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Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Council

Minutes:

 

Question (a) from Councillor Heather to Councillor Hull, Executive Member for Finance, Performance and Community Safety:

 

There is a growing awareness and concern about the rise of drug related criminal activity in Finsbury Park Ward and also across Islington more generally. As a local councillor, I share local residents’ and businesses concerns about this and call on the police to act urgently to address it. Can Cllr Hull provide details of what police action with regards to this serious issue the Council has been made aware of, including any more police officers, and how the Council is playing its part in tackling drug related crime?

 

Response:

 

Thanks for your question, Cllr Heather. We are certainly aware of the growing drug-related issues around the wider Finsbury Park area and recently undertook detailed analysis with the Met, Haringey and Hackney councils to understand the true nature and scale of the problem. This included collating evidence from research, councillors, residents, businesses and colleagues. The results of this analysis was presented to senior leaders from the police and councils in all three boroughs and it was agreed that the police would lead a tri-borough multi-agency partnership response with our active support.

 

As a result, last month, Islington Police Supt Nick Davies chaired a meeting with his equivalents from Hackney and Haringey, alongside Heads of Community Safety and Enforcement Services from each of the three boroughs. A partnership plan of action was drawn up with lead officers from all sides. The plan has two primary prongs. First, the further development of our intelligence picture around the drugs markets in question, which the police are leading. And, second, monthly Days of Action where partners from all three boroughs will carry out joint visits, inspections and patrols in the area, led by the Community Safety Team here in Islington. The first of these Days of Action was today. It has involved visits to local businesses to offer reassurance and advice, promoting our antisocial behaviour services, British Transport Police activity at Finsbury Park station, compliance work on littering and fly-tipping, support for those with substance abuse problems through Better Lives, support for street homeless people through Street Link, early morning outreach by St Mungo’s, licensing visits, 13 Parkguard weapons sweeps, promotion of our Safe Havens scheme, extra CCTV coverage, visits from trading standards and environmental health (including issuing fixed penalty notices), and police enforcement activity, including 13 stop-and-searches in areas where drug-dealing has been taking place. A knife like the one in this photograph was confiscated around the back of Morrison’s, an area where drug-dealing is known to take place, as we heard from a resident of the Nag’s Head earlier this evening.

 

On top of this, the police have deployed additional officers to the area until further notice to tackle the issues you raise, day-in, day-out, such as the two extra PCs recently assigned to the Safer Neighbourhood team in Highbury West. You and other local councillors and residents, myself included, have pushed these issues high up the agendas of three London Boroughs and the Met Police and we are now seeing concrete action in response.

 

Supplementary question:

 

Thank you for your answer Cllr Hull. I do really appreciate what is being done. A number of residents have raised this issue. It is a very worrying problem, it’s really good to see that we are adopting a more strategic approach to this and a more joined up way of mapping what the problem is and doing our best to solve it. However, what we know is, from evidence received by the Policy and Performance Scrutiny Committee, there is an issue with Police resourcing. Since 2010, under the Conservative government, we have lost 300 police officers. That isn’t helping the situation. We need to add to the numbers of police. I thank you for what you are doing; would you agree that we need to keep up the pressure on senior police officers to keep this a priority? There is a relationship between drug dealing and violent crime, which we know is a horrendous problem in this borough.

 

Response:

 

Thank you. I’ve never seen the Met more stretched. I’ve worked closely with the police for 15 years and, like this council, at breaking point. It cannot cover all of the bases and is running from pillar to post. However, it is important that the Met understands at the highest levels of Scotland Yard the pronounced concern felt by residents, not just in Islington but right across London, at this upturn in drug related offending. You can see it on our street corners and residents won’t put up with it. You are right, that everyone in the police from the Commissioner down needs to understand that residents do not believe that this drug related offending, and the violence, by which the police are concerned, are unconnected. They are two parts of the same problem, and if we turn a blind eye to the supposedly low level drug dealing on our street corners, people in the end will get hurt. We are saying that at every available opportunity, both members and senior officers, at meeting after meeting. I think because we are speaking with one voice as colleagues across London we are starting to be heard.

 

Question (b) from Councillor Graham to Councillor Caluori, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Families:

 

I thank Cllr Caluori for his written answer to my question at the last Full Council. Since the question was asked I've been approached by several families who have been in situations where their children have been excluded despite having special educational needs. I've also been contacted by organisations who are aware of similar situations.

 

Can I ask Cllr Caluori what more is being done on the issue of premature exclusions for kids with special educational needs?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question, this is an important topic. 

 

Islington performs better than the national picture for fixed-term exclusion of children receiving SEND Support, and far better for children with an Education Health and Care Plan, where the trend is downward. The same is also the case for permanent exclusion, where numbers are very low. There has also been a court ruling in August this year which makes it clear that schools make appropriate adjustments for children with SEND before it results in exclusion; that means that kids can’t be excluded for behaviour which is a result of their disabilities, which is discriminatory.

 

We are confident in Islington that we challenge our schools about that where we think there is a problem, and we always want to hear from parents where there is an issue that affects their child and they feel that they are not being treated fairly.

I think one thing that helps in Islington is that our parents’ groups are really mobilised, we have a SEND parents network which has its own charter which sets out how they want schools to work with them, and they’ve delivered a session to the Headteachers’ briefing last week that was very well received.

 

The Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee will be making recommendations in March next year following a detailed review of local practice; we will have a wider picture around permanent and fixed term exclusions. But I repeat that if any parent feels their child is being treated in a discriminatory way by an Islington school because of their SEND status they should come to us and we will try to resolve it.

 

Supplementary question:

 

Thanks for that reply. Just to clarify, the court ruling you are referring to only applies to kids who are already diagnosed, so they can be permanently excluded if they haven’t been diagnosed. My concern is about kids who haven’t been diagnosed. You said that our schools are doing their best to identify kids with special needs, unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the experience of a lot of parents and the professionals I have spoken to. Since the last Full Council when I raised this issue, I’ve heard a lot of frustration from families who feel their children are being thrown on the scrapheap in schools’ apparent quest for good Ofsted results.

 

Last week, and I am repeating this with the permission of the parents, I was given a copy of the Education Health and Care Assessment that has been written for a 17 year old in my ward who was temporarily excluded from one of our secondary schools, sent to Alternative Provision, then on returning to mainstream education very quickly permanently excluded. The Assessment says that: ‘the pupil had a difficult and disruptive experience of secondary education, with time spent at alternative provision from Year 9 onwards. Reflecting on this time, it appears their needs were not understood at secondary school, and as a result staff formed an impression of them that meant they were not able to show their best self and thrive in this setting. Their experience of feeling let down and not understood by adults in school and college placements means it is much harder for them to trust adults who genuinely care and can provide support. This can put all their placements at risk of breaking down. Their difficult and disruptive experience of education means they are underachieving greatly.’

 

This comes back to early intervention to prevent kids getting involved in crime. There was a recent report saying that all health care professionals should have awareness training. I would love to see that for education too.

 

Response:

 

Thank you. I would like to repeat that if parents have issues with a school that aren’t being resolved in a fair way by the governing body, my door is always open. I want to hear from parents with these issues so I can directly challenge schools. I have done so in the past and will again. I think permanent exclusion for any child regardless of any disability they have is a traumatic event, it is maybe one of the defining moments of their lives, and every school should do everything they can to keep children in mainstream education. A big part of that is understanding the whole child. One thing I found interesting as we look more at permanent exclusion is the way that, without the proper understanding of what each child is bringing with them into the school, it’s possible for the school to punish a child for persistent defiance, which can accumulate to the point where governors are presented with a permanent exclusion pack and they feel they have no option but to back the determination made by the Head. That can happen in any circumstance without any disability status whatsoever.

 

What I think is really fantastic is that our scrutiny committee are getting right under the skin of that, they are talking to Head Teachers about it and getting into the detail. A parallel scrutiny is happening in Hackney, there is also one in Lewisham and Haringey. If young people are not being treated fairly or discriminated against due to an undiagnosed disability, then we can help to remedy that. I think it’s tough for the schools because they are woefully under-resourced by central government to do all of this work, but we have to make sure that the level of need is clear, and this will help to make sure that the needs are met.

 

Question (c) from Councillor Ismail to Councillor Comer-Schwartz, Executive Member for Community Development: 

 

As lead member for community development, I am sure that you agree that the voluntary sector are the eyes and ears of our communities and it is important that the council continues to support the sector, particularly the smaller organisations.   Many of these organisations receive funding from the council.  Can you tell me what the organisations allocated funding in the last round on 1- 5 scale have done to reduce anti-social behaviour and social isolation amongst our senior citizens and how we measure the success of their work?

 

Response:

 

Islington’s Voluntary and Community Sector plays an invaluable role in responding to local need across a wide range of issues, strengthening the resilience of our local communities.

 

The Voluntary Sector Partnership Grants programme, launched in 2016, will run until 2020. Each year we commit £1.4 million to funding independent advice and £1.3 million in core grant funding to a wide range of VCS organisations to deliver a wide range of services. 50 organisations currently receive funding.

