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


Housing evictions


Councillor Toby Neal asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Housing, Planning and Heritage:


Does the Portfolio Holder for Housing, Planning and Heritage welcome the government’s announcement of a consultation on abolishing section 21 no fault evictions?


Councillor Linda Woodings replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and can I start by congratulating both yourself Lord Mayor and our Sheriff on your election, and our new Leader and Deputy Leader on their election. I look forward to working with all of my new councillor colleagues as well and congratulate you on your election, but I especially want to mention the newly elected women councillors that mean we are now, in my understanding, the first majority female council in the country.


So thank you for this question. The private rented sector has grown substantially over the past 20 years and is now home to a fifth of households in the United Kingdom, that’s 4.7 million people. So many more people can now expect to live in the private rented sector for longer and more importantly, 1.7 million of these households contain almost 3 million children.  However, the rules and regulations that underpin the private rented sector have not kept pace with this growth. This means tenants in private rented homes can face unaffordability, poor conditions, a lack of security of tenure and a limited control over the place that they want to call home. Meanwhile, a perfect storm of cuts to benefits and a national shortage of homes leading to increased rents have led to an imbalanced relationship between landlord and renter with all the power with the landlords, some of whom are unscrupulous.  In truth, Britain’s broken rented housing sector needs to become more like Germany’s, where more than half the population enjoy secure and mostly happy private tenancies averaging 11 years. By contrast, in Britain tenancies average just 30 months.


So yes, I do welcome the consultation over the abolition of Section 21 No Fault Evictions and I can confirm that the Council will submit a response. In addition to that, I am determined that the voices of the people who have suffered no fault evictions, including revenge evictions, will be put forward as part of the evidence as well. Unfortunately colleagues, I have a level of cynicism about this announcement, specifically its timing. It was announced just two weeks before the local elections. Was this possibly a last minute, desperate, vote-catching policy by the Conservative Government, who then went on to lose more than 1300 seats? Too little, too late, especially when you consider that the Government conducted an almost identical consultation last August, but took no action. Also, this commitment is only to hold a consultation and we know from our own experience in introducing selective licensing that the landlord lobby is well-connected, well-organised and well-funded, and so I fear an eventual watering down of the fine words which accompanied this announcement.


That said we welcome that there is, on the face of it, a recognition from the Government that Section 21 evictions are a major contributor to homelessness, especially amongst families. They bring insecurity, instability, anxiety and misery to people’s lives. They bring disruption to children’s education and they contribute to poor mental health in children and the vulnerable. To deprive someone of their home without good cause should be illegal. Your rented property should be your home and you should be part of the neighbourhood and contribute to a stable and well-balanced community. The current system can be used by landlords who either want to speculatively try to increase their rents and, as I have said, it can be used in retaliation for example when a tenant has requested repairs or contacted the Environmental Health Department to report a hazard at their property. Findings from a report published by Citizens Advice show that tenants reporting a problem with their home had a 46% chance of being evicted within the following 6 months and that is scandalous. Clearly, this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable because it unfairly targets people for eviction and steps to prevent that should be welcomed.


Nottingham City Council wants to see a well-functioning private rented sector, including homes that are in good repair and protection for good tenants. So ministers have indicated that they will amend the Section 8 process to allow it to be used by landlords if they want to sell their property or move back in themselves, but unlike Section 21, tenants can challenge Section 8 evictions in court. The proposed changes have of course drawn fury from landlords’ representatives, who say that no fault eviction rules have been used as a way to get around lengthy court delays when landlords need to evict tenants if they fall into significant arrears. So in response to this, we do recognise that landlords should be able to evict tenants in certain circumstances, for example, those who are committing severe anti-social behaviour, causing damage or severe nuisance, drug-dealing and criminal behaviour or falling substantially behind in their rent. What we need to see and want to see is better rights for renters with an appeals process to give good reason for evictions that must be evidenced.


So was this a cynical attempt to curry favour with voters in advance of the local elections or was this a genuine acknowledgement of the imbalanced rented housing market and the misery caused by Section 21 evictions? Only time will tell, but no matter what the outcome I can assure the citizens of Nottingham that Labour will continue to fight for better rights for renters and for safe, decent and secure homes for everyone.


Climate change


Councillor Anne Peach asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Energy, Environment and Democratic Services:


Can the Portfolio Holder for Energy, Environment and Democratic Services comment on how the UK Parliament being the first in the world to declare a climate emergency may help Nottingham achieve its zero carbon targets?


Councillor Sally Longford replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you Councillor Peach for your question. As I am sure you would expect, I’m very happy that the UK Parliament has declared a climate and environment emergency in a motion tabled by Jeremy Corbyn. Unfortunately, this was not backed by the current Conservative Environment Secretary Michael Gove and does not legally compel the Government to act. It was very much a symbolic move.


The Labour Party calls on the Government to come up with a range of clear proposals within a few months just as local authorities like ourselves are in the process of doing now, having already made pledges to tackle climate change. As you know, I bought a motion to Council earlier this year pledging to make our city carbon neutral by 2028, ahead of all cities in the country. This pledge went into our manifesto and the Council’s Energy Team are currently developing plans to make that happen. In order to be successful in our manifesto pledge, we want the Government to back us and the commitment of a forward-looking, environmentally aware Parliament. There is no room for climate change denial here. We need a more supportive policy environment to bring a raft of changes, incentivising decarbonisation of the energy industry, radical changes in building regulations, support for programmes to retrofit energy inefficient homes and a huge investment in clean transport technology.


We in Nottingham have a proud record of innovation in the environmental sector and we have already made progress in carbon reduction. We were at the forefront of retrofitting insulation projects to council houses and providing them with solar panels. We work closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and are spreading our clean energy expertise within the Midlands Energy Hub. We are a testbed for new technology with our ‘Vehicle to Grid’ project that is happening now at the Eastcroft Depot, Energiesprong and the Remourban project in Sneinton, soon to spread into Radford, but there is only so much we can do. Warm words will not crack this massive problem. Radical change is needed if we are to avoid the devastating impacts of climate change and I hope our friends in Parliament and in Extinction Rebellion will be doing all they can to send a strong message to Michael Gove and his ilk that they must get behind this now. Thank you.


Mental health


Councillor Georgia Power asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and the City Centre (formerly the Portfolio Holder for Adults and Health):


Following Mental Health Awareness Week, does the Portfolio Holder agree that events such as Bestwood Healthy Minds have a fundamental role to play in helping our city understand mental health and will they help more of such events to happen across the city?


Councillor Sam Webster replied as follows:


Thank you, I’m actually answering this question on behalf of Councillor Campbell-Clarke. We are just in the handover process, so I will take this one on today.


Thank you for your question. Too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, unable to talk about what they are going through, and all too aware of the stigma that can still be associated with mental health issues. But with the right support from those around them, people can recover and have equal opportunities in all areas of life. Encouraging people to open up to mental health, to talk and to listen, is the first step.


One in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. In Nottingham more than 100,000 adults aged over 16 will experience mental health problems. Those with serious mental illness are likely to die 15-20 years younger than the general population. Mental health and wellbeing is lower where deprivation is highest.


Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual programme of events aimed at reducing stigma and promoting a better understanding of mental health and wellbeing. In Nottingham, we had many events and activities last week and the Council played a full part as the local authority and as one of the city’s biggest employers. One such event in Nottingham City was, as Councillor Power mentioned, the Bestwood Healthy Minds Conversation.  The Bestwood Healthy Minds Conversation was borne out of joined up working between Nottingham City Council, its partners and, most importantly, the community.  The conversations were citizen-led and focused on support mechanisms, particularly those available from the local community.


Despite the huge reductions in council funding from government, including ongoing cuts to Nottingham’s Public Health Grant, there is some really good work happening in neighbourhoods across the city, supported by dedicated teams of workers and volunteers.  Another such example is Nottingham Time to Change. The Nottingham Time to Change Hub was set up in 2018 to change how we all think and act about mental health. The Hub’s vision is to create a Nottingham where people talk openly about mental health in the same way as they would physical health, without fear or discrimination.  Self Help UK are the co-ordinators of The Hub, but at its heart are more than 80 local champions with lived experience of mental health who lead activity in their local communities.


Nottingham City Council set an example to other local employers by signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge back in 2014. Since the Time to Change Hub was established, the Council has been working with more than 25 employers to develop wellbeing action plans that will improve and support the mental health of local workers.


The NHS Long Term Plan published earlier this year set out a national commitment to improving mental health. Locally, this week has seen the start of the consultation on the draft refresh of Nottingham City’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.


We are committed to supporting further mental health information support events. Can I end by thanking you Councillor Power for work you have done as a mental health champion and I look forward to you continuing this focus in your new role as Chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee. Thank you.


Equality and diversity


Councillor Shuguftah Quddoos asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:


Would the Leader welcome the fact that the new Labour majority group reflects and represents the diverse communities in the city, and for the first time ever has better than gender balance in the Council’s Executive and amongst the Majority Group’s elected members?


Councillor David Mellen replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and can I thank Councillor Quddoos for her question. On 2 May Nottingham elected the councillors to represent the communities of our city for the next four years. For the first time, the people have elected more women than men to represent them. 101 years after some women got the vote for the first time, this Council has at last achieved gender equality for the first time, and yes Councillor Quddoos, I am pleased about that achievement. It has been long overdue and very welcome.


I am immensely proud to say that the commitment made in our manifesto by Nottingham Labour to ensure that at least half of the Labour councillors elected are women has already been kept, and this afternoon I am delighted to introduce our new Portfolio Team, which includes seven women, far more than ever before.


The role of Deputy Leader is now held by Councillor Sally Longford. The last time a woman sat in the Leader’s Office was in 1993 under Betty Higgins as the Leader, who sadly passed away last year. Betty was hugely supportive throughout her life of women getting into politics. I had the privilege to work alongside her for a short time, and I know she would be brimming with pride and excitement for the brilliant team of women who now make up the Council’s Executive Board.


Ensuring the Council reflects and represents the diverse communities in the city cannot be complete without more representation from BAME communities. As we look across the Chamber today, we see that it is more diverse than it has been before. We have to go further before we are truly representative across all levels of the Council, but we should celebrate the progress that has been made with not only more members of the Executive from diverse backgrounds, but every single one of the Executive Assistants from BAME backgrounds. I’m also particularly delighted that Councillor Kandola is the first member of the Sikh community ever elected to the Council.


I am also looking forward to working alongside our talented and diverse group to build a safer, cleaner city where all residents have opportunities to prosper and reach their full potential. Nottingham Labour recognises that the City Council has a role to play in leading by setting an example on equalities.


Contrast this Council Chamber with the Local Government Association study, which found shortly before the last election that 96 percent of councillors were white and two thirds were male. More than a quarter were also over 70 years old.  So often the criticism is thrown at politicians that they are all the same or they just don’t look or sound like me. I hope the new intake of councillors here today shows people in our city that the Council is a place that reflects and represents them and the democratic process is something they can and should get involved with.


This is a continuation of a strong record on equalities already, with some of the Council’s achievements including:

·  Stonewall routinely recognising Nottingham City Council as one of Britain’s top 100 LGBT friendly employers;

·  Nottingham being identified as LGBT friendly in research by Middlesex University;

·  Nottingham as one of the fastest growing cities for disability sport in the UK;

·  62 new special school places for children with additional needs and funded support to help children with special educational needs get on in mainstream schools;

·  Nottinghamshire Police was the first in the UK to categorise misogyny as a hate crime;

·  An annual programme of events celebrating important cultural holidays such as St Patrick’s Day, Vaisakhi, Eid, Christmas and much more.


Diversity is one of Nottingham’s great strengths. We cannot be complacent but I am proud to be the Council Leader in a city where people generally get on well with one another, with Nottingham recently being named as the friendliest city in the UK, with 98 percent of residents saying they know their neighbours well and look out for them.


There are challenging times ahead but together with my colleagues across the Council and drawing on people’s wide ranging experiences and strengths, I believe we can make our city an even better place to live and find innovative ways of delivering on our pledges to the people of our city.


Debt management


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:


In a recent interview with the West Bridgford Wire the Leader of the Council indicated that the Council’s debt needed to be manageable.  How does he intend to ensure this is the case and how will this be measured?


Councillor David Mellen replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and can I thank Councillor Rule for his question. Capital investment has enabled the Council to deliver the capital requirements that have arisen from our priorities, for example the Southside regeneration, the Castle transformation and the building of much needed new homes. This planned investment will ensure that Nottingham continues to be a great city with Citizens at the Heart.


Under the rules of the Prudential Code, the Council has the power to finance capital projects through borrowing that does not attract support from the Government.  The key principle in this prudential borrowing is that it must be affordable and consequently it is heavily regulated. This method of financing is used for those schemes that demonstrate they can deliver savings or make a return on investment to cover the debt repayments of interest and principal. 


All borrowing is subject to:

·  a robust business case that details how the related schemes will cover the costs of borrowing or make a commercial return;

·  the prudential indicators for limits on external debt;

·  ensuring the borrowing and the Council’s overall debt levels are prudent, affordable, sustainable and in proportion with the level of resources available to the Council.


The Council approves a Capital and Investment Strategy and a Treasury Management Strategy, which provides the following:

·  a high-level long term overview of how capital expenditure, capital financing and treasury management activity contribute to the provision of services;

·  an overview of how the associated risk is managed;

·  the implications for future financial sustainability.


The Council approves prudential indicators prescribed by the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) to assess the affordability of the capital investment programmes and to limit the amount of borrowing the Council can take on. These include a projection of external debt and use of internal borrowing to support capital expenditure and the overall borrowing requirement.


The level of debt is also measured against the value of the assets that are reflected on the Council’s balance sheet and currently this equates to approximately 48%. This level is consistent with similar sized councils.


So, as you can see Councillor Rule, there are a variety of checks and balances that contribute towards reasonable borrowing, but I hope you will join with me in calling on this Government to invest more in capital projects in Nottingham so that our borrowing needs become less.


Youth Centres


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:


Will the Leader of the Council make it a priority to end the chronic under-utilisation of the City’s Youth Centre’s by opening them up to the voluntary sector during the forthcoming Council term?


Councillor David Mellen replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and can I thank Councillor Rule for his question. During the last year Nottingham City Council has provided 1,907 youth and play sessions with over 28,000 attendances by children and young people. These have taken place across the city with availability to children and young people in every community. In addition, we have funded the voluntary sector to provide a raft of activities for young people across the city.  Last year, staff from youth and play services worked closely with voluntary and community volunteers to provide food during the summer holidays to children who would go hungry without the 2,160 packed lunches we worked together to make from our centres and bases last year.


Councillor Rule will be aware that many local authorities across the country have had to cease providing any youth services due to the underfunding of children’s services. Nottingham City has been absolutely committed to proving opportunities for our children and young people to have play and youth opportunities in every area of the city and we will continue to run a citywide service for children and young people.


Our sessions operate in both the buildings that we own and in other community buildings, schools and outdoor spaces to enable us to reach as many children and young people as possible.


We are proud of this delivery and, in the face of harsh government cuts, we have worked closely with the voluntary sector and communities to offer opportunities for voluntary providers to work in partnership using our centres to reach more young people when they are not in use. For example:

·  the Bulwell Toy Library runs two play and youth sessions from the Riverside Centre in Bulwell twice each week;

·  a basketball group called Hoops runs a popular weekly session in the Riverside Centre;

·  the Nottingham University Hospitals Sexual Health Clinic runs a weekly session in Bulwell Riverside - a vital source of advice for young people in the area;

·  in St Ann’s we have joint sessions with the Community Recording Studio and share usage of the Russell Youth Centre on a daily basis;

·  at the Ridge Play Centre in Bestwood, recently extended, a group of children with autism, from Autism East Midlands, use the centre on a weekly basis;

·  in Aspley, the voluntary group Evolve run two sessions a week at our Phoenix Play Centre;

·  at the Meadows Youth Centre, Mencap use this space on a daily basis and this Centre is also used by a rowing club and by Kicks, funded out of Nottingham Forest in the Community.


There are opportunities to do more I accept, and we will be pleased to have discussions with groups wanting to use our space for young people; and we would happily work towards a partnership agreement with them so we can ensure that young people are safeguarded and that there are clear lines of responsibility for the use of the buildings.


So what is chronic, Councillor Rule, is not the level of use of our play centres, but the lack of funding of them by the Government. The failure to recognise the increased demand on children’s services nationally recognised by the All-Party Local Government Association means that non-statutory services like youth and play are squeezed into the margins. The preferential treatment given to southern authorities in the Home Counties and the penalisation of the young people in the cities of the Midlands and the North because their parents choose to vote Labour is unfair, short sighted and yes, to use your words Councillor Rule, chronic.


