tracked change documents and wanted officers to continue doing so. He stated that the principles on when to take enforcement action may be more useful as one appendix at the back for presentation as they seemed to be repeated throughout the policy.
  • Councillor Hoy outlined the changes that had happened across the service in the past few years and how this was reflected in the policy. She informed the panel that they now have a different way of working after employing a further two officers through funding from controlling migration and that these new officers had been utilised for door knocking and taking action which had helped improve housing standards. Councillor Hoy explained that most of the work had been focused on Wisbech as this had been where the funding had been allocated and where the most work was required and that despite the fund running out they had wanted to keep the officers on and that this had been a reason behind introducing fining. She explained that the fines had been aimed at individuals who were breaking the law and needed to be fined and that the profits from this had then been used to fund the service, with the new approach working well with several fines having been served with no issues or problems. Councillor Hoy stated that they had not been served when they had not needed to be and that all tribunals had been successful up to date, with the team having all done a great job and she wanted to thank them for this. She explained that one big change had been the introduction of energy performance certificates and that they can now fine landlords that do not have these in place. Councillor Hoy informed the panel that the role of the Empty Homes Officer was also now reflected in the policy, with the policy having proven successful and hoped that it would continue to be.
  • Councillor Hay stated that there was a team visiting households as part of the Ukrainian hosting scheme and asked whether this was impacting on the day-to-day work. Jo Evans explained that there had been around 30 visits so far and that Housing Officers had done extra hours outside of work for this so it had not impacted their normal role. Dan Horn explained that costs for the work being undertaken would be recovered from the Government scheme.
  • Councillor Miscandlon asked whether there had been an increase in overall inspections due to Covid and whether the inspections were random or intelligence led. Jo Evans informed him that they worked using both but that they prioritised intelligence from organisations  ...  view the full minutes text for item OSC49/21

OSC50/21

Culture Strategy pdf icon PDF 121 KB

Thanks P?? To receive an update on the progress made in developing a Creativity and Culture Strategy and further progress since adoption of the Strategy.

Minutes:

Members considered the update on the Culture Strategy. Phil Hughes, Jaime-Lea Taylor and Councillor Boden were welcomed to the meeting.

 

Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

  • Councillor Booth raised his concern that Councillor Seaton was not present as portfolio holder. He reminded the Panel that Councillor Mrs French was absent at the last meeting and stated that it was concerning that the appropriate portfolio holders were not attending. Councillor Boden explained that Councillor Seaton had a legitimate medical reason preventing his attendance at the meeting. Councillor Booth accepted this but reiterated the need to make the appropriate efforts to attend when possible.
  • Councillor Yeulett questioned where Fenland District Council stood in the Culture Strategy and asked who was responsible for the overall delivery. Phil Hughes stated that it was not Fenland’s job to deliver and that the role was to facilitate a network and link people together. Councillor Boden explained that there was not a top-down approach to imposing culture on Fenland, referring to previous comments made at the Combined Authority which described Fenland as a cultural desert and exclaimed that Fenland did not need culture imposed on the area. He stated that the aim was to encourage the growth of the current culture and for facilities to become more available. Phil Hughes informed the panel that Jaime-Lea was a local person and that the Arts Council were simply working as facilitators alongside Jaime-Lea.
  • Councillor Miscandlon stated that he was encouraged by the expansion of the team and that it was heartening to see that Fenland were facilitating the growth of culture. 
  • Councillor Hay stated that there had been a visit from the Arts Council and a meeting with Wisbech Town Council, with as usual all the focus being on Wisbech and asked whether the other market towns were represented. Councillor Boden explained that there had been two meetings with one focused on Wisbech and another in March which covered the other market towns and rural areas. Councillor Hay informed them that Chatteris Town Council had known nothing about this and had not been given the chance to participate. Councillor Mason noted that Jaime-Lea had stated that she would be happy to organise a meeting with Whittlesey Town Council and that this would no doubt expand to the other areas if they approached her. Phil Hughes explained that Jaime-Lea and the Cultural Steering Group were all working together and if Councillors knew of any organisations in their areas they should get in contact with that group. Councillor Mason asked how they would get in touch and Phil Hughes commented that he would provide the details after the meeting.
  • Councillor Wicks asked for clarification on the way forward questioning whether Jaime-Lea would be the point of contact for all organisations wanting to organise events and asked whether she would be the focal point for details of what will be out there for them. Jaime-Lea stated that this was the intention, explaining that they currently had a group  ...  view the full minutes text for item OSC50/21

OSC51/21

Commercial Investment Strategy and Investment Board Update pdf icon PDF 236 KB

To provide an update to the Overview and Scrutiny Panel of the work of the Investment Board from April 2021 to March 2022.

Minutes:

Members considered the Commercial Investment Strategy and Investment Board Update. Peter Catchpole, Councillor Boden and Councillor Tierney were welcomed to the meeting.

