Housing & Community Safety Select Committee (ceased to operate 03/06/2015) Minutes

Thursday, 2nd May, 2013
Jim Cooke Suite, Stockton Central Library, Church Road, Stockton-on-Tees, TS18 1AU
Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

Attendance Details

Cllr Julia Cherrett(Chairman), Cllr Derrick Brown(Chair), Cllr Michael Clark, Cllr Evaline Cunningham, Cllr Mohammed Javed, Cllr David Wilburn
Kerry Anderson, Ruby Poppleton(CESC), Jane Edmends, Julie Higgins, Julie Nixon, Linda Stephenson, Caroline Wood(DNS), Graham Birtle, Peter Mennear, Sarah Whaley(LD)
In Attendance:
Cllr Bloundele, Paul Campbell, Paul Slocombe(Teesside Pension Fund), Cllr Steve Nelson(Cabinet Member for Housing and Community Safety)
Apologies for absence:
Cllr Tina large
Item Description Decision
AGREED that the minutes be signed by the Chairman as a correct record.
AGREED that the minutes be approved.
AGREED that the information be noted.
AGREED that the information be noted.
AGREED that the information be noted.
4.00pm - 6.35pm


The evacuation procedure was noted.
Cllrs Brown, Clark and Wilburn declared a personal, non prejudicial interest in relation to item 6, 'Review of Tobacco control', as they were members of the Teesside Pension Fund.

Cllr Nelson declared a personal, non prejudicial interest in relation to item 5, 'Housing Service Overview', as he was a member of the Tristar Management Board, and also in relation to item 6, 'Review of Tobacco control', as he was a member of the Teesside Pension Fund.
Consideration was given to the minutes of the meeting which was held on the 30th January 2013 for signature.
Consideration was given to the minutes from the meeting which was held on the 28th February 2013 for approval.
The Head of Housing presented Members with an annual update of the Stockton Borough Council Housing Service which highlighted the successes and challenges the service had achieved/endured over the last 12 months.

The main issues discussed were as follows:

The National Housing Picture

- the rise in the need for rental properties.

- lack of stock available in the rental sector.

- an increase in the aging population and the demands this had put on the service, such as providing increased independent living for the elderly.

Benefit Services: Key Work Areas

- the introduction of the bedroom tax which had seen an increase in people seeking financial help from the local authority.

Housing Options: Key Work Areas

- currently the service was trialling the Housing Occupational Therapy model whilst working with hard to reach groups such as offenders, helping them secure accommodation and employment on release.

Housing Strategy and Regeneration: Key Work Areas

- the Housing Strategy was constantly updated, however, required more research which was carried out in conjunction with registered providers.

Private Sector Housing: Key work Areas

- residents were often contacting the local authority with complaints of substandard accommodation within the private rental sector. Where possible the Authority was working with private landlords to improve those situations.

- much work was being carried out in relation to empty homes in conjunction with Public Health. The committee was informed that many landlords were not keen to take up the current product the Local Authority had to offer. More research was required to enable the Authority to better understand the needs of landlords with empty properties to return them to occupied homes.

- Members heard that as the aging population had started to increase, statutory demands and budgetary pressures continued to increase in relation to adaptations in homes, such as providing stairlifts, level showers, ramps etc. The Head of Housing informed the Committee that if budgets were not found then it may have to be found from other departments within the Authority if homes were considered to be dangerous.

The Head of Housing explained to the Committee that although the service had endured many challenges, there were also many successes over the last 12 months.

The main key areas were discussed as follows:

Housing Options: Key Achievements

- good relationships with private landlords.

- help for residents from front line staff during flood time.

Housing Strategy and Regeneration: Key Achievements

- Stockton Borough Council was the lead authority on the production of the first Tees Valley Tenancy Strategy.

Private Sector Housing : Key Achievements

- the success of the Landlord Accreditation scheme.

The Committee heard that the future of the services clientele was changing. Increasing numbers of residents within the borough were owner occupiers who had never used the service before and had found themselves in financial difficulty.

The Head of Housing informed Members that the service was constantly looking for additional resources and had been successful in securing some funds by submitting many bids.

Issues were discussed surrounding the government’s current strategy to help the public with home ownership and how it worked in practice. Officers informed Members that the assessments in place were extremely stringent to ensure the public could afford to repay a mortgage. The biggest issue people faced was the ability to find a deposit to secure a mortgage which is where the help proved successful.

Issues surrounding Tristar Homes were raised in relation to the original offer document and whether Tristar had, and were continuing to fulfil their obligations. Officers informed the