N Beresford and O Jackson presented the report and asked Committee for any questions.
Cllr England asked if the contract on The Elms had been similar to the contract to Osborne or Sunrealm that we would have awarded them additional years on the basis on the years that they’ve performed so far. N Beresford said that there had been no contract breeches or issues but the type of contract we have with this building is very different, one of the reasons that a five year contract was issued for this building was the pace that the world of homelessness and services is moving at the moment. It was felt this was a timely break in terms of the contract. The provision is in extremely high demand, homelessness is continuing to grow significantly, rough sleeping has doubled in Dacorum, it’s not reducing and so we really need to ensure that the service that is being delivered is meeting the current requirements and as it stands at the moment, the contract that we have, isn’t fully reflective of some of the good practice tools that central government would be expecting from a local service to be delivering. We are continuously having to add and flex and work with other partners to bring in additional resources. That’s why we’ve been successful with rough sleeper initiative funding this year, because we have a limitation in the current services that are being delivered.
The Chairman wanted to know what additional resource you are having to bring in. N Beresford said that as a local authority area we are one of the districts across Hertfordshire that up until recently hadn’t had any street outreach functionality, that put us in very high focus from central government, that means that outreach functions when they are needed are undertaken by internal staff who aren’t trained in delivering outreach functions, typically Homeless Officers or Housing Officers working with support of Anti-social Behaviour Officers and PCSO’s or partners from other agencies, often they are paid on an overtime basis or working flexibly to enable them to deliver those services. We need in isolation street homeless counts and we ask other local services, like DENS, to put on enhanced daily services to support some of those initiatives and we work continuously in conjunction with our partners through the Homeless Forum to look at what additional support they can give to homeless clients. In the past year that’s meant that we have bid for and been successful for additional cold weather funding to enable us to put on enhanced package of support, which includes transport to and from the Night Shelter, additional meals in the daytime and provisions for clients that we are working. More recently that’s also led to us being successful with the rough sleeper initiative funding, which does now mean that we will have dedicated outreach workers and a community drug and alcohol worker engaging locally with our rough sleepers.
Cllr Griffiths said that it’s important to remember that The Elms was brand new five years ago, so it was all very new to us, it was a learning curve to us as well and that’s one of the reasons why we didn’t go into a much longer contract. Like Natasha said the worlds moving on anyway but we were starting from a very low base of experience.
N Beresford also confirmed that it’s important for Members to pick up on that the current contract doesn’t maximise any benefits to the Council. The Council bears all full repairing liability, which is unusual in terms of other contracts. Additionally any surplus income that’s made from the contract doesn’t currently come back to the Council, it goes to the charitable organisation and these are things we will be looking to address throughout the provision of the new contract, ensuring our liabilities are managed effectively. Where there is surplus income we would like to ensure it is reinvested back into homeless services, which as I mentioned we are having to bid centrally for government funding and as an organisation we are obviously asked to consider the way that we are delivering services. As a service manager it’s very important that any surplus money is reinvested back into service delivery.
Cllr Hollinghurst commented that he was surprised to see that the average is about four months and asked if we are happy or disappointed with that. NB confirmed that the average stay is correct, approximately between four and six months, but we do have some residents, one resident in particular that we met last week, who’s been there for nearly two years, because there isn’t appropriate move on accommodation for that client. They continue to be proactively supported by Dens and other agencies. Four months is reasonable stay and I would say that’s a good length of stay, if we have someone staying in excess of that it’s because they are not ready to move on and we want to ensure they are ready to move on in a proactive way. There are some limitations in terms of some of the specialist types of accommodation that clients need to move on into, when we look at temporary accommodation at the moment, our own temporary accommodation, our average length of stay is nine months, so the average length of stay in the hostel is less and that does bring its own challenges, because we are already, despite being a 44 bed hostel, typically on any given night running a waiting list of up to eight clients.
Cllr Hollinghurst enquired if there was a problem with County Council Social Services funding. N Beresford replied that both her and Oli run services that have funding from County Council, housing related support, this year services across several workstreams, flexicare housing, complex needs, homelessness and mental health are receiving 5% funding cuts and that will impact directly on the services that are being delivered to any of those clients and in particular to Dens clients. Next year Dens will potentially receive less to deliver their contract and it may impact on the way that services are delivered and it will mean they may need more charitable donations or they may look to the Council to help or find additional grant funding.
Cllr Adeleke wanted to know where the donation of £1,000 had come from. N Beresford clarified that these are figures from Dens in respect of their approved signed off accounts, these would be donations they receive from individuals and they are not explicitly explained to us.
Cllr Stevens visited Dens and knows one of the Trustees, he believes we have a very good service and the Council should take great pride in what you’ve achieved. Homelessness is increasing and the problem is adding provision means you’ve got to build more hostels, managing the contract is two separate issues. Dens provides a very good service but you’ve mentioned that you want to get some skim out of the monies generated, if you look at the income in the accounts, it is barely viable, so whatever surplus its generating it’s re-investing in what Dens does and that ought to be supported, if we take the funding away then we have to support them in different ways. What Cllr Stevens would like to see, looking at the options number two is probably the least painful long term option for us in the sense that, we know what happens when you outsource contracts on buildings, repairs and everything else slides, the action of continuing with an organisation like Dens is that they are able to bid for funding to add services that they need. Leaving them as an operator is the type of organisation we need to have in the long term. Also the residents we have, the support that they need, some of them need mental health support, I’d like to suggest that one of the things that we do as a Council is lobby the CCG to allocate funds to the mental health service, so that we have dedicated staff, some of whom will visit Dens residents and mentor them through their problems. N Beresford said that in terms of the income that’s gained, I note what you said and currently yes, it’s not a significant amount of money that is gained in terms of surplus income. One of the areas that we want to ensure that money is not refocussed back into Dens area of business, but it’s refocussed back specifically into the Elms clients, because at the moment that money may not be spent directly on management of the Elms but Dens generally and it’s really important that it goes back into delivering services to the Elms, that enables us as an organisation to continue to deliver services directly to those who specifically need it through the hostel. In relation to the repairs, clearly we need to scope out all the options and that’s what Oli will do in partnership with colleagues from Property and Place, Legal and the Asset Management Team, to consider the way in which the building is managed to make sure we maximise the use of the asset, but also that we are giving due regard to fire risk assessing and all the other compliance elements, that we need to make sure are managed effectively.
C Thomas mentioned that in terms of mental health, it is a key area around a complex group of individuals with particular mental health needs that are difficult to address and they make working with those client groups very difficult for staff at the Elms. The Mental Health Working Group was set up as a sub of our Homeless Forum, Wendy Lewington of Dens is the Chair, we have representation from the CCG, the Police, Community Safety and the Community Mental Health team, the primary focus of the group is to develop a specific pathway and way of working to address the needs of each particular cohort of vulnerable people, it’s not about changing the way the entire mental health service works, it’s about how the mental health services work in general for the majority of people who access those services, but for these particular people who are extremely complex and that framework doesn’t work for them, we want to have in Dacorum a particular way of working for those people to ensure their needs are addressed. We do need further work but that is a piece of work we are actively undertaking.
Cllr England mentioned the percentage of evictions and wondered what the actual numbers were. N Beresfor advised that the figures would need to be confirmed as we don’t have the specific figures. Cllr England asked if it was a big or small number. N Beresford said that it was likely to be quite a large number for a number of reasons, Carly has been working very closely with the Hostel Manager to redefine some of the KPI’s especially in relation to positive move on. There are a number of reasons why someone might lose their accommodation, it could be a recall to prison, breach of their licence, or endangering another resident or member of staff and safety is absolutely paramount. N Beresford will provide a more detailed breakdown.
