24 January 2023

Committee round-up: Communities Committee 22.12.22

December’s meeting of the Communities Committee included discussions about child poverty, violence against women, tenant participation, and community safety, among other items.

Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling opened the meeting by introducing and welcoming Police Scotland Chief Superintendent Graeme Mackie as the new divisional commander for the North East Division.

Progress of Tenant Participation Strategy considered

The committee heard an update on the implementation of Aberdeenshire Council’s Tenant Participation Strategy, which runs from 2019-2029, and the development of new approach to tenant participation.

Councillors were told about the advice and support being provided around the impacts of the pandemic and the cost of living, and efforts to rebuild relationships with tenants following the practical challenges of the pandemic.

Digital exclusion has also been a focus, with around 410,000 tenants given digital devices and support via Connecting Scotland.

Over the coming year, work will continue to target hard to reach and vulnerable groups, and there will be engagement around participatory budgeting that will allow tenants to have a role in decision-making.

Responding to questions from Cllr Hazel Smith about community representation and ensuring the voices of tenant representatives are heard, Housing Manager Andrew Mackie said work is continuing to rebuild relationships following the pandemic and that there is a need to get back out into communities.

Other committee members raised the importance of the need for the strategy to take account of the pandemic and cost of living challenges, as well as ensuring the involvement of a broad range of groups, including young people and those who have experience of the care system.

It was agreed that a report on the strategy should be brought before all six of Aberdeenshire Council’s area committees for their consideration.

Community Safety update

A report on the work of the Aberdeenshire Community Safety Team and its contribution to the Aberdeenshire Community Safety Partnership was brought before the committee.

Under its three-year strategy, the team’s priorities cover antisocial behaviour and violence, unintentional harm, and safeguarding communities.

In his update, Community Safety Team Leader Andrew Martin spoke of work with Police Scotland under the banner of ‘Days of Action,’ which tackle drug-related harm in communities. He added work is ongoing around community complaints, community harm and antisocial behaviour.

Responding to comments about early intervention, Partnership Manager Jeff Shaw of the Health & Social Care Partnership spoke of work to tackle ‘cuckooing’ and ‘county lines’ crimes, as well as work to prevent homelessness.

It was agreed that Police Scotland will be asked to provide a thematic report on Hate Crime for consideration at a future meeting. A detailed briefing note will also be provided to the committee concerning Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) standards.

In addition, a formal presentation is to be made to area committees, and the report is to be shared with the Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership.

The committee was told that members would be involved in workshops around the development of a new partnership strategy over the coming year. Information sessions around the counter-terrorism initiative Prevent will also be undertaken.

Cllr Stirling said that an emphasise on ‘place’ in community safety and evidencing the work taking place should form part of the new strategy.

Update on Housing and Building Standards Service Plan presented

An update on progress with the actions set out in the council’s Housing and Building Standards Service Plan was considered.

The committee was also provided with an update on performance across a range of themes, including tenant arrears, the work of the homelessness service, and service budgets, between April and September 2022.

Committee members were told that a new service plan is to be created to take account of the approval of the authority’s new Council Plan.
Cllr Glen Reynolds asked for further detail about rent arrears, the pressures on the homelessness service, the support being provided to Ukrainians and others arriving in Aberdeenshire, and challenges around the installation of energy meters.

The committee was told tenant arrears currently stood at 3.14%, totalling around £1.9million, and that the days taken to deal with homelessness applications have started to decrease after reaching a peak in the autumn. Rent lost due to empty properties that cannot be let due to the need of upgrades, repairs or other works, stood at just over 2%.

Members heard that around 400 Ukrainians displaced by conflict are being supported by sponsors and hosts in Aberdeenshire and that the need for alternative accommodation was rare.

Head of Housing Rob Simpson said the service is in ‘constant dialogue’ with electricity and gas companies around meter issues and that some progress was being made.

It was agreed that a briefing note should be prepared for the committee around the promotion of help available to the private sector. A report on the council’s resettlement work will come before February’s meeting of the committee.

Child poverty action plan approved

The committee approved the Local Child Poverty Action Report for 2021/22, taking account of feedback from the council’s Education & Children’s Services Committee.

