Committee round-up: Communities Committee 29.3.18

The way fire and rescue services might be delivered in the future and a new sport and physical activity strategy were among items discussed at the latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee.

The meeting was held at the council’s Buchan House office in Peterhead, with committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling commenting the group was keen to meet in locations across Aberdeenshire so that members could get a real understanding of local issues and projects.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service outlines future developments

A wide-ranging consultation on the planned future of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) was discussed by the committee.

Members heard a detailed presentation by the new Local Service Officer (LSO) for Aberdeenshire and Moray, Ian Findlay, and Group Manager David Meldrum on how the service is preparing for change and how views are being sought from a range of audiences.

LSO Findlay spoke of the changing environment for the service over the years, with a significant decrease in fires and an increase in duties relating to new and emerging risks – such as terrorism, emergency medical response, and severe weather.

The current operating model was designed to meet the risks of the 1940s and needed to be modernised, he said, adding that the aim was to ‘increase the foothold’ of the service in Aberdeenshire, rather than close rural locations.

The discussion went on to cover new technologies available to the service, and how the service will engage with partner organisations and specific audiences such as young people.

The ‘Your Service Your Voice’ consultation closes on Monday, May 14, and can be found at http://www.firescotland.gov.uk/transformation/public-consultation

Fire and rescue service’s home safety role discussed

The role of the SFRS to reduce unintentional harm and promote home safety was outlined to councillors.

The committee was told that accidental fires, slips, trips, falls and burns/scalds to the very young and older people is now widely recognised as presenting significant issues to public health.

Group Manager David Meldrum said the service was committed to reducing issues across Aberdeenshire and works closely with community planning and community safety partners on prevention and detection of issues.

The SFRS has a dedicated community safety action team has doubled the number of home fire safety visits from 800 in 2013 to more than 1,600 in 2017, and the visits are to be expanded to include home safety.

The committee went on to discuss support for vulnerable people and the importance of smoke detectors.

As part of the discussion, committee members were invited to visit the SFRS Centre at Cambuslang, on the outskirts of Glasgow.

Area committees to be asked for views on property disposals

A proposed strategy that will guide the way poorly-performing council properties are disposed off is to be brought before area committees for discussion.

Aberdeenshire Council owns around 13,000 properties, a small percentage of which are difficult to maintain or let.

In some cases, it is challenging for the council to upgrade properties to meet new national standards, or too expensive. And there are challenges too where the council owns only part of a mixed tenancy building.

A report before councillors explained that area committees should determine the sale of land of buildings where the value is £100,000 or more, and where an area committee does not agree with officer recommendations proposals will be referred to the Communities Committee.

The committee agreed the proposed strategy should be referred to area committees for discussion, before a report is brought back for final approval.

Committee considers strategy for sport and physical activity

A proposed ten-year strategy focusing on sport and physical activity in Aberdeenshire up to 2028 was brought before the committee.

Councillors were told the ten year focus aimed to deliver ‘real change’ and would be supported by a one-year action plan providing further detail.

Among the aims of the strategy are the reduction of obesity and a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

Cllr Anne Allan raised concerns about the lack of playparks in Peterhead. She was told there were indeed challenges to identify suitable space for play equipment and that work was taking place to identify opportunities.

Cllr Allan also called for more detail relating to migrants and other minority groups in the strategy. 

There was further discussion relating to helping young people reach their potential, and on support for sports such as bowling and golf.

The committee’s comments will be fed back to the full council for consideration and final approval of the strategy.

Sport and physical activity business unit discussed

Proposals for the creation of a ‘business unit’ to support culture and sports services in Aberdeenshire were considered by the committee.

A report before councillors highlighted that the full council had agreed in March that a proposal should be considered for the creation of a culture and sport business unit.

The report went on to outline a pilot model that would operate for a year before further consideration is given to the future of the services. 

The customer-facing services included in the business unit would be:

• Cultural Services
• Sport & Physical Activities Services
• Community halls
• Sports pitches
• Catering and janitorial services

The Communities Committee would have the lead role in setting the strategic direction of the business unit and providing scrutiny of the success in delivering strategic priorities.

As such, it was recommended the Communities Committee establish a sub-committee for this purpose. The committee agreed to recommend that the sub-committee is made up of four Aberdeenshire councillors and four external members.

A report is due to come before the next meeting of the full council on Thursday, April 26, for discussion, with a view to changes taking place from May to September.

Other matters

• The committee approved a draft response to a national consultation on a proposed bill that would require all new Scottish social housing to be fitted with fire suppression systems
• Progress made to meet equalities outcomes in the council’s Mainstreaming and Equalities Report 2017-2021 was noted by the committee
• A proposed response to a Scottish Government consultation on social isolation and loneliness was approved by the committee, which raised the point that social media could in some cases make people feel more isolated
• The latest performance information from the housing service was considered by the committee, highlighting overall improved performance in meeting the outcome for the Scottish Social Housing Charter, and mixed performance in ensuring access to good quality affordable housing
• Performance information for Education and Children’s Services between October and December last year was considered by the committee
• The full public papers brought before the committee can be found via www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/committees-and-meetings/