Agenda item

Solihull's Response to the Cost of Living Pressure

The purpose of this report is to update members of the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board on Solihull’s response to the cost of living pressures. This follows a motion to Full Council on the 11 October 2022.


The report before the Scrutiny Board provided Members with an update on Solihull’s response to the cost-of-living pressures.  This follows a motion to Full Council on 11th October 2022. Full Council resolved to refer the motion to the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board for consideration.


The report was introduced by the Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships.  Members were informed that the Council had established a Lead Officer and Partnership Group, which was dynamic in responding to the current cost of living situation. The group convened fortnightly to meet with the voluntary and community sector to liaise and discuss appropriate initiatives. An Action Plan was in place as detailed in the report to the Scrutiny Board, which was updated weekly.  Members comments were sought on any apparent gaps in the Action Plan.


Officers were commencing monitoring the plan dashboard and impacts arising as from November 2022.  It had been noted that the voluntary and community sector was requesting early sight of information pertaining to debt advice. There had been a noted increased source of anxiety in the local community arising from debt advice, hence the request for early notification of such cases. It was noted that the voluntary and community sector were often the first points of contact for the public in times of need and stress.  The report before the Scrutiny Board detailed all of the Council’s current initiatives and further suggestions from Members were welcomed.


The Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships confirmed that the Council’s libraries were to be badged as ‘Warm Welcome’ centres, with the offer in terms of opening hours, being raised as circumstances dictated. Council Officers were watching other local authorities initiatives and were also exploring further how the Council could work with the voluntary and community sector and faith groups in the delivery of their initiatives and the roll out of the warm spaces concept. 


The Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships noted that the response to the Cost-of-Living pressures was a Solihull, rather than Council only, response.  Key points that had been recognised to date included making access to advice services as easy as possible and to have in place clear pathways to access financial and debt advice.  The Council and its partners continued to be open and responsive to any further suggestions as to what initiatives could be put in place to assist Solihull residents.


Having received the introduction to the report from the Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships, Members of the Scrutiny Board raised several related questions to the report, which in summary included the following matters:


Councillor Parker noted that all Councillors had a role to play in keeping residents informed regarding Council services and initiatives that could be of support to them, which included information dissemination via social media platforms. 


Councillor Allen referenced warm hubs and queried how those vulnerable people / groups not currently in receipt of Council services would be recognised and how would vulnerable people be able to access the warm hubs. 


Members were advised that the Council was in the process of producing a booklet detailing Council services.  This was earmarked for residents aged over 75, which entailed 12,500 homes across the borough.  Furthermore, a Community Champions Group was also in place, comprising of 150 people throughout the borough that could be used to disseminate appropriate messages relating to Council services and community support for those residents who did not have any access to social media platforms. GP surgeries were also texting patients highlighting the Here2Help website. The Council was also working very closely with several Commissioning Groups via the Community Development Team.


Councillor Adeyemo expressed concern that Food Banks were reported to be struggling with the level of demand for their services and sought further detail as to how they were being supported and what scope existed for the Council to use food banks to deliver other support services directly to residents.  Members were advised that residents were also supported via the Food Network, with the Council having apportioned some reserves funding specifically for voluntary groups to apply and bid for.  The Council was also seeking to identify how it could directly support the Food Network with donations and supplies and to attract more volunteers to support the Food Network across the borough.


Councillor Holt noted the success of the food voucher scheme which was texted directly to parents to help support their children and noted that the range of support services made available to support children over the summer period was comprehensive.  Councillor Holt also noted that the warm spaces initiative could be used to draw several support services together at one location for easy access. 


The Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships advised that there was not as much children’s outdoor activities provision in the winter period as was the case over the summer.  However, Members were advised that the warm spaces initiatives planned for the borough’s libraries may support those children who did not currently qualify for placements on holiday schemes or Food Network support i.e. for those families who were only just above the threshold qualifying for assistance.


Councillor Holt noted the potential that the warm spaces initiative had to offer in engaging positively with children and young people towards supporting their wider development. 


Councillor Allen sought clarification as to whether the Holiday Supermarket Voucher Scheme was government or Council funded.  Members were advised that funding was received by the Council from central government.  The Council then had the discretion as to how to use the funding received.  In respect of the Holiday Supermarket Voucher Scheme, the amount of money placed on the voucher was determined directly by the number of people the Council could support.


