Venue: Committee Room B12. View directions
Contact: Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgItems No. Item
Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillors D J Baker (substituted by Councillor D E Lawson), Councillor E J Lampkin and Councillor A R Lloyd (substituted by Councillor Mrs N C Wightman).
Declarations of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest Members may wish to make including the term(s) of the Grant of Dispensation(s) by the Standards Committee.
Councillor C Shippam and Councillor D E Hunnisett declared a personal interest in agenda item 8, Warden Services and Care of the Elderly, as they are patients of the Lowfield Medical Centre.
Councillor M J Bryant declared a personal interest in agenda item 9, Audit Commission Inspection of Strategic Housing Services, as the Audit Commission is a client of the company he works for.
Councillor Mrs A D Allen declared a personal prejudicial interest in agenda item 10, Enterprise House, as she is a board member of the North West Kent Racial Equality Council and a trustee of Dartford’s Citizens Advice Bureau.
Councillor S H Brown declared a personal interest in agenda item 10, Enterprise House, as he is a trustee of the North West Kent Council for Voluntary Services.
Councillor A R Martin declared a personal interest in agenda item 10, Enterprise House, as he is a trustee of Dartford’s Citizens Advice Bureau.
That the minutes of the meeting held on 10 December 2008, be confirmed.
The Chairman will announce his decision as to whether there are any urgent items and their position on the agenda.
The Chairman announced that there were no urgent items for consideration.
To consider references from other Committees (if any)
There were no references from other committees.
The Chairman informed the Committee that he had now met Nigel Baker, Head of Kent Youth Services at Kent County Council, to discuss the closure of Highfield Youth Club. Nigel Baker had explained that although the Highfield Youth Club had closed youth services would not be lost from Dartford and that he was hopeful of securing further KCC funding in order to provide another youth worker for Dartford West.
Forward Plan PDF 18 KB
To consider any issues arising from the Forward Plan 1 January 2009 to 30 April 2009.
That the contents of the Forward Plan for the period 1 January 2009 to 30 April 2009 be noted.
Warden Services and Care of the Elderly
Discussion of Warden Services and Care of the Elderly.
The Chairman welcomed Dr Lawrence of the Lowfield Medical Centre to the meeting.
The Chairman explained that he had drawn this item down because of a letter from Dr Lawrence which had expressed concerns about the current warden system and the move away from resident wardens to peripatetic care. The letter was provided for Members’ information and consideration.
Dr Lawrence explained his concerns to the Committee. He had been in practice for twenty years and had noticed more of his elderly patients were dissatisfied with the provision of warden services than ever before. He was aware that people often initially reacted negatively to change but he felt it was more than this. He had seen the service change from two residential wardens per unit with a virtual 24 hour presence to one warden being shared between two areas supported by a central control telephone system. He found the culminative effect of these changes combined with other changes in elderly care of great concern.
In general, those entering residential care are older and require more care than their predecessors of twenty years ago. Although many of the residents in warden assisted housing are still very independent many are almost restricted to their own home and have very little social contact. More and more services are becoming remote and while this may suit people with a strong grasp of technology it was not always appropriate for elderly care. He felt that the human contact and “reassuring face” were being lost from the service. From his professional viewpoint the loss of dedicated wardens could also cause issues, for example wardens would not be as familiar with individual residents and this could potentially lead to initial signs of illness being missed.
One of the strengths of the old resident warden system was that the warden would often be responsible for arranging social events. This helped create a sense of community and security. The importance of social events should not be underestimated and could mean the difference between residents’ simply existing and living active lives. Resident wardens often helped residents on their scheme feel less vulnerable in their homes and could also help prevent crime, for example by acting as a deterrent against doorstep criminals targeting the elderly.
One Member asked Dr Lawrence if he had examples of the current system failing a resident. Dr Lawrence explained that he had no specific examples of a patient being neglected or injured as a result of the changed arrangements for wardens. He felt the issue was more subtle, qualitative rather than quantitative. He believed many of his patients were missing human contact and it was very difficult to measure the effects of this.
Members discussed the issue. They sympathised and agreed that assessing quality of life was not about ticking boxes but about how people felt and this was often difficult to judge. One Member said he often visited assisted housing units and had received feedback that the social side was missing and social events had declined dramatically through the years. Dr Lawrence agreed, he also thought there were problems centring on expectations of what assisted housing actually provided. Most of the units were built with large communal areas and residents expected these to be used for social events.
The Leader said that whilst he did not disagree with Dr Lawrence he needed to point out that this was a national policy and the changes to service delivery had been made following a reduction in Supporting People funding. He also wanted the Committee to note that the Council had been rated as providing an A grade service when inspected by the KCC Supporting People team. That said if elderly residents were unhappy he wanted to know and investigate what could be done to improve the situation. He suggested that a formal resident’s consultation be carried out. Should the results of the consultation be negative and require that action be taken he requested that all parties work together to lobby the Government for change. He added that the consultation must be approached sensitively so as not to upset residents and also that it needed to be made clear in the consultation that this was a national policy outside the control of the Council.
The Chairman agreed, he had hoped for a resolution of a consultation from this meeting and thought that this was an issue where all parties should work together. If required he would be happy to campaign for increased funding in this area. The Vice Chairman also added his support for a resident’s consultation, and requested involvement in the sign off process.
Members discussed the issue further and were supportive of holding a consultation. Councillor J I Muckle said that he thought that this was an area where the Government had made mistakes and that he had spoken to the M.P. concerned. Many Members agreed and it was suggested that it was time for this policy to be reviewed. Given that this was a Government policy there was some concern among Members about what the Council could deliver should the results of the consultation require action to be taken. One member also questioned what action could be taken in the short-term and what support was currently available to support social events for the elderly.
The Chairman asked the Head of Housing for his perception of how the system was working. The Head of Housing said that when the change to mobile working began in March 2006, there were many complaints but since then there had been few. He wanted to make clear that his officers were providing an excellent service. He reiterated the point that Kent County Council supporting people inspection team had recently awarded the Council an ‘A’ Grade for the service putting Dartford in the top 10% of more than 50 providers in Kent.
The Head of Housing clarified that currently supported housing residents were not seeing a different warden everyday and that wardens were generally on site for two months at a time. Even the old system of two resident wardens was never delivered as a twenty four hour service, although it often became this as many wardens worked more than their hours out of dedication to their job. He thought it was important to be clear that wardens were employed to provide tenancy support not nursing care in accordance with the supporting people funding guidelines. Dartford’s supported housing accommodation was also for residents who simply wanted the added security or company of living in a communal scheme but were still very active and independent.
Supporting People funding does not allow supported housing officers (formally known as wardens) to provide management related services such as the organisation of social activities and there were no additional grants currently available to fill this gap. Effectively the only way the Council could do this would be to charge for services or absorb the costs within the Housing Revenue Account. The Head of Housing confirmed that supported housing officers had tried to give unofficial support by encouraging residents to set up their own social club’s. However this had had limited success due to time constraints and the additional workload associated with meeting obligations related to supporting people funding. He also said that whilst he could see the social benefits for residents if the Council supported a return to a resident warden approach the council’s in Kent who were continuing to deliver a warden focused service were covering the additional costs themselves. He thought that the consultation was a good idea providing the questions were carefully phrased and residents were not led to expect changes to their services that the Council was unable to deliver.
The Chairman thanked Dr Lawrence for attending. Dr Lawrence thanked the Committee for the chance to bring this item before them and said he would be interested to hear the results of the consultation.
1. That the Committee note the concerns raised by Dr Lawrence regarding the provision of warden services to the elderly.
2. That the Committee welcome the proposal to hold an assisted housing resident’s consultation exercise.
3. That a copy of Dr Lawrence’s letter, tabled at the meeting, be forwarded to the Lead Member of the Health Inequality Working Group.
- Housing Inspection Cabinet report 11 December, item 57. PDF 32 KB
- Strategic Housing Services Appendix A, item 57. PDF 432 KB
- Housing Inspection action plan, item 57. PDF 46 KB
- Housing Inspection Response, item 57. PDF 12 KB
- Extract from cabinet minutes 11 December 2008, item 57. PDF 11 KB
This report presented the findings of the Audit Commission’s Inspection of the Council’s Strategic Housing Service in September 2008 together with an improvement plan. The Chairman explained that he had drawn this item down following its presentation at Cabinet on the 11 December 2008. He invited Councillor J I Muckle to lead the discussion on this item.
Councillor J I Muckle explained that he had been interviewed by the Audit Commission during their inspection. He had found it a valuable exercise as it identified areas for the Council to improve and also showed that much of the service was working well. However he had been surprised by some of the areas of criticism and asked the Head of Housing what his perception of the inspection had been.
