To answer questions asked under Standing Order 8 by Councillors (30 Minutes)
Cllr L McCarthy to Cllr Mackiewicz Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning and Housing
Can the Cabinet Member please advise how many empty properties the Council are aware of in Solihull and of this number, how many are owned by private companies?
The Cabinet Member advised that there were 2,026 properties that were classified as empty for council tax purposes in Solihull. This represented 2% of the total number of council tax properties. Of the 2,026 properties that were empty, 327 have private companies as the liable party for council tax.
Cllr L McCarthy followed up by asking what powers the Council has to force or encourage companies to bring back properties in disrepair back into use. The Cabinet Member confirmed that the Council charge double council tax on empty properties, and that the Empty Homes Group work with residents to try and bring properties back into use. He also cited that there could be genuine reasons for an empty property such as probate or a resident moving into care.
Cllr L McCarthy questioned whether the Council was talking to companies to help meet the need for affordable housing. The Cabinet Member advised he was not aware of any such discussions but would check with officers.
Cllr McLoughlin to Cllr Courts Leader of the Council and Lead Member for the Economy
Can the Leader of the Council reassure residents that the much needed Kingshurst regeneration will be going ahead?
The Mayor advised that this question had be dealt with early in the meeting under announcements from the Leader.
Cllr Rymer to Cllr B Sleigh OBE Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Resources
Has there been a change of policy in how the Council approaches residents in Council Tax arrears in the last 12 months?
The Cabinet Member advised that the Council recognised the financial difficulties experienced by some residents following Covid and as a result of cost-of-living pressures. The Council are continuing to offer flexible repayment arrangements to residents who are having difficulties paying their council tax. The Council also offer support through our discretionary schemes. Our overriding message is that we are here to help, and we encourage any resident to contact us if they need support. Our Customer Services Advisor and Income Team Officers have received briefings and guidance on the support that is available so that they can signpost residents where needed. There are various discretionary funds available whether this be a discretionary reduction in council tax, help with rent through a discretionary housing payment or help with food, fuel or essential household items through the household support fund. There is lots of helpful information on our Here 2 Help pages on our website including help with council tax or help with debt, alternatively residents can call us with their queries and will be supported over the telephone. We are working closely with our Financial Inclusion partners to promote the variety of help on offer – we have arranged outreach events in December and March for residents to drop in and access advice and support. We are also working closely with colleagues at two DWP Job Centres based in Solihull town centre and Chelmsley Wood. One of our Financial Inclusion officers attends their offices on a monthly basis to offer advice and support to residents experiencing financial difficulties including difficulties with council tax.
Cllr Rymer sought clarification as to whether that was a yes or no answer to the question. The Cabinet Member confirmed that there had been no recent changes to the policy.
Cllr Rymer questioned why the Council is not reassuring residents in arrears that bills are correct, eligibility for support has been checked and then trying to agree a repayment plan before debt collection is in acted.
The Cabinet Member advised that if Cllr Rymer was talking about a specific case, he would be happy to discuss this further outside of the meeting, and if there were lessons to be learnt to bring this back to the Council.
Cllr Sheshabhatter to Cllr K Grinsell Deputy Leader
What are the current average waiting times for someone on the Housing Waiting list for the most pressing cases of Band A and B?
The Cabinet Member advised that the quickest allocation during the last financial year 2022/23 for customers in both bands A and B was around 1 to 2 weeks, with an overall average being 5 to 6 months. There will be examples where the waiting period can be much greater, which is heavily influenced by the availability of properties that are required to meet individual household needs.
Cllr Sheshabhatter asked what was being done to reduce waiting list times, what the target time should be and when this will be achieved.
The Cabinet Member advised that it would be difficult to define a waiting time, as each case had specific individual needs and a lot would depend on how wide an area, they were willing to consider, the narrower the area chances were reduced. The Cabinet Member also confirmed that void times were also being worked on.
Cllr M Wilson to Cllr Hawkins Cabinet Portfolio for Environment and Infrastructure
How many reports of dog fouling, littering and fly-tipping, respectively, have there been in the last 12 months?
The Cabinet Member confirmed the following figures from 1st April 2022 to 31st March 2023:
• 594 litter reports
• 232 dog fouling reports
• 3935 fly tipping reports - however this is not a true representation of actual fly tipping incidents because some of these reports will be duplicate reports for the same incident. The actual fly tipping incident figure is 1891, again for context, this is everything from a single item such as a black bag to large commercial fly tipping. It should be noted that the vast majority of fly tipping incidents are small items (such as a single black waste sack etc.
Cllr Sheshabhatter to Cllr B Sleigh OBE Cabinet Portfolio for Resources
How many fines have been issued for dog fouling, littering and fly-tipping, respectively, in the last 12 months?
The Cabinet Member confirmed that Enforcement Action from April 2022 to March 2023 was as follows:
• 3 Fixed Penalty Notice’s (FPN) have been issued for fly tipping
• 1 formal caution (after initial court appearance) for fly tipping
• 1 failed to appear at court for fly tipping prosecution (arrest warrant issued) for fly tipping
• 1 FPN for Littering (via our NSL Contractor)
Cllr Sheshabhatter followed up by asking a question regarding nitrous oxide canisters and enforcement action. The Cabinet Member advised that this was not related to first question.
Cllr Caudwell to Cllr M McCarthy Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Board
Cllr McCarthy will know that on 12th April at JHOSC, the Bewick report into the management culture at UHB NHSFT will be presented. As chair of HASCSB, Cllr McCarthy is due to be chairing that meeting - will he be?
Cllr Caudwell to Cllr Courts Leader of the Council
Can the Leader clarify the process by which Solihull councillors are appointed to the University of Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust Council of Governors, as this was not covered by any agenda item during Annual Council in May 2022 or 2021?
As Cllr Caudwell was not in attendance to put his question, Cllr Courts agreed to provide a written response.
Cllr Ashraf MBE to Cllr Hawkins Cabinet Portfolio for Environment and Infrastructure
I know the Cabinet Member is aware of the issues around school opening and closing times in Coombe Road. When can residents expect to see the School Streets, that have previously been asked for, implemented?
The Cabinet Member reminded Council that in February 2022 a petition organised by a local resident was presented to Council by Cllr K Grinsell, requesting that this area be subject to the next phase of the programme. Having considered this at a decision session in March 2023 the Cabinet Member was pleased to confirm that Shirley Heath Junior School had been included in phase 4 of the programme, and this would include Coombe Road and Bronte Close. Officers will be consulting on the scheme in due course, so the scheme can be progressed.