Agenda and minutes

Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Monday 10 January 2022 7.00 pm, MOVED

Venue: Committee Room B-06, Lambeth Town Hall, London SW2 1RW

Contact: Maria Burton, Democratic Services  020 7926 8703, Email: mburton2@lambeth.gov.uk

Note: Moved from 16 December 2021. Information on how to access the meeting is set out in the agenda. However, if you just want to watch the live broadcast you can copy and paste the following link into your browser: https://bit.ly/3mUwVY4 The video will remain available to view for 180 days. 

Items
No. Item

1.

Declaration of Pecuniary Interests

    Under Standing Order 4.4, where any councillor has a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest (as defined in the Members’ Code of Conduct (para. 4)) in any matter to be considered at a meeting of the Council, a committee, sub-committee or joint committee, they must withdraw from the meeting room during the whole of the consideration of that matter and must not participate in any vote on that matter unless a dispensation has been obtained from the Monitoring Officer.

     

     

    Minutes:

    Councillor Marianna Masters declared that she was a Governor at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust and had previously seen the report on Minnie Kidd House. However, this did not amount to a pecuniary interest and she would sit on the Committee during this item.

2.

Minutes of Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 194 KB

    • View the background to item 2.

    To agree the minutes of the meeting of 12 October 2021 as an accurate record of the meeting.

     

    Minutes:

    RESOLVED: That the minutes of the meeting held on 12 October 2021 be approved as a correct record of proceedings.

3.

Minnie Kidd House: background of closure and future use of the asset pdf icon PDF 355 KB

    Contact for enquiries: Jane Bowie, Director of Integrated Commissioning (Adults), jbowie@lambeth.gov.uk

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

     

    The Chair, Councillor Liz Atkins, introduced the item, explaining that this was an update requested at the meeting on 14 July 2021.  As the report was for information, officers were not in attendance to respond to Members’ questions, but these would be provided to officers for response outside the meeting.

     

    Committee Members raised the following issues and questions to be referred to officers outside the meeting:

    ·         Members requested the report, or an extract, from the external review referred to in Appendix 1.

    ·         There were discrepancies on the affected residents, such as the third resident who had not moved by December 2020 who was not referred to in Appendix 1.

    ·         Members had been informed that a decision on the site would be made in spring 2021, but the building was still empty, and requested that other uses, such as accommodation for NHS staff, be considered.

    ·         Consultation with the local community on the future of the site was essential, and residents would like the site to continue to be used for health purposes.

    ·         Members requested that the Council and GSTT apologise to affected families.

    ·         Members requested that more information on the legal basis on the oversight of the plans for Minnie Kidd House.

    ·         More consideration and scrutiny on the decision-making process was needed, particularly given the issues that were made earlier in the process.

     

    RESOLVED:

    1.    That the report be noted.

     

    2.    That the above issues and questions be sent to officers for response outside of the meeting.

     

4.

Medium Term Financial Strategy pdf icon PDF 341 KB

    Contact for enquiries: Amaris Wong, Group Manager, Strategic Finance, 020 7926 7742, awong1@lambeth.gov.uk

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Councillor Lindsey joined the meeting at 7.15.

     

    Councillor Andy Wilson, Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance, introduced the report to the Committee:

    ·         The report had been presented to Cabinet in December, and since then, the Provisional Local Government Settlement had been received, which gave greater certainty on future funding.

    ·         Inflation was a considerable issue across the economy and would have an impact on the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy.

    ·         Covid-19, particularly the wave arising from the Omicron variant, would have an impact on economic and population growth in the borough, and would potentially impact the Council’s ability to fund its services.

     

    The Committee then heard from witnesses.

     

    Nighat Khan, Managing Director of New Vision for Women, a Community Interest Company, addressed the Committee, stating that:

    ·         Her organisation provided workshops and training on confidence, wellbeing and employability in the local community, and particularly focussed on Black, Asian and Multi-Ethnic (BAME) women.

    ·         She had found it difficult to secure funding from the Council.  In seven years of operation, her organisation had secured Council funding once. Vulnerable communities, such as those her organisation supported, needed more assistance in accessing and applying for Council funding.

    ·         The Council should be more open in the types of funding available and should help smaller organisations to access it.

     

    Peter Roberts, GMB, then stated that:

    ·         GMB requested that when outsourcing was being discussed, that existing staff and their circumstances be considered and that conditions be transferred with any staff.

    ·         There were many GMB members at the Council, and as a result, GMB had a strong relationship with many Councillors.

    ·         Consultations should involve staff and trades unions as early as possible.

