07 November 2019

Committee round-up: Communities Committee 7.11.19

The ongoing success of Aberdeenshire’s refugee resettlement programme, an update on the rollout of Universal Credit, and the housing service’s investment plan for the next five years were among items discussed at the latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee.

Latest financial information outlined

The latest figures regarding the council’s budget for Communities and the authority’s Housing Revenue Account were outlined to councillors.

Considering the quarterly revenue and capital budget monitoring for Communities, councillors heard that the planned budgeted expenditure for service delivery up to the end of September was £62.486million.

With the spend to date being £61.144million, the service is currently within budget by £1.353million. Councillors asked for more detail on figures relating to Education & Children’s Services before approving the report.

A new format for the presentation of information in the Housing Revenue Account was welcomed by the committee.

A further report before councillors outlined that the phased budgeted income and expenditure on service delivery to the end of September was £14million, with the actual income for the period being £13.67million; £331,000 less that expected.

Support for Universal Credit recipients discussed

The support provided to recipients of the Universal Credit benefit was outlined to the committee.

The update was requested following an earlier discussion about the scheme in March, when councillors also asked for additional information about support for people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act, and for information relating to private and registered social landlords.

Universal Credit has been available to all Aberdeenshire residents since October 2018, replacing six ‘legacy’ benefits for working age claimants, and is paid monthly in arrears. 

The committee heard of the joint approach being taken by finance and housing colleagues to provide support for claimants, including access to translation services where required.

Of the 12,170 claimants in Aberdeenshire, 4,322 (£35.51%) were in arrears as of September, slightly higher than for the same period last year.

Service representatives told the committee that the they remained confident that the approach taken to supporting claimants was correct and positive, and that the most recent figures suggested a downward trend to the level of arrears.

Councillors commended the work of the service to support those in arrears and went on to ask a number of questions about statistics by area.

It was agreed that a briefing note be prepared regarding figures for alternative payment arrangements and direct payments, with the information to be shared with committee members, as well as to area committees.

It was also agreed that a letter be sent to the Department of Work and Pensions to ask whether services are being provided to those who are deaf or hard of hearing and, if not, whether they could be.  

Aberdeenshire’s refugee resettlement programme praised

The warm welcome given by Aberdeenshire communities for the Syrian New Scots who have resettled in the area was highlighted as part of a detailed update of the council’s resettlement programme.

Refugee Resettlement Co-ordinator Katie Maclean spoke of the work that has been undertaken over the past four years to resettle more than 50 families in Aberdeenshire, adding that by the end of the year a total of 196 people from 58 vulnerable families will have been supported.

The council’s programme has been completely funded by the Home Office, which has announced an extension of the programme. As such, Aberdeenshire’s efforts are to continue under a global resettlement scheme to provide families with safe passage to the UK, with a focus on refugees from Syria and the Middle East.

Katie said the families who have come to Aberdeenshire had seen improvements in health and play very active parts of their communities, with a number moving into employment.

Councillors went on to speak very positively about the programme, voicing their recognition of the trauma that the refugees had faced before coming to Aberdeenshire, and congratulating Katie and her team for their efforts in supporting them.

The committee also stressed the importance of tackling negative attitudes towards refugees, with a reference made to new media guidelines designed to tackle Islamophobia.

It was agreed that a discussion take place with the Provost of Aberdeenshire to explore how the council can acknowledge the reaffirmation by Communities Committee of the council’s support for the resettlement of vulnerable refugees.

It was also agreed that recently published media guidance regarding reporting on refugee matters be shared with the committees, and that the guidance be shared with other committee chairs.

Strategic Housing Investment Plan 2020-2025 approved

A document which sets out investment priorities for affordable housing in Aberdeenshire over the next five years has been supported by councillors.

The draft Strategic Housing Investment Plan 2020-2025 (SHIP) outlines that over the next five years up to 2,173 new homes could potentially be delivered across Aberdeenshire, subject to funding and the viability of individual schemes.

Of the homes, 333 would be potentially suitable for households with particular needs and 92 of these would be wheelchair accessible.

The total investment over the life of the plan could total just over £163million, although a report before councillors noted that the SHIP is subject to developments coming forward timeously and highlighting that the local housing market still faces some challenges.

Feedback from area committees was outlined before councillor approve the SHIP, which will now be submitted to the Scottish Government.

Other matters