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Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Council

Minutes:

 

Question (a) from Cllr Convery to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Housing & Development:  

 

Please can you report on progress towards Islington Housing signing Wayleave Agreements with telecommunications infrastructure providers such as

G Network and Community Fibre so that households on Islington Council's housing estates can benefit from the new generation of high speed 'fibre-to-the premises' broadband connection?

 

Response:

 

Thank you very much for your question. The pandemic has proven to us how important good internet access is to everyday life, as more and more people work from home or learn remotely. Many in our borough face a digital divide. The Council has worked hard to distribute laptops and broadband access devices to people who need them, but we must do more. Everyone should have access to high-speed broadband and this is a great way of doing it. We are currently in the process of requesting expressions of interest from companies for wayleaves to enable them to deliver community fibre services to our estates. Getting this process right is important for ensuring optimum service value for money and that the work is completed safely.  We've been working with a number of local authorities who have been through this process to learn best practice and ensure we provide the best possible service for local people. This is an exciting development that will bring high-speed broadband to estates across our borough. We aim to go out to market and October and will be keeping residents, members of the council, and stakeholders informed on progress and how they will be affected.

 

Supplementary question:

 

Thank you, I am delight to hear about the progress made. The Housing Scrutiny Committee is intending to have some oversight of this issue and I would ask that this is positively engaged with.

 

Response:

 

I’d be delighted to work with the Housing Scrutiny Committee on this issue. Thank you.

 

Question (b) from Cllr Poole to Cllr Comer-Schwartz, Leader of the Council: 

 

Will the Leader of the Council provide an update on efforts to save the Royal Northern War Memorial which is the only war memorial anywhere in this country on the at risk register.

 

As Cllr Poole was not present, the following written response was issued after the meeting:

 

I understand the significance of the Royal Northern War Memorial and the Council is committed to findings ways to save it.  The Council has already commissioned a report from a specialist heritage consultant which sets out what needs to be done.  A funding proposal is currently been worked on to support the appointment of a project manager to move this work forward including targeting potential external funding.  Governance will also be put in place to ensure all key stakeholders help to shape the programme of work as it moves forward, which I know you will play a key part in. Question (c) from Cllr Poyser to Cllr O’Halloran, Executive Member for Community Development:   

 

Many thanks to Cllr Shaikh and everyone in getting a sculpture stuck in the basement of the Town Hall resurrected to its rightful place in our wonderful Peace Park in Hillrise. It shows our commitment to peace during this awful time with events in Afghanistan (the troop withdrawal was announced on the day of the unveiling) and it shows that socialists also want to raise statues where appropriate. I would particularly like to thank the Heritage Team for finding the sculpture, and also for ensuring that Bruce Kent and Jeremy Corbyn were there at the successful re-unveiling.

 

There is also a statue in the Elthorne Park proudly of African heritage. Would it possible for a plaque, or similar, to commemorate the name of that artist somewhere appropriate in the park?

 

As Cllr Poyser was not present, the following written response was issued after the meeting:

 

Thank you for your question. My thanks to yourself, your ward colleagues and Cllr Shaikh for your work in getting the sculpture up in Peace Park, a wonderful monument in our borough. 

 

In a borough where we will always celebrate diversity, public art and heritage plays a very important part in this. I’m really pleased to report back to you that the Heritage team are working with the Parks team to produce a sign containing information on both statues. Once the research has been completed, Parks will liaise with local councillors to agree the location of the sign as well as the timeframe for its installation.

 

Question (d) from Cllr Russell to Cllr Ngongo, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Families:

 

I’m sure we can agree that the lack of government action to prepare for the return to school with improvements to ventilation in schools to mitigate against Covid infection is extremely worrying. Are you considering calling for mask wearing in schools for all secondary pupils in the absence of other mitigation measures?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. Yet again, this government has failed our schools and our young people with their lack of guidance for keeping people safe during this pandemic. While we are supporting schools in implementing any measures to ensure teachers, staff, young people and their families are kept safe throughout the pandemic, this has been with one hand tied behind our back as the government have failed to provide the necessary guidance for schools. While the Council is not able to mandate the wearing of face coverings in schools, we encourage our local schools to take all measures possible to keep people safe, including the wearing of face coverings in crowded spaces.

 

In terms of additional measures in respect of confirmed cases, if a school reaches the threshold of five positive cases within 10 days, they are required to liaise with our Public Health team to discuss additional measures to be put in place to keep people safe.