     

    The following information was provided to the Committee by officers and the Cabinet Member:

    ·         The opportunity to review commissioning and purchasing decisions was available to Members, from raising questions to officers to calling-in decisions to Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

    ·         Inflation would affect issues such as contract values, and the value of funding allocated in previous years.  The inflation rate used for budget setting was increased as part of the Medium Term Financial Strategy.

    ·         Paragraph 2.53 established the reasons for increasing reserve levels.  Some funding from central government, such as business rates relief, was paid in advance of need, and this had been set aside as reserves.  Some Covid-19 funding was only provided for the first quarter of 2021/22, and the Council had decided to reserve some of this funding for later in the year.  This reserved funding had been valuable when the latest wave of infections started in late 2021.

    ·         The Council had a 10% reserve target, and reserves of £34m would meet that.

    ·         Fees and charges normally increased in line with inflation, and were broadly in line with other inner London boroughs.  Many of the opportunities for further income generation were around commercial opportunities such as advertising.

    ·         The Council had a Promotions and Advertising Policy, and was working with Adblock to ensure the policy adequately protected the Council’s aims and values.

    ·         The HRA overspend was concerning.  One  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Benefits and Welfare Support pdf icon PDF 801 KB

    Contact for enquiries: Tim Hillman-Brown, Head of Revenue and Benefits, Resident Experience and Digital, 020 7926 5297, thillman-brown@lambeth.gov.uk

    Minutes:

    The report was introduced by Councillor Andy Wilson, Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance:

    ·         There had been increased demand for benefits as a result of Covid-19.  Third sector organisations, such as Citizens’ Advice Merton and Lambeth (CAML), provided support to residents, and the Council commissioned London Councils for employment and benefit advice.

    ·         The Council Tax Support Scheme was being made more generous in order to support a greater number of residents.

    The Committee then heard from witnesses:

    Helen Hayes MP, Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood, addressed the Committee:

    ·         Each year she received hundreds of cases relating to benefits, and there had been an increased number of people needing benefits since the start of the pandemic.

    ·         The benefits system was difficult to understand, and people’s existing vulnerabilities often created a further barrier to accessing and understanding the system.  As a result, advice centres such as Centre 70 and Brixton Advice Centre, were invaluable.

    ·         Delays and administrative errors tended to originate from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), rather than the Council.  Delays and errors had devastating consequences on her constituents.

    ·         Support for childcare within Universal Credit was particularly difficult due to it being paid in arrears, resulting in regular overpayments and underpayments.

    ·         People often struggled to access disability benefits due to the system of assessments.

    Susanne Hudson, CAML, then provided the following information to the Committee:

    ·         There had always been high numbers of people in Lambeth accessing benefits, but this had increased since the start of the pandemic. 

    ·         The closure of a number of advice centres in recent years had left more people reliant on a small number of advice providers, which caused significant pressure on advice centres.

    ·         CAML had a strong relationship with the Council, and Council departments were generally good at referring residents to CAML and other services.

    ·         There was a growing demand for support, particularly from groups that had previously not received benefits.  Families that had previously been able to balance their budgets were unable to due to the impact of Covid-19 on employment and inflation.

    ·         CAML had undertaken research a year earlier and had found that there would be long-term economic impact, which was still being felt.

    During discussion of this item, the guillotine fell at 9.00pm. 

     

    RESOLVED: That the meeting continue for a further period of up to 30 minutes.

     

    Witnesses, officers and the Cabinet Member then provided the following information in response to questions from Members:

    ·         Councillors, MPs and advice centres would likely only see a small proportion of cases of people needing assistance with the benefits system.  There were concerns that some people accessed poor or unscrupulous advice, particularly in harder to reach communities.  People who were reluctant to engage with Councillors or MPs tended to be more open to approach voluntary sector organisations, particularly those that already had strong community links.

    ·         Advice centres were conscious of the wide variety of languages spoken in the borough and made efforts to ensure their services were as accessible as possible.  Over 30  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 291 KB

    • View the background to item 6.

    Contact for Information: Maria Burton, Senior Democratic Services Officer, 020 7926 8703, mburton2@lambeth.gov.uk

    Additional documents:

    Minutes:

    Committee Members suggested the following areas for potential future scrutiny:

    ·         Road Safety Strategy

    ·         Thames Water

    ·         Waste Strategy contract performance

    ·         Health inequalities

    ·         Economic resilience post-pandemic

     

    RESOLVED: That, subject to the comments above, the work programme and the status of actions (Appendix 1) be noted.