26 November 2023

Committee round-up: Communities Committee 2.11.23

The work of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service beyond fighting fires and a new housing investment plan were among matters discussed at the meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee on Thursday, November 2.

Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling opened the meeting by thanking staff and teams who had been involved in efforts to help residents and tenants affected by Storm Babet.

She said that those who responded worked ‘in exemplary fashion’ to help those facing ‘dire circumstances,’ adding that those involved often go above and beyond their duties to provide support.

Scottish Fire & Rescue Service talks of approach to non-fire emergencies

The committee heard from Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) Area Commander Andrew Wright, who is the Local Senior Officer (LSO) for Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, and Moray.

He provided an overview of non-fire emergency incidents over the past three years and the specialist capabilities the service has to help resolve such incidents.

Councillors were told the SFRS has one wholetime/on-call fire station at Peterhead and 24 on-call fire stations across Aberdeenshire, staffed by 272 on-call firefighters, 30 wholetime firefighters and five on-call support officers.

The area is also supported by specialist resources and equipment from Aberdeen City, Moray, and further afield.

Focusing on flood risk, LSO Wright explained that nine stations are designated as flood first responders: Ballater, Banchory, Banff, Ellon, Fraserburgh, Huntly, Inverurie, Stonehaven, and Turriff.

These locations have dedicated equipment and training to allow firefighters to wade through waters, with all other stations receiving water awareness training. The service also has access to national assets based in Aberdeen and Elgin, including the use of a high-volume pump.

In terms of road accidents, SFRS has attended around 500 incidents in the last three years, with staff highly trained to help casualties from vehicles. LSO Wright added that the service is moving from hydraulic to battery-powered equipment.

There was also discussion about partnership working, both from the perspective of the SFRS and of the wider Local Resilience Partnership, of which Aberdeenshire Council is a partner.

Welcoming the presentation, the committee asked that their thanks be passed on to SFRS teams.

Financial performance update provided to councillors

The committee heard an update on the financial performance of services that fall under the remit of Communities Committee, as of September 30 this year. 

Councillors were told the budget was projecting an overspend of around 1% (£1.7milion), with particular pressures within the budget for Live Life Aberdeenshire (LLA).

Head of Communities, Wellbeing and Partnership Avril Nicol said changes within LLA were addressing some of the underlying financial challenges, and that the service has worked to keep facilities open at previous levels where possible, with a ‘local led’ approach.

The service’s membership scheme has seen a 6% rise in monthly income, councillors were told, and changes to the swimming development programme has allowed for better scheduling.

Questions were also asked about a forecast overspend within the budget for the Integration Joint Board for health and social care, with Chief Officer Pam Milliken outlining some recent challenges and adding that proposed savings would be considered by the board in due course.

There was also discussion around the council’s budget for affordable housing, with Head of Housing and Building Standards Alexander Macleod explaining that the budget’s reserve was fully allocated to projects currently in progress or due to begin.

Annual Assurance Report for housing supported

The committee approved a proposed statement to the Scottish Housing Regulator which outlines how Aberdeenshire Council is meeting the 16 outcomes required in the Scottish Social Housing Charter.

While performance in most areas is good, councillors were told of four areas where the council feels it doesn’t currently fully meet required standards.

Under the housing quality standard, the council is making good progress in meeting energy efficiency standards, with more than 78% of properties at the required level, and has provided details of its ongoing work to fully meet the standard.

And while good progress is being made to bring properties that can’t be let back into use, the council has not yet met the target of 40 days to re-let such properties, with sheltered housing properties being particularly challenging to re-let.  

Under electrical safety testing, efforts are being made to address two overdue checks and it is expected the council will be fully compliant within the current financial year.

With regards to testing for Legionella, all outstanding two-yearly assessments have been completed, and work continues to undertake overdue system disinfections.  

The committee went on to discuss tenant engagement in terms of ensuring value for money, challenges where tenants refuse entry to a property, neighbour disputes and antisocial behaviour, and work to meet energy efficiency targets.

Affordable housing plan supported

Aberdeenshire Council’s Strategic Housing Investment Plan (SHIP) 2024-2029 was approved by the committee.

The document, which had been submitted in draft form to the Scottish Government, outlines the potential investment in affordable housing locally over the next five years.

The committee was told the plan could potentially deliver nearly 1,100 new affordable homes, with 30% of these suitable for particular needs, of which 12% would be wheelchair accessible.

A total of 78% of all properties would be used for social rent, with the rest for mid-market rent or affordable homeownership.

Councillors were told the delivery of projects will be subject to the available of grants and securing approval for developments, and that challenges remain within the building sector in terms of material shortages, as well as access to labour.

Discussing pressure on the waiting list for council properties, the committee was told of the council’s efforts to encourage owners of empty properties to bring them back into use through the work of the council’s empty homes officer.

And as well as delivery of the SHIP, the council looks at other opportunities to build new homes and in some cases to buy additional properties.

Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership performance discussed

A quarterly update on the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership’s progress against its strategic delivery plan was brought before the committee.

The report before councillors provided an update on a number of projects currently being progressed by the Partnership.

An In-House Care at Home project is about to enter a full trial, while project officers have been appointed for work around rehabilitation and enablement, while under the Partnership’s ‘analogue to digital’ project, work continues to switch older analogue alarm units to digital devices.

Work is to begin on a test of a ‘community hub’ approach in Inverurie, involving public, community, and private sector partners to support local needs and to support the principle of ‘living well locally.’ This project is to completement the council’s ‘Place’ approach to service delivery.

Following the update, Cllr Stirling requested informal sessions with area committees.

Other matters

  • Emergency service visits: It was noted that a visit had been arranged for the committee to the service’s Portlethen Training Centre at the end of November, and that a committee visit to Police Scotland’s call centre in Dundee was planned for spring 2024.
  • Appointment to Create Homes Company: It was agreed that nominations for two councillors to serve as representatives of the company would be decided following the committee.
  • Integration Joint Board (IJB) governance audit: Following an update on progress being made with to meet recommendations made in the audit, the committee agreed a workshop to further explore remaining actions would not be necessary.

The recording of the public session of the committee can be viewed on the Aberdeenshire Council website.