Action: N Beresford
The Chairman said that having visited Dens, actually it would be good in this new term to arrange a visit for Councillors so they fully understand what it is they are looking at, we can hopefully timetable that in, apart from accommodation, they really get people ready to live independently and I don’t see anywhere in the document where that’s costed in, because there will be a monetary cost to losing that and it’s probably been thought of, but to ensure that there is a value put on that when the tender is done, you know what I’m trying to say. Also in terms of point 2.4, she understood that this is still at exploratory stage, but having looked at some of the new contracts that went about two years ago for community centres, the repairs liability, there’s no way that this is going to be commercially viable to take on and that was on a building much smaller than the Elms. The contract was asking the Community Centre to take on the full repairing liability but at the same time give them 50% of any profits that was made over £3,000. The Chairman hoped that you would do all the numbers for this and would have a conversation with the person doing that because it was not commercially viable and no-one would want to take that on. N Beresford confirmed that with resettlement said that hadn’t been fully costed and it’s an area we can look, one of the reasons why that’s quite a challenge to fully cost it is because resettlement is almost done in tandem also done by the Housing Service, they work closely with the tenancy sustainment team and residents at the Elms are also given tenancy sustainment training, which is delivered by Dacorum staff, so it’s a joint approach, but certainly something we can pick up. Oli is working closely with a number of teams in relation to looking at the initial scoping around the four options and we most certainly won’t be doing any of the costings in isolation, we will be working very closely with Legal and Finance and HR, looking at all the different element. In particular when we come to the actual tender we will be looking at each of the different elements of the process and the same people won’t be scoring every element of the contract submission, it will be different people for the relevant section, to ensure that it is completely open and transparent and scored fairly.
F Williamson added that there are a couple of other things that we need to be mindful of, one is the original contract term and procurement and whilst we acknowledge that the service Dens are delivering is really of high quality, we don’t have any problems with performance, certainly they provide a lot of support and it’s very much a collaborative approach towards homelessness. This isn’t about ruling Dens out of the equation, far from that, it’s about really having to comply with procurement regulations but also making sure that the new contract, whoever is the successful provider, has absolute clarity over things like responsibility for repairing liabilities, especially around anything health and compliance, because we don’t want to create a situation where should there be an incident that there is a question over who was liable and who had that responsibility. It’s about providing clarity to whoever the provider is, rather than excluding any one potential provider.
Cllr Hollinghurst said that the points made by the Chairman about the fully repairing lease is a very good point indeed, surely there must be a half way stage between the situation we have at the moment and that extremely onerous commitment of the lease. Normally any commercial lease is well defined and clarity is important and it should, if there is to be responsibility for maintenance, a normal commercial clauses of the responsibilities, doors, windows, paint but not the foundations and not the leaking roof, not anything structural. F Williamson highlighted that the building was to remain our freehold asset so it’s important that we know that we are maintaining it, so you are right, it’s just really about providing the clarity in terms of responsibility. We are not proposing to make it onerous because we still have the structure of the building that we will be maintaining, but it’s also about a recognition about whoever is the managing agent providing the service has to take the responsibility for the actions of the occupier. We appreciate through some of the reasons for eviction, that that can increase the risk of a potential incident occurring. That’s why there needs to be the clarity.
The Chairman commented that there is a charity that she has done some work with recently and they did flag up that in other Borough’s that some of the tenders haven’t worked because they’ve gone for the cheapest possible option and you get repeat offenders that have failed to deliver services but they keep retendering so they keep getting the contracts, because they are the lowest. The Chairman really wouldn’t want to happen in Dacorum because at the minute you have got a really good service, obviously needs updating because legislation is updated, but she is just mindful, especially as we’re talking about so early on, if we could ensure we don’t have to fall into those types of traps. If we lose the quality of the service it’s only going to stretch you in other areas and also Dacorum is unique in some of what it offers for the benefit of the individual and also the community, we must not lose that.
Cllr Griffiths said she was quite proud of the contracts that have been issued in this Borough because it’s not about the lowest price, it is about the quality, they are always weighted in different areas and it is about the quality, because there was quite a lot of contracts that were going to the lowest price, they would now not be issued in the majority of cases to the places we have issued them. Cllr Griffiths was very proud of that and as long as she is here that will continue in Housing definitely.
Cllr Griffiths also wanted to mention that whilst we are talking about Dens, like to highlight that in Members News, that if any of you have any items non-perishable food, etc, the housing team up on the second floor in the coffee area, a trolley and it all goes to Dens. N Beresford said that it’s World Homeless Day tomorrow and the team are doing a number of events including a collection. The foodbank are running low on a number perishable items, sanitary items, cleaning fluids, tissues, etc and the team will be grateful for any donations.