NBeresford took the report as read, noting the performance highlights, including the positive trends in relation to repairs performance and collection as a percentage of the rent roll. Activity underway to support residents with rising costs of living was also noted. The report also outlines performance challenges and interventions in train to bring improvements to challenges identified.
Cllr Barry-Mears commented on gas safety PP01, on page 22 of the report, and asked what 99.4% equates to when looking at how many people don't have gas safety.
NBeresford confirmed that she would check this and provide the information to the councillor.
Cllr Barry-Mears noted the supplier issues causing delays to some emergency and non-emergency repairs since 2019 and that some people are still experiencing these issues. Cllr Barry-Mears asked if this will be looked into further.
NBeresford advised that the report highlights some of the challenges experienced and that there are wider issues related to Brexit and Covid, and that some planned work was stopped during the pandemic in line with guidance. There is now a period of catching up in addition to addressing supplier issues. MPurnell is working closely with suppliers and procurement teams to move this forward and NBeresford confirmed that she would ask him to provide further details to the councillor. (ACTION: NBeresford)
Cllr Wyatt-Lowe referred to item 4.3 of the report regarding the performance of Tunstall, noting the increasing pressure as winter approaches, and that they have failed to meet targets. Cllr Wyatt-Lowe asked what improvement processes are in place ahead of going into winter.
JMaxwell confirmed that there are regular meetings with Tunstall regarding the contract and their obligations around it. They currently have issues with recruitment, and weekly meetings are being held to review staffing numbers and how this is affecting the service. Ensuring this performance improves is a priority. Cllr Wyatt-Lowe commented that pressure should be put on Tunstall and queried when their contract is due for renewal. JMaxwell confirmed that the contract is due for renewal mid-2023 and that the council will go to different suppliers to see which can offer this service. There will also be an option to review the terms of the contract, such as putting in penalties if the contract is not adhered to. The focus currently is on working with the contractor for them to improve the service and recruitment of staff. Cllr Wyatt-Lowe asked that there be a focus on these issues when the contract is up for renewal to ensure that the council is receiving a service that is fit for purpose.
The Chair commented on the labour and skills shortage, noting that they should review how they are writing contracts to help eliminate issues within the industry, and that the council may need to look to bring in more apprentices. The Chair stated that they would not be able to tender this in the same way as in the past and that DBC may need to consider bringing some work back in-house.
Cllr Dhyani asked is Osborne have looked at sponsorship to bring in further labour.
JMaxwell responded that he was unsure if they have, noting that Tunstall are based in a different part of the country and would have different arrangements regarding funding and apprenticeships.
Cllr Dhyani asked if they have an approved sponsor.
JMaxwell confirmed that he would look into this further.
NBeresford raised a point of clarification, noting that they were discussing Osborne in relation to the Tunstall contract and Lifeline, and not in relation to the contract for repairs and maintenance.
Cllr Barry-Mears asked if a change of equipment would be required if a new contract was considered and therefore cause further delays.
JMaxwell confirmed that the service and equipment are separate.
Cllr Griffiths commented on the upgrade of the phone system from analogue to digital.
Cllr Adeleke requested further information on the Humanitarian Response Lead Officer.
NBeresford advised that the Humanitarian Response Lead Officer primarily leads on asylum settlement and that she liaises with statutory and voluntary sector organisations to ensure a cohesive response in relation to services being delivered to those resettled in Dacorum. The officer also liaises proactively with HCC health services and the voluntary sector regarding the provision being delivered through the migration hotels. There are also two initial asylum hotels in Dacorum where the Home Office places people for an initial period whilst their asylum claim is assessed, and the officer ensures these hotels are well managed and free from any issues.
Cllr Adeleke asked how much they are receiving from central government to look after refugees and asylum seekers.
NBeresford explained that there are different funding streams relating to different provisions with asylum seekers managed directly by the Home Office and DBC's role is primarily around coordination and liaison to prevent community tensions with no specific burden on the local authority outside of this. When a household receives asylum status, they can then come to the local authority for further assistance. NBeresford added that members would also be provided with further briefings on the decisions being made nationally in relation to broadening out asylum dispersal to assist with current infrastructure problems. When dispersal is made in a district area, a funding allocation is available, though this is relatively low and is unlikely to cover all costs in the event of serious issues. On the Afghan and Syrian resettlement schemes, both have funding arrangements attached and funding is received for every household that DBC provides support to. The funding helps with additional officer capacity within the service, and there is also a Russian-speaking officer who can provide support with the Ukrainian resettlement response, and it also helps with ESOL provision for households to enable them to improve their employability and access other services. DBC is also awaiting details regarding funding from HCC relating to the Ukrainian settlement response.
Cllr Adeleke asked how much pressure resettlement work has put on housing staff.
NBeresford confirmed that there has been some dispersal of workload, though the work has caused additional pressure, which is why a dedicated Humanitarian Response Lead Officer has been brought in. Senior officer time is also taken up with managing activities in relation to coordinating with the Home Office and other central government services, and there is also additional pressure on police and other statutory resources. There are also additional pressures around housing assistance to help repair damaged relationships in relation to the Ukrainian housing scheme and provide alternative housing assistance. The rise in the cost of living is also putting additional pressures on the service and extra resources will be brought into the team to assist with this.
Cllr Harden noted that some local authorities have taken the Home Office to court regarding the block booking of hotel rooms and asked if this was a concern for DBC.
NBeresford confirmed that they are being proactive in addressing any issues that are likely to arise from this, such as engaging with the Strategic Migration Partnership and HCC in relation to growing concerns across Hertfordshire to ensure there is a cohesive response to the Home Office. There has been successful communication with the Home Office regarding growing concerns. A fortnightly meeting takes place to ensure this is managed as effectively as possible, though the Home Office is not always in attendance. No legal action is currently being undertaken by any Hertfordshire local authorities and a meeting will take place on Friday with the Home Office to discuss any pressures.
NBeresford referred back to Cllr Barry-Mears' earlier question regarding gas safety and confirmed that 2 properties are not compliant due to access to accommodation, meaning that a legal process will be taken in partnership with the tenancy and legal teams to ensure they are compliant as soon as possible.
The Chair asked that the team be thanked on behalf of the Committee.
ACTION:NBeresford to ask MPinnell to provide further information on supply issues and delays to repairs to Cllr Barry Mears.
ACTION:JMaxwell to check if Osborne have looked at sponsorship to address recruitment challenges.