Agenda and draft minutes

Housing and Community Overview and Scrutiny - Wednesday, 2nd March, 2022 7.30 pm

Contact: Corporate and Democratic Support  01442 228209

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 200 KB

To confirm the minutes from the previous meeting


The minutes from the last meeting were approved


Apologies for absence

To receive any apologies for absence


Cllr Durrant, Bassadone, and Cllr Harden for whom Cllr Arslan was substituting, gave apologies for absence.


Declarations of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest


A member with a disclosable pecuniary interest or a personal interest in a matter who attends a meeting of the authority at which the matter is considered -


(i)            must disclose the interest at the start of the meeting or when the interest becomes apparent


and, if the interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest, or a personal interest which is also prejudicial


(ii)           may not participate in any discussion or vote on the matter (and must withdraw to the public seating area) unless they have been granted a dispensation.


A member who discloses at a meeting a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not registered in the Members’ Register of Interests, or is not the subject of a pending notification, must notify the Monitoring Officer of the interest within 28 days of the disclosure.


Disclosable pecuniary interests, personal and prejudicial interests are defined in Part 2 of the Code of Conduct For Members


[If a member is in any doubt as to whether they have an interest which should be declared they should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer before the start of the meeting]



There were no declarations of interest.


Public Participation

An opportunity for members of the public to make statements or ask questions in accordance with the rules as to public participation


There was no public participation


Consideration of any matter referred to the committee in relation to call-in


There were no call-ins.


Q3 People and Communities Performance Report pdf icon PDF 794 KB


LWarden and SWhelan presented the People and Communities Performance Report with apologies from Matt. They highlighted the following:

·           There were consistent safeguarding reports, and the team were continuing to carry out training

·           Q3 income at Adventure Playgrounds continued to increase with bookings and young people’s attendance

·           The Fun Palace event received excellent feedback from the Marlowes Shopping Centre noting the best footfall since the pandemic. The team’s next calendar of events would be updated Q4. Meanwhile weekend usage would be reported.

·           SWhelan highlighted a new ping-pong parlour opening in the Marlowes Shopping Centre, part of the Physical and Sports programme with Hemel Hempstead and Sports England, open for bookings Sunday July 17th.

·           The Health Hub was extended, and a memorandum of understanding had been signed.

·           The next round of grants opens April 1st 2022, which was linked in the paper to the council webpage.


          Cllr Mahmood was concerned about the 50% Town Hall attendances and asked what they were doing to bring people back. He asked how queries such as collection days were dealt with, and the breakdown of bin issues. The officer explained these questions were for Matt Rowden (ph), which she would feed back. The officer confirmed bin collections were the highest hit on the website and resolved to gather further analytics. Regards the Town Hall, the officer felt the response positive, with 2 sell-out shows over 50% capacity. The officer confirmed there was a full programme but it was reliant on residents feeling comfortable and confident to come out. She relayed there were on-going reviews to understand how to encourage more people to attend and resolved to gather further feedback. The officer was hopeful the new Town Hall website launch would attract residents and promote services and entertainment on offer.

Noting assistance given to Afghan families, Cllr Adeleke asked if they were making preparations for the possible influx of refugees from the Ukraine. The officer explained she attended a Strategic Migration Partnership Meeting this morning across Hertfordshire County Council. She noted currently there were visa schemes relating to Ukraine residents living in the UK to bring families, and support those British nationals living in Ukraine. She relayed that countries around Ukraine were receiving the majority of refugees but they would monitor resettlement schemes. Currently they were not encouraging donations but many residents wished to provide this. Cllr Adeleke asked if they would put out a statement as to their intentions should the situation arise. The officer replied they would highlight their links with partners but as per Home Office guidance did not foresee direct work other than ensure residents with friends and family in Ukraine were supported, and supporting fundraising. She felt they had a good network because of their experience resettling Afghan and Syrian refugees.

Cllr Johnson referred to paragraph 6.4 in the Herts Cultural Education Partnership and asked for feedback regards gaps identified in delivery and timescales. The officer did not have timescales for feedback but would include this on  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.


Garage Strategy pdf icon PDF 580 KB


RBarton, Strategic Director for Corporate and Commercial, outlined the update on improvement work and setting out proposals for strengthening the service over the next 3 years.

·           RBarton acknowledged everyone’s patience as this item had taken some time in preparation

·           Regards this financial year, there was significant investment in the service in terms of staffing, refurbishment of around 350 garages across the borough, and a net increase in lettings overall.

·           The service was operating at a 30% void whereas other councils were operating around 10-20%. It was difficult to gauge medium-term demand because systems did not yet track and manage the service.

·           Stock condition was limited so the team had to send a surveyor out when requests were made to let garages, bottlenecking capacity.

·           The service was on track to achieve its £3.1 million income, with net surplus £1.1 million, the variance being additional investment and staffing for the year.

·           Medium term financial strategy required significant work to achieve and surpass targets. There was an expectation in MTFS that it would continue to grow beyond the £1.1 net surplus. This was not currently achievable without more investment in the service.

·           Figure 4 showed current projections of a standstill next financial year and growing the net surplus to £1.8 million in 3 years’ time. Enhancing the focus of the service, giving the team clear objectives to develop the service as a core commercial activity, and strengthening relationships with other parts of the Council would achieve this.

·           They proposed to invest in a comprehensive stock condition survey over the next financial year enabling strategic decisions and make the service more operationally agile by removing physical site visits. This was alongside investment in data systems so they could capture medium-term demand.

·           There was significant potential to develop the service regards the neighbourhood role and developing the service in its commercial role.


Cllr Hollinghurst asked the scope of the 300 garage refurbishments per year, asking if this would drop, and noting that some garages were too small for cars, and asking the budget for surveying. RBarton responded the repairs were regarding new roofs, leaks, doors, and locks, and keeping garages watertight and he would circulate the full list. Regards inspections, RBarton noted the service paid a full-time surveyor out of the Service Budget and were profiling a slight reduction in operation costs because they hoped to reduce this activity once they had better data. The size of garages versus cars was acknowledged and they had to raise the profile of capital investment alongside stock condition data to undertake more strategic decisions about expansion. Cllr Hollinghurst doubted it was within their remit to provide low-grade storage for miscellaneous items and suggested garages should be only for cars. Cllr Imarni asked whether built structures should remain empty.

Referring to small industrial use for the garages, Cllr Mahmood asked if there was any restriction on use and whether they were marketed as garages or small storage usage, suggesting they expand use. RBarton noted the focus  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Q3 Housing Performance Report pdf icon PDF 500 KB

Additional documents:


F Williamson noted 2 appendices, the Performance Report, and Housing Risk Register, and presented the report:

·        Gas Servicing Compliance was at 100% at end of Q3.

·        The number of emergency repairs increased substantially Q2-Q3, with only 2 failures to complete within the 4-hour target.

·        The Income Team provided intensive support to tenants in Q3 and despite challenging external economic conditions, increased the amount of rent collected by 3.9%.

·        The Tenancy Sustainment Team had a busy quarter. The team supported 2 families from the Afghan Locally Employed Persons Scheme who had been resettled very successfully.

·        The number of cases of homelessness prevention increased with 44 successful preventions, an increase of 8 on the previous quarter.

·        The team received central government funding of £125,000 to assist with preventing homelessness after the moratorium on evictions ended.

·        The percentage of non-urgent repairs had declined alongside an increase of 69% from Q2-Q3 in number of repairs reported. There were increasing pressures regards labour and material, with subcontractors moving to contracts in London for higher rates of pay.

·        The return rate of Tenancy Enforcement satisfaction surveys to understand ASB solutions was very low, skewing the outcome figures. Survey responses focused on the time to progress to a satisfactory outcome, especially if the expectation were to evict a tenant with limited evidence base to enforce or demote tenancy.

·        There were still difficulties with key-to-key times, some in relation to Works, others due to a backlog of sheltered accommodation. There was an increase in demand for sheltered accommodation, an improvement on August last year where schemes were advertised. There were also higher levels of bidding on sheltered properties. There were still delays in getting properties let and a backlog.

·        The Lifeline Call Service showed a decline in performance in Q3 with 90.1% of calls answered within 60 seconds. It was important to maintain a high level of service, key to older and vulnerable tenants. The contract comes to an end June 2022 so they must work with Tunstall to transition to another provider. In February, there was an increase in calls answered within 60 seconds to 97.8%, resulting from intensive work with Tunstall.

·        Operational Risk Register had been updated showing key operational areas monitored.



Cllr Hollinghurst asked how to reassure residents whose complaints had been unlogged. Cllr Hollinghurst suggested they move the prioritisation of some calls directly to the Council as a number of residents were dissatisfied with Osborne’s decision that a particular repair was not a priority repair. FWilliamson noted that during the pandemic only urgent jobs were carried out, and Osborne had been asked to provide a full inventory of any cancelled jobs and a proposal of how to re-log the jobs, contact the tenants, and triage them. The 2 back-to-back storms had compounded the need. They tried to use the storm damage as a separate element of work so it did not impact the backlog of repairs in the system. Osborne were experiencing labour shortages. FWilliamson noted 2 officers were working with Osborne’s  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.


Housing Business Plan

Reports to Follow.


FWilliamson presented the HRA Business Plan:

·        The objectives of the Council were to invest in existing stock, invest in a new build programme, and explore external factors that could influence the viability of the business plan.

·        The report set out the work currently underway to provide improved asset management data to inform the Investment Strategy in existing stock.

·        They were examining investment levels required to address Climate Emergency, and on-going investment in the new build programmes, the 3 major areas of expenditure within Housing Revenue.

