To consider and decide on the recommendations as set out in the associated report.
REASON FOR DECISION:
It was agreed at Full Council in February 2020 that this work be undertaken by a working group of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to give consideration and address the rising levels of poverty in Tunbridge Wells.
Councillor Pound introduced the report set out in the agenda. In addition the following points were made:
- The process of progressing reports through the Committee system took too long.
- The report included 4 recommendations that had been carefully considered and were sufficiently robust to be carried through to the next stage.
- The amended recommendations submitted just prior to the meeting were not representative of the original recommendations agreed by the Working Group and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
- The amended recommendations did not adequately address the issues that affected the Borough – it was recognised Tunbridge Wells was an affluent Borough but failed to recognise that there were still pockets of deprivation in discrete areas that needed to be addressed.
- The recommendations included in the report to Cabinet were those agreed by the Working Party, Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Cabinet Advisory Board.
Discussion and questions from Members included the following:
- It was noted that the Council’s Committee cycle was quite long and so if a report missed a cycle it did result in things taking a long time to progress.
- The report was considered at the Overview and Scrutiny meeting in July 2021. Unfortunately the report missed the September Committee cycle which was why it was now being considered in this cycle.
- It was unfortunate that this information had not been relayed to either the Chair of Overview and Scrutiny or the Chair of the Task and Finish Group.
- After the Cabinet Advisory Board (CAB) the recommendations were reconsidered and amended by the Portfolio Holder as follows:
o I can confirm that Steve McGinnes will initially be the Council’s single point of contact and coordinate a cross organisational working group to focus on the poverty, including income, education & training and housing.
o The Council has recently introduced a new dashboard (Policy & Practice – Low Income Family Tracker) that will be presented as part of an all member briefing.
o Given the overall low levels of deprivation within the Borough and extensive data already held by the Council it is felt that engagement with residents experiencing difficulties is best delivered in a targeted and meaningful way.
o I am happy for the task and finish group to continue.
- In considering these amendments (and in particular recommendation 3) it was thought there were more effective ways of encapsulating issues related to costings, lack of effectiveness, existing measures and partnership working that would better target individuals in need of assistance.
- TWBC were already discretely working with 9 different areas and agencies that supported deprived and vulnerable residents. These included, working with the Pension Services, Kent County Council, housing benefits and disability services, South East Water, homeless intervention, TWBC Council Tax team, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Go-Card Scheme and the services offered through the TWBC Gateway.
- It was noted that Steve McGinnes had recently resigned from the Council but would remain the accountable officer until his departure at which time his ... view the full minutes text for item 98
To consider and provide a recommendation to Cabinet on the proposals set out in the attached report.
Councillor Pound introduced the report set out in the agenda on behalf of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, further to which comments were added:
· It was disappointing that the report had taken so long to come to Cabinet.
· The proposed response to the Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations were set out at A ppendix B to the report. In response:
o Response 1 – Stephen McGinnes, Mid Kent Services Director, was nominated as lead on poverty however he had acknowledged that he did not have responsibility for education and training leaving a significant gap in oversight.
o Response 2 – The Cabinet should be best placed to determine what metrics would most effective.
o Response 3 – Qualitative research needed to be undertaken by the council, not individual members, to ensure a properly resourced and consistent approach.
o Response 4 – A stronger commitment to support the Task and Finish Group should be made.
· The Council recognised that despite Tunbridge Wells being the least deprived district in Kent there remained pockets of poverty needing attention. The pandemic had been especially challenging.
· The Council had undertaken good work to address the issues highlighted in the report but perhaps had failed to communicate those successes.
· Stephen McGinnes would be tasked with oversight of KPIs relating to education and training.
· The Council already held a lot of data on families at risk of financial difficulties and it was more effective to rely on this use real data.
· Undertaking qualitative research would be ineffective, particularly reaching those most in need. A more detailed recommendation as to how this could be achieved would be welcome.
· Response 3 should be expanded to explain why the Cabinet feels qualitative research was not supported.
· If reducing poverty was a priority then consultation should be available, as it is for tackling anti-social behaviour, for example.
· Qualitative research, done professionally, would provide detail and explanation behind the data the Council already had and exposed what interventions could be made.
· Although on average Tunbridge Wells was affluent, the deprivation it had was more pronounced due to the exceptional cost of living. The situation was likely to get worse and firmer action should be taken.
· The Council could better utilise information from other agencies who may be more likely to have engaged with those most in need.
· The Council had access to an information sharing tool which collated data from many sources to identify people in financial hardship, an All-Member Briefing could be arranged.
· Experience on the ground did not match the data. There needed to be better understanding of the real situation.
· The Council could not take on the role of other agencies and had to manage within its means.
· Increasing the housing supply would significantly help with the cost of living.
· The Council could take a coordination role and highlight opportunities for cross-agency interventions.
· Response 3 would be re-written to take account of the debate.
· Qualitative research would be limited to 10 discrete areas in 3 wards.
· The Task and ... view the full minutes text for item 43