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Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Council

Minutes:

Question 1 from Cllr Poole to Cllr Comer-Schwartz, Leader of the Council:

 

To ask the Leader of the Council, why has there be no progress on the urgent work to save the Royal Northern War Memorial despite the Leader's assurances given to Council in September last year?

 

Response:

 

Thank you, may I take this opportunity to thank Councillor Poole, who I understand is not re-standing for election in May.

 

I really do appreciate the importance of the war memorial to the Islington veterans and their loved ones. We have been working behind the scenes to take steps to find a solution to the memorial’s decay. To ensure that this project makes more timely progress going forward, I have asked Councillor Una O’Halloran, the Executive Member for Community Development, to have oversight of the project. She will work with the relevant officers to ensure that a project plan is developed and implemented in a timely manner.

 

This project has previously stalled due to a lack of project management capacity. New project managers have been recruited to the council and have started only this week. Their recruitment will free up capacity for a project manager to work with Councillor O’Halloran to take this project forward. The steering group with the veterans will be restarted once we have a project plan in place.

 

I am also very pleased to say that we have identified a budget of £10,000 for this project. This funding has been generously provided by the Tollington and Highbury West Ward Councillors. It will be used to support our fund raising efforts with external bodies by providing match funding.

 

I congratulate the Ward Councillors on agreeing this funding at a time when there are huge pressures on all sources of council funding. We will also ensure that Bellway Homes delivers on its commitment that it made to the previous Leader of the Council, that Bellway Homes will contribute to any future project to conserve the memorial and commemorate those who have served our country.

 

Question 2 from Cllr Chowdhury to Cllr Turan, Executive Member for Health and Social Care:

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on the mental health of people in every part of our community. From those of us who’ve lost loved ones, to the trauma experienced by our dedicated health and social care staff, and the endemic loneliness felt by those living alone and in isolated care settings, this terrible time has touched us all. As we emerge from pandemic, what steps is the Council taking to support our community and those who’ve cared for us throughout it?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. The pandemic has had a very serious impact on our residents, including an effect on many people's mental health, but this council has been there for them, to support them throughout. At the start of the pandemic a number of measures were put in place to reduce the impact of loneliness and isolation, including staff from We Are Islington being trained to talk with residents who may be feeling lonely or isolated, and a directory of services was developed to support in signposting to services.

We also brought together a network of voluntary and community sector organisations to share learning and resources to help keep residents connected, and embedded social prescribing services in GP practices across the borough. We have continued working with residents to connect them with support and activities within the area. We are also very aware that many in our community lost loved ones during the pandemic, and as a result bereavement support has been a key feature of the council’s response to Covid-19. Public Health commissioned a leading bereavement charity to advise and support the council’s response; they provided training to around 500 workers and volunteers on the frontline enabling them to support the bereaved signposting to local and national support services. Capacity for counselling support was increased and adapted to respond to the traumatic bereavements that some people have faced.

 

We are aware that the poor mental health was an issue before the pandemic, and will continue to be an issue once it is over. All services continue to support our residents, including access to improved green spaces and wellbeing support, as well as a pilot project to support young black men's mental health, however we could do so much more if the government provided proper funding to mental health and kept their promise of parity of esteem. Thank you again for your question.

 

Question 3 from Cllr Ibrahim to Cllr Ngongo, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Families,

 

It was deeply moving to see the parents of so many young people who’ve been

lost to and affected by the horrors of knife crime gather in my ward at Arsenal

Football Club in January for the No More Red campaign. Their bravery and

dignity in standing against violence is truly inspiring and we will always stand in

solidarity with them. What actions are the Council taking to reduce youth violence, support young people into better life choices, and make this tragic cycle of heartbreaking loss a thing of the past?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. You are right, the stories from parents at the launch of the No More Red campaign were very moving. We are focused on making our borough the safest place possible for our young people to grow up in. The Council launched its youth safety strategy in November 2020. This is focused on protecting young people from violence, abuse and exploitation. We have made good progress so far. Last year we had a 12% reduction in knife crime in Islington, a 6.1% reduction in youth violence, and a 27.5% decrease in knife injuries where the victim is aged 24 years or under.

 

We know one victim of knife crime is one too many, and we are committed to doing more. Our Integrated Gangs Team provides one-on-one youth work with young people at risk of gang involvement, and also work with schools, for example through the production of the ‘Love and Loss’ film about knife crime. The roll-out of knife bins has taken over 1,000 knives off the streets in recent years. Our work with local partners such as Arsenal in the Community and the Police also support our work to make Islington a safer place to live. Thank you.

