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Agenda and minutes

Venue: Committee Room 3 - Waltham Forest Town Hall

Contact: John Williams, Democratic Services Officer  020 8496 4344 | Email: john.williams@walthamforest.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

17.

APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE AND SUBSTITUTE MEMBERS

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Umar Ali and from Caryle Webb-Ingall, Independent Member.

 

It was noted that Councillor Steve Terry was present as substitute for Councillor Ali.

 

18.

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

Members are required to declare any pecuniary or non-pecuniary interests they or their spouse/partner may have in any matter which is to be considered at this meeting. Interests are defined on the inside cover of this agenda.

Minutes:

None.

19.

MINUTES OF THE PREVIOUS MEETING pdf icon PDF 82 KB

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 27 June 2017 were approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair.

20.

FIRE SAFETY IN WALTHAM FOREST pdf icon PDF 128 KB

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Assistant Director of Housing Services.

 

Darren Welsh introduced Maureen McEleney to the Committee, who proceeded to give a detailed presentation of the report and comprehensive overview of fire safety in Waltham Forest following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017.

 

Ms McEleney’s report has been appended to the electronic version of the minutes, covered the following aspects:

 

  • The Grenfell Tower Inquiry and interim recommendations
  • Cladding
  • Fire Policy
  • Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) and inspections, including drone surveys
  • Governance
  • Fire Safety Measures, ‘stay put’ policy and the dangers of self-evacuation
  • Resident Engagement
  • Fire Brigade
  • Sprinklers and costs
  • Investment in Fire Safety
  • Government Funding – no additional resources to date
  • Registered Providers and Private Sector Housing

 

Councillor Mahmud thanked officers for a full and clear report and acknowledged the numerous actions taken to reassure residents.  The presentation led to a discussion in which the following points were made.

 

Drone surveys – These revealed that external walls were in good condition, the exceptions being where in some instances piercing by a satellite dish creating the risk of the insulation being exposed if the dish fell away.  Other authorities have expressed interest in the use of drone surveys.

 

Routine checks – The formal FRAs take place every so many years according to the height of the building, and reveal a snapshot ‘MoT’ on the day of the assessment.  In addition it was confirmed that caretakers and all staff on estates are aware of fire safety issues and how to escalate them if necessary.

 

‘Stay Put’ – It was acknowledged that this message is harder to convey in the light of Grenfell, especially in tower blocks, where people who did stay put were in greater danger, and those who escaped survived.  This is a question which has vexed housing professionals ever since.  However, it was still true in the vast majority of cases that the risks of self-evacuation – tripping, panic, impeding the emergency services – still outweighed waiting until the fire brigade came to the rescue.  The Council has no ACM cladding on its blocks, and Members believed the message needed to be reinforced in clear and simple terms, and also made clear to new tenants and leaseholders.

 

Resident engagement - Ms McEleney referred to drop-ins and lobby meetings held to reassure residents.  These had been ad hoc, but officers would consider holding these more regularly if they would be of benefit, although there were also awareness-raising Fun Days organised by the fire brigade.  Fire safety advice including ‘stay put’ (where appropriate) was included in tenants’ welcome packs.

 

Security gates and other obstacles – Councillor Mahmud was concerned by the potential risk posed by security gates said that she was aware of some in her ward.  Councillor Davis added that temporary blockages and obstacles such as bicycles and boxes could be equally hazardous.  Officers said that all local knowledge and intelligence of this nature was welcome.

 

Faulty fridges and freezers – Councillor Davis said he was aware  ...  view the full minutes text for item 20.

21.

ANNUAL REVIEW FROM THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMAN pdf icon PDF 112 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Complaints Manager.

 

Rita Cattle introduced the report and drew the Committee’s attention to the numbers of complaints formally investigated, and those closed without investigation and the reasons.  The outcomes are reported to all Heads of Service and Directors, the Complaints Team follows them up and are fully complaint with all LGO findings.  There has been no complaint resulting in a public report, and the last one was in 2009.  Figures are reasonably comparable with neighbouring boroughs.