The Head of Housing described the inspection process as exhaustive and said that much time had been spent justifying work which had already been delivered. All the areas for improvement noted by the Audit Commission had already been identified through good management procedure and the pre inspection KLOE process. Although there were some areas where the Council had strongly disagreed with the Audit Commission, in particular he did not feel that the comments about the Councils approach to diversity were justified. However, overall he felt that the Audit Commission’s report was fair and that the Council could use it as a robust benchmark on which to base its work on further improving Dartford’s Strategic Housing Services. He noted that the one star rating with promising prospects was as high as any authority had achieved in Kent.
Councillor J I Muckle was pleased with the reports references to the delivery of new market and affordable housing as this was an area he had long felt was not satisfactory. He was concerned to learn that the Council’s 30% affordable housing requirement was not statutory and worried that this meant the Council was open to challenge from developers. The Head of Housing explained that the requirement would be statutory once the Local Plan was in place. The Strategic Director stated that the affordable housing requirement had been in place for a number of years without challenge.
Councillor J I Muckle referred to the table on page forty five of the Audit Commission’s report. He was confused by the figures as he had previously been advised that 342 affordable homes had been built in 2006/7 but the table said there were only 80. The Head of Housing said he would investigate the disparity between the figures, as it was difficult to comment without more information. It may be that although permission had been granted the properties had not been built. With the economic downturn he now also had serious concerns about being able to meet targets for 2009/10 and onwards until the situation improved.
Members discussed improvements to the Registered Social Landlord Focus Group and the possibility of using the new Government initiative for building affordable housing estates.
Several Members commented that they had seen a vast improvement in the Councils Housing Services over recent years. They were pleased with the score given by the Audit Commission and their comment of “a fair service that has promising prospects for improvement”. They thought that where there had been negative criticism the Housing Inspection Action Plan demonstrated a clear course for improvement.
Members were deeply concerned to learn that disabled residents had been waiting so long for their housing adaptations. The Head of Housing said there had been serious issues with the time taken for Occupational Therapists (a Kent County Council function) to assess and prioritise cases but once the Council had received them they were prioritised in relation to major and minor works and dealt with far quicker than in previous years. Figures for 2008/09 would hopefully show that this situation had now improved dramatically, as previous years figures had included some of the oldest cases which had distorted the overall picture. The Council now aimed to make small adaptations costing less than £1000 within a 14 day period. They were also trying to match properties that had already been converted to residents.
The Strategic Manager said this was an area of the report where the Council had disagreed with the Audit Commission. The delay with the Occupational Therapy assessments had been outside the control of the Council. However the inspection methodology, of end to end audit, does not take into account who was responsible for elements of the process.
The Chairman thanked Officers for their attendance.
1. That the Committee notes that the service was rated as fair but with promising prospects for improvement.
2. That the Committee notes the contents of the Strategic Housing Inspection – Improvement Plan which it hopes will assist in delivering ongoing improvements in relation to strategic housing service delivery in Dartford.
EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC
It was duly proposed and seconded that the Committee moved into closed session and that the press and public be excluded from the remaining matter on the agenda.
That, under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended), the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the
following item of business on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure
of exempt information.
No members of the press or public were present during discussion of the
following item of business.
Enterprise House PDF 15 KB
Councillor Mrs A D Allen, having declared a prejudicial interest, left the room and took no part in the debate or decision related to this item.
The Chairman explained that he had drawn down the future of Enterprise House for review for three reasons. He wanted more information about the potential sale of Enterprise House, he was concerned about the relocation of tenants and he was also concerned about the future of the building itself, which he considered architecturally important for Dartford.
The Deputy Leader explained that the Council had provided a relocation fund of £15,000 to help Enterprise House tenants find and move to new premises. All tenants had now vacated Enterprise House and found suitable new premises. One Member noted that it was disappointing that two of the charities had found new premises outside of Dartford.
The Project Director updated the Committee with the current position regarding the disposal of Enterprise House. Negotiations were continuing with the Homes and Communities Agency (the successor to English Partnerships) and he was hopeful that agreement would be reached soon. The matter will then be reported to Cabinet. In view of the downturn in the property market, there was little possibility of an alternative sale at this time.
He noted the Chairman’s view that Enterprise House was an attractive building within Dartford Town Centre Conservation Area, however he believed it would be prohibitively expensive to convert Enterprise House for residential or any other beneficial use. Access to the building is limited and there is no disabled access or lift. Whilst appreciating comments about its facade the building is on a small site and without it being demolished it would be extremely hard to develop the property profitably.
A number of Members agreed that to lose such a characterful building from Dartford Town Centre would be regrettable.
The Chairman thanked Officers for the update on the situation with Enterprise House and looked forward to hearing more information shortly.
That the Enterprise House report be noted.