 

Question 4 from Cllr Ismail to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development:

 

It is almost 12 years since the Labour administration took over this Council and I

would like to congratulate them on building more homes. This said, many Islington social housing residents, in particular, Holloway, live in some of the worst properties that are riddled with dampness and include households with children under five, who are also living with mice and vermin. They are being left behind and are not being cared for as they should be due to Islington Labour's exceptionally bad record for not resolving these issues. The inadequate services (as per my casework and yours) as Ward colleagues, have seen the mice cases and damp issues increase over the past 8 years, which is clearly shown with regards to cases in my inbox and yours. Some of the most vulnerable are suffering as are our children.

 

As you are fully aware, these damp properties impact our residents’ health and are costing our NHS. These tenants regularly visit their GP's, they are calling the ambulance services because they are hospitalised due to the health issues raised by living with dampness. Our NHS has had a lot to deal with during the pandemic and these damp properties are contributing to putting further pressure on our NHS. Some of our Holloway residents are paying a very high price with regards to their health because of your lack of leadership and commitment on housing and development during the last 6 years as the executive lead.

 

What have you done for your tenants and what will you be telling them when you ask them to vote for you in the May 2022 Elections; it has been 8 years since you became Ward Councillors and it has been 6 years as an executive. When will you resolve the issues that are paramount to your tenants and your prospective voters?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. I'm incredibly proud that we have reached our target of building 550 council homes since 2018. We are tackling the housing crisis in this borough and if the government provided more funding for this Council, we could do an awful lot more.

 

While the Council is building new homes, it is also investing in its existing stock to improve conditions for residents. There is a large and varied stock which is repaired by the in-house team formed in 2014. Since coming in house, repairs satisfaction is now regularly at 85%, whilst first time fix rates have also increased to 85% in 2021/22.

 

About 6% of the Borough's repairs are in Holloway ward, suggesting that there isn’t a the disproportionate number of repairs in the ward compared to others. The Council invests over £40 million annually in our existing stock of 25,500 tenanted properties, including improving heating systems, insulation, kitchens and bathrooms, and replacing windows. In the Holloway ward, in the last two years, the Council has invested £10.4 million, improving 316 homes, 26% of the ward stock, and the investment plan for the ward will undertake a further £12.6 million investment to 801 homes by 2026.

 

I was pleased to come with you to look at some of the great work has been done on the Loraine Estate recently. Good quality housing is vital to health, and the Council works closely with our health colleagues, but I repeat we could do so much more if this government ended austerity, which has led the Council being forced to make £281 million of cuts since 2010.

 

 

Question 5 from Cllr Ismail to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment and Transport:

 

As a resident of Bunhill for decades, many of my friends and neighbours are linked to Bunhill Heat and Power Energy 2. They have mentioned to me that they are not saving on heating and power as they were promised they would when signing up for this and it is not working properly as you know, and residents have complained too. Should we be asking what the overspend is for Bunhill Heat and Power? We believe this to be in the region of £7m for taxpaying residents and why are residents connected to Bunhill Heat and Power Energy 2 not saving on energy costs as promised by Islington Council and how much is the Council actually subsidizing this? The customer services can only be described as an extremely poor level of service, not to mention the other issues as myself a Islington Council tenant too.

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. We have spoken about Bunhill Heat and Power before, and I remain extremely proud of the innovation that has come out of the council for both Bunhill 1 and Bunhill 2. The 10% discount on heating charges for those connected to the Bunhill heat network is still being applied. I suspect those concerns are about rising energy bills. We are in a cost of living crisis which this government is not making any better.

 

In 2012/13, when the network started operating, heating and hot water charges were £13.64 a week for a 2 bed flat. In 2021/22, for an estate connected to Bunhill, charges were £9.10 a week, which is 33% lower. Even accounting for the proposed increase in charges next year, due to the large increase in gas prices, charges for tenants connected to Bunhill will still be 16% lower than 2012/13.

 

When we talk about Bunhill 2, we have to remember it is a world first. It is seen to be a pilot, not just for us, but to be replicated across London and across many cities.

As the first project is kind in the world, is not entirely unexpected that we have face major technical challenges, from which we have learned. Importantly, this learning will help shape future projects by us, but also by others who seek to emulate it. Following a fundamental review, the Bunhill 2 project was amended to reflect its rising cost in 2019, the details of which were set out in a report to Full Council in December of that year. However, additional funding was allocated from the council’s carbon offset fund, and some external funding was secured, and the project is still operating within the budget agreed in 2019.

 

We are immensely proud of Bunhill Heat and Power network, a world first and revolutionary step towards zero carbon. If you believe that people are not seeing savings in their pockets, it is probably because of the policies of this government. Can I also please say I am extremely proud of the work of the council teams supporting residents suffering from the cost of living crisis, and also Shine, who work with people in fuel poverty, who unfortunately have seen their workload increase. I am concerned that the actions of the government are wholly inadequate to address the crisis that many residents are now facing.

 

Question 6 from Cllr Jeapes to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment and Transport:

 

Last month saw the introduction of Islington’s eighth people-friendly streets neighbourhood in the St Mary’s Church area, reducing traffic, making our streets more liveable with easier and safer walking, wheeling and cycling. It’s been particularly pleasing to see so many greening elements included as part of the scheme, as well as Blue Badge exemptions for camera-enforced filters from day one. As Islington moves forward with plans to make our streets cleaner, greener and healthier, what additional steps will the Council be taking to ensure that all residents are able to enjoy the benefits of this transformative work?

 

Response:

 

We are absolutely focused on making Islington a cleaner, greener and healthier borough. That includes the People Friendly Streets schemes, which are important part of that programme. Since July 2020, 24% of the borough's geographical area has been included in new low traffic neighbourhoods; with 8% already in historic LTNs, which means that nearly a third of the borough's areas have the benefit of quite and safer streets. We are committed to rolling out more neighbourhoods where feasible, but with enhancements. As you said, going forward, this will now include Blue Badge exemptions for people living in LTNs, as well as engaging local people in the changes.

 

In some areas, often where there have been historic traffic calming measures. there may be complexities and difficulties which will require cross-borough working, and working alongside TFL where the strategic road network may be impacted. But we are making progress and conversations are happening.

 

Reducing traffic is only one step; we need to reimagine our public spaces. Going forward, we want to build on our work to make streets greener and more accessible;  but not just those areas which we turned into Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, now People Friendly Pavements is also a key part of what we're doing, but other things too like seating, greenery shade, and even looking at opening access to public toilets. It's all important to make Islington more accessible for all.

 

We are developing a network of strategic cycle routes so people in our communities have access to quality cycle ways near to them and can make positive healthy choices about the way they travel. We're supporting local people to cycle more by delivering bike training sessions, offering an affordable cycle purchase scheme, working with cycle hire firms on e-bikes across the borough, and rolling out a popular on-street bike hanger scheme for residents to rent spaces. But we also need to see what else we can do to make cycling more accessible; the motability scheme doesn’t fund the purchase of adapted cycles and I think we really do need to campaign to change that. There are many changes that we’re making to our streets, but we need to continue.

 

We know that climate change is having such a huge impact already in parts of the world, and it’s beginning to have an impact on an Islington streets too. We've had surface water problems over the last few years. We need to make our streets more sustainable, before these problems become worse. Thank you.

 

Question 7 from Cllr Russell to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development:

 

I was concerned to see in the report of the Executive Member for Finance to Policy and Performance Committee on Jan 20th 2022, that there has been a 60% increase in housing disrepair legal cases since 2019/20 financial year. Has the council analysed what investment is required in the housing team to reduce housing disrepair legal cases in the first place?

 

Response:

 

Thank you for your question. Building good, genuinely affordable accommodation is a top priority for the Council, and that starts with our council housing. I'm delighted that we will shortly be welcoming the management of 4,000 social homes back in house from Partners for Improvement, putting an end to privatisation, allowing the Council to provide repairs and management to those tenants; and our first-time-fix rates as a council are increasing, reaching 93% last year.

 

I agree that the increase in housing disrepair legal claims is concerning. As I've said earlier, landlords across London have identified a steep rise in legal action from residents, and an increase in firms targeting residents and encouraging them to make claims. As I said in a previous answer, I have had a resident very distressed about cold callers from one particular firm, and I hope you'll join me in condemning those cold calling practices.

 

Cases have increased over the past couple of years, we have seen repairs performance improving, and the level of compensation paid out by the council has decreased. In 2018/19, £408,982 was paid out for 84 cases, whereas in 2020/21, £239,921 was paid out for 144 cases. The number of cases is increasing in line with other landlords’ experience.

 

The Council constantly reviews cases to ensure the service learns from mistakes and improves service. One case of housing disrepair is one too many, and we are determined to ensure our homes are of the highest possible quality.

 

One way we would provide more investment in our homes would be if we did not have to spend money on occupations to stop council housing being built. The occupation of Dixon Clark Court cost this Council over £500,000. That is money that should have been spent repairing homes and building new homes that are desperately needed. Thank you for your question.

 

 

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