Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Council under Standing Order No. 20

To receive questions from Members of the Council to the relevant Portfolio Holders for this Scrutiny Committee. The Portfolio Holders are:-


Councillor Denning -   Portfolio Holder for Customer Services and Council Housing

Councillor Ghusain -   Portfolio Holder for City Management and Environmental Services

Councillor Pearce   -   Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention

Councillor Williams -   Portfolio Holder for Recycling, Waste Management and Waterways


Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support via the email.




In accordance with Standing Order No. 20, the following questions had been submitted by Councillors Vizard and D. Moore and had been circulated in advance to Members of the Committee. The responses of the Portfolio Holders are set out in italics. 


Question to the Portfolio Holder for Recycling, Waste Management and Waterways – Councillor Williams


Councillor D. Moore


Please can the Portfolio Holder provide a briefing on the work to prepare for the roll out of food waste collection in the city centre wards in general, and flats (including purpose built student accommodation) in particular?


Response from the Director Net Zero Exeter and City Management on behalf of the Portfolio Holder.


Work is ongoing across the whole of the city as we continue to roll out food waste to ensure that the roll out is successful and secondary issues are minimised. This includes officer’s conducting site visits where needed, to look at the practicalities involved in certain areas. Those areas where there are transient populations will present additional challenges, not least with the resource required to ensure ongoing compliance. Each of these areas are being carefully looked at prior to roll out being conducted in these areas. With regard to purpose built accommodation, the service will be seeking to work with accommodation providers in the same way that the service works with them on residual and recycling collections at present.


Supplementary question and answer.


Can a guarantee be given that food waste collection will be rolled out to all areas of the city centre and what will be the timetable?




A guaranteed timescale cannot be given because some areas of the city, including the city centre, have properties such which have complex arrangements for waste collection and storage. These may need a bespoke solution and will need prior examination by the cleansing staff to plan the collection regime. A further complication is the current limited food waste storage capacity at the Exton Road depot. New facilities are planned but will require planning approval and consent from the Environment Agency. The design and procurement of this work is underway. A update report on food waste collection will be made to the next meeting of this Committee on 2 February 2023.


A further supplementary question raised by Councillor Sparling on behalf of Councillor Bennett and answer.


With a number of glass recycling igloos overflowing across the city what measures are being taken to maintain a regular collection and is there a contingency plan when the collection vehicle is out of action and/or under repair. 




The Director Net Zero Exeter and City Management, responding on behalf of the Portfolio Holder, advised that, as some residents left a large number of  bottles in boxes outside the igloos, other residents would erroneously conclude that the igloos were full, leading to the further accumulation of bottles. The collection system was working well, but with the ingoing difficulty in recruiting and retaining drivers it was sometimes necessary to redeploy the glass collecting drivers to prioritise residual waste and recycling collection. Once the Government provides guidance on glass collection, a review of the city’s glass collection system would be undertaken.


Questions to the Portfolio Holder for City Management and Environmental Services - Councillor Ghusain


Councillor D. Moore


1. With the upgrade of the CCTV facility, is there any agreement with the Police that they will respond more quickly/as a priority to live incidents that are identified?




The Police are responsible for their own response and will prioritise their available resources based on an assessment of the threat, risk and harm posed by the incident. It would be inappropriate of us to ask for our calls to be prioritised above those received by all the other channels they have which may carry greater threats of risk or harm to the public.


Supplementary question and answer.


Can an explanation of what the City Council expects of the Police in responding to incidents be produced? 




It is not for the City Council to determine for the Police how they prioritise their response to incidents.


2. With two recent incidents in the city centre where buses have collided with pedestrians, one fatally, what measures will the Portfolio Holder be pursuing to improve road safety in the city centre?




It is not appropriate for us to comment on these incidents which are the subject of Police and Coroners’ investigations.  However, as I’m sure you are aware the City Council is neither the Transport Authority nor the Highway Authority. The responsibility for road safety falls within the remit of the highway authority which is Devon County Council.


Supplementary question and answer.


With a significant number of recent incidents of collisions involving cyclists, including one fatality, what measures can be taken to take forward road safety matters including consideration to be given to removing cars from the High Street?




Although Highway matters are not the City Council responsibility there is on-going dialogue with County Council colleagues. The matter is one that should be raised with the Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee.


3. Has the Portfolio Holder received a response yet from Devon County Council on the Air Quality Status report, and if so please can an update be provided?




The County Council response was received on 29 November 2022 and circulated to all Councillors.


Supplementary question and answer.


With recent figures showing that traffic is increasing again in the city, what measures are being taken to address associated air quality problems in the city? 




A written answer will be provided.


Questions to the Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention - Councillor Pearce


Councillor Sparling


Can the Portfolio Holder please confirm what progress has been made on the General Buller Statue Review recommendations resolved by Council on 23rd February 2021 to a) create a working group to establish a Council Anti-Racism Strategy led by the Portfolio Holder for Culture and Communities and b) develop a training and awareness raising programme for staff and councillors on equality impact assessments and their role in the Council’s decision making process through the Corporate Equality and Diversity Group?




Following the change in Portfolio Holder responsibilities the question is one to be addressed by both the Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness and the Portfolio Holder for Arts and Culture and Corporate Services. The latter will respond in writing to the second part of the question.


The anti-racism working group has met on a number of occasions which led to the drafting of an anti-racism strategy and the group will continue to pick up the issues raised by the initial Spotlight Review. This will include a training programme for Members, the details of which are still to be determined. An Information Board explaining matters associated with this issue has been erected in Northernhay Gardens.



Questions to the Portfolio Holder for Customer Services and Council Housing - Councillor Denning


Councillor Vizard


1. In the light of the tragic death of Aawab Ishak in Rochdale after exposure to mould in his family’s housing association property and the changes proposed in the Social Housing Regulation Bill, would the Portfolio Holder for Customer Services and Council Housing please provide the Scrutiny Committee with a brief summary of Exeter City Council’s tenant complaints policy, and of what work is being undertaken to meet the Regulator of Social Housing’s call for evidence to demonstrate that systems are in place to deal with issues with damp and mould that may arise.




Point 1 - Tenants can make complaints in writing by letter, email, or via our Housing complaints form. People can also call us, visit us in person or arrange a visit to their home.


Stage One - Investigation of the complaint: acknowledgement within five working days, followed by an investigation by a Department Lead-response within 10 working days. Normally, responses are provided within 48 hours.


Stage Two – Independent review of the complaint: if they remain dissatisfied they can request an escalation where a new senior officer will conduct an independent review. This will be completed within 20 working days and a final response will be sent.


If the complaint remains unresolved, tenants have the following options available:


·         Use the Housing Ombudsman’s Early Resolution Service. This is an alternative process to formal investigation where they will work with the tenant and us to resolve the dispute as fairly and quickly as possible;

·          Refer the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman to be formally investigated.


The Housing Ombudsman


The Housing Ombudsman Service is available to our tenants and leaseholders. They provide a free, independent and impartial dispute resolution service.


Point 2 - Well over 12 months ago, the Council’s Housing Service adopted new response protocols to ensure the best possible service for all our tenants including the following specific actions:-


·         Re-visiting every home that has reported damp and mould after six months of initial works.

·         Running reports on all existing reported cases of condensation, damp and mould and assessment of what additional interventions can be made to address and resolve the issues.

·         Increased investment in humidity and ventilation monitoring devices, to enable early identification of problems.

·         Referring cases to specialist surveyors if there is a repeat, or complicated, instance of damp and mould.

·         Enhanced training for all colleagues and new reporting systems.

·         Using our ‘Report for Action’ tool on the Surveyors mobile devices to ensure that condensation damp and mould are reported immediately along with other serious issues if identified in a property.

·         Offering up damp and mould experts at our tenant events, such as coffee mornings and repairs drop in surgeries, to offer support and guidance.


In addition, we are also continuing to provide our residents with support and advice on how to combat the early sign of damp and mould in their property, whilst being clear that ultimate responsibility for addressing serious issues lies with us as the landlord. All the actions mentioned will be included in the reply to the Regulator of Social Housing’s call for evidence by the 19 December 2022 submission date and a briefing note has been sent to all Councillors providing a full update on how the Council’s Housing Service is dealing with damp and mould cases.


2. The work being undertaken to retrofit Council properties in Exeter is exemplary and being a responsible landlord is at the heart of what we do.  How are these standards and best practice shared with other social housing providers in Exeter and through the Devon Home Choice system?




The Council’s Housing Service promotes its retrofit work through a variety of routes.


·         There has been publicity via media channels - TV and social media;

·         Contributions have been made to a number of conferences – most recently I (the Portfolio Holder) made a presentation to a conference via video, and last week the Assistant Director of Housing sat on a Discussion Group at the Homes UK 2022 conference at the Excel in London.

·         A Members’ briefing has been prepared and will be distributed as a Scrutiny Bulletin in January 2023.

·         The Council’s Housing Service is a member of a Devon-wide housing procurement framework consortium and briefings have been provided to all consortium members by the Council’s Housing Service Officers.

·         Devon Home Choice primarily ensures there is a consistency and fairness in the allocation of properties to those in housing need. It is not a forum where housing management or maintenance matters are discussed in detail. However, policies in relation to the priority awarded for those seeking alternative accommodation due to poor health such as respiratory issues form part of the policy which is regularly reviewed to ensure a uniform approach across all landlords and local authorities.   


3. Does the Portfolio Holder think the Government is doing enough to help social housing providers to modernise housing stock, build more homes for social rent, and meet the standards for energy efficient, warm, safe homes that should be the norm?  If not, what would she like to see change?




No - more can always be done as, at present, there are many competing priorities for the funding that is available.


·         The modernisation of the housing stock needs clearer direction in Policy terms – the revised Decent Homes Standard that the Government intends to implement has been delayed which makes setting long-term programmes of work and agreeing budgets very challenging.

·         In terms of more social rented homes, grant rates from Homes England need to rise to reflect current market pressures and the increasing costs of construction – the Council is in dialogue with Homes England officers to make this representation.

·         Ensuring that energy efficient, warm, safe homes become the norm needs greater policy direction – such as the revised Decent Homes Standard. Also, access to grant funding (such as Social Housing Decarbonisation Funding) needs to be less complex and funding programmes need to be longer term to allow continuity.

·         with the loss of approximately 40 properties a year through Right To Buy, occupiers of those properties are no longer covered by the support the Council can give to its own residents in this matter


Supplementary question and answer.


With the City Council in discussion with Homes England on the problem, are similar conversations being held with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities with a view to sharing City Council best practice?




Yes this has occurred and was also raised at a recent Webinar with Homes UK.


A Member moved that the City’s MP’s and Bishop Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter, a Member of the House of Lords, be appraised of the concerns raised and requested to raise the issue with the Secretary of State.


The motion was moved, seconded and carried.


RECOMMENDED that the City’s MP’s and Bishop Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter, a Member of the House of Lords, be appraised of the concerns raised and requested to raise the issue with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.