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1.1 RESOLVED: that the minutes of the meeting held on 21 October 2015 be agreed as an accurate record.
2.1 The following non-prejudicial interests were declared:
Councillor Colin Elliot: Council’s representative for the Lewisham Disability Coalition.
Cllr James-J Walsh: re-established the Lewisham LGBT forum
Councillor Pauline Morrison: volunteer at Crofton Park Library
Councillor Paul Upex: ward Councillor for Forest Hill, and Member of the Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency
3.1 Ralph Wilkinson (Head of Public Services), Mick Lear (Head of Benefits) and Genevieve Macklin (Head of Strategic Housing) introduced the report to the Committee. The following key points were noted:
· Changes to legislation were announced after the papers for this meeting were published.
· The number of cases of tenants across Lewisham affected by the bedroom tax went down in the previous financial year. This happened for a variety of reasons: some residents have come off benefits, some have moved to smaller accommodation and some have become exempt. The Council uses discretionary housing benefit payments to assist residents impacted by the bedroom tax while they look for smaller accommodation. A requirement of the discretionary payment is that residents look for smaller accommodation and at least bid for smaller properties but often recipients will have made no efforts to move.
· Approximately 26,000 families or single parents and 18,500 single people are in receipt of benefits across Lewisham. It is estimated that about 400 cases will be affected by the new benefit cap. Of those, 56% will have 3 or more children and 19% will 5 or more children. The Council uses discretionary housing payments to support these residents.
· Last year, the funding from central government for the discretionary housing payments was £1.7m, but the Council spent £1.9m. Some of the shortfall was covered by payment from the housing revenue account. The payment is conditional on the residents actively looking for a smaller property to move into.
· The government has committed to spend £800m nationally to fund discretionary housing payments. If the distribution of this was the same as the current grant, this would mean a small increase in funding for Lewisham.
· The administration of Universal Credit is done by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and JobCentre+. The payment is done in similar way to a salary, where there is one payment a month. In addition, the payment will be made to one member of the household. Recipients of Universal Credit will have an online account to manage their claim. Full migration to Universal Credit is scheduled for completion in 2020. The delivery model for supporting the transition to Universal Credit for the Council will be done in collaboration with Lambeth and Southwark.
· A maximum of two children are to be included in the calculation of child tax credit calculations. This change is due to come in in 2017.
· ‘Pay to Stay’ is a policy announced by the government where households in social housing earning over £40,000 will be required to pay market rates or near market rates. It’s estimated that between 1,800 and 2,200 households would be affected in Lewisham across the entire social housing sector.
· A 2 bedroom property in Lewisham costs £1,300 on average. According to research by Shelter, households need an income of about £56,000 to cover these costs. A couple earning £40,000 a year would be able to afford a rent of about £950. This cap applies to households and not individual earnings. This ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
4.1 This item was discussed before item 3 (Poverty review evidence session).
4.2 Aileen Buckton (Executive Director for Community Services) introduced the report. The following key points were noted:
· This report presents the outcome of the public consultation on the proposed changes to the library service initially presented to the Committee in September as part of the Lewisham Future Programme.
· The one proposal that has been put forward for consultation is to have three libraries functions as hubs: Downham, Deptford and Lewisham. The community library model would be extended to Torridon Road, Manor House and Forest Hill libraries. Organisations would be invited to manage the buildings, run services from the library building and organise events. These activities would be complementary to the library service itself. The library service in those community libraries would still be provided by the Council staff and supported by a peripatetic community engagement team. The necessary training would be provided for both staff and the relevant community organisations to enable the community libraries to thrive.
· The budget savings proposal for the library service was £1m – of this, £900k could be saved from the libraries budget, while the remaining £50k would be saved from renegotiating some contracts within the Deptford Lounge budget. This renegotiating would not entail a reorganisation of staff, but rather changes to the facilities management contract which covers cleaning and general maintenance.
· A large majority of the responses to the consultation expressed concern and a number of residents suggested that no savings should be made from the library budget at all, and suggested that the Council not set a legal and therefore balanced budget for the next financial year.
· For the purpose of this report, officers were tasked with identifying £1m of savings in the budget for libraries, and were not asked to consider spending in other areas of the Council. The proposal going forward for a decision is to convert three libraries to community libraries. It was not in the remit of this report to consider not making this saving.
· There were concerns expressed about the capacity of volunteers to run library services. The proposals, however, do not suggest that volunteers will provide the library service – this will still be done by Council staff but on a peripatetic basis. The library service would change as community groups and their volunteers would manage the buildings and organise some of the activities in them.
· There was a general concern that students may no longer be able to use the libraries to study, but it was confirmed that the opportunity for students and pupils to study in the buildings would not change under the proposals.
· A specific alternative proposal submitted during the consultation was to use volunteers across all of the current libraries and spread the remaining library staff thinly across all libraries. If this were enacted the libraries would have reduced opening hours.
· Concerns were raised that Catford library would feel desolate after the reorganisation of the ground floor of Laurence House. Current ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
5.1 James Lee (Head of Culture and Community Development) introduced the report. The following key points were noted:
· The report details the work undertaken under the Equalities strand of the Main Grants Programme 2015-18.
· The monitoring of grant funded work is done in two ways: officers will check up on organisations’ progress, but organisations themselves will also alert officers if there any problems in the delivery of their work.
· Voluntary Action Lewisham (VAL) is the lead agency that coordinates the work on equalities. VAL also works with the Equalities Working Group that has a specific equalities remit under the Main Grants Programme 2015-18, as well as other areas of the Council, such as the Violence Against Women and Girls service.
5.2 James Lee, Tony Nickson (Director of Voluntary Action Lewisham), Matthew Henaughan (Cultural Development Manager) and Aileen Buckton responded to questions from the Committee. The following key points were noted:
· The Equalities Working Group would work to identify any need for work on equalities. The Group would also coordinate equalities work done across the voluntary sector. The group could also raise any need they’ve identified with relevant organisations so action can be taken. This could include contact with Council services, Councillors and other providers in Lewisham.
· The application process for Grants was rigorous and organisations had to meet a high bar to receive a Grant. The action plan for the Equalities Working Group may be ambitious but there is nothing to suggest the action plan is not deliverable at this stage.
· VAL is responsible for coordinating work across the voluntary and community sector to contribute towards the objectives set out in the Council’s Comprehensive Equalities Scheme (CES). The CES forms a framework for the equalities work done by the voluntary sector.
· VAL has a capacity building programme which support voluntary sector organisations in becoming sustainable and growing their organisations. Organisations in receipt of grant funding are also monitored by officers using the Rocket Science method.
· The delivery plan for EqualiTeam Lewisham has been agreed with the organisation. Some of the activities listed have already started, for instance the work with the Stephen Lawrence Centre and the work with the Metro Centre following discussions in the Equalities Working Group. The objectives for EqualiTeam’s work are shared across a number of organisations. Some organisations are expected to deliver on their objectives by the end of the three year Grant Programme while EqualiTeam is expected to deliver against the objectives in 6 months. Each organisation has its own action plan – only the action plan for EqualiTeam Lewisham has been included with the report.
5.3 The Committee made the following comments:
· Some Members of the Committee felt that the Equalities Working Group Action Plan was impressive and were interested in whether the objectives would be delivered against.
· One Member of the Committee felt that the objectives listed were not specific enough, and requested that in future the objectives of organisations in receipt of grant funding from the Council should all follow the SMART ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
6.1 Simone van Elk (Scrutiny Manager) introduced the report. The Committee discussed the work programme and decided that:
· The Committee meeting on 19 January should start at 18.30.
· That the Chair and Scrutiny Manager should review the timings of the work programme for January.
6.2 RESOLVED: to agree the change to the work programme, as discussed.
Items to be referred to Mayor and Cabinet
7.1 RESOLVED: to refer the Committee’s views on the Library Consultation 2015 Update to Mayor and Cabinet.