Committee round-up: Communities Committee 19.12.19

Financial updates, performance reports from Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and efforts to tackle homelessness were among items discussed at the latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee.

The meeting, at Aberdeenshire Council’s Woodhill House office in Aberdeen on Thu, Dec 19, was the last policy committee meeting of 2019.

Update on Communities budgets

A monitoring report on the revenue budget overseen by Communities was brought before the committee.

Councillors were told the budget for the financial year stood at £128.739million following adjustments, and that the spend to November stood at £83.865million – £128,000 over projections.

Budget pressures within services were highlighted, and the committee also heard a verbal update on work being undertaken within Live Life Aberdeenshire to achieve savings within its areas of work.

The committee also heard of the increased demand on services for older people, with people living longer and an associated increase in those living with ill health.

In a separate report, councillors received an update on the Housing Revenues Account (HRA).

The HRA budget is designed to be ‘breakeven’, with £63.702million of income and expenditure for the current financial year. By the end of November, an additional income of £1.064million had been recorded and measures to achieve a balanced budget are being explored.

The HRA capital budget, meanwhile, stands at £77.42million, and by the end of November £24million had been spent, with a further £35million of projected expenditure.

Highlighting the investment in affordable housing, committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling said: “It’s heartening to know our new build programme is on track and will deliver for Aberdeenshire. The strategic team is also looking for creative and innovative ways to deliver that very much needed affordable housing for our many residents waiting for accommodation.”

The committee requested a briefing note on ‘void’ properties that aren’t able to be let, and a further report on the subject in six months.

Review of building maintenance stocktaking agreed

The committee supported a request from the council’s Audit Committee to review the housing service’s arrangements for stocktaking.

The request follows the Audit Committee’s own discussions around potential improvements for service delivery.

Head of Housing Rob Simpson explained that the matter related to a change in the way stock ‘sites’ were identified.

Previously, the service held stock for repair and maintenance at five sites across Aberdeenshire, but with council vans now being considered stock ‘sites’, the total number of locations now stands at 106.

Initially, an error rate in stock recording of 27% was recorded by value (£170,000), with 57% or stock lines requiring adjustment. Mr Simpson said that since then the error rate had been reduced to just 2% through work with the audit team.

The ‘committee review process’ will now be undertaken, which will see a further report being prepared for consideration by Communities Committee in April, providing further detail about the situation and the action being taken by the service.

Police Scotland performance statistics discussed

Chief Superintendent Campbell Thomson of presented an overview of performance by the north-east division of Police Scotland.

Introducing the report, Ch Supt Thomson spoke of a recent visit by the Scottish Police Authority to Buchan House in Peterhead, which is currently being extended to provide a base for Police Scotland staff.

He said the group was ‘greatly impressed’ with the partnership approach being taken to the new office, adding it was an example of how Police Scotland business across Scotland might be conducted in the future.

Ch Supt Thomson also spoke of the new police plan that is currently under development.

Moving on to the performance statistics, covering the period from April-September 2019, the report before councillors highlighted that robberies had almost halved as compared to the same period last year.

Crimes such as housebreaking and thefts involving motor vehicles had also seen further reductions, in addition to strong detection rates.

The committee asked a number of questions relating to aspects of the update, with reference made to training for staff to tackle coercive behaviour as part of efforts to tackle domestic abuse.

Tackling organised crime and the seizure of criminal assets was also highlighted in the report.

Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling welcomed the update and praised Police Scotland’s approach to partnership working.

Future reports are to potentially include information on victim support, and the committee is to be briefed on the process for compiling domestic abuse information.

Sensory awareness training for Police Scotland welcomed

A programme of sensory awareness training for probationer constables in the north-east division of Police Scotland was warmly welcomed by the committee.

The committee heard about the development of a training plan designed to provide officers with an awareness of the diverse challenges facing people with sensory impairment and to raise confidence during interactions.

The training covers a range of themes, including best practice when communicating with people with sensory impairment, smartphone apps which can be used to aid communication, and information about Police Scotland officers who use sign language.