We will continue to offer services to children and young people across our city. We will work in partnership with the voluntary sector and also with uniformed and faith groups, and with sports and arts groups to offer as wide a possible range of activities for young people and I look forward to working with Councillor Barnard as she leads that area of our work. We will also call on the Government to properly fund these vital services, to stop starving local authorities of cash, and to stop treating areas like Nottingham unfairly. I invite you Councillor Rule to join me in this, standing up for our city.


‘Pathways’ Initiative


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and the City Centre (formerly Portfolio Holder for Adults and Health):


The Portfolio Holder will be aware of the “Pathways” initiative, which in part promotes volunteering and employment opportunities within the community for users of our day care centres. Will the Portfolio Holder join with me in recognising the fantastic work that the team at Summerwood Day Care Centre in Clifton have done in this regard, particularly in locating an employment opportunity at a local café for one of their users, together with volunteering opportunities for users with local litter picking groups and local charity shops?


Councillor Sam Webster replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and can I thank Councillor Rule for his question. I think that in asking this question, he has made a point about his previous question. It is Council staff and paid employees that often lead to this progress for our citizens whether it is in terms of employment or volunteering opportunities; there has to be a core staff there to make those services tick.


But Councillor Rule is quite right.  The Council’s Adult Social Care Department has developed a new strategy called ‘Better Lives Better Outcomes’. One of the key principles of this strategy is to ensure that all citizens are supported to develop their independence and be part of their local communities. The Nottingham Pathway Service (NPS) that Councillor Rule refers to in his question has been supporting the delivery of this by enabling citizens with learning disabilities to learn new skills and live more independently. It is focussed on developing real and meaningful employment and voluntary opportunities. The NPS is to be expanded over the next 12 months and will build on the work that has already been achieved to ensure that citizens with learning disabilities are able to reach their full potential.


Nottingham City Homes


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Housing, Planning and Heritage:


Is the Portfolio Holder aware of the recent national coverage Nottingham City Homes received on the BBC’s “The Sheriffs Are Coming” programme in which the complainant, a resident of the City, had to engage High Court Sheriffs to attend Loxley House to enforce an unpaid judgment debt against Nottingham City Homes? Given Loxley House is the headquarters of this Council can she confirm to the Chamber what reassurances she has sought from Nottingham City Homes, and been provided with, to ensure it pays all its debts as and when they fall in order to avoid this kind of embarrassing enforcement action occurring again?


Councillor Linda Woodings replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you for this question Councillor Rule. I am aware of this television programme, and the embarrassment this incident caused to Nottingham City Homes (NCH).


Just for clarity, NCH is the arm’s length, management organisation setup by Nottingham City Council to manage its council houses. Although it is wholly owned by the Council, it is formatted as a separate company with its own Board of Directors, three of whom are City Councillors. I did ask for a report from NCH at the time of this incident and I am told by them that, in this case, court proceedings were still ongoing when a reality TV programme arrived without prior notice demanding the first part of an Employment Tribunal payment. A second part of the Tribunal claim had yet to be decided upon by the courts.


NCH had told me that they had not received any notification of an enforcement order prior to the TV cameras arriving, but it has since pursued the Office of the Sheriff for a copy after the arrival of the camera crew. I am sorry to say that, as of today, this has still not been received by NCH. I have also received assurances that, had they been aware, NCH would of course have complied with any such enforcement notice upon receipt. 


Colleagues, the Board of NCH takes its responsibilities very seriously and they have requested an independent audit review of the whole incident, and I commit to work with the Chief Executive of NCH to ensure that any lessons from the review are implemented.  I am also advised that NCH has written to Ofcom to complain about the programme. They haven’t yet received a response.


On a personal level, I met Mr. Brittain last year and I wasn’t aware that he was the individual involved in this tribunal case but can I add that, this is a testament to his own determination, he was eventually well enough to be a candidate for the Conservative Party in the Wollaton West By-Election last year and subsequently at the recent local elections as well, and I wish him well in his ongoing recovery from his illness.

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