Councillor Moses made direct reference to the report, specifically to the potential increase in claims from those whose incomes were just above the thresholds qualifying for assistance and asked what actions the Council was taking to support these residents. The Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships advised the Scrutiny Board that the Council was working with its partners and the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) in an effort to identify such residents, who generally were considered to be the hardest group to reach. The Council was seeking to offer financial support advice and to provide clear signposting to support services for these residents.


Councillor Moses referenced the Action Plan Dashboard Metrics and queried whether it was possible to capture locality target to target support. Members were informed that the Council sought to identify problems and pressures residents faced before they grew in scale generally, which would in turn influence how resources were targeted.


In relation to partnership working, Councillor Parker noted that he could not find any reference to the Here2Help initiative on the Solihull Community Housing (SCH) website and queried whether SCH tenants in Solihull were aware of it.  The Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships advised that this would be followed up and advised that SCH was represented on the Lead Officer Group and that SCH were targeting their tenants with cost-of-living initiatives.


Councillor Parker noted that in relation to partnership working arrangements there appeared to be little reference made to the role of the business sector/private enterprise. Councillor Parker further observed that there appeared to be potential for the Council to offer more support to local employers in addressing the current cost of living challenges.


The Scrutiny Board was advised that there was a Business Development Group in place, which worked to support small businesses and local employers and which in turn received feedback from small businesses located in the borough as to how the Council could offer them support moving forward. Members were also informed that JLR had approached the Council proactively to support the local voluntary/community sector in the borough, specifically regarding encouraging volunteering.


Councillor Tildesley noted the Government’s financial assistance provided nationally to OAPs to offset cost of living pressures, which amounted to a significant investment.  With reference to The Core, Councillor Tildesley reported that he had personally observed an increase in the number of activities taking place and a corresponding increase in the number of people visiting The Core to access Council support services.


Councillor Moses referenced the Cost-of-Living Pressures Action Plan, Financial Inclusion Group that coordinates access to support and guidance section, seeking further information on the approach taken to debt recovery and what outcomes were desired.  The Assistant Director, Communities & Partnerships confirmed that the Financial Inclusion Group (FIG) comprised of the Council, DWP and several debt charities located in Solihull.  Members were informed that the Council’s Debt Recovery Team and SCH managed their respective debt plans in different ways when taking account of household income.  Consequently, the Council and SCH were seeking to establish a universal approach to be applied across all FIG members in this respect. In respect of recovery actions relating to Council Tax/rent arrears, the Council response taken was a balanced approach which took account of a resident’s specific circumstances and profile.


Councillor Caudwell questioned how Primary, Secondary Schools and Academies in the borough were being used to help identify families needing support and what steps the Council was taking to survey its own employees.  Members were informed that the Council had a Lead Officer in place providing a link to education services. The Schools Newsletter was also used to convey messaging around support services available in the borough for families to access.  Internally, the Council offered cost of living support to all of its employees, with several services available to employees on-line, ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions and the Council Core Brief sign posting Here2Help services, all of which raise awareness of available support services for Council employees.


Councillor Grinsell highlighted that regarding SCH, Here2Help services were available on-line and that SCH support services would feature in the next Newsletter being issued to all SCH tenants. Furthermore, software had been introduced to trial which helped to predict which tenants may be beginning to experience financial difficulties, particularly in respect of rent arrears.


Councillor Howell noted that the Council was working to support Solihull residents in many ways, which included the use of the borough’s library network, signposting services, Council web site pages and the Connect services, releasing Council reserves to support the voluntary and community sector and distribution of £1.4M from the Household Support Funding Scheme.


Councillor Parker noted that there was much work in progress and being implemented by the Council and its partners to counter the current cost of living pressures. The Cost-of-Living Pressures Action Plan would continue to be kept under review and the Scrutiny Board updated accordingly. Councillor Parker noted that all Councillors had a role to play in supporting the signposting of those Council services which would assist residents in alleviating the everyday cost of living pressures. 


Councillor Parker concluded that he was satisfied the Council was delivering all initiatives, resources and support it could at the present time in the interests of the borough’s residents but would like to see further bridges built with the borough’s business sector.


Having considered and discussed the ‘Solihull’s Response to the Cost-of-Living Pressure’ report in detail, the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board:




(i)  To note and support the approach the Council was taking to support residents through the winter period in 2022.


Supporting documents: