To review the proposed 2020/2021 Business Plan of Brick by Brick.
(Report to follow)
The Chief Executive of Brick by Brick presented their business plan, with a summary of the report given, during which the following was noted:
The Sub-Committee was given the opportunity to ask questions on the content of the report.
A Member enquired about the financial relationship between the Council and Brick by Brick as the Council was a sole lender with an agreement on borrowing which was made up of 75% debt and 25% equity. The officer explained that the Council was a sole lender to Brick by Brick which was deliberate as it enabled all monies generated to be spent solely in the borough. Brick by Brick would pay a high rate on its debt, the equity element would go into shared capital.
It was asked what had prevented the completion of the 414 homes for 2020 as proposed in the 2019/2020 business plan. The officer stated that it had been anticipated that more homes would have been delivered as projected but there had been difficulties with some sites not coming forward as quickly as expected, as a result 90 homes had been delivered with 240 further homes set to complete within the next 4 months.
Clarity was sought on how decisions were made to develop one site over another. The officer said that each site went through a decision making process, with detailed site analysis and access taken into consideration.
It was further asked what community based consultation and engagement was undertaken following site identification, prior to development. Officers said that public consultation was undertaken where appropriate, individual dialogue took place with the community including discussions with Councillors and Ward Members. The board had evaluated suggested sites for possible development, highlighting any identifiable issues many years prior to the commencement of work.
There was concern that often, residents only awareness of development of a site was when they received a letter and it was suggested that Brick by Brick should explore other avenues of engagement. Additionally their approach to consultation and engagement needed to be clear, with feedback from residents carefully considered. Officers said they were open to and always exploring different ways to improve engagement and that public events as well as the use of social media were utilised to inform the public of site development ahead of letters being sent to residents.
It was asked if details on value for money and individual projects costs could be shared or made public. Officers advised the Sub-Committee that this could not be made public due to the commercially sensitive nature of the information. Information related to the costs of every scheme was provided to the Council in its position as a full shareholder. Information could not be shared beyond this remit as it could impact the Council’s business of commercial confidentiality,
Whilst the Sub-Committee acknowledged that information related to costs could not be made public due to the confidential and commercially sensitive nature of the request, Members were not convinced that the information could not be provided to the Sub-Committee. The Chair and the Sub-Committee agreed to explore how this information could be made available to Scrutiny.
A Member questioned how independent in its operations Brick by Brick was from the Council and how much oversight the Council had on procurement and contracts. The officer confirmed that the Council was not involved in the operations of Brick by Brick and the procurement of contracts took place in accordance to Brick by Brick’s internal processes which was reported in the business plan.
There was concern highlighted at the level of missing information in the report presented for Scrutiny and that this draft could have included information that would have been available at the time the report was produced.
It was suggested that the Council explore the possibility of publishing the overall RAG monitoring report discussed at monitoring meetings. The Cabinet Member agreed to take the suggestion on board for further discussion with officers.
A Member asked what was being done to build more family houses as market analysis indicated there was significant need. Officers said that they were currently looking at the viability of delivering larger units as part of future programmes. It was further questioned if there was a disparity between what was being built and housing requirements, officers said there was not, as they ensured a mix of units within each development.
It was suggested that officers include in future reports information on programme sales as well as information on the profile of costs to ensure value for money as an assurance that a rigorous quality assurance process took place throughout a scheme. It was agree that the restoration of public confidence in the benefits of Brick by Brick to the borough was vital.
At the conclusion of this item the Chair thanked the officers for their attendance at the meeting and their engagement with the Sub-Committee and questions.
In reaching its recommendations, the Sub-Committee came to the following conclusions:
The Sub-Committee resolved to recommend to the Cabinet Member for Homes and Gateway Services that: