20 July 2023

Committee round-up: Communities Committee 1.6.23

Efforts to bring empty properties back into use, an update on mental health services in Aberdeenshire, and closer working with a tenant organisation were among matters discussed at the meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee on Thursday, June 1.

Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling opened the meeting by paying tribute to Tim Stephen in advance of him taking up the role of the council’s Kincardine & Mearns Area Manager.

Cllr Stirling said Mr Stephen, who had worked within Live Life Aberdeenshire and the wider council for many years, had contributed a ‘huge amount’ to leisure and activity across Aberdeenshire.

Councillors consider potential pressures on Communities Committee budget

Councillors heard an update on the Communities Committee budget, as approved in March this year.

The reported highlighted expected pressures due to rising inflation, energy prices and the ongoing pandemic recovery.

 In terms of achieving savings, there was reference to the development of an alternative model for sheltered housing support, the prioritisation of people with the greatest vulnerabilities when undertaking improvements and repairs, and around the management of vacancies.
It was agreed that information would be shared with councillors around the use of the service’s ‘risk and inflation reserve’ in response to any budgetary pressures that cannot be mitigated by services.

Committee told of Police Scotland’s aim to become an anti-discriminatory service that supports individuals

Divisional Commander Ch Supt Graeme Mackie opened an update on Police Scotland’s performance locally by making reference to a statement about institutional discrimination issued by Scotland’s Chief Constable, Sir Iain Livingston.

Ch Supt Mackie said discrimination within the service results in people in minority groups receiving ‘a lesser service than they deserve,’ and that acknowledging institutional racism places a responsibility ‘on the organisation as a whole.’

He added that under Police Scotland’s ‘Policing Together’ strategy, the force is in the process of addressing discriminations and becoming an anti-discriminatory service that supports individuals.

Ch Supt Mackie went on to discuss Police Scotland’s budget and staffing within the North East Division. He said the division was in a good budget position and that recruitment delays had reduced through the use of overtime.

The update also included references to work around school parking areas, violent incidents, and a focus on knife crime. Hate crime and antisocial behaviour, poaching, drug-related harm, and violence against women and girls were also discussed.

As part of the committee’s discussion around the matters raised, councillors welcomed Ch Supt Mackie’s references to the Chief Constable’s statement.

Efforts to bring empty properties back into use discussed

The committee was advised of improvements being made in terms of the time taken to bring empty council properties back into use in Aberdeenshire, and in the time taken to re-let available properties.

Head of Housing Ally Macleod said trends are showing ‘significant improvements’ in terms of speeding up processes and addressing pinch points, while the service has identified areas of focus for further improvements.

Over the coming year, the service aims to reduce the time taken to reduce the number of empty mainstream and sheltered housing properties, as well as reducing the average number of days to re-let properties and to reduce the amount of potential rent lost.

Responding to a question about sheltered housing properties, which are taking longer to relet, Mr Macleod acknowledged it had been challenging to reduce timescales at the same rate as mainstream properties.

Cllr Glen Reynolds highlighted the risk of people being reluctant to move to rural areas due to a shortage of services in some areas. In response, Business Services Director Alan Wood said the council is continuing to look at different models for public transport, both in rural areas and in terms of travel times across Aberdeenshire and into the city.

Reference was also made to the council’s ‘choice-based letting’ approach, which allows tenants to choose where they want to live rather than being allocated a property.

The committee went on to agree performance targets for the coming year.

Housing service outlines latest performance and financial position

Councillors were updated on the housing service’s performance and financial position between January and March this year.

The committee heard that the cost-of-living crisis had led to an increase in arrears and a decrease in rent collected, although the service continues to perform strongly in comparison with other local authorities.

The time taken to process homelessness remains within the target of 85 days, which the committee was told compares well with other landlords.

The housing service’s revenue account has seen a significant increase in costs associated with asset management, and this will be considered as part of a review of the service’s business plan, councillors were told.

