Committee update: Communities Committee 23.2.17

Performance updates from the emergency services, additions to the council’s affordable housing programme, and proposed increases to fees for sports and physical activity were among matters discussed at the first meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee.

Committee chair Cllr Anne Allan opened the meeting by outlining the group’s functions, following the introduction of the council’s new Scheme of Governance.

She explained some of the duties of the former Social Work and Housing Committee had been transferred to the committee, along with a number of additional responsibilities.

Committee agrees to adjust charging policy minute

Cllr Allan proposed adjusting the minute of the Social Work and Housing Committee of January 12, 2017, on the subject of the non-residential charging policy for 2017/18.

Having discussed the matter with fellow councillors, she called for it to be noted that the agreement of the policy had been approved in principle only. Cllr Allan also proposed that a planned 2.9% inflation rate increase should not be applied to charges and allowances outwith Self Directed Support.

The proposed adjustments were supported by the committee, with Cllr Anne Robertson stressing the importance of carrying committee decisions forward.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service presents performance report and local fire and rescue plan

The committee welcomed representatives from Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who presented the agency’s performance report for October-December 2016.

Councillors were told the service had seen the number of incidents being below average in five of six priority areas, including house fires and services provided for incidents such as road accidents.

The presentation went on to cover issues such as false alarms, grass fires, defibrillator training, and other themes. The committee voiced thanks for the work of the fire and rescue service across Aberdeenshire.

Cllr Robertson went on to ask how the service linked in with the work of the Integration Joint Board for Health and Social Care, adding that she saw the service had a ‘real part to play in delivering that strategic plan’. She also asked for information on the service’s future work with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

The committee was told the service was working well with partner agencies and trying to expand on that, adding there were plans to expand the trial project with the Scottish Ambulance Service for responding to emergencies.

In a related report, the committee considered the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Aberdeenshire local fire and rescue plan

The service produced its new strategic plan in October last year, and will now begin a formal and mandatory review of its local fire and rescue plan for Aberdeenshire. It was confirmed this would include plans for individual council wards.

Police Scotland discuss performance and operational matters

The committee heard an update on the performance of the Aberdeenshire component of the north-east division of Police Scotland.

Councillors were told that Aberdeenshire remains one of the safest places to live, work, and holiday in Scotland.

Responding to a question about links with community councils raised by Cllr Bill Howatson, the police representatives outlined that the force would be delivering seven local policing plans for the area.

In response to concerns raised by Cllr Dave Stewart about a move to ‘enforcement rather than education’ in terms of road safety, it was stressed that preventative measures were a priority for the force and that working with community partners and communities themselves was a key strength in Aberdeenshire.

Other themes covered during the broad discussion included police complaints and how they can be tackled, and the impacts of the relocation of Aberdeen’s control room and service centre to Dundee.

The committee heard of the resources being put in place to manage the transition, and the steps being taken to ensure that calls from the public would continue to be dealt with effectively and with no additional delay.

It was added that staff had been brought to work in Aberdeen to aid familiarisation with the area and local issues. Final approval for the changes is due to be considered on March 22.

In response, Cllr Allan Hendry said that while held concerns about the loss of the Aberdeen control room, he was pleased to hear of the familiarisation work with staff.

Cllr Robertson sought assurance that call response times would not fall due to the changes in processes. The committee was told there would be no additional steps in the response process and that call times should not be affected.

It was agreed that quarterly updates be provided to the committee in future.

Financial monitoring update considered

A report detailing revenue and capital budgets as of December 31, 2016, was brought before the committee for consideration in terms of the group’s financial new responsibilities.

Under the council’s new Scheme of Governance, policy committees now have powers to manage service budgets.

The report outlined that the Communities Committee revenue budget was expected to be over budget by £379,000 by the end of the financial year, at £115,061,000, although the committee was told verbally that the position had improved since December.

