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 was marketing them as garages for cars but they could take a more holistic view as the anecdotal evidence was decreasing numbers were rented for cars due to size. RBarton was open to marketing for other use and they requested additional capital investment from Reserves to start this. They were pursuing this agenda in the Commercial Strategy to develop a business case for more comprehensive use of underutilised garage sites for light industrial units, which would help with economic fulfilment of the borough. Cllr Mahmood raised environmental health issues, which would give them more things to police, but encouraged the move to expand garage use.
Cllr Mahmood asked for more information on the 3-month moratorium on garage applications. RBarton explained the moratorium was due to challenges with data systems and a fluctuating wait list of 7-800, although not all unique applications. The moratorium gave the officers a chance to work through the waiting list. Cllr Mahmood suggested they let residents reply and give a 3-month response time. RBarton would take this back and talk to the team. Cllr Mahmood asked if the money that came from the garage could be used to spend instead of going to Reserves. RBarton explained the significant restrictions on Capital Receipts for revenue funding, which meant they had to use Reserves.
Cllr Johnson wondered how they decided which garages to be disposed of. RBarton explained it was a mixture of sustained low demand, need for significant capital investment, and local neighbourhood context. RBarton explained competing factors would be taken into account.
Cllr Adeleke thanked RBarton for the report and noted the positive direction. Cllr Adeleke asked how many garages were beyond repair. RBarton explained the stock condition data was patchy and unreliable, hence the requirement for physical inspections. The stock condition survey should give them a better picture by the end of the next financial year. Cllr Adeleke gave examples of garages that were leading to a social crisis and asked how to secure some garages to prevent antisocial crimes taking place in them. RBarton asked for examples of units so he could approach the team and make decisions about priority lists for disposal or investment.
Cllr Adeleke asked if there would be a future possibility for some people with smaller electric cars to charge their cars in the garage. RBarton confirmed charging structures were being examined currently, with complexity in the cost of investing and reliance on power networks. An initial first step was charging points in Council car parks. Cllr Mahmood highlighted the upcoming electrical charging report in the Finance and Resources Meeting on Tuesday.
Cllr Mahmood highlighted the graph in Figure 1, page 15, the increase in terminations September-October, and the voids reducing to 30%. RBarton resolved to present an answer on the increase in terminations at the Finance and Resources Committee Meeting next week. He confirmed the voids were starting to level off but had to be monitored closely via biannual reporting to keep members appraised.
· RBarton to circulate full list of refurbishments carried out last year.
· RBarton to take Cllr Mahmood’s suggestion of a 3-month response time instead of moratorium back to the team.
· Cllr Adeleke to send RBarton a list of garages at risk for antisocial crimes, and RBarton to approach the team to make decisions about them.
· RBarton to present on increase in terminations at next Committee.