·        Regards monitoring of the Housing Business Plan, monitoring through the SLT and Cabinet and Scrutiny Committees was annual and should reflect any changes in external, commercial, and economic factors, and impact of the pandemic and subsequent reduction in kitchens and bathrooms and other components on hold to reduce infection risk.

·        Regards the current iteration of the Business Plan, there was a 1% rent reduction over 4 years. They were now on the rent formula of CPI+1%, which had seen rents rise by 1.4%. Lifting the debt cap in October 2015 provided the Council with the opportunity to borrow to extend the new build programme or make additional investment in existing stock. There was now a cap set on the affordability of borrowing although there was no cap in Central Government.

·        Currently Central Government were looking at successes of Decent Home Standard. They were looking at the work undertaken by the Energy Savings Trust and the data on Energy Performance Certificates on their stock. They signed up to a Climate Emergency Declaration and the proposal in the HRA Business Plan was to move Council owned housing stock to Band C by 2030. This target was stipulated in the Government White Paper in respect of climate change.

·        A document appended to the Business Plan set out the investment the Council made in respect of moving properties to the Energy Performance Rating of C. Members might note they recently obtained funding from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund to invest in a block of flats to improve the rating from D to B.

·        2022 Business Plan anticipated the arrears levels increasing because of the pandemic and subsequent furlough and redundancies. They increased the bad debt provision but the work of the Income Team and the support service managed to bring the rent arrears in January 2022 to 4.1%, lower than the same period in the previous year. This was the result of additional Income Officers who supported residents falling into arrears.

·        Some assumptions were made in respect of Right to Buy. Historically Right to Buy was 90-100 properties per year. In the last several years, there was a decline to 30-35 properties annually. An assumption in the Business Plan of 30 per annum from 2022 onwards.

·        They were investor partners so they could obtain a Homes England Affordable Homes Grant to supplement the investment in the new build programmes. They bid on a scheme-by-scheme basis. Homes England’s top criteria were that properties were let at social, not affordable, rent,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.


Housing Asset Management Contract

Reports to Follow.


FWilliamson noted some questions had been covered already by member questions.

·        The report outlined the contract performance update and some areas where performance showed a downward trajectory. FWilliamson highlighted they were in the 8th year of a 10-year key contract. Day to day repairs, adaptations, void work, and component repairs were covered.

·        Monitoring was carried out monthly with a suite of key performance indicators reviewed. Performance in January 2022 saw an on-going decline especially in non-urgent repairs.

·        Prior to the pandemic, Osborne completed non-urgent repairs in 11 days, just below the median benchmark.

·        Since the pandemic Osborne’s performance showed an increase of 6.5 days for non-urgent repairs, against a social housing provider’s national average 2-day increase. They had to understand the contributing factors and what Osborne were doing to get back on target.

·        Regards the work undertaken, Table 2 provided January’s performance against targets linked to performance related pay.

·        6 out of 18 indicators below target included satisfaction with repairs, in target repairs, right first time, and Empty Homes Category 2, 3, and 4 targets.

·        Macroeconomic conditions created problems with Osborne attracting and retaining suitably skilled operatives.

·        External market conditions were looked at alongside Osborne’s analysis of charging structure within National Housing Federation charging of rates. Some costs within the rates currently charged were between 14-30% higher than the rates Osborne charged.

·        With respect to actions and governance to oversee actions, the Housing Working Group was attended by members of SLT, with colleagues from Procurement, Legal, and Finance. This was to provide a focused resource to undertake appropriate interventions against performance levels experience. Ernst & Young undertook an audit, the results of which will be presented to SLT at the next Housing Working Group. A number of staff worked at Osborne’s offices to understand how they scheduled the backlog of repairs and if they had sufficient resource available for this work.

·        The Council corresponded directly with the Managing Director of Osborne Property Services and the Account Director to discuss contractual remedies that could be invoked should performance not improve.

·        Osborne had developed an Improvement Plan in Appendix A to address the backlog, the communication with residents, and make demonstrable improvements in current targets.

·        There was an additional resource starting in February and March and 3 additional subcontractors to assist with the voids backlog. They worked through a target operating model to reduce the voids backlog to weekly turnover.

·        Strategy Improvement and Engagement Team were trying to understand the impact on the customer, by undertaking analysis of complaints and separating key areas of themes. Stage 1 complaints was 22 complaints. Areas of concern included time taken to complete outstanding repairs, and poor communication ranging from no contact to advise of delays to missed appointments and no communication. A Customer Journey Working Group with representatives from the Council and Osborne to understand how to improve the customer experience understood the majority of tenants just wanted repairs done as soon as possible. There was still a demand for good communication in cases of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 180 KB


Cllr Imarni noted the Works Programme would be populated in time for the next meeting.



Action Points from February pdf icon PDF 89 KB


Actions all completed.



Housing Business Plan pdf icon PDF 557 KB

Additional documents:


Housing Assets Management Contract pdf icon PDF 614 KB

Additional documents: