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 Member Questions (105 minutes)
To receive questions from Councillors.
The Mayor began the item with questions from members of the public.
Priscilla Jones asked a question relating to start-up loans for new businesses. Councillor Shahul-Hameed, Cabinet Member for Economy and Jobs, responded that the Council provided enterprise funds from £1k to £50k to those who would like to start their own business.
Monica Bins asked a question seeking an update on the Westfield development. Councillor Newman, Leader, responded that Westfield was on track to be successful and the Council was targeting big high street brands in order to maintain the retail sector in Croydon.
John Burtenshaw asked a question relating to the Blackhorse Lane Bridge. Councillor King, Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport & Regeneration (job-share), responded that the replacement of the bridge was a significant undertaking and he was confident that this would be resolved as quickly as possible.
Alan Corline asked a question relating to the sub-letting of social housing. Councillor Butler, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Homes & Gateway Services, responded that the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulations had placed restrictions on naming and shaming in public those who broke the sub-letting rules. However, those who did break the law on sub-letting would be prosecuted.
Keith Cooper asked a question relating to bin obstructions. Councillor Collins, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Clean Green Croydon, responded that residents should be leaving their bins at the curtilage for collection. The private contractor was to take bins from the curtilage and return them to the same point after emptying. Residents would be contacted if their bins were unintentionally left on the highway. For other areas in the borough where there were issues around access, the private contractor was to operate a different system of bin collection.
Alexander Hughes asked a question relating to spending on speed limit signs. Councillor King responded that speed limit signs was a legal requirement following the Council’s decision to reduce speed limits to 20mph in all residential roads in Croydon.
Andrew Rendle asked a question in relation to MMR vaccinations. Councillor Avis, Cabinet Member for Families, Health & Social Care, responded that Croydon was working closely with the Clinical Commissioning Group to identify GP surgeries where parents were not taking-up the MMR vaccination for their children. The Council is also working closely with Public Health England. Promotional letters had been sent to parents and social media was being used to promote MMR vaccinations.
Vanessa Webster asked a question in relation to assisted collections. Councillor Collins responded and acknowledged the issues some residents were experiencing with assisted collections. He sent his apologies to Vanessa Webster on behalf of the contractor for the poor service experienced. The Councillor committed to follow-up and ensure a better service would be provided.
The Mayor then moved the item to Councillor questions to the Leader, Councillor Tony Newman.
Councillor Tim Pollard, Leader of the Opposition, asked a question on assisted bin collections for vulnerable residents and the poor service received. The Leader responded that there had been a remarkable change in the way bins were being collected and apologised to any residents who had not received the expected service during the time that these changes were being implemented.
Councillor Tim Pollard asked a supplementary question on the service that Veolia was providing. The Leader responded that all staff had been applauded for their good service, and where the contractor was not delivering as expected it was held to account.
Councillor Ryan asked a question on the effect of austerity on Council services particularly those in the front line. The Leader responded that the Council had faced massive funding pressures and had seen extraordinary scenes where families had been struggling to have sufficient food as a result of cuts. The Leader highlighted that the Council would do all that it could to support families.
Councillor Ryan asked a supplementary question on austerity within Crystal Palace Ward where the environment, schools and police were significantly underfunded. The Leader responded with an acknowledgment that austerity had affected the ward and thanked Councillor Ryan for all his work within the ward.
The Mayor then moved the item to Councillor questions to the first pool of Cabinet Members.
Councillor Butler announced that at the recent awards night a number of staff within the Housing and Regeneration Division had been nominated, had won and had been the runners-up in many categories. This included nominations for Brick by Brick.
Councillor Shahul-Hameed, Cabinet Member for Economy and Jobs, announced that the Apprenticeship Employer of the Year Award had been awarded to staff within the service.
Councillor Perry asked a question on the assistance given to Dobson’s Upholstery in South Norwood following the Planning Committee’s approval of conversion of its business premises into a one bedroom studio. Councillor Shahul-Hameed responded that there was continued support and that the Council was supporting businesses in the district and town centres.
Councillor Perry asked a supplementary question on Dobson’s Upholstery. This business had been in operation for forty years. It was noted that its family owners were at risk of being put out of business because of the loss of its premises. Councillor Shahul-Hameed responded that the Council and the Regeneration Team were supporting the business as well as all businesses and individuals that were at a disadvantage. The Gateway Team was working on the CR0 2020 Project to ensure employability for homeless people.