The report also outlined that the council’s overall expenditure, as of December, was expected to be over budget by £3,577,000, and that a number of measures were being put in place to help reach a ‘break even’ position by the end of the financial year.

The Communities budget for capital budgets for 2016/17 stood at £10,235,000 as of December.

The committee noted the updates, with the discussion including a request to ensure area committees are kept informed. The committee also approved a budget adjustment as outlined in the report.

Quarterly updates will be brought before the committee, outlining details of both the capital and revenue budgets.

Housing Revenue Account business plan discussed

An update on the council’s 30 year business plan for the Housing Revenue Account was brought before the committee.

The housing service has operated a 30 year business plan since 2000, with a full review of the plan taking place every three years in consultation with tenants on proposed rent levels.

Over the years, considerations have included investment in affordable housing, national priorities regarding housing quality and social housing, the removal of ‘right to buy’ legislation, and an ageing network of sheltered housing schemes.

A report before councillors explained the plan had been updated to include the investment needed to improve housing stocks and to continue with the new build strategy, estimated to be in the region of £100million over the first five years of the plan.

The report added that while the plan remains affordable in the short term, a number of assumption and risks will need to be revisited, and that further work is required in terms of condition reports on communal components within sheltered housing. The business plan also includes ongoing works for property upgrades.

The business plan is to be fully reviewed after information on sheltered housing schemes is available.

Cllr Robertson made reference to a request for an urgent review of the business plan, raised at a meeting of the full council, and asked that a briefing session be organised for the committee. She also asked for clear timescales to be outlined.

It was agreed that a further, more detailed interim report be brought back to the committee in November, and that a full report on the review of the plan be presented in December 2018.

Additions to affordable housing programme welcomed

It was agreed that the next phase of Aberdeenshire Council’s affordable housing programme be expanded.

In January, the former Social Work and Housing Committee approved the development programme for sixth phase of new build affordable housing, which will deliver 95 units across eight Aberdeenshire sites.

A further three opportunities have since been identified for a further 16 units at Conglass, Inverurie; 10 units at Crichie Meadows, Stuartfield; and 14 units (originally proposed as 22) at Blackiemuir Avenue, Laurencekirk.

The committee supported the inclusion of the schemes, subject to discussions at the relevant area committees.

Detailed discussion held on sport and physical activity pricing policy

A proposed new charging framework for sport and physical activity in Aberdeenshire was the subject of a detailed debate by the committee.

The committee was told of a ‘comprehensive review’ of the council’s fees and charges framework, following work undertaken by the former Scrutiny and Audit Committee.

Councillors were told that Aberdeenshire has historically had some of the cheapest prices in Scotland, and that the proposals would take the council closer to the Scottish average.

The proposals, based on achieving the recovery of 60% of the costs for providing services, would focus subsidies on those who would most benefit from them.

Increases would be phased over two to four years, councillors were told, with nobody paying more than 20% of the proposed increases in the first year of the new structure.

Committee chair Cllr Allan asked that officer communicate with clubs to discuss how a new £100,000 sports development could be best used to support them.

Councillors went on to ask questions relating to concessions, investment in facilities, links with health outcomes, the scale of some increases, the cumulative impact of price increases, and the potential establishment of a trust to manage sport and leisure.

Cllr Robertson called for the proposals to be supported in principle only, subject to the implementation plan and related communications strategy being effectively put in place before the pricing policy is implemented. This was supported.

It was also agreed that fortnightly updates be provided to councillors by the Head of Lifelong Learning and Leisure; that charges for three to five year olds for 2018/19 onwards be reviewed; and that officers respond to information from members regarding the impact of the pricing policy upon individual and clubs.

Further agreements included ensuring that in families where one or more child is eligible for free school meals, they should qualify for the concessionary rate; and that officers liaise with clubs regarding the best way to use a new £100,000 sports development budget to ensure the funding is best-used to support and develop clubs across Aberdeenshire.

Other matters