Councillors heard the initiative was unique to the division and had been very well received.

Welcoming the project, Cllr Dennis Robertson said he was ‘thrilled’ that the Highland division is now looking to replicate the training.

It was agreed that Police Scotland would invite committee members to a training session.

Update on Scottish Fire and Rescue Service performance

Following the update from Police Scotland, a report on performance by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from April to September 2019 was brought before the committee.

Introducing the report, Local Senior Officer (LSO) for Aberdeenshire Martin Tait highlighted a reduction in non-fire emergencies.

The report before councillors outlined a small increase in accidental dwelling fires, and an increase in the number of ‘special service’ calls for matters such as road traffic collisions.

The number of deliberate fires has also increased, with the number of grassland/scrub fires contributing to 101 out of 145 calls.

Non-domestic fires, meanwhile, are below the three-year average at just 36 incidents, and the number of false alarms has fallen.

LSO Tait also made reference to the PeterDeen youth education initiative, with Cllr Dianne Beagrie commenting on the positive impact of the project.

Cllr Iris Walker went on to call for reinforcement of messages about not leaving appliances such as washing machines unattended in the home.

Efforts to support those at risk of homelessness outlined

The partnership approach being taken to support young people at risk of homelessness was outlined to the committee.

Head of Children’s Services Leigh Jolly talked of the ‘corporate parenting’ approach, which aims to ensure young people who are looked after have the same opportunities as those who live at home.

The committee was told it could be ‘scary’ for a lot of young people leaving care who no longer have access to the same support. The Aberdeenshire Corporate Parenting Action Plan has a focus on ensuring care-experienced young people have a safe and appropriate place to live with a view to reducing homelessness and improving opportunities for better health and wellbeing.

The council’s housing and children’s social work services teams have been working together to prepare guidance and develop housing and accommodation options for care leavers and care-experienced young people.

The Aberdeenshire Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan, considered by the committee in February 2019, identified that a high number of 16-24-year-olds were presenting as homeless and that some targeted work was required.

A Youth Homeless Group was established in January 2019 featuring representatives from Housing, the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership, Education and Children’s Services, Langstane Housing Association, and Aberdeen Foyer.

The group has met to discuss the extent of youth homelessness in Aberdeenshire, and how to support those who are at risk of homelessness or become homeless.

More recently, an updated Care Leavers Housing Protocol has developed, with the Aberdeenshire Youth Housing Forum meeting on a regular basis to identify support and accommodation to meet the needs of care leavers and support independent living.

The children’s social work service also hopes to develop a residential assessment centre for young people in crisis.

The committee welcomed the report and agreed to receive further updates as appropriate.

Council Plan priorities discussed

An update on the progress of delivering the Council Plan Priorities 2017-2022 was brought before the committee.

The plan was approved by the full council in November 2017, with Communities Committee scrutinising delivery plans covering well-being and mental health; housing; the delivery of the Health and Social Care Strategic Plan; and work to reduce poverty and inequalities.

A detailed monitoring report outlined the progress being made in each of these areas. It was agreed further updated should be provided on a six-monthly basis. 

It was also agreed that the committee should receive a report providing information on the council’s Child Poverty Action Plan and its implementation.

Chief Social Work Officer Annual Report for 2018/2019 considered

An annual report concerning adult social work services in Aberdeenshire was considered ahead of the document being brought before a meeting of the full council.

Chief Social Work Officer Iain Ramsay said the report outlined that overall the social work was performing well in most key areas, albeit there were various challenges to be faced in the future, particularly in terms of budget pressures.

Responding to questions from the committee, Mr Ramsay confirmed that recruitment and retention was a challenge for the service, adding that training and development for staff was being protected.

Acknowledging the work of staff, particularly over the Christmas period, Cllr Stirling said: “We would like to thank all the staff that work in social care and social work across our communities to keep our residents and families safe.”

Other matters

The meeting was webcast and can be viewed via the Aberdeenshire Council website.

The public reports considered at the meeting can be found via the committees and meetings page.