 

Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

·         Councillor Mason recognised that things had slowed down recently but it would be interesting to know what developments were likely to proceed in the next year. Councillor Boden replied that he could not give a definitive answer to that question as opportunities crop up unexpectedly, the Council had to be prepared to move quickly on the internal evaluation and with external assistance for assurance when making any decision to move forward. He informed the panel that they had agents to notify them of new opportunities when they present themselves. In terms of planned development over the following year, Councillor Boden advised they were developing the Elms in Chatteris followed by the Nene Waterfront in Wisbech and explained that both projects were being pushed forward together. He stated that lots of the preparation work had already been completed and that they were moving forward on these developments.

·         Councillor Mason noted that any investment had many consultancy fees and asked where the Council stood regarding consultancy. Councillor Boden explained that they were constrained by being a public body despite having Fenland Futures Limited (FFL) set up as a subsidiary company and commented that this required them to go above and beyond what would be required by a purely commercial organisation. He clarified that with the two projects mentioned, there would be no external consultancy for a valuation if they were undertaken commercially but due to the Council being a public body, they were required to undertake this to show accountability and transparency. Councillor Boden made the point that with the transfer from the Council to its wholly owned subsidiary there were Section 151 legal obligations which could not be satisfied by using inhouse staff as it would not stand up to scrutiny making the use of external consultants absolutely necessary.

·         Councillor Yeulett asked whether they had made a profit yet and, if so, how much it was. He also asked how they saw the Investment Board’s activity progressing in the current economic climate. Councillor Boden explained that in Council terms they were not and never would be making a profit as they were not a profit-making organisation and in terms of revenue, he informed the panel that, as of yet, they had not started any development and so were not producing any revenue. He explained that the company had not yet completed its first year and had made no sales so there had been no profit, it would show a loss in the first year and that this was always the case for any development company. Councillor Boden stated that the way that the Investment Board works and acts was not affected by the economic environment and that only the potential outcomes of the various opportunities would be affected and whilst it was quite certain that there would be a  ...  view the full minutes text for item OSC51/21

OSC52/21

Task and Finish Group – Portfolio Holder Report pdf icon PDF 217 KB

To set out a proposal for a cross-party scrutiny task and finish group to be established.

Minutes:

Members considered the Task and Finish Group – Portfolio Holder Report:

·         Councillor Mason explained that they were looking for three volunteers to examine the KPI’s across the Council and stated that the makeup of the group would be two Conservative members to one independent in line with political proportionality. There was a debate over whether task and finish groups had to be politically proportionate and Amy Brown informed the panel that whilst there was no requirement for the group to be politically proportionate the Council worked on a basis that these groups should be. There was a further debate about whether the group should consist of five members with two Independent Members wishing to be part of the task and finish group.

·         It was resolved that the group would consist of 3 Members with the Conservative members being Councillor Connor and Councillor Miscandlon and Councillor Hay acting as a substitute where necessary. The independent members were left to decide who would be the main member and who would act as substitute between Councillor Booth and Councillor Wicks.

 

OSC53/21

Future Work Programme pdf icon PDF 137 KB

To consider the Draft Work Programme for Overview & Scrutiny Panel 2022/23.

Minutes:

Members considered the Future Work Programme:

  • Members discussed the merits of bringing the Commercial Investment Strategy and Investment Board back in six months due to the nature and risk of the work that was being undertaken. It was noted that both the October and December meetings were fairly full and it was suggested that an extraordinary meeting could be held in November. It was suggested that the meeting be held in closed session as most of the material was confidential and this would allow greater scrutiny from the panel. Amy Brown informed the panel that any meeting can be held in confidential session but that there was a preference to present the information in a transparent way. The panel resolved to leave the matter with Amy Brown to add something to the forward plan.
  • Councillor Miscandlon stated that the Local Plan was moving forward and would be presented at Cabinet next week. Councillor Booth noted that this was still only in the consultation phase at the moment.
  • Councillor Wicks suggested that it would be useful to invite the other housing associations to a future meeting now that there were more operating in the area.
  • Councillor Booth stated that it had previously taken a while to get a response from Anglian Water and noted that there had been a lot of press recently regarding discharge into local rivers. Councillor Connor pointed out that they had been fined the previous week. Councillor Miscandlon reminded the panel that Anglian Water were not required to come before the panel. Councillor Wicks stated that the aspect of pollution had been raised at an IBD meeting that morning and that it was clear that there was a lack of capacity at the moment. He suggested that Anglian Water needed to make a better effort at integrating with planning to help prevent the problems caused by the right to connect. Councillor Purser explained that the discharge and capacity problems were not just a problem for Anglian Water as it had recently been an issue across the Country. Amy Brown stated that she would make enquiries for Anglian Water to attend a future meeting.