We know the government guidance is still not clear and not strong enough to protect people. We will continue to press for improved advice for schools from the Government. We want you to join us in this journey, for the protection of our future generation.

 

 

Question (e) from Cllr Russell to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Housing & Development: 

 

I am aware of several estates in my ward that are overdue their cyclical (every seven years) maintenance works. I understand part of the delay was due to not having a procurement framework in place.

 

How many estates in Islington are now up to date with cyclical repairs and how many are overdue; and can you supply me with a written list of all council run estates in Islington with the date of their most recent cyclical works and the intended dates for future works?

 

Response:

 

Thank you very much for your question. Everyone deserves a decent, safe and genuinely affordable place to call home. We are passionate about building more council homes for local people and tackling the housing crisis; but we are equally determined to maintain and improve our current council housing stock. We invest around £40million each year to keep our council homes in good condition. We have seen the benefit of the high level of investment carried out in our decent homes programme, with regular works often not even needed as a result. We now have a seven year inspection process which considers whether parts in people's homes require replacement imminently or whether they are still in good condition. The council can then identify works necessary for a whole estates, minimising disruption and presenting good value to the Council and its residents.

 

This approach allows us to invest differently in our stock; investing in areas such as resident safety and energy efficiency, which would otherwise be more challenging to fund. The Council is determined to provide high quality council homes wherever possible in this borough. This becomes more difficult when opposition councillors and parties consistently oppose the development of new council homes. I hope we will be able to work together to build more council homes for the people.

 

Supplementary question:

 

I would be very interested to know who has been opposing the building of council homes.

 

I think residents need more information about the seven year inspection process. It would be really helpful to have transparent information so that people living on different estates can see what the timescales are, particularly for leaseholders, so they can plan to save for their contribution to the cost of the works, and so they know what to expect and when. Could there be more information publicised about cyclical improvement works?

 

Response:

 

Since I took the housing brief, Green Party candidates have campaigned against new council housing at the Wedmore Estate, the Golden Lane Estate, and Dixon Clark Court. I know there are Green Party members who are deeply uncomfortable with this, so I would appeal for you to join us in our fight against this government and our fight for desperately needed homes. I would also be very happy to work with you on providing more clear information about our cyclical projects.

 

Question (f) from Cllr Khondoker to Cllr Gill, Executive Member for Finance & Performance:

 

The Tory Government has overseen a crisis in social care for over a decade. On the steps of Downing Street in 2019, the Prime Minister assured us he had a plan to “fix the social care crisis once and for all”. Two years later, we have a tax rise on working people which hits the least well-off the hardest and still no plan to fix the social care crisis. This is an issue which is harming some of the most vulnerable people in our society who need a functioning social care system to care for them now.

 

Does the Executive Member agree that rather than a tax rise on local people who are already struggling to make ends meet, the Tory Government should be finding inefficiencies in its own budget and taxing the most well-off people in our society more on wealth and dividends to fund a National Care Service, free at the point of use?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for this very important question. Two years ago on the steps of Downing Street, Boris Johnson PM claimed he had a plan to solve the social care crisis and we've eagerly awaited to see how the government will solve this longstanding issue of underfunded care which affects and impoverishes the most vulnerable people in our society. After all these years of deliberation, all we have is nothing more than class war. A raid on the living standards of workers and retired workers to pay for the protected assets of the super-rich; a tax rise for working people which disproportionately affects the least well-off and currently provides no new money for social care.

 

A reasonably well-off retired couple with living in a council house with savings of £100,000 from their lump sums will find that under the new system they might have to pay up to half their savings. A retired worker who owns a flat worth £360,000 will be left to pay 25 percent of their wealth to pay for their social care. But someone with a £5million pound house will probably have pay less than 1.8 percent of their wealth. It's robbing the poor to protect the assets of the rich.

 

National Insurance, like Council Tax, is an unfair regressive tax which means that the higher you are paid, the less you to pay. It's not as if this increased taxation for care workers and delivery drivers and nurses will lead to better funding for local authorities. The early indications are that the reforms are likely to be implemented in October 2023, yet the council and our staff and our care workers will be paying the increased national insurance contributions from next April, meaning further government cuts to council budgets and lower living standards.

 

The tax rise will increase the costs for us and significantly reduce the amount the rich have to contribute. They also are the people most likely to receive social care for the longest; as we know the poorer you are, the earlier you will die. We call on the Prime Minister to fix this social care crisis, but without regressive taxes like Council Tax and National Insurance to protect the wealth of the rich.