 

Mrs Cattle said the team had a positive relationship with the LGO, who not only deal with complaints but also provide support and guidance.

 

The Vice-Chair asked whether an inspection occurs if someone explains about a property.  She was informed that if the complaint is escalated to Stage 2, the team will check that there has been a visit.

 

Noise (16 008 011) – It was noted that the out-of-hours Noise Team only operates at weekends, and noise complaints on week nights must be reported the next day.  Members felt there was further work to be done on dealing with the impact of noise outside operational noise.

 

Planning Permission (16 002 302 and 16 012 020) – It was confirmed that although they looked the same, these were two separate complaints.

 

The apparent gender disparity in the outcome of 15 019 598 was as in the original wording provided by the LGO.

 

Temporary accommodation – Councillor Davis noted that this features more highly than other matters, and asked whether the generally high levels of award reflected greater seriousness, some of them in the thousands rather than the usual hundreds.  Mrs Cattle agreed, and said there has been an over-reliance on agents to carry out repairs, and compliance has not always been monitored.  Tariffs for compensation are generally fixed, so the higher ones reflect unusually severe or prolonged injustice, such as being in a damp and insanitary flat for two and a half years (£7750).

 

Direction of travel – Councillor Terry asked whether the data in Appendix F on complaints and enquiries received and decisions made in 2016/17 revealed any particular trends.  Officers replied that there had been a small drop of 3 in complaints and a rise from 23 to 32 in the number investigated.  65 cases were closed without investigation last year.  All figures were within the same reason and there were no noticeable spikes causing concern.  The Chair said the Committee was interested in comparisons with other boroughs and emerging trends, and asked that future reports continue reflect to this in detail.  He and Councillor Davis added that complaint statistics also a reflection of how well an organisation advertises its complaints process, and the report should cover this aspect, as well as how the Council deals with complaints itself.

 

Decision

 

The Committee:

 

(a)    noted the LGO’s Annual Review letter and the information provided in respect of complaint investigations carried out by the LGO and HOS;

 

(b)   noted that the statistical information being presented with  ...  view the full minutes text for item 21.

22.

TREASURY MANAGEMENT ANNUAL INVESTMENT STRATEGY AND ANNUAL INVESTMENT STRATEGY MID-YEAR REVIEW 2017-18 pdf icon PDF 87 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Strategic Director of Finance & Governance.  It was noted that Appendix 2 had been attached in error and should be disregarded.

The Senior Accountant introduced the report and summarised that The Council held £93.8m of investments as at 31st August 2017. The council maintained an average investment balance of £107.6m and the average interest earned for the first five months of the year was 0.76% against a benchmark of Six month London inter-bank offer rate (Libor) of 0.44%.

The debt portfolio as at 31st August 2017 was £268.0m with an average interest payable of 4.52% and an average maturity of 50 years. Current market rates compared to the council’s loan portfolio profile is 2.50%, reflecting the fact that most borrowing was undertaken historically when rates were higher.

Mr Yeboah said that all treasury management activities within the first half of the year have been in accordance with the approved limits and prudential indicators as set out in the Treasury Management Strategy Statement 2017/18.

Officers also sought approval for the immediate commencement of applications for elected professional client status under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) with all relevant institutions and to delegate responsibility to Director of Finance and Governance for the purposes of completing the applications and determining the basis of the application as either full or single service.

The report also set out the approach to delegate the decision in relation to the acquisition of property investment, which would be subject to the necessary amendments to the Constitution being made by Council.

Councillor Mahmud said it was good to see that all aspects of the Strategy were considered globally.

 

Councillor Davis asked what kind of property investments were involved.  Officer said they were mostly commercial, as residential investment could have implications for the HRA (Housing Revenue Account).  These would be on the basis agreed by Cabinet in July 2017and were commercial operations designed to bridge the funding gap anticipated in 2019/20.  They would be subject to due diligence.  One had already been completed, which also had community value, and officers expected to gain in confidence as the process developed.  However, another good opportunity had been lost because of the timescales inherent in the process to make the decision, and for that reason the relevant delegation was being sought.

 

The Chair said his experience had been that when public bodies are bidding for property, the price drifts up.  Mrs Borkett said that in this instance the vendor had actually opted for the Council because they thought it would be a better landlord and would maintain the community value of the property and benefit residents.

 

Councillor Davis advocated investment in land with good transport links and potential for development as distribution centres.  Mrs Borkett said that Waltham Forest Developments Ltd offered the scope for more commercial investment beyond the borough boundary.

 

Decision

 

The Committee:

(a)     noted the Treasury Management Strategy Statement and Annual Investment Strategy Mid -Year Report 2017/18;

(b)    approved that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 22.

23.

REPORTS BY THE EXTERNAL AUDITOR ON THE AUTHORITY'S FINANCIAL STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS FOR THE YEAR ENDED MARCH 2017 pdf icon PDF 70 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Strategic Director of Finance & Governance and KPMG.

Neil Hewitson introduced the report and said it was his role to issue an opinion of the Council’s and Pension Fund’s accounts, and to reach a value for money (VfM) conclusion based on a predetermined set of measures produced by the National Audit Office.  He said that he was happy to give an unqualified statement on both sets of accounts and on VfM.

Mr Hewitson drew the Committee’s attention to a few errors identified during the audit process including the revaluation loss on a school that became an Academy and not applied to the fixed asset register, and this had been picked up as a priority recommendation in relation to the accuracy of property, plant and equipment records.

Management were complimented on the balanced view they had taken on estimates.

There was one objection on LOBO (lender option borrower option) which meant that the accounts remained technically open, and the external auditors would provide the Authority with updates on the issue of the completion certificate.  However, it was confirmed that the objection was generic in nature and had been made with regard to various authorities, leading to a number of well-publicised investigations.

Councillor Davis congratulated officers on preparing the accounts within the shortened timescales.  He sought assurances with regard to use of Section 106, as there had been instances in the past where this was questionable.  The Chair recalled that there had been an adverse report four years ago.

The Head of Internal Audit & Anti-Fraud said her team paid very close attention to this: there would be an audit in December and a report to the Committee in March 2018.  Mr Hewitson added that KPMG would also report back on the implementation of recommendations including the one related to Section 106  Mrs Borkett said there was also a Section 106 group which she chaired and which included the Director of Planning.  It was an important source of income and therefore the governance around it had to be robust.

The Chair asked how auditors identified areas for investigation.  Mr hewitsoon said this was largely determined by Cipfa, the National Audit Office, and hot topical issues across the client base.

 

 

Decision

 

The Committee:

 

(a)    considered the matters raised in the External Auditor’s ‘Annual Governance Report – Waltham Forest Council’ (Appendix 1);

(b)    considered any further matters raised by the External Auditor at Committee;

(c)    agreed the management responses to the key issues and recommendations as set out in Appendix 1 of the External Auditor’s report on the Council which relates to implementation of the Auditors recommendations from the 2016-17 audit; and

(d)   approved the Management Representation Letter on behalf of the Council as set out in Appendix 2.

The Chair then signed the Management Representation Letter.

24.

APPROVAL OF THE AUTHORITY'S FINANCIAL STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS FOR THE YEAR ENDED MARCH 2017 pdf icon PDF 83 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Strategic Director of Finance & Governance.

 

The Chief Accountant introduced the report and advised that meetings have taken place with Property Services to address improvements in controls in this area .

 

Councillor Davis said he was concerned by the apparent regularity with which Property Services and Members’ Declarations were highlighted.  The Director of Governance and Law said Members had received reminders and the matter would also be raised with the Whips.

 

Decision

 

The Committee:

 

(a)  approved the Statement of Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2017, as set out in appendix 1; and

 

(b)  delegated to the Strategic Director of Finance & Governance the authority to make any further amendments to the Statement of Accounts prior to their publication that might arise before the certified completion of the external audit.

 

The Chair then signed

 

The Chair thanked Mr Hewitson for his attendance.  He left the room before consideration of the next item.

25.