There has been an underspend on capital projects due to delays in new build housing and housing improvements, with costs for materials rising, although access to supplies is improving.

The committee welcomed the new reporting format, and it was agreed that reports should be brought before the council’s six area committees regarding the management of the housing service’s assets, such as garages.

Aberdeenshire Council Tenants Group becomes registered tenant organisation

The committee supported an application by the Aberdeenshire Council Tenants Group (ACTG) to become a registered tenant organisation, allowing for its greater involvement in policy discussions.

Councillors heard from representatives of ACTG about their work over the past year to apply for registration, and went on to discuss opportunities for closer working with the committee.

It was agreed that the organisation should be asked to allow the council to review their constitution to ensure appropriate equalities measures and language are in place.
 A report will be brought back to the committee regarding the potential inclusion of two tenant organisation representatives as non-voting members of the Communities.

Committee considers Live Life Aberdeenshire performance update

A detailed Live Life Aberdeenshire (LLA) performance update covering the financial year 2022-23 was brought before the committee.

The update highlighted progress in the delivery of the key priorities of the council and the current business plan for LLA, highlighting areas of success including initiatives such as Cycle Aberdeenshire, Live Life Essentials, community-led walks, and the Summer of Play.

Cllr Stirling welcomed the report, describing it as ‘comprehensive,’ adding that it outlined activity very clearly.

Councillors asked for further detail on areas where LLA is experiencing challenges, and asked that rural areas are not overlooked when it comes to music projects in schools.

A detailed report on the 13 halls managed by LLA across Aberdeenshire is to be brough before a future committee, and LLA reports are to be brought before area committees with area-specific information.

Mental health services update discussed

An overview of mental health services available in Aberdeenshire communities was brought before the committee.

Many of the projects led by the Aberdeenshire Health & Social Care Partnership and its partners stem from the Aberdeenshire Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2019-2024, which is currently being updated.

A report before councillors provided information on a wide range of services and activities, including the Mental Health Improvement and Wellbeing Service, the North Crisis Intervention Team, allied health professionals, medication-assistant treatment, and the ‘Well Aberdeenshire’ service provided by mental health charity Penumbra.

Details were also provided around various campaigns, including ‘Days of Action’,TogetherAll, suicide prevention, and of Live Life Aberdeenshire’s physical activity pathway.

Partnership Manager Jeff Shaw told councillors of the increase in demand for support following the Covid-19 pandemic, and due to economic, isolation, loneliness, and low mood factors.

Responding to a question about a noted increase in demand from older people, councillors were told that an increase in the complexity of needs has been noted and that the Partnership continues to work with care homes and with those receiving care at home to provide support.

Councillors were also told of work to support those with dementia and, more generally, about work to reduce waiting times for face-to-face mental health appointments.

An update on mental health provision is expected to come before the committee in a year’s time.

Other matters

  • Garden maintenance: It was agreed that options for the future maintenance of gardens and open spaces should be included as part of a review of the Housing Revenue Account Business Plan to allow for detailed consultation with tenants, the committee, and other stakeholders.
  • Business plans supported: The committee endorsed the Environment & Infrastructure Services Business Plans, which include the Housing & Business Standards Business Plan that will be reported to the Communities Committee.
    Annual Scrutiny & Improvement Report: A workshop with councillors to identify a Scrutiny Improvement Programme for 2023/24 is to take place.
  • Draft Annual Governance Statement: Providing feedback on the draft document, the committee asked that equalities be incorporated more explicitly into the statement, including a link to the Equalities Act itself.
  • Corporate Improvement Plan: As part of consideration of the plan, the committee asked that financial information should be included where percentages are given, where possible, to help provide context.
  • Scrutiny referrals: Communities Committee is to receive reports on two Integration Joint Board matters referred by the council’s Audit Committee at its meeting on Thu, Sep 7, 2023. A decision on an Alcohol and Drugs Partnership committee review process was deferred to the September meeting.