Agenda item

Questions

The Leader of the Council of the Council or the Chair of any Committee or Sub-Committee to take any questions that may be submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.

Minutes:

The Council considered the following questions submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.

 

Question No. 1

Question From:

Councillor Stephen Hodgson

Question To:

Councillor Marc Bayliss, Joint Leader of the Council

Question:

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours list that was published on 1st June 2022, how many recipients came from the Worcester City local authority area and how any nominations have been put forward through Worcester City Council over the past two years?

 

Answer:

It’s difficult to define the Worcester area because we’re obviously not consulted on the list prior to it being published, it simply says the “location of the recipient.” For instance, the only award that was given this year was to Sir Nicholas David Coleridge CBE, of Wolverton Hall. It lists him as Worcester, but he is not in Worcester, he’s in Wychavon, for instance, so it’s difficult to give an exact answer.

 

There were no nominations put forward through the City Council over the past two years, but then anybody and everybody can put nominations forward.

 

What I would say though is that in my view, nominations are always for those who have done outstanding work for the community in which they’re based, and there has already been some comment on social media about this question, and a scurrilous suggestion from a Member – who knows who I’m talking about - that Conservatives are asking questions about getting their friends OBEs. Nothing could be further from the truth, it’s an outrageous comment and should be withdrawn.

 

Supplementary Question:

Last year, in my Mayoral role, I had the privilege of attending two awards ceremonies in the Guildhall, which included a well-deserved British Empire Medal to Julia Micklewhite and her excellent work for Aspie, one of the charities I chose when I was Mayor. I witnessed awards that were given to people from Wychavon, recognising their endeavours during the Covid pandemic, but was disappointed that nobody from the city of Worcester was recognized.

 

I mentioned this lack of award to our citizens to the Chief Executive.

 

Will the Leader ask our Officers to communicate to Members about how to nominate local people, and also put in the resource as well so that when nominations are put forward, they are properly entered into the official forms and all that that, and put forward so that they are received in the best way possible so that we can start seeing the large amount of voluntary people – because Worcester has a very good voluntary sector – those people getting the recognition that they deserve?

 

Answer:

I totally agree with Councillor Hodgson that there are a huge number of people in Worcester who do great service to this community and deserve the recognition that an award from her Majesty the Queen would bestow, and I would certainly support this Council offering help and assistance to people who are thinking of making a nomination. As I said, this is something that should have wide support, the nominations system has enabled people across the country to gain recognition for their work, and I fully support it.

 

Question No. 2

Question From:

Councillor Udall

Question To:

Councillor Jabba Riaz, Chair of Communities Committee

Question:

Is the Chair of the Communities Committee aware of the increasing number of complaints about services being provided by Registered Social Landlords in the city, complaints such as concerns about long delays to answer calls, inspections, repairs, inadequate responses and about a lack of tenant participation.  What action can he take to hold housing associations to account and to ensure an improvement in service delivery?

 

Answer:

I’m absolutely aware of the huge and unacceptable number of complaints about poor levels of service that are being provided by Registered Social Landlords in the city, not only in my patch but across the city. The Worcester News and all Councillors’ emails are littered with tenants complaining about everything from broken light bulbs to damp, to vermin, to infestations, to broken boilers and dodgy repairs. The behaviour is unacceptable, and it was the number one issue on the doorstep on every block of flats that I managed to canvass in over the last election campaign.

 

RSLs have failed to serve the residents of the city and they need to be held accountable, and that’s why as part of my pledge, Mr Mayor, to tackle this issue I’ve invited Platform Housing to the next Communities Committee so that Members can ask them to answer the issues and complaints of their local residents. Of course, members of the public are also welcome to attend and can register to speak if they wish.

 

Supplementary Question:

I think it’s worth saying at this point that only today I’ve received 13 complaints online about services being provided by housing providers in Worcester. Does he share my concern about the lack of any adequate local tenancy voice in the decision-making process of local housing associations, the lack of tenants on housing association boards, and the lack of public accountability, especially when their decisions have an impact on non-tenants?

 

Answer:

Yes, absolutely, and I invite all Members to attend the Communities Committee on the 19th July so that they are able to ask those very questions.

 

Since our own representation on RSL boards has all but disappeared, RSLs have been acting in an unprofessional manner to our residents, so much so that there have been several instances of tenants having mental breakdowns, on the verge of committing suicide, due to the lack of action and their complaints falling on deaf ears. Having first-hand experience, Mr Mayor, of these issues and witnessing self-harm, the Police having to deal with a larger number of these issues first- hand in RSL owned properties, there is an undeniable link that is triggered by complaints not being dealt with sufficiently and quickly, that have built up over time because of a failure to act, and some of them illegitimately due to Covid.

 

Over the last month I intervened in a case where a resident was suffering because his complain to get more light into his property had gone unheard for months. One small interaction that took less than 20 minutes to solve by cutting a branch of a tree to allow for light to flood into the living room has meant this person is able to enjoy a better quality of life as a result.

 

Small actions but big consequences, Mr Mayor. This is a clear message to all our RSLs in the city that things have to change, and we will do whatever is within our power to ensure that our residents get the service they deserve. This goes out to all RSLs in the city.

 

Question No. 3

Question From:

Councillor Udall

Question To:

Councillor Jabba Riaz, Chair of Communities Committee

Question:

 

Does the Chair of the Communities Committee agree with me that inclusive public access to culture and entertainment is important?

Answer:

Yes, inclusive public access, Mr Mayor, to culture and entertainment, is vitally important if we are to ensure no-one is disadvantaged from accessing it. Our appointment of an Equalities Champion and our EDI strategy which is being made public for all, seeks to root out any deficiencies and things that have slipped out of the net, and I commend our officers and Members for their valuable input into this. Rest assured, no-one is deliberately withheld from accessing anything the City Council provides, and I hope this is the case for most of our city.

 

Supplementary Question:

Was the Chair as shocked and surprised as I was by the attacks and criticism of the Deputy Labour Party Leader, Angela Raynor, by sections of the media and the Deputy Prime Minister, for attending an opera, somehow suggesting that an opera was not the place for a working-class woman to attend. Does he, like me, reject such snobbery and believe we can all enjoy all forms of culture? Will he therefore investigate supporting and organizing a free opera concert for all Worcester people to attend, preferably in Cripplegate Park, bringing culture, entertainment and fun back to the people of Worcester?

 

Answer:

I think the important thing to recognise here is about stereotypes and other things that are at play here. That only certain people are allowed to access certain types of culture or sport – it’s the same in Formula 1, tennis, polo, as it is with opera, the theatre and the arts. We must change this narrative and make our arts and sports more inclusive and open to all.

 

This classism isn’t acceptable in any way, shape or form and shows an arrogant snobbery in its most vulgar form, and yet again highlighting how out of touch with reality ministers of this government are and the born to rule mentality with a lack of accountability is very much alive and kicking in government. We’ll fight to eradicate it in whatever shape and wherever we find it. I’ll take away your suggestions and ask officers regarding the organisation of an opera.

 

On a lighter note, Mr Mayor, I wonder if the Member would like to take centre stage as the tenor, like Pavrotti style, and there are comparisons of course of both being loud, large and loving a cornetto or two.

 

Question No. 4

Question From:

Councillor Laurenson

Question To:

Councillor Marc Bayliss, Joint Leader of the Council

Question:

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act came into force last week. Do you agree with Jesse Norman MP, who wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister on 6th June that ‘no genuinely Conservative government should have supported the recent ban on noisy protest?

 

Answer:

Interesting. I think we’ve debated this one Neil several times. Three times is it? Thank you.

 

I think there is a balance to be struck in this area. Noisy protest in itself I don’t have a problem with. Some of the other aspects of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act I think were very needed to tackle some levels of disturbance and radicalism that were deeply damaging to thousands of people who had nothing to do with the issue, such as people gluing themselves to trains. Those are clearly issues that need to be take very seriously.

 

Noisy protests per se should be allowed and I believe will continue to be allowed, but where it is egregious, continuous, and somebody shouting “Stop Brexit” for years outside of Parliament, I think there does need to be some action taken eventually, but I would hope the Police use this power very sparingly and only when all other actions have been exhausted.

 

Supplementary Question:

Just as a short preface, you mentioned people gluing themselves to trains, I think suffragettes chained themselves to gates, and yet Harriet Baldwin the MP for Malvern has recently unveiled a blue plaque, celebrating a local suffragette, so there seems to be a level of historical of hypocrisy there.

 

The Good Law Project has stated that whilst this legislation is almost explicitly introduced to target organisations such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, the removal of fundamental rights will apply across the board, that is for all of us, and according to the Cambridge Dictionary, fascism is a system in which political opposition is not allowed, so when are you going to clearly and loudly oppose this attack on our democracy?

 

Answer:

I hope the Member wasn’t implying that I was a fascist, I hope we have a relationship that’s long enough and established enough that that wasn’t the case. I shall certainly take it as such.

 

I think, as we have seen this very evening, dissent is always allowed and enabled in this country, and we have a long and proud history of it. I will take issue with point he made about people chaining themselves to railings. I don’t think that put thousands of people’s livelihoods at risk, I think it was a personal action in those cases that was making a statement.

 

I think gluing yourself to a passing train, destroying people’s livelihoods, or sitting in front of thousands of innocent drivers and bus users and other travellers and destroying their livelihoods, is a step too far for protest. I think we probably differ on that view, but I’m confident and secure in my knowledge that those actions do need appropriate reaction, and that’s what this Bill does.

 

Question No. 5

Question From:

Councillor Lamb

Question To:

Councillor Jabba Riaz, Chair of Communities Committee

Question:

The Housing and Planning Act 2016 extended rent repayment orders to cover illegal eviction, breach of a banning order and certain other specified offences.  It came into force in April 2017. I believe that a rent repayment order (RRO) requires repayment, of rent or housing benefit or the housing costs element of universal credit paid in respect of a tenancy or licence, by a landlord or agent who has committed a particular offence listed in the legislation.  How many times has Worcester City Council exercised its right as a local housing authority under the Act, to apply for a Rent Repayment Order?

 

Answer:

The simple answer is no enforcement or Rent Repayment Orders have been issued from the City Council. As you know, RROs are granted by Residential Property Tribunals where the application is received by the Local Housing Authority and they must granted if a landlord is convicted of a relevant offence. If there is no conviction, they can grant one if satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the landlord has committed the offence. RROs are capped at a maximum of 12 months’ rent and funds received by the local housing authority under this Order can only be used for the enforcement functions in the private rented sector.

 

Supplementary Question:

This legislation is not widely known outside of housing experts. The occupiers of rented properties are therefore unlikely to initiate such an application on their own. Could you investigate whether the Council could publicise rent repayment orders on its tenants information pages and consider helping tenants to claim back rent through RROs when they are eligible to do so?

 

Answer:

I must draw the Member’s attention to the article in today’s Worcester News that landlords in Worcester have been named the second best in the UK. Take it with a pinch of salt, but analysis has related that only 3.3% of Worcester’s tweets have included a complaint against landlords, so we are doing well in terms of that.

 

The vast majority of landlords in the city are good with their tenants, they have a really good relationship, and maintain those relationships. However, the report does acknowledge that part of the problem is because of the lack of enforcement, fear of reprisals or comeback on tenants, if they raise issues with their landlords, whether they be RSLs or private landlords. Far too often, tenants have to put up with atrocious behaviour of rogue landlords and professional ones at that also. There has to be a process of anonymity involved so that whistleblowers are protected from reprisal. Every tenant has a right to safe, decent housing, and if conditions and standards are not met by landlords then tenants must be able to demand a refund, and it is part of our remit to ensure tenants know those rights, so I’ll follow up those concerns with officers and make sure that information is disseminated amongst the private landlord sector.

 

 

Question No. 6

Question From:

Councillor Udall

Question To:

Councillor Jabba Riaz, Chair of Communities Committee

Question:

Can the Chair of the Communities Committee confirm how many Worcester residents are currently waiting on the City Council Housing list, how many houses are available in Worcester in RSL stocks and what is the average weekly availability of houses suitable for allocation?  

 

Answer:

Currently, there are 2,792 live applications that have been banded in accordance with the adopted Banding Structure:

 

Band 1 – Priority 406

Band 2 – High Housing Need 590

Band 3 - Low Housing Need 393

Band 4 – Reduced Preference Banding 67

Band 5 - Eligible applicants that do not meet specific criteria 1,336

 

The second part of that question – how many houses are available in Worcester’s RSL stock - the current RSL stock position is 8,133 with the largest three Platform5,475 , which accounts 67%, Citizen Housing 1,545, which is 19%, and Sanctuary 405.

 

Supplementary Question:

Can the Chair of Communities tell me what he is doing about the shocking findings highlighted in the Ark Housing report that shows how far behind we are in building or acquiring housing stock for social renting, and what can he and the Council do to help those that have been waiting on the housing register for many years?

 

Answer:

It’s a well-known fact we just haven’t got enough houses, and we’re not building enough houses. The Ark Housing report has highlighted on numerous occasions our failure to enable that housing to happen within Worcester, we are short of 453 houses per year in building, so we are far, far behind.

 

The top three bandings that I have just highlighted to you, realistically none of those people will ever have a chance of finding a home within Worcester. If you’re not in Gold or Priority Plus, the stark reality is it will be very, very difficult for us to do that. 

 

Part of our remit as a Communities Committee, and having discussed this with the Vice-Chair, is that we’ve asked officers to look into a fresh approach to how we band our system, how we classify those people involved that are in need so that we re-order it so there is a better chance if you are on a lower housing band to enable to get a property, so that’s one of the things we can do.

 

Of course, we have to work with our colleagues in Planning and PED to ensure there is a hive mind in terms of thinking when we are approving planning applications, and in terms of our strategy across the city so that we are thinking in one so that every possible intervention we can make within this city enables us to ensure that the social housing stock that is being outlined in those planning permissions is delivered, and we have to think as one Council and one department to ensure that is happening.

 

So, the minor thing is in short, it’s not going to be a quick win but hopefully the housing recommendations, which all Members have a chance to feed into, which will come at a later Committee later on this year, we will feed back into the strategic measures we have to take as a Council in order to up our game and ensure everybody has the opportunity for a home and a roof over their heads.