APPOINTMENT OF EXTERNAL AUDITORS pdf icon PDF 86 KB

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Strategic Director of Finance & Governance.

 

Decision

 

The Committee:

 

(a)  noted the latest position of the procurement stage; and

 

(b)  noted thatthe Council will not object to the appointment of Ernst & Young LLP and these will be the Council auditors for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2023.

 

26.

RISK MANAGEMENT UPDATE pdf icon PDF 66 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Strategic Director of Finance & Governance.

Andrea Nitschke introduced the report and highlighted the addition of Emergency Planning to the Register on the grounds of business continuity.  The delivery of the HRA (housing reveneue account) business planhad been reviewed and the impact raised to ‘severe’.

 

With regard to homelessness (S0013) and the risk of not delivering the housing strategy, Councillor Mahmud warned that the increased volume of people must not justify using substandard properties, as evidenced in the Ombudsman report, which had resulted in injustice and significant levels of compensation (Minute xx refers).

 

The Director of Housing said that arrangements were in place to review temporary accommodation, which often had to be sourced in different areas away from Waltham Forest.  However, quality checks have been tightened, there are fewer complaints and all of these are followed up.

 

In response to a question, Mrs Borkett said there was an important distinction between S0003 (Financial crisis – breakdown in financial strategy and resilience) and S0004 (failure to maximise income generation).  The first related to the Council’s own budget strategy, demographics and the pressures on social care linked to uncertainties about local government funding and the impact of Brexit, whereas the second was about maximising the council tax and business rate base.

 

Decision

 

The Committee:

 

(a)  noted the contents of the report; and

 

(b)  agreed the strategic risk register, detailed in Appendix A.

 

27.

AUDIT & AND ANTI-FRAUD DIVISION - CORPORATE ANTI-FRAUD TEAM UPDATE pdf icon PDF 128 KB

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Head of Internal Audit and Anti-Fraud.

Gemma Young introduced the report, and drew the Committee’s attention to the number of fraudulent right-to-buys of social housing that had been prevented  (39), saving the public purse over £4 million.  Proactive work includes iLatch, an online system allowing residents and letting agents in the borough to check a property for rent against social housing stock and prevent sub-letting.

The Chair congratulated officers on an interesting report usefully illustrated with case studies.  Where appropriate these would be publicised and fraudsters named in Waltham Forest News and management blogs.

 

Decision

 

The Committee noted the contents of the report.

 

28.

AUDIT & AND ANTI-FRAUD DIVISION - PROGRESS UPDATE ON DELIVERING THE INTERNAL AUDIT PLAN FOR 2017-18 pdf icon PDF 113 KB

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Head of Internal Audit and Anti-Fraud.

 

Miss Young introduced the report and said that 42 per cent of the year’s audits were now in progress and four more in draft.  The areas of nil assurance would form the subject of a more detailed report to the next meeting of the Committee.

 

It was suggested that where a member of staff left the Council’s employ before their fraud was discovered, their name should be circulated to other authorities.  Officers said they would look at this further.

 

Decision

 

The Committee noted the contents of the report.

 

29.

ELECTION PLANNING - 2018 - UPDATE pdf icon PDF 68 KB

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Director of Governance and Law.

Mark Hynes confirmed that the idea of using the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre had been dropped due to a range of risks and impracticalities, including communication.  The former Social Club will therefore be used in 2018 and following its demolition, the potential to design a flexible space within the new buildings on the Town Hall site will be explored.

The Chair congratulated officers on the smooth running of the William Morris byelection on 29 June 2017.  However, it was acknowledged that one of the greatest risks inherent in the local election is that posed by split ballots in multi-member wards, and this called for vigilance and good planning.

 

Decision

 

The Committee noted the contents of the report.

 

30.

DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURES FOR CHIEF EXECUTIVES AND STATUTORY CHIEF OFFICERS pdf icon PDF 122 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Director of Governance and Law.

 

Decision

 

The Committee recommended that the proposed amendments to the Employment Procure Rules at Appendix 1 be adopted by Full Council.