Buchan Area Manager Amanda Roe, speaking on the theme of tackling poverty and inequalities, said reducing child poverty is a priority for council services and community planning partners, along with NHS Grampian.

She added that the number of children experiencing poverty is increasing due to the high prices of fuel, food and essential items and that some families are seeking support and using food banks for the first time.

Recent activity in Aberdeenshire has included the Heat and Eat Scheme, which supports households struggling with fuel poverty through the issuing of food and fuel vouchers. Support has also provided around energy saving advice.

In addition, a parental support fund of nearly £276,000 has supported 194 parents to achieve employment

The council has been supporting employers to be accredited for Living Wage status, as well as working with third sector organisations.

Responding to a query about pupil equity funding, members were told that head teachers look at the needs for pupils. Their work has included supporting low-income families to access food and improve cooking skills, with support for housing and benefits advice also being offered. Some schools have been organising school trips and ensuring materials are available for classes.

Areas of focus for the future include reviewing and developing a new strategy and action plan taking account of new Scottish Government guidance, and the development of a rights-based approach to housing and other services.

The committee commended the work being taken forward. Further reports will be brought before councillors in March and June.

Scottish Fire & Rescue Service activity and performance discussed

Chay Ewing, the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service’s Area Commander for Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, and Moray, presented an overview of the force’s activity and performance between April and September 2022.

He said that over the course of that period the force attended 104 road traffic collisions, and provided assistance to gain entry to properties 61 times. Deliberate fires had reduced slightly, and home fire visits have restarted, as well as post fire visits for non-domestic fires. Meanwhile, a total of 317 unwanted fire alarm signals from venues such as offices and warehouses had been recorded.

Chay also spoke of work on a new interactive road safety improvement programme, training for staff, and ongoing recruitment within the service. Community work has included ‘warm spaces’ events at local stations, plus advice on electrical safety.

A report on non-fire emergencies dealt with by the service will be brought before a future meeting of the committee, and a visit to the Portlethen Training Centre for committee members will also be arranged.

Live Life Aberdeenshire membership and pricing approach discussed

An update on the work of a member officer working group set up to consider revised membership and pricing proposals for Live Life Aberdeenshire (LLA) was provided to the committee.

Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnership Avril Nicol said the service has been focusing on removing barriers to participation while aiming for full cost recovery and has been working with the council’s tackling poverty and inequalities team to support this work.

Committee members raised queries about access and potential discounts for those with disabilities, and these will be fed back to the member officer working group for consideration.

Proposals for the LLA Membership Scheme and associated pricing will be brought before the committee in February for consideration before being submitted to a full meeting of Aberdeenshire Council for approval.
 LLA teams will bring presentations back to Communities Committee at future meetings, starting with the Live Life Wellbeing team.

Progress of action to tackle violence against women considered

The committee was asked to consider and comment on progress being made by the Violence Against Women & Girls Partnership, which brings together a range of statutory and voluntary agencies in Aberdeenshire.

Partnership chair Leigh Jolly said there had been a focus around domestic abuse, highlighting that those in rural areas are less likely to report abuse and are sadly likely to ensure it for longer.

The committee went on to talk about the various challenges around violence, including rural impacts, coercive control in home working and around finance, the risk of homelessness, and enforcement.

Welcoming the report, committee chair Cllr Stirling said: “I would really like to pay tribute to the women who have contributed their lived experience and life story to this work and this report and to the work you do within the partnership and indeed in other aspects of work that we’re involved with as a council.

“I think it’s really important to acknowledge their contribution to this. This would not have been easy for them to share their experiences.”

The report is to be shared with Community Planning Partnership Board members.

Other matters

  • Scrutiny referrals: The committee considered two scrutiny referrals from the council’s Audit Committee. A report on Alcohol and Drugs Partnership Governance will come before the committee in February, as will a report on Following the Public Pound.
  • Funding agreed for Kessock Park Trust: The committee agreed the allocation of £15,000 per annum for the financial years 2021/22, 2022/23, and 2023/24, and a further £6,500 in 2024/24, to the Fraserburgh All Weather Surface Facility (also known as the Kessock Park Trust).

To view the full public reports considered by the committee or to view the recordings of the session, visit Aberdeenshire Council - Committees and Meetings.