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 Finish Group would support Stephen McGinnes being nominated as the lead on poverty provided that he is fully enabled to oversee education and training.
· If Cabinet has access to the data then it should identify a dashboard of metrics.
RESOLVED – That the recommendations set out in the report be supported subject to Cabinet taking account of the issues raised during the debate.