 

Question (g) from Cllr Hyde to Cllr O’Halloran, Executive Member for Community Development: 

 

In Islington, we are proud of our diversity and welcome all those who wish to make our borough their home, as shown by our motion passed in July 2021 to become a recognised ‘Borough of Sanctuary’.

 

Those fleeing Afghanistan recently have been through untold trauma and been forced to leave their homes for them and their family's safety. I'm proud that the Council has offered to welcome 15 Afghan families to our borough, supporting those households to settle in, get the support they need and integrate into our community. But at a time when the Council has had to make savings for over a decade, does the Executive Member agree that the Government should be fully funding this support for Afghan refugees?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. As agreed at the July Council meeting, becoming a Borough of Sanctuary recognises our commitment to welcome and protect refugees and migrants in Islington. It is also a clear statement of support for the Council's vision of fairness, in opposition to the government’s hostile environment, which punishes those who wish to make our borough their home.

 

Despite continued government austerity for local government, this Council has continued to fund vital services for migrants and refugees; including £1.3million per year for accommodation, and to support the No Recourse to Public Funds households, with Home Office decisions on immigration applications still outstanding.

 

Our borough has a proud history of welcoming migrants to our borough and this has continued to in recent months. The Afghan resettlement scheme will therefore match this approach that has already been delivered for 18 Syrian families resettled in Islington. We will we be able to deliver high quality assistance to the 15 Afghan families that we've pledged to accommodate and we're very proud of this. We will use the government funding and our own excellent expertise to fully welcome and support all those who want to make home in this borough. We're already working through our amazing Fairer Together programme, Housing Needs and the voluntary and community sector to welcome anybody that's come in here. We are a borough of fairness, so shame on this government and their hostile environment.

 

Question (h) from Cllr Ismail to Cllr Comer-Schwartz, Leader of the Council:

 

First, congratulations as the leader of Islington Council. It's become custom with Islington Labour leaders to follow the same footsteps of the last leader since 2010.  With Catherine West, we had the fairness commission, follow by Richard Watts, employment commission. 

 

Will you be following the same with a new commission? As the health and economic impact of Coronavirus is yet to be unfolding, particularly, on families with children, young people and pensioners on low income suffer more, such as mental health, depression, loneliness and isolation is become daily realty for residents, so the Council can serve better, as our resources need to be more targeting the need.

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question and your congratulations. I agree that the pandemic has shone a light on the health inequalities of this borough, which we know have sadly blighted our borough for too long. We know that there is much work to do in tackling these inequalities and this is one of my primary focuses.

 

Tackling health inequalities is sadly made much harder by continued austerity from central government. If we hadn't been forced to find £215 million from our budget in savings, we would be able to have invested much more in keeping our borough healthy. However, I still believe we can make a great difference to local people. So although we will not be setting up a commission, we will be setting up a taskforce to look at the issues, with experts but more importantly with local people, because their expertise comes from their experience. Together we will tackle this important issue for Islington.

 

I am proud that one of the first things I have done as Leader is to look at a way of setting up a project to look at how we tackle the poverty and inequality that plays such a profound part of the outcomes we see in health inequalities. If we work together we can tackle these disparities. That is why the taskforce, named Islington Together: let's talk about a healthier future, will engage with local people, health leaders, our wonderful voluntary sector and our Council. Together we will improve health outcomes and make our borough are healthier and more equal place for all.

 

Supplementary question:

 

Thank you. I think all Leaders have priorities, and regardless of funds and austerity, they do find funds to hold commissions. You mention that you are going to do a taskforce, that is great, but as Leader you have the power and autonomy to hold a Health Commission for the residents of Islington. I am happy to work with you on this.

 

Response:

 

The taskforce will be beyond what I believe a commission would be able to do, in terms of our collaboration with the borough, genuine engagement, listening to people with lived experience of poverty and health inequality. I have already asked Councillor Heather, Councillor Turan, Councillor Picknell and Councillor Chowdhury so we have cross-borough spread and expertise to lead this work. This will provide us with the expertise and the evidence that we need to give further resource and priority to this topic.

 

Question (i) from Cllr Ismail to Cllr O’Halloran, Executive Member for Community Development:

 

This Council have been funding organisations, some do good work, others could do improvements as we roll funding again and again while others are left behind. The Black Caribbean review highlighted conducted between Feb and March 2021 by VSC with the Challenging Inequality team at the council and others have not been also address yet.

 

How do you see the Voluntary Community Sector to be more inclusively with tangible results and more stainable next around funding?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. I am proud of Islington’s long-standing commitment to fund the voluntary and community sector during a time where the government cuts have forced us to make savings of over £250million since 2010.

 

Our £2.7million voluntary sector partnership grants 2021-24 provides vital core funding to more than 50 voluntary and community sector organisations. This funding is awarded through a fair, rigorous, open and transparent process, ensuring that all organisations we partner with deliver tangible results and are sustainable. Eighteen percent of the organisations awarded had never received core grant funding from the Council before, and in the last round of funding there was a 19 percent increase in the funding of Black Asian Minority Ethnic community groups, and funding commitments across all protected characteristics, showing our commitment to tackling inequality, racism and injustice.

 

In 2020-21, 38 organisations received grants totalling of £180,000 to deliver community based projects through Islington Council's Community Chest. Of these, 26 percent had never received funding through programme before, and 54 percent of the beneficiaries of the funding were from Black Asian or Minority Ethnic communities. Contrary to your claims, the Council has been working to implement the recommendations of our reviews. In July 2021 Islington’s Voluntary and Community Sector Committee committed £30,000 per year to be used to work with Islington’s Black Caribbean community to develop a programme of capacity building to support, establish and formalise a group of community representations. Our Equalities and Voluntary Community Sector Development Team are working with community leaders to support this work and we have been doing so over the last year. At the same committee meeting, £30,000 per year was awarded to support work with disabled people. All this information is in the public domain.

 

Supplementary question:

 

Why was the Black and Caribbean review 2020, while you were doing the voluntary and community sector partnership programme review to 2024? Isn’t it a fact that Islington Labour, and especially under your hat, that the Black and Caribbean community, and the White community, have been left behind?

 

Response:

 

The facts are there. You can see the reports. It’s in the public domain. If there is an accusation there, I’m happy for you to put it in writing for me or to speak about this further.

 

 

Question (j) from Cllr Clarke to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Housing & Development:

 

The Holloway Prison Site is a once in a generation opportunity to build hundreds of new social homes in St George’s and tackle the housing crisis in Islington, as well as increasing green space in the area.

 

What is the Council doing to ensure there are as many new social homes built on the site as possible?

 

Response:

Thank you very much for your question. This government thinks that our borough is a cash cow; they wanted to get the biggest possible receipt for Holloway Prison to use that money far away from Islington. We know better and we don't see our borough that way. We know that the whole prison site is a unique once in a generation opportunity to build hundreds of new social rent homes. Incidentally, hundreds of social rent homes the government at every step tries to stop us from building.

 

Since Peabody purchased the site we've continued to work with them to maximise the number of homes available for social rent, and this has resulted in plans that will now see 60 percent genuinely affordable homes on the site, and with 70 percent of that number being for social rent. I am very proud of that and all my colleagues should be as well.

 

We are still working with Peabody to make sure that the other 30 percent are London Living Rent. We're also proud of the work that we've done to ensure that the site delivers publicly accessible green space, a new central public open space, 60 extra care homes, and the women's building, which will not only honour the legacy of the previous Holloway prison, but will also provide one of the largest community spaces in our borough. Thank you very much for your question; I'm incredibly excited about the potential of this development and I want to thank you and all of your colleagues for your hard-fought work on this campaign. There's no justice without housing justice.

 

Supplementary question:

 

Sixty percent genuinely affordable homes with 42% at target council rent is a great achievement. Congratulations to Councillor Ward and all the groups involved in campaign to get this outcome. Eighteen percent of the homes on the site will be intermediate homes, which means homes at less than market rent, and to qualify for an intermediate home you need a maximum income of £60,000. Do agree that this is actually unaffordable for all residents in housing need in Islington? The Mayor of London is exploring what can be done to improve the affordability and access in intermediate homes, and I'd like to ask you to work with the Mayor of London to increase the affordability and access to intermediate homes and also the number of homes at Council rents.

 

Response:

 

Absolutely, Currently Peabody’s preferred intermediate product is shared ownership, we are pushing them on this as we want London Living Rent, which is much better for people in key jobs; teachers, social workers, people who are vital to our borough but the same time can't afford to rent or buy locally. The most pressing need in this borough is more social rent homes, I will be working with the Mayor of London, with you Councillor Clarke and all of my colleagues to keep on pushing for the maximum possible number of social rent homes in this borough.

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