 

These organisations are assessed through six-monthly cycles of monitoring visits and reports. They are assessed in terms of the quality of service, governance, finance and fundraising, safeguarding and communications, through a Funder+ model that includes advice and support to ensure that Islington’s voluntary sector continues to be vibrant, dynamic and well run. The voluntary and community sector does more work on addressing social isolation than it is possible to share now, but here are some examples of the way in which the council’s grant funding has impacted our local communities.

 

St Luke’s Community Centre provides a daily lunch club for older residents and as well as a range of activities to reduce social isolation and encourage healthy and active living. St Lukes see on average 60 over 55s per day. Healthy Generations offers weekly wellbeing enrichment activities/ sessions from various locations across the borough, targeting senior citizens. This includes 653 Events, 62 groups and over 2,800 users. The Peel runs a range of activities run for older residents including trips and lunches. 185 different people attended the social club for over 55s. Islington Pensioners Forum runs a programme of informal social activities, public forums and committee meetings to give a voice to the widest possible representative group of Islington older people. IPF sees 40 older people a month. They produce a monthly newsletter that is shared with 665 recipients, I know we all receive this. This publicises lots of activities for older people.

 

In terms of Anti-Social Behaviour, the Voluntary Sector’s work in this area is primarily focussed on creating resilient communities and promoting community cohesion, particularly through the Islington Hate Crime Forum, which is made up of organisations funded through the VCS Partnership Grants Programme. Camden LGBT Forum is actively involved in supporting victims of Hate Crime, including through direct Casework, reporting hate crime to relevant agencies, and engaging and enabling members of the LGBTQ+ community who have experienced hate crime to speak with providers.

 

Question (d) from Councillor Ismail to Councillor Watts, Leader of the Council:

 

As the Leader of a Council that advocates social reform, that changes lives by providing affordable energy and heating, by building more housing and through the Fairness Commission and the Fair Futures Commission, can you please update us on the outcomes of the Fairness Commissions over the last 6 years; what has been achieved and what haven’t we manage to change yet and if there are lessons from that commission which we are applying to the implementation of the Fair Futures Commission?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. You are absolutely right, the Fairness Commission has underpinned a lot of the work we have done over the last eight years on making our borough a fairer place, which is ultimately the central reason why Islington Labour was elected in 2010 and has been re-elected twice since. The Fairness Commission set out a whole range of projects critical to core task of this administration, from paying the London Living Wage, to developing more apprenticeships, to getting more people in to work, to building new council housing. All of which are now grounded in the core business of this council, but at the time were ground-breaking and a real change of direction following ten years of lost direction under the Liberal Democrats. You are also right to say that the Fair Futures Commission is the way in which we can take on much of that work; it is fundamentally unfair that kids growing up on leafy streets have better chances in education, housing, having a good job and ultimately living longer than kids growing up on our estates. What we are fundamentally about as a borough is changing the odds and making our borough a fairer place.

 

The Fair Futures Commission sets out a whole range of ways that we can better engage young people in the work of this council and how we can address that structural unfairness in our borough; but I would say that all of this is made harder every week by the policies of the government. We can get as many people into work as we can, but if the government further cuts universal credit there will still be misery. If we are really going to complete the job, we need not just a Labour council but a Labour government fighting hard on our side too.

 

Question (e) from Councillor Russell to Councillor Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development:

 

Please could you provide an update on the progress the council has made in upgrading front doors in council housing to ensure compliance with fire regulations?

 

As Councillor Ward, the Executive Member for Housing and Development, was not present, the question was answered by Councillor Watts, the Leader of the Council:

 

Thank you for your question. I understand that you met with Cllr Ward and the Service Director for Housing Property Services on 26th November where you were updated on the current position regarding fire doors. A table detailing progress and numbers per ward has been provided to you as well. I want to be clear that our responsibilities around fire safety and our residents’ safety are absolutely central to everything we are trying to do as a council; the horrific Grenfell Tower disaster means that there can be absolutely no room for complacency. But fundamental to everything we are trying to do is get a better picture from government and national regulators about what is a safe fire door to install; I think you will appreciate that it important for the council to ensure what it is doing is actually helping the situation; and therefore the real step that we need to take work forward is better clarity from the government about what we should actually be doing as a council. When that clarity is provided we will be springing into action to do it.