Councillor Prince asked a question about improving the employability of those with disabilities and the progress that had been made in achieving this commitment. Councillor Shahul-Hameed responded that the Council continued with the priority of the employability of people with disabilities, the homeless, care leavers and those furthest from the labour market. The Council was recognised for its work at the National Innovation Awards, which saw it achieve award success. Some of the initiatives brought to Croydon included the Reverse Job Fair, the Council supported Self-Employment Academy, and the All About Me Project. The Council was proud of the promotion and support offered to people of disadvantaged backgrounds.
Councillor Hale asked a question relating to housing and the failure to build more houses. She highlighted the case of a homeless family turned away by the Council without support being provided. Councillor Butler responded that action would be taken to offer support and apologies were sent to the family. The Council was proud that Brick By Brick was on site across the borough and people would soon be able to move into the homes being built.
Councillor Hale asked a supplementary question regarding homeless shelters provided in Croydon. It was noted that one specifically was insured for fourteen guests but there were instances of having fifteen guests in residence. This situation was not fair to the volunteers helping the Council to support rough sleepers at this shelter. Councillor Butler responded that there were various organisations and individuals who had a passion to end homelessness and commended their work and all Council staff who were doing their upmost. Sheltered provision was available across the borough in conjunction with Thames Reach. The Council was delighted that the housing first scheme had been launched to provide dedicated housing support for rough sleepers.
Councillor Clark asked a question relating to the revised Gambling Policy. Councillor Hamida Ali, Cabinet Member for Safer Croydon and Communities, gave thanks to the Licensing Team and Legal Counsel for their hard work in reviewing the statement of principles and ensuring compliance in this area. Public feedback was vital to shaping services and policy.
Councillor Clark asked a supplementary question on national legislation on the licensing of gambling activity. Councillor Hamida Ali responded that the Council’s capacity to set the direction in this area was extremely limited under the statutory guidance. One objective was to protect young and vulnerable people from the harm of gambling. Therefore, the Council had revised the statutory statement as an opportunity to indicate an interest in undertaking research in this area. The rise in online gambling and use of high stakes fixed-odds betting terminals were contributing factors to harm. The Council was heartened with the response received from GamCare and Gamble Aware. They had endorsed the approach being taken to tackle gambling. This was also in line with the Local Government Association’s new guidance published in December 2018.
Councillor Bennett asked a question relating to homelessness and the need for a permanent all year shelter for more than fifteen people. Councillor Butler responded that the Council aimed to provide more permanent accommodation places. The idea of the shelter was to offer accommodation quicker on a short-term basis allowing the opportunity for longer term arrangements to be made. These shelters were not intended to offer a permanent solution. The Council also looked at families in temporary and emergency accommodation who had been affected by the Government freeze on housing allowance over four years.
The Mayor then moved the item to Councillor questions to the second pool of Cabinet Members.
Councillor Scott, Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport and Regeneration (job-share), announced with disappointment that the Purley Baptist Church scheme had been overturned by the Secretary of State. This would prevent the delivery of 220 new homes. As a result, new homes would need to be delivered through increased intensification in the area and the Council was committed to making this happen.
Councillor Hall, Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources, congratulated Sarah Warman who had been appointed as Director of Commissioning and Procurement on a unanimous, cross-party basis.
Councillor Mohan asked a question relating to the number of missed bin collection complaints following the introduction of the new waste service. Councillor Collins responded that there had been a decrease in the number of missed bin collections each month since the start of the new service. This accounted for less than 1% of all bin collections across any one month. The teething issues would normally take more than twelve weeks to be resolved based on giving crews time to familiarise themselves with new routes. However, now that this initial period had expired, tougher penalties for the contractor would commence. The Council had dealt with a high number of enquires and had delivered successfully to the vast majority.
Councillor Mohan asked a supplementary question regarding the number of missed collections. It was suggested these were significantly higher than reported by the Cabinet Member as residents found it difficult to report instances of missed collections. Councillor Collins responded that the reporting system was functioning well. The Council’s staff award ceremony had seen the Waste Team given special recognition for its good work across the borough.
Councillor Fitzpatrick asked a question relating to the ground maintenance contract and the implications for the service of the contract being brought back in-house. Councillor Collins responded that the Council’s manifesto pledge was to make sure all staff working for the Council would receive the London Living Wage (LLW) with payment of the LLW as a basic requirement in all new Council contracts. The Council was proud in honouring its manifesto to invest in equipment and to work with staff to improve services.
Councillor Streeter asked a question relating to assisted bin collections for elderly and vulnerable residents. It was advised that missed collections should be reported via an app. Councillor Collins responded that reports of missed collections could be made online or alternatively the contact centre could record missed assisted collections and ensure they have been rectified.
Councillor Streeter asked a supplementary question relating to the repeated issue of unhappy residents and finding a better way to communicate with those who are elderly and vulnerable. Councillor Collins responded that all staff were trained to provide a high level of customer service. In addition, the Council would provide an improved IT system for residents which would be more customer friendly.
