Committee round-up: Communities Committee 7.9.17

The latest performance information from the police and fire services, improvements to council properties, and a pilot scheme to support vulnerable people facing homelessness were among items discussed at the latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee.

Quarterly update provided by Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

The latest performance statistics for the Aberdeenshire division of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, covering April to June 2017, were outlined to the committee.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Group Manager John Morgan said that while there had been several areas of challenge in the quarter, the district was performing well in relation to the rest of Scotland.

Mr Morgan highlighted that the overall number of house fires had shown a drop from the same period in 2016 (from 44 to 29), although the number of associated injuries had seen a slight rise from six to eight over the same period.

The number of deliberate fires rose from 38 to 83, attributed partly to particularly dry weather conditions and due to schools being unoccupied during holiday periods. Mr Morgan said that all deliberate fires were reported to the police.

Non-domestic fires and secondary fires also saw an increase, with the deliberate fires being included in this total. The number of casualties, including those from road traffic collisions, fell from 75 to 61 between the two periods.

The number of false alarms has seen year-on-year increases, and during further discussion it was outlined that many of these were at business premises and that the rate of increase was slowing.

The committee went on to discuss staffing challenges to be told that shortages were at their lowest level for four years at 44 vacancies, and that station managers were now more directly involved in the recruitment process.

Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling made reference to an ‘exceptionally good’ workshop held for councillors, involving representatives of the police and fire services.

It was agreed that future reports to committee follow a six-month reporting schedule, with themed reports to be brought forward in the alternate quarters.

Aberdeenshire Local Fire and Rescue Plan 2017-20

The committee went on to discuss the Aberdeenshire Local Fire and Rescue Plan 2017-20.

The discussion covered topics such as the potential use of industrial pumps during flood events like those caused by Storm Frank, initiatives involving young fire-raisers, and recruitment challenges.

The committee also approved Aberdeenshire Council’s official consultation responses to the plan.

Quarterly Police Scotland performance report outlined

Chief Superintendent Campbell Thomson outlined the latest report on Police Scotland’s performance in the Aberdeenshire area which, as with the fire updates, will move to a six-monthly update in future.

Ch Supt Thomson said there had been a concerted effort on local recruitment, with a good number of new employees both living and working in the local area. He added that the division has the lowest absence rates for the whole of Scotland.

There is also a high detection rate for antisocial behaviour. “If you are going to commit a serious crime in the area, you will be caught and brought to justice,” he said.

The have been reductions in thefts, including vehicle thefts, and a reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents by almost 50% - although Ch Supt Thomson said there was no room for complacency on this matter.

The discussion moved on to counter terrorism and extremism, and the work carried out with the local resilience partnership.

Crimes against vulnerable people and crimes of a sexual nature were also discussed. Responding to questions, Ch Supt Thomson explained that sexual crimes are discussed at a very senior level within the force.

There was some discussion of complaints against the police and it was noted that compliments are not formally reported.

The committee went on to support the report, also agreeing that a working group be set up involving councillors and senior officers to discuss police matters.

Quarterly performance within housing service discussed

Access to affordable housing remains a challenge in Aberdeenshire, with a fall in the number of people accessing such housing over the last quarter, it was reported.

Aberdeenshire Council’s Head of Housing, Rob Simpson, said this could be attributed to several factors, including a reduction in tenancies coming to an end and the need for major works in some properties.

Moving on to the service’s Housing Strategy for 2012-17, the annual report on the strategy was presented to the committee.

It was explained that work is beginning on creation of a new strategy for future consideration by the committee and that workshops have been arranged for councillors as part of this work.

Councillors noted the increase in the percentage of Gypsy/Travellers complying with the council’s Good Neighbour Code (from 52.5% in 2013/14 to 74% in 2016/17, rising to 85% for July 2017), albeit the number of unauthorised encampments has increased in the past year. The need to upgrade facilities at the council’s Greenbanks Gypsy/Travellers site was raised.

It was agreed that the report be shared with area committees for discussion and that a workshop take place in October to discuss priorities for the new Local Housing Strategy.

Update provided on care and repair of council properties

An annual update on the care and repair of council properties was presented to the committee.

During 2016/17, the council’s care and repair team assisted 465 clients with major adaptations to meet the needs of disabled tenants. A total of 201 grants for 237 works were approved, amounting to £976,844.

It was noted that the number of works in the Garioch area was much lower than other areas of Aberdeenshire and the service plans to examine any contributory factors for this.

Cllr Anne Allan welcomed the high satisfaction rates for the service. “The satisfaction rate is really exceptional and I think we should acknowledge the work that’s done by staff in care and repair,” she said.

Cllr Stirling asked that future reports contain more detail on the difference adaptations have made to properties, in terms of sustainability and other matters.

The report was approved and is to be shared with the Integrated Joint Board for Health and Social Care.

Housing First scheme to be piloted in Aberdeenshire

An innovative scheme to help vulnerable people who have experienced homelessness to sustain a tenancy is to be piloted in Aberdeenshire.

While homelessness is a one-off situation for many people, those with more complex issues can struggle to manage their tenancy and often find themselves homeless again.

The Housing First approach, which originated in America and is in use throughout Europe, takes a multi-agency approach to supporting individuals experiencing challenges.

The committee heard that those experiencing homelessness are more likely to suffer long term health problems and mental health issues, and to have experiences issues with drugs.

With this in mind, the council’s Housing First approach aims to develop close links with health, police, prison service, social work, the Department of Work and Pensions, Langstane Housing Association, and support organisation Turning Point Scotland.

A project group has been set up and the committee agreed to receive a further report in nine months with an update on the pilot scheme.

Councillors discuss efforts to bring council homes back into use

A report outlining the number of empty council properties – known as ‘void’ properties – and the efforts being made to bring them back into use was brought before the committee.

As of June this year, there were 243 properties that were empty for various reasons, including damage, the need for adaptation or major works, low demand, or that were in the process of being let.

Councillors discussed the promotion of vacant properties, and were told that the time taken to install insulation took longer where other works were taking place at a property at the same time.

The target for reletting a property for 2017/18 was proposed to be 39.7 days; slightly above the Scottish average of 37.89 days.

As part of a discussion about exploring ways to reduce times for reletting properties, officers explained that a balance needs to be sought between repairing or upgrading properties quickly, and making sure works were completed to a good standard.

Agreeing the target for reletting properties, the committee also agreed a proposal from Cllr Stirling that a report be presented to area committees to discuss the local situation in each area.

Updates provided on capital and revenue budgets for housing service

The latest positions for the housing service’s capital and revenue budgets were brought before the committee.

In discussing the capital budget, questions were raised about Scottish Government deadlines to meet requirements on energy efficiency standards for social housing and whether there might be any scope for extension.

The committee also received assurance that outstanding applications under the former ‘Right to Buy’ scheme are to be resolved by the end of 2017.

Other matters: