Agenda item

Questions from Councillors - to a member of Executive Board, the Chair of a Committee and the Chair of any other City Council body


Membership of secret societies


Councillor Jim Armstrong asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:


Does the Leader believe that for the Council to continue to be open and transparent, any councillor or member of the Council who finds themselves a member of a secretive organisation which does not publish its membership or its goals, should declare that they are so?


Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor.  It is in the Council’s Standing Orders, Part 4 Paragraph 34 in fact, that a councillor who is a member of a secret society and intends to speak at Council, or at a Board or Committee of the Council at which a matter involving or associated with that society or a member of that society is to be considered, and before that matter is considered, should declare a non-pecuniary interest in it. It then goes on to define a secret society for the purposes of Standing Orders.  If Councillor Armstrong is interested in finding out more about secret societies I would encourage him to familiarise himself with this aspect of the Council’s Standing Orders.



Robin Hood Energy


Councillor Jim Armstrong asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:


Is the recent resignation of the Council Leader from the Board of Robin Hood Energy and the subsequent £5.5m funding from Council resources in any way linked?


Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor.  No.



Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care and Health:


Following the Portfolio Holder’s decision to suspend the City Council’s membership of the Nottingham and Nottingham Integrated Care System can the Portfolio Holder update the Chamber on the progress made in achieving the objectives outlined to the Executive Board in November; and confirm when he anticipates being able to make a decision on the long-term future of the Council’s Integrated Care System membership?


Councillor Sam Webster replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor.  Can I thank Councillor Rule for his question.  As I stated in the report to the Executive Board we remain fully committed to the integration of health and social care services where this is beneficial to Nottingham residents. Whilst Council officers and elected members have not been participating in formal meetings of the Integrated Care System, formally known as the STP, since the suspension we have continued to ensure collaborative working at operational level in line with our statutory duties. 


We have had extensive dialogue with every local NHS organisation at Chief Executive level in order to work through options for progress.  The City represents approximately one third of the population of the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System area and has some of the more deprived communities with greater levels of health inequality.  Our suspension has allowed us to further highlight that we want to ensure that the needs of Nottingham City residents are met as a priority.  We also want to see a greater level of democratic involvement and oversight in the Integrated Care System and in the decisions it makes.  My report to Executive Board also highlighted the importance of public service delivery, creating local jobs for local people and further activity to strength community engagement and involvement.  These are all significant issues for us that have not thus far been the explicit approach of the Integrated Care System, which is why we needed to suspend ourselves and force these issues to be resolved.  If these cannot be resolved then it is unlikely we would want to continue as a formal member of the Integrated Care System. 


I can update Council on progress as follows: The Integrated Care System Board now has agreed to include democratic representation, councillors, along with non-executives from organisations such as our local hospitals.  The Integrated Care System Board is made up of statutory organisations.  It is expected that key decisions will require unanimity from all statutory partners.  This assures us that we can have influence on all important decisions affecting the City.  The Integrated Care System partners are in the process of deciding the way in which the integrated care partnerships will be set up including the geography over which they will be organised.  We have said that whatever that configuration there needs to be a strong city identity, with a clear city budget and enable all key partners in the city to work together with a focus on our population.  The NHS is confirming the way in which a city identity can be achieved over the next few weeks.  Our key principles around public service delivery, local jobs for local people, and strengthening community involvement have been discussed with NHS partners and there is strong alignment on these points.  We want procurement and commissioning practice to include elements, such as those in our Business Charter, that can encourage or mandate certain elements to be evidenced.  We also need to clarify what decisions will be made at the Integrated Care System Board, where we are able to hold influence through the unanimous requirement for decisions. 


I hope Councillor Rule can see that we took the decision to suspend Nottingham City Council’s membership of the Integrated Care System in the interests of our residents in Nottingham.  We have made progress in terms of negotiating with our local health partners and we believe we can achieve more resources, more influence and ensure that our local health services are delivered by well trained and highly valued public servants.  Unlike the government, I believe that we in Nottingham know how to negotiate a good deal for our residents.  When we have, the Labour Group will carefully consider our next steps and you can count on us, Councillor Rule, to show some leadership, unity and above all else we will prioritise the best interests of the people we serve.



Children in care, care leavers and foster carers


Councillor Gul Khan asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years:


Can the Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years inform Council of additional support given to children in care, care leavers and foster carers over the festive period?


Councillor David Mellen replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor.  Can I thank Councillor Khan for his question. As a Council we have a responsibility as the corporate parent for the 615 children who are in the care of the local authority.  When Frank Dobson, as the Health Secretary of the Labour Government in the 1990s, introduced the concept of corporate parenting he said that councils should do everything in their power to give these children as good a life experience as if they were our own birth children. 


Christmas is a time when we buy gifts for our children.  We give them special experiences and celebrate together with other members of our family. In contrast, we know that Christmas can be a difficult time for children in care as it can emphasise the great changes or losses they have had in their lives.  In these circumstances it is all the more important that we do everything that we can to make Christmas special for our looked after children.  All our residential staff, foster carers, social workers, business support colleagues and personal advisers work together with children, their carers, families and volunteers to ensure that they have the best Christmas possible.  Over the Christmas period children in care were provided with a range of additional support and opportunities.  These included toys and other gifts provided through donations from local companies, members of the public and City Council staff.  We have a dedicated group of volunteers amongst the staff, led by a business support colleague in Children’s Services, who co-ordinate Christmas presents.  They received over 3500 gifts from Nottingham residents, Council staff and Nottingham businesses this year.  Because we had so many generous donations these gifts were shared not just between children in care but also with children living in other families that we are working with.  I would like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks for the generosity of businesses in Nottingham, individual citizens and Council staff and councillors for their generosity.  In addition, children in care and their foster carers were also provided with tickets for the pantomime performances at both the Royal Centre and the Playhouse, thanks to generous donations from both theatres.  50 of our foster care families caught the Santa Train provided by East Midlands Trains on a December Saturday morning.  They were taken on a round trip through Lincolnshire enjoying festive treats on the train, a cinema showing of The Grinch and, of course, meeting Santa. 


For young people who have recently become care leavers, 40 food hampers were provided following donations from Labour councillors and Council staff.  For these young people who have recently taken up a tenancy of a flat following leaving care, it may have been that they spent Christmas or much of the festive period on their own.  The food hampers were a reminder that they are not forgotten over this holiday time.  We also worked closely with a group of volunteers co-ordinated by Trent Vineyard Church who volunteered to organise a Christmas meal that actually took place for care leavers on Christmas Day.  This is the first year that we have been able to do this.  The meal was targeted at those care leavers who would have otherwise been by themselves and it was a real success.  Care leavers who attended, some of whom brought their own children, all received gifts from Santa, which had once again been donated by local people and organisations.  20 care leavers and their children attended. 


So we are very grateful to everyone who has donated gifts or given up time, even on Christmas Day, to make it a special time for our Nottingham children.  We will continue to ensure that we fulfil our corporate parent duty in the best way that we can in the future.



Housing Allowance


Councillor Ilyaz Aziz asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Housing and Planning:


Does the Portfolio Holder for Housing and Planning know how much is paid out to private rented landlords every year by Nottingham City Council in housing allowance and would the money not be better spent on building council houses?


Councillor Linda Woodings replied as follows:


Thank you very much Lord Mayor and thank you Councillor Aziz for your question.  We estimate that approximately £48 million worth of rent allowance was paid to private landlords in Nottingham in 2017/18 and this is much more proportionately than that received by Council tenants.  That figure is £59 million but there are nearly double the number of Council tenant claims than those in the private sector. So if you are entitled to housing benefit to help you afford your rent it costs the taxpayer more in housing benefit payments if you rent a home from a private landlord than if you rent a home from the Council.  These figures highlight the findings of Shelter’s recently published report from its Commission on the Future of Social Housing.  The Commission makes a very strong case that the building of more social housing is the way to tackle the housing crisis and it recommends a historic renewal of social housing and the delivery of 3.1million social homes over a 20 year period. It demonstrates the savings to the welfare bill which could be achieved by building social homes rather than paying out housing benefit to private sector landlords.  In areas of average rent, under Shelter’s suggested programme, providing a social home for a tenant in receipt of housing benefit would generate a net saving to the government after 30 years of £5600.  It is nearly double that in areas of high cost housing.  In total, savings on housing benefit alone would reach £60 billion within 30 years. 


As well as the savings in housing benefit, the capital investment in millions of social homes would boost the economy, create public assets and provide better value for money for the taxpayer.  As one of the commissioners, the former Conservative Treasury Minister Lord Jim O’Neill, said we must make a profound and generational shift away from a belief that housing benefits alone can solve this problem and back towards investment in bricks and mortar and a view that affordable housing is a national asset like other infrastructure.  Perhaps most of all, building social homes as an alternative to private renting provides a secure, stable, well-managed home in which families can settle and bring up their children without the fear of a short term tenancy coming to an end.  Disruption to schooling and a lack of a secure place you can call home can have a destabilising effect on children.  The report of the Shelter Commission is very welcome, but actually Nottingham was thinking exactly the same thing more than 3 years ago.  In 2015 Nottingham City Homes and Nottingham City Council examined the potential for reducing benefits expenditure in the City by building new homes that could be made available at lower rents than the private rented sector was offering.  At that time private rented housing benefit expenditure in Nottingham had risen from £22.5 million in 2009/10 to £41.6 million in 2013/14 and as I have already said that is now estimated to be in the region of £48 million a year.  The increased expenditure from the public purse was a source of concern.  The savings to the housing benefit bill would be achieved through having rent levels lower than current levels of local housing allowance - that’s the rates paid to private rented tenants.  A 5 year pilot was proposed which would involve an overall investment of £11 million to build 100 new 3 bedroom homes, financed over a 40 year period through the Council’s prudential borrowing facility.  Renting out those properties at 90% of Nottingham’s local housing allowance would have brought an overall saving of approximately £2.5 million.  The idea was floated with opposition politicians at a national level but with no change to the government from the general election in 2015 unfortunately it went no further. 


Colleagues, it is refreshing to know that the current Conservative Government seems to be changing its mind about social housing.  You will recall that Nick Clegg reported that during the Coalition Government it was either George Osbourne or David Cameron who said that social housing simply created Labour voters.  However Teresa May has recently told the National Housing Federation that people who live in council houses should be made to feel proud of their homes and committed a further £2 billion to build new homes in England to remove, what she called, the stigma of social housing.  How staggeringly out of touch.  It is quite clear that Teresa May has never been to a council estate. Far from being a stigma we know that people are proud to live in their council houses and on their council estates.  Our waiting list and our case work shows that this is the most desirable option for those who want a stable home that they can feel secure in knowing that they can stay there rather than the possibility of being evicted on a whim by a private landlord with just 2 months notice. 


Nottingham City Council remains committed to the principle of decent, safe, secure and affordable social housing.  We are currently purchasing a number of homes which were sold through the Right to Buy scheme and might otherwise end up in the private rented sector and these are rented out as social housing.  This will save money in housing benefit but will also leave the Council with an asset for households to benefit from in the future.  We have also recently seen the Government completely shift its policy on council housing by lifting the borrowing cap on Housing Revenue Accounts, something that I can assure you we intend to take full advantage of in Nottingham by building more of the social homes we need. 





Councillor Cheryl Barnard asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Community Protection:


Can the Portfolio Holder for Community Protection inform the Council of what support is being offered to rough sleepers in Nottingham and what action is being taken to prevent people being put at risk of being homeless?


Councillor Toby Neal replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you Councillor Barnard for the question.  The issues of rough sleeping and homelessness are both a national and a local issue with numbers having increased over the last 5 years.  Never has it been more important to address these complex issues, particularly at this time of year when the temperatures are dropping.  So I want to give you some examples of the extensive activity that we are currently undertaking.  We continually engage with those who rough sleep on our streets.  Our Community Protection Officers and partners from Framework, with their embedded social workers and health care workers continue to promote our local support services at every opportunity they get with vulnerable individuals and offer same day accommodation.  I would add that while the Council has adopted a ‘no second night out’ policy for those who sleep rough, I have instructed our frontline services to ensure that nobody spends a single night out on our streets – effectively a ‘no first night out’ policy.  To enhance our on-street responses we have recently appointed a Rough Sleeping Co-ordinator to have operational oversight of these complex issues and already this post is delivering significant results and guiding people off the streets.  The City has a large network of winter shelters co-ordinated by our partners, such as Emmanuel House, providing bed space and shelter for all those that want it.  In addition, we have activated our Sit Up Service in collaboration with the Red Cross, providing additional temporary shelter and support for eight households every night.  We also recently secured funding of around £650,000 for a rapid rehousing pathway for rough sleepers.  This funding will be spent developing a 24 hour sit up service throughout the year.  It will employ navigators to help rough sleepers access accommodation and it will fund support workers to assist resettlement and access accommodation to the private rented sector. However despite these successes we still face challenges with those that sleep rough.  There are a very small number of rough sleepers who have refused our offer of accommodation or who have left supported accommodation that we have given to them.  These are individuals with very complex needs and we need to help further, and with the additional funding we hope to be able to address this issue.  As part of the Nottingham Homelessness Prevention Strategy, our Community Protection Services are undertaking a significant amount of homelessness prevention activity.  Our Safer Housing and Selective Licensing Teams work with landlords and tenants to try and solve tenancy problems and enable people to stay in their properties.  Our housing licensing schemes are playing a significant part in this by bringing all private rented sector properties across the City up to a minimum standard and providing support for tenants facing illegal Section 21 evictions.  We also ensure that evictions from social tenancies are prevented wherever possible and we will try to mediate between household members to stop exclusion from the family home leading to homelessness.  We have also increased available housing stock purchasing a significant number of houses so that those that are evicted or those who have nowhere to go, have somewhere to go.  And finally we are currently working with agencies such as the prison service, probation and health services to stop people being discharged from institutional settings with nowhere to go. 


Councillors will recall we adopted the new Homelessness Prevention Strategy for the City at the Full Council meeting in November last year.  This is a 5 year plan aimed at reducing homelessness through a range of interventions delivered in partnership with a range of agencies across the City.  Nottingham has a very good record on homelessness prevention and it is only in recent times that we have struggled to tackle homelessness and had to resort to the use of bed and breakfast accommodation on a temporary basis.  Through some magnificent work by officers and councillors we have managed to eliminate the use of bed and breakfast but the job is not done and the pressures are still there.  We need to go back to being a leading authority in homelessness prevention, and the new Strategy, which takes full account of the new powers within the Homelessness Reduction Act, will help us do this.  The Strategy has four priority areas, which are addressing the causes of homelessness; homelessness prevention; the relief of homelessness; and tackling rough sleeping.  Specifically in terms of prevention, the Strategy focuses on some areas where we can intervene early on to stop people becoming homeless, for example people having to leave private rented tenancies which is one of the biggest causes of homelessness in the City.  We will work with landlords and tenants to try and solve the tenancy problems and enable people to stay.  We will also ensure that evictions from either the private rented sector or social tenancies are prevented wherever possible and we will try to mediate between household members.  The work with the agencies is a significant part of it.  The Strategy is very ambitious and requires resources and we are making the best use of the grant we receive from central government and we are exploiting any bidding opportunities to enable us to boost the funding we have available to assist people.  We will always need temporary accommodation so the Council and Nottingham City Homes are investing resources in this.  The Strategy and objectives will only be delivered by working in partnership with a range of agencies and stakeholders and this is what the Homelessness Charter is about, which Councillor Barnard has played a significant role in helping to pull together so that all sectors can make a pledge to show how they will help reduce homelessness.  As the Strategy states, the Council and its partners believe that preventing and tackling homelessness are everyone’s business in Nottingham and everyone has a right to a home. 



Pension Credit


Councillor Mike Edwards asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder or Finance, Resources and Commercial Services:


Is the Deputy Leader aware that the Government sneaked out changes to pension credit last week which will result in mixed couples losing more than £7000?


Councillor Graham Chapman replied as follows:


Thank you for the question Councillor.  Yes, I am very aware.  These changes were slipped out last Monday night by the Department for Work and Pensions in the middle of the Brexit debates on Monday and Tuesday.  They mean that from 15 May new pensioners whose partners are younger than the state retirement age of 65 can no longer claim means tested top-up called Pension Credit.  Instead they will be forced to claim much less generous Universal Credit alongside their younger partners.  The couple rate of Universal Credit is £114.81 per week.  Compare this with the £255.25 for a couple receiving Pension Credit. This amounts to a loss over a year of £7320.  Currently people who reach retirement age and are eligible can claim Pension Credit regardless of the age of their partner.  In future they will have to wait until their partner reaches 65 although the state retirement age will increase to 66 in October 2020.  Couples with one partner under state pension age who are already in receipt of Pension Credit are unaffected and that is very important.  We don’t want to panic anybody.  People already receiving it will not be affected, but they will move to the new system and, this is very important, they will move to the new system if their circumstances change such as change of address, or even if the pensioner’s partner goes abroad for longer than a month.  The average age gap for mixed age couples is 2.6 years meaning that the cash loss incurred before the younger partner becomes old enough to claim Pension Credit could be as much as £19,000.  So there will be couples in Nottingham who surreptitiously have had £19,000 taken away from their income, and don’t think these are well off couples.  These are couples that are not well off by definition.  The government will have taken up to £19,000 over two and half years from these people.  I would like to contrast this with another change that was slipped out this month.  It is to do with tax havens.  The announcement in 2016 by the Cameron Government promised the publication of a register of investors in tax havens by 2020. This was to expose firms avoiding tax and in some cases evading tax, but mainly avoiding.  This month we learn that the deadline has been slipped to 2023.  This means it will be harder to clamp down on firms who are avoiding tax.  So in the same month as we are taking up to £19,000 away from pensioners, badly off pensioners, we let off the hook firms who are avoiding tax, evading tax to the tune of millions and millions and millions.  Do not underestimate how much this happens.  I remember one developer in Nottingham coming to me saying, well everybody puts their money into tax havens.  I thought, well not everybody on the Broxtowe Estate does that.  Do not underestimate how pervasive this is and how they have been let off the hook at the same time as you are pinching pennies off the poorest pensioners. 


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