Councillor Degrads asked a question relating to the negative impact of herbicides and the risk to public health. It was asked whether the Council would use the opportunity of insourcing the grounds maintenance contract to stop using glyphosates. Councillor Collins confirmed that a lot of other Councils had got rid of glyphosates used in weed killers and Croydon Council would use the opportunity of the new contract to cease using glyphosates from February 2019. Suitable alternative methods to get rid of weeds were under review. It was noted that this may include an increase in the manual removal of weeds and using suitable machinery, which would incur additional costs.
Councillor Brew asked a question relating to residents’ food waste not having been collected throughout the summer with no communication from the Council. Councillor Collins responded that the private contractors would be reminded of their duty following missed collections.
Councillor Brew asked a supplementary question relating to the quality of communication regarding the non-delivery of replacement bins. Councillor Collins responded that assistance was on hand to all residents who had reported an issue.
The Mayor then moved the item to Councillor questions to the third pool of Cabinet Members.
Councillor Lewis, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, thanked all staff at the museum and library who had put on an event at the Clocktower in commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. This saw a roll of honour for Croydonians who fell durig the conflict.
Councillor Shafi Khan, substituting for Councillor Alisa Flemming, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People & Learning, welcomed Robert Henderson who had recently started with the Council in the role of Executive Director of Children’s Services. Gratitude was expressed to Eleni Ioannides for all her hard work in the role during the interim period. Congratulations were also given to the new Director of Early Help and Children’s Social Care, Nick Pendry, who was to begin in his new role in the New Year. Philip Segurola was thanked for his work in the role during the interim period. The recent Ofsted visit highlighted progress being made in the Early Help and Children’s Social Care service. Over 90 Looked After Children received an award for achievements and contributions at the borough’s first Star Award Ceremony and the Croydon Care Leaver Connect App had been launched.
Councillor Avis announced that the Adult Social Care department had been recognised for its hard work and service at the Croydon staff awards. The opportunity was taken to promote to Members of the Council that the Cherry Orchard Garden Centre, run by adults with learning disabilities, was selling Christmas trees.
Councillor Redfern asked a question relating to Croydon’s health visiting service; the quality of early days development checks was unfavourable compared to the London average. Councillor Avis responded that in reference to the Public Health Report the issues raised had been acknowledged and there was room for improvement. The Councillor indicated she would be able to provide an update to Council at a future meeting.
Councillor Redfern asked a supplementary question relating to Croydon’s health visiting service. The number of visits to children aged between two and two and a half years was low and impacted on the success of the immunisation programme. Croydon’s rate of immunisation was low compared to the London average. Councillor Avis responded that the service would ensure health visits would increase and an update on the service would be reported at a future meeting as part of a focus on improvements in this area. Specifically regarding the MMR vaccination, the service had acknowledged that the immunisation rate was not good enough. The Cabinet Member gave an assurance that improvement work would be undertaken in this area.
Councillor Henson asked a question relating to pre-natal depression, mental health and future events relating to this subject. Councillor Shafi Khan responded that at the September Council meeting the Partnership Early Help Strategy had been adopted to offer help at the right time. It was acknowledged that early stage intervention would provide better results. The Council was to align the new strategy with the existing Best Start scheme on a locality basis. Peer support, advice and counselling could be accessed through GP services or a Children’s Centre. Where the service was intensive and was at a high level of complexity, there would be a better family solution approach delivered through a set of services and partners.
Councillor Henson asked a supplementary question relating to support for pre-natal depression. Councillor Shafi Khan responded there had been a call for more funding at the recent National Conference. Innovative ideas offered by the Council meant that support for pre-natal depression was being offered through the Early Help and the Best Start schemes.
Councillor Stranack asked a question relating to communicating with older and vulnerable residents. Councillor Avis responded that the Council was doing a lot of credible work in communicating with those residents.
Councillor Stranack asked a supplementary question regarding the concern expressed by the Local Government Ombudsman over systematic problems within care planning for older adults. Councillor Avis responded that the Local Government Ombudsman’s report stated that the number of complaints received was not an indicator of the Council’s performance. Rather the high volume of complaints could be seen as a sign of an open, learning organisation, as well as an early warning of wider problems. The Council agreed that 23 complaints was high and that lessons would be learnt from the outcomes of those complaints.
Councillor Pelling asked a question relating to the Croydon Aerodrome area that suffered from bikes and antisocial behaviour. Councillor Lewis responded that anti-social behaviour in parks was taken very seriously. The Council was working closely with the Community Safety and the Active Lifestyles Teams which managed Croydon’s parks.