 

Supplementary question:

 

Thank you very much. I think the point is that there are a lot of fire doors, composite fire doors, that have been installed that are not as fire compliant as anticipated when they were commissioned. It’s not the council’s fault, they were provided by contractors, but it seems there is a problem with the ability of these doors to withstand fire. So the question is, will you commit to publish a timetable once you have the information from the government? I understand that you cannot determine when you are due to get that clarity around the correct fire doors and their availability, but once that information comes through from the government, will you commit to a timetable to getting all these doors fire compliant?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your very fair question on this. You are right to point out this isn’t just an issue for Islington Council; it is an issue for every landlord in Britain, in fact it is an issue for every landlord in Western Europe given that it seems that there is only one manufacturer of composite fire doors in Western Europe. It turns out there are significant questions about those fire doors and what their actual fire safety value is. It’s worth saying that we are following the advice of the Fire Brigade; they are saying that if doors are fitted and they last longer than what was before, then keep them on instead of doing anything else. So we are doing that over this interim period, as you would expect. But yes, I can commit that when there is some better clarity provided to us as a council over what we should do to keep our residents safe, not only will we do that, but when it’s clear what the investment needs are and what the timetable is, we will make that quite clear to members of this Council and residents.

 

Question (f) from Councillor Russell to Councillor Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development:

 

Do you have an update for the users of Sotheby Mews Day Centre?

 

As Councillor Ward, the Executive Member for Housing and Development, was not present, the question was answered by Councillor Watts, the Leader of the Council:

 

Thank you for your question. Let me start by reminding us where we’ve got to on Sotheby Mews. We have 14,000 people on our housing waiting list, we were elected and re-elected massively on a manifesto, the top priority of which was to build new council housing, and we do think that the Sotheby Mews site presents an opportunity to help families off the waiting list; families whose lives are being ruined by the housing situation they find themselves in. Clearly we need to work closely with residents. There is a genuinely brilliant facility being built at Highbury Roundhouse, I visited it last week, it’s not very far away from Sotheby Mews; and there are also potential opportunities on Blackstock Road for the continuation of some community services too.

 

The council is in the process of developing new council housing on the Sotheby Mews site, and the Roundhouse have advised they are working towards a March 2019 completion date for the new site; at that point we will restart those conversations with residents. The thing I want to say, and I want to be clear on this, is that we are in danger of getting stuck on this issue in a zero sum game; we will work with users of Sotheby Mews, if there are other solutions other than moving services to the Roundhouse then we are very open to conversations about that. Cllr Ward has committed to a further series of meetings. We want to move this issue on, we want to get that housing built, but also we want to have those conversations with residents to make sure there is an offer of services that people are happy with. It might not be everything that people want, but I know Sotheby Mews do great work and I’m really confident that whatever happens they will be in a position to carry on doing that great work, both in the Roundhouse and possibly in other buildings as well.   

 

Supplementary question:

 

Thank you for your response and thank you for the commitment to keep talking to the users of Sotheby Mews; that is the most important part of this, the people about whom decisions are being made need to be involved in those conversations. You say that March 2019 is the completion date, but I gather they are still short of around £500,000; have they suddenly found this money? From what I understand, they would be very unlikely to have services in there from March 2019. Can we give users of Sotheby Mews assurance that they are not going to be moved until at least the council has got an appropriate place for them to be happening? Because what they do at Sotheby Mews is so creating, caring and important in our community, these services prevent loneliness for older people and make sure that older people have access to a hot lunch, when people are really struggling to pay their bills and keep going; it’s incredibly important. Can you at least give comfort that they are not going to find themselves without any space to be, if the Roundhouse isn’t ready for them?

 

Response:

 

I know we have been criticised a couple of times about this, but I think it’s a brilliant building; it’ll be fantastic when it’s opened and it’ll be an appropriate space. If there are other appropriate spaces for some services, we will look at those as well. We gave this assurance a year ago and I am happy to repeat it now; we are not going to close the Sotheby Mews building until we’ve got alternatives sorted out. 

 

You are right to mention issues about people being lonely and stuck at Christmas, obviously users of Sotheby Mews are very important in that and we will make sure there are the right services for them. The other people we should think about at Christmas are homeless families. We should think about the needs of homeless families stuck in temporary accommodation out of this borough who need an affordable council house in Islington; I think we should think about homeless families with no hope of decent affordable housing unless this council cracks on with the new housing programme that we were elected with 61% of the vote in May to deliver. I think we should think about the homeless families who will be rehoused on that site, it will change their lives. We are going to listen to everyone and talk to everyone, but we are going to prioritise the building of life-changing new council housing to make sure that we can carry on giving our families the kind of start in life that they deserve. We know that we have to think about people who use services at the moment, as important as they are, but we also need to think about those people who have no voice in this chamber at all, as they are spending tonight in temporary accommodation in Barnet, because that’s the best the council can do for them. We owe them a lot better and this council administration will provide it.     

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