a) Public Questions (30 minutes)
To receive questions from the public gallery and questions submitted by residents in advance of the meeting.
b) Leader and Cabinet Questions (105 minutes)
To receive questions from Councillors.
The Mayor began the item with questions from the public.
Brian Longman asked why the new waste and recycling system would provide households with a larger bin for paper and cardboard recycling, when a greater level of plastic and glass was recycled and whether a more bespoke system could be used to meet residents’ needs. Councillor Collins advised that it would not be practical for a bespoke system to be used as the collections needed to be designed to all households rather than individual circumstances. There was also evidence to indicate that a greater capacity for paper and cardboard recycling was required across the Borough.
Brian Longman asked a supplementary question about the assisted collection scheme for people unable to move their own bins. Councillor Collins confirmed that residents could register for this service by either phoning or emailing the Council and that it would take the bins to and from a resident’s door. It was highlighted that the new bins provided were only 22.5 inches larger than the current system, but should issues arise it could be reviewed once it was operating.
Mark Samuels asked a question about the procedure for recouping any overpayment of housing benefit. Councillor Hall advised that in the first instance overpayment was something the Council tried to avoid, but when it occurred it would be pursued.
Oscar Dahling asked whether, following the demolition of Taberner House, local community groups who had been allowed to use the site were informed about the potential risk from asbestos found during the demolition of the building. The Leader agreed to provide a detailed written response to this question following the meeting.
Oscar Dahling asked a supplementary question about whether the Council had commissioned a report into the possibility of asbestos on the site and the possible impact from this. The Leader also agreed to provide a detailed written response to this question following the meeting.
The Mayor then moved to Councillor questions to the Leader.
Councillor Tim Pollard asked whether given that the GMB Trade Union had come out in favour of Council leaders being elected by the Labour Group, would the Leader support this approach. The Leader advised that in November 2018 he would be writing to all colleagues across the Council to participate in a governance review and all suggestions would be welcome.
Councillor Henson asked for an update on the improvement work being carried out in Ashburton Park. The Leader thanked Councillor Henson for her work in helping to deliver improvements in the Park. It was confirmed that at present the finishing touches were being made to the café. Looking further forward, it was envisaged that the Council would work with the local community to drive through continuing improvement in the park.
Councillor Henson asked a supplementary question about the decision to bring the grass cutting contract back in-house and whether this would present opportunities for local councillors to deliver further improvements. In response it was advised that through bringing the contract back in-house it would provide greater scope for communities to inform how those services were delivered.
Councillor Brew asked why the new waste and recycling scheme had not been included in the Labour Party Manifesto. In response it was highlighted that the Manifesto had contained a clear commitment to increase recycling by 10%. To achieve this it was essential for the Council to increase the amount of recycling it could collect. The new scheme was a practical demonstration of the Administration’s commitment to achieving this. Additionally, it would also save Council Tax payers millions of pounds from reducing the amount of landfill tax paid, as well as making Croydon one of the greenest boroughs in London.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Brew queried whether the introduction of larger bins was the right option to deliver increased recycling rates and suggested that as an alternative it would be better to survey the areas which had low recycling rates and introduce measures to target improvement in these areas. In response it was highlighted that there was evidence from the London Borough of Sutton, who had introduced a similar scheme to the one proposed for Croydon, which had led to increased recycling rates. Croydon Council had also been able to learn from the implementation in Sutton, which would lead to an improved implementation process for Croydon.
Councillor Pelling welcomed the Leader’s approach to modernising the Council’s governance, but questioned why there was sometimes an excessive delay in receiving a response to questions submitted. In response it was confirmed that the provision of responses to Councillor Questions would be reviewed to ensure that timely responses were provided. The Administration was keen to ensure that all Members had the opportunity to play a part in the Council and it may be the case that increased devolution should be considered, which could include ensuring that Ward Councillors were provided with the information needed to fulfil their roles.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Pelling acknowledged that it was a challenge to keep everyone involved and noted that Cabinet Members were quick to respond, but questioned why there had been delays to recent responses provided. In reply it was advised that these delays may have been due to the purdah period during the run up to the recent local election, but the process would be looked at to ensure that going forward Councillors received timely responses to their questions.
The Mayor then moved the item onto Councillor Questions for the first pool of Cabinet Members.
Councillor Collins advised that the Council would be working with a local Croydon company to launch a new app to improve the mechanism for reporting fly-tipping. The new app would include features such as GPS tracking and functionality to provide updates to the people on the status of their case.
Councillor Hall announced that the grounds maintenance and grass cutting service would be brought back in house from January 2019. He also paid tribute to the finance staff for delivering the Council’s accounts to the auditors within the new timescale, with the initial feedback from the auditors being very complementary.
Councillor Clancy questioned the cost of the new waste and recycling scheme and the action being taken to tackle fly-tipping. In response, Councillor Collins advised that the contractor had offered a £5m saving on the cost of the current waste and recycling scheme, with the possibility of further savings from increased cardboard and paper recycling and reduced Landfill Tax. Regarding fly-tipping it was highlighted that enforcement action had been taken in 19 instances of fly-tipping in 2014. As a result of increased resources being made available to the surveillance team this had increased to 40 enforcement cases in the past year, with further increases likely going forward.
Councillor Clancy asked a supplementary question on the possibility of expanding the range of recycling offered to include polystyrene. Councillor Collins advised that he would investigate whether this would be possible and would provide a response to Councillor Clancy outside of the meeting.
Councillor Hay-Justice questioned whether there had been any new technical advances to assist with tackling the issue of pot holes. Councillor King advised that the Council had recently started to use a new thermal technology which heated the road when damaged allowing the surface to be reshaped to repair the pot hole. The benefits of this process allowed for much quicker repairs without the need to either provide new material or remove the old material.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Hay-Justice asked when this technology would be deployed. Councillor King advised that it had already been successfully tested and as a result the Council was looking to roll it out across the borough, with it highlighted that it would mainly be used to repair shallower holes in residential roads.
Councillor Bains reported a concern from a resident that the frontage of local properties may be too narrow for the new bins and asked the Cabinet Member whether this could be clarified. In response Councillor Collins highlighted that a briefing had been held for all Councillors on the subject, which included information on the phone number and email address available for any residents with concerns. It was advised that if after the roll out of the new system issues were discovered, then it could be reviewed, but if there was space to store the bins in a line on the property then this would be considered to be acceptable. Councillor Collins also advised that if needed he would speak directly to residents to discuss their concerns, but in the first instance they should be referred to either the phone line or email contact provided.
Councillor Pelling asked whether any further consideration had been given to using Heathfield House for weddings and other similar events. Councillor Hall advised that he was proud of the refurbishment work carried out at Heathfield House which respected the building’s heritage. Going forward it would be used for weddings and also as a base for the Registrars.
Councillor Redfern highlighted that there were properties in her Ward with as many as 25 steps from the house to the road and as such questioned whether assistance with moving the new bins would be offered to these residents. Councillor Collins advised that if a resident currently had a landfill bin that was being taken down steps then it was likely that the property had passed the survey undertaken to assess the implementation of the new system. It was also highlighted that assisted collections were already available for residents unable to put their bins out for collection.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Redfern queried the benefits of hosting roadshows on the new scheme after roads had already been surveyed to determine the most appropriate bins for each property. In response it was confirmed that the purpose of the roadshows was to provide residents with information about the new system and what could be recycled. For residents with concerns about the new system, the previously mentioned phone line and email address could be used.
Councillor Prince highlighted that using the Council’s website to report issues could be a barrier for some residents and as such questioned whether it would be possible for carers to report issues on their behalf. In response Councillor Collins advised that the new app was designed to allow for more flexibility and carers would be able to assist residents. Going forward, the issue would continue to be monitored to ensure that Council services were as accessible as possible.
Councillor Milson asked what the impact would be upon the business case from offering a more bespoke waste collection service should there be issues with the size of the new bins. In response, Councillor Collins advised that the original costing for the new scheme was based on the results of the survey by the South London Waste Partnership on the suitability of properties for the scheme.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Millson questioned whether it would be possible to let residents across the borough choose their preference. In response it was confirmed that the new scheme had been designed to increase the recycling rate.
The Mayor then moved to questions for the second pool of Cabinet Members.
Councillor Lewis announced the installation of a big screen on the High Street in Croydon to allow people to watch the Wimbledon tennis tounament. It was also confirmed that free swimming would again be offered for children during the school holidays. Following a recent fire at Croham Hurst, Councillor Lewis extended his thanks to the firefighters for bringing it under control, Council officers for their fire prevention work and to Councillor Gatland for her work during the recovery. Finally congratulations was extended to the young people from Croydon who had participated in the London Youth Games.
Councillor Flemming advised that the Council was currently working with agencies on improving staff caseloads and recruitment, with further updates on progress made to be reported back in the coming months. It was also confirmed that building work on the new Canterbury Mills Primary School was nearing completion and that it would be open to children in September 2018. Attention was also drawn to a number of youth events that had been organised over the summer along with Chris Preddie OBE working in Secondary Schools on motivational speaking.
Councillor Avis reported on the unfortunate situation with respite care, where the organisation commissioned to run the service went into administration a few months ago, leaving the Council with very short notice to find a replacement. Officers had been able to negotiate the continuation of the service until the end of June 2018. Since then respite care had continued and cover provision had been made.
With the closure of the Heather Way care home, Councillor Hopley questioned why a robust process had not been put in place to provide a selection of different opportunities for service users. Councillor Avis advised that there was a robust plan in place for service users, but there were some that would have preferred Heather Way to remain open.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Hopley queried why some residents had only been offered one alternative choice and as such what provision was in place to ensure that people could get the support they needed. Councillor Avis advised that the closure of the service had not been the decision of the Council, with the issue being one of viability with the service provider. Officers were working hard to provide alternatives and it was recognised that service users needed stability, with the Council doing everything in its power to resolve the issue.
Councillor Audsley advised that it was essential for organisations providing healthcare services to prioritise for the long term and as such questioned what work was being done to ensure that young people were able to feed into decision making on services. Councillor Avis advised that the Council was looking at the approach to public health and currently ran services such as the family therapy service. However there were serious issues to revisit, such as exclusion rates with a report due to be published that would provide further insight into the issues involved. Alongside this discussions were ongoing with partners about how to bridge any gaps in provision, with all partners committed to working together to support the young people of the borough.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Audsley asked what action would be taken against a school if it felt to be excluding too many pupils. Councillor Avis confirmed that any concerns would be raised directly with the school as it was important to address issues early to ensure that young people received the additional support they needed.
Councillor Stranack asked for further information on the key points of the strategy for respite care going forward. Councillor Avis advised that plans for the future provision of respite care were being finalised and highlighted that it was not known that the service provider would collapse. The Council had worked quickly to negotiate a deal to ensure the service remained open until the end of June 2018 and had arranged for the Whitgift Foundation to provide support in the interim until a permanent arrangement was put in place. A detailed strategy was being worked upon and would be brought forward at a future date.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Stranack asked whether it would be possible to confirm a date when the service would be fully restored. Councillor Hall advised that a contract had been awarded to the Whitgift Foundation for both advice and respite services, which were already being provided.
Councillor Canning asked what steps were being taken to keep Wandle Park free from litter. Councillor Lewis agreed that it was important to look after parks to ensure they remained neat and tidy. However, it was a reasonable expectation that people should be disposing of their own waste and as such the Council would fine individuals caught littering. Measures being taken to ensure that parks remained clean included increased signage and enforcement.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Canning suggested that the introduction of larger bins in Croydon’s parks might also contribute towards reducing the risk of littering. Councillor Lewis advised that from an operational point of view it may be difficult to introduce larger bins, with further information to be shared with Councillor Canning outside of the meeting.
Councillor Oviri questioned what support was available for carers in the Borough, now that the Help for Carers facility no longer existed. Councillor Avis highlighted that the Carers Centre in George Street still provided support to carers in the borough. Although at present this was the only centre providing facilities for carers in Croydon, there was an ambition to roll out a similar service out across the borough.
Councillor Oviri suggested that signposting from the Council’s website to the George Street facility could be improved. Councillor Avis confirmed that the Centre had been going for many years at the same location and was well known.
The Mayor then moved to the third pool of Cabinet Members.
Councillor Butler announced that she had recently held a successful meeting with James Murray, the Deputy Mayor for Housing, which had included a discussion on how more homes could be delivered locally through funding from the Mayor of London.
Councillor Hamida Ali advised she had recently attended a knife crime summit and confirmed that knife crime in Croydon had decreased by 10% against a 20% increase across London as a whole. It was acknowledged that although knife crime was a complex, long term, nation-wide issue, Croydon was increasingly recognised for taking a research and evidence led approach to the issue.
The Council’s work in piloting a new approach to tackling perpetrators of domestic violence was also highlighted. This approach placed increased importance on holding perpetrators to account, looking at addressing their behaviour and reporting it, if it did not stop. Where this approach had been employed elsewhere in the country it had resulted in a 75% decrease in offending.
Councillor Shahul-Hameed advised that there had recently been an employment and training event organised for young people not in employment, which had been successful, leading to plans for another event in the future. Also being planned was an event at Box Park for long term unemployed with healthcare issues. It was also highlighted that Chinese regional government had visited Croydon last month, which had provided an opportunity to highlight investment and new development opportunities within the borough.
Mindful of the important business remaining on the agenda, a motion to suspend standing orders and move to the next item of business was proposed by the Leader and seconded by Councillor Collins. This motion was put to the vote and carried.