On Monday 26 July the Croydon Council Cabinet will be considering a number of aspects of the progress with tackling the financial crisis and governance changes: £4.m overspend in May, extra funding for rough sleepers, the new Housing Improvement Board, funding for 2021 for improvements in private sector housing mainly re-disabilities, transport action plans dependent on funding, transfer to Council of Brick by Brick Fairfield Halls Contracts. I have asked Cllrs Stuart King and Challton Young to question the basis of the pay back of the debt on Bernard Weatherill House in the light of a Freedom of Information response to my questions about it. The purpose is to help residents understand the debt provision. On Wednesday members of the Tenants’ Leaseholders Panel look as if they will be grilling the Council especially with two papers submitted by three of the members proposing a Residents Charter of Principles and critique of the organisation of the Housing Department. Finally none of the Council papers up to now have spelt out what the debt burden of Bernard Weartherill House has been. I have had to submit a Freedom of Information request. I set out at the end of this post the reply and discussion on it.
May Financial Performance Report
At the end of May the Council was heading for a gross overspend of £4.034m against budget. The £11.841m estimated of further risks is worrying. The separate HRA is indicating an overspend of £1.595m (down from April’s £2.117m).
Key elements of the overspend are:
- £2.9m due to pressures in Parking, SEN transport costs and the Selective Licencing Scheme
- £0.2m forecast pressures on homelessness budgets in anticipation of restrictions on evictions coming to an end offset by £0.3m of staff savings across resident access budgets.
- Street Lighting additional electricity charges due to revised rates within the new contract above inflationary increases projected
- Increased spending on disposal Contract due to an increase in Residual Waste Tonnage & property growth not factored in budget and unachievable events in parks income due to the impact of Covid.
- a shortfall in Surrey Street Market income historic pressure due to vacant plots on market and unachievable pavement licenses, skips and scaffolding income due to the impact of Covid.
- a shortfall in income due to the Secretary of State not approving the Selective Licensing Scheme.
- Special Education Needs contract costs.
Extra Funding For Helping Rough Sleepers
The Council has been allocated a total of £1,703,733 funding in 2021-22 to fund specific interventions with rough sleepers.
Tranche 1, received April 2021, being represented continuation funding for 1/4/2021 – 30/6/2021 of £329,158, at the same level as 2020-21 RSI funding, plus an uplift of £130,000 uplift to enable the Council to continue to provide accommodation and move on for rough sleepers accommodated as a result of the pandemic.
Tranche 2 to be paid in autumn 2021, ‘on receipt of a projection of spend for the remainder of the year and confirmation from the Council’s s151 officer that funding has been spent as set out in the award letter. Underspend of £152,619 will be deducted from this tranche, leaving a balance of £1,551,114 to be paid. Any interventions funded will be contained within the funding envelope and no match funding or additional administration costs are required to accept and manage the funding. Successful outcomes will reduce future costs arising from repeat homelessness, and associated costs to the public purse from rough sleeping. In the 2015 Hard Edges report, the costs of rough sleeping to the public purse were calculated to be between £14,300 and £21,200 per person per year. The higher cost being incurred if rough sleeping occurred alongside substance misuse and offending. This is 3 to 4 times the average cost to public services of an average adult (approximately £4,600).’
The New Housing Improvement Board Opens Up Council Accountability
Following the Regina Rd flats the Cabinet is seeing up a Housing Improvement Board. It looks like it is an important new model for making the Council accountable.
It will report and make recommendations to the Cabinet including on the development of the Croydon Housing Improvement Plan. ‘It will hold the Council to account for the delivery of the CHIP through the review of performance improvement data against a plan of action approved by Cabinet.’
The Board will have an independent Chair, representatives of Croydon tenants and leaseholders (3 including from Regina Road); Tenants & Leaseholder Panel (T&LP), the Croydon Improvement and Assurance Panel, the Local Government Association, Housing Association/London Council – housing, and the voluntary and community sector in the area(s) of family support &/or, housing experience &/or equality and diversity. So there are no Councillors as members. Elected members, including the Leader and Cabinet member for Homes, and officers, including the Chief Executive and Executive Director of Housing, will be in attendance in an advisory capacity. Others will be invited as required, including the Chairs of the General Purposes and Audit Committee (GPAC) and the Scrutiny and Overview Committee (S&OC). Its meetings will be held in public and consideration will be given to webcasting board meetings. Members of the public may therefore attend as observers. The Board will be able to receive representations from members of the public and have a question and answer session.
Private Sector Housing Assistance Policy 2021
A total of £2.5m grant funding is being included within the 2021/22 (provisional) Housing Investment Programme for expenditure on the housing renewal programme: £2m Disabled Facilities Grant and £0.5m Empty Homes Grant. This is increase of £0.59m on the original budget.
On 26 July the Cabinet will approve the details.
- mandatory disabled facilities grants
- loans for Home Investment , Home Repair, Croydon Energy and Empty Property.
- a 6 month pilot Simple Adaptations Grant scheme of up to £5,000 for single adaptations such as a ramp or stair lift or hoists recommended by an Occupational Therapist.
- continuation of the exiting £25k per unit to landlords to bring empty properties back into use on condition that the Council is given nomination rights to the property for 5 years
- addition of £5000 where landlords agree to make the property accessible (wet rooms etc).
- an increase for Home Investment Loans from £20,000 to £30,000 to reflect increases in both material and building costs, to give more assistance in renovating and repairing the homes of the most vulnerable residents, where appropriate.
- increase the Home Repair Loan limit from £3k to £4k including annual service costs of equipment once out of warranty, i.e. stair lifts, hoists etc.
- removal of assistance to tenants or landlords to apply for energy loans, as this is felt to be the responsibility of the landlord under the terms of their tenancy agreement.
Funding Transport Projects
The Council’s overall programme set out in the report to Cabinet ‘2021/22 (Part) Local Implementation Plan Funding, Bus Priority Funding and Active Travel Funding Programme’
is intended ‘to speed delivery of the Mayor of London’s Healthy Streets objective, to help all to travel actively and sustainably, to walk and cycle and use public transport, bringing benefits in terms of healthy weight, improved air quality, free/low cost travel, benefits expected to accrue more strongly to the most deprived communities.
The Cabinet is considering the programme on 26 July on the basis that there ‘is no certainty as to what funding will be made available to Croydon, or in what form over the remainder of the financial year.’
The evolving potential programme comprises:
- London Rd Priority Cycle Lanes linking into West Croydon/the Town Centre via the ‘Healthy Route’
- Broad Green 1 Healthy Neighbourhood experimental scheme
- Brighton Road upgrading of existing advisory cycle lanes and making them mandatory, and making bus lane operation 24/7
- Healthy walking and cycling route between Crystal Palace and Croydon Town Centre
- Mitcham Road/Roman Way/Old Town cycle infrastructure
Developments With Brick by Brick Fairfield Halls Contracts
In accordance with the agreement in principle of Cabinet on 17 May, the Council has been in the process of novating (transferring) to itself the building works and professional services contracts from Brick by Brick to allow for the final accounts to be reviewed and completed
On 26 July the Cabinet will approve the transfer of the Fairfield Halls contracts ahead of the completion of the final accounts to ‘give the Council the ability to assess the works completed, commission any further works needed, and take on all risks associated with the venue.’
This means that the Council ‘will take on financial responsibility for any remaining projected payments to the relevant contractors, contract administrator, quantity surveying and other professional services as part of the final accounting processes for the Fairfield Halls Refurbishment Project.’
November 2013 – the Council commissioned plans for a refurbished Fairfield Halls timetable
September 2014 – refined with plans presented to Cabinet for a Cultural Quarter, including a refurbished Fairfield Halls at the heart of the redevelopment.
June 2016 – Further details of the refurbishment financing and cultural vision for the venue were provided in two Cabinet updates
August 2016 – Brick by Brick commenced refurbishment of Fairfield Halls.
Governance Of Croydon Council Companies
On 26 July the Cabinet will approve the establishment of a Croydon Companies’ Supervision and Monitoring Panel (CCSMP) chaired by the S151 Officer undertake strategic oversight, supervision and monitoring to ensure good governance practice in relation to legal entities in which Croydon has, or may in future have, an ownership interest.
The Panel will:
- meet at least quarterly
- be attended by Council nominated directors and member representatives for each Group entity and other officers as may be invited from time to time
- report and make recommendations
Residents Charter Of Principles
Three members of LB Croydon Tenants and Leaseholders Panel, Yaw John Boateng, Les Parry and Kim Wakeley, have drawn up a Residents Charter of Principles, ‘to help foster good relationships between landlord and residents of the London Borough of Croydon following the issues at Regina Road and must be in read conjunction with the findings of the ARK Report and Recommendations. There are five principles supported by specific actions:
- To treat residents with respect
- Facilitate the complaints process whilst mitigating situations that lead to Tenant complaints
- Be transparent and make performance data readily available, including advertise it on the Council Website
- Provide a safe and clean environment that residents will be proud to live in
- Give residents a voice and encourage meaningful decision-making activities
Housing Department Reorganisation
The three above members of the Panel have also produced a critique of the organisation of the Housing Department.
‘Current structure is divided between two Directorships and multiple Heads of Service the work ethic is not a united philosophy and needs a radical change. It is suggested that there should be one Director giving outstanding Leadership. Regarding Head of Service areas it is suggested that Tenancy and Housing Needs(allocations) should be with one Head of Service including garages and leaseholders. Tenant Members can give examples of fragmented working that affects dealing with tenant issues and a recent example is that of Housing Voids as presented to the CEO Council Leader and Cabinet Member.’
They then outline a critique on the following matters: digitisation , housing stock management, accessibility, complaints customer service, self service systems, repairs and health & safety.
They conclude: ‘The council must undertake greater consultation of tenants and put the tenants needs first. To do this the starting point must be a higher profile for existing Tenant Involvement Groups, public tenant forums throughout the borough and improved contact/communication systems with tenants. All recommendations from the ARK Report of May 2021 must be accepted by Council Leaders and all Managers and implemented as a first step to change with an associated timeline. Tenant Representatives must be part of any review and recommended changes to LBC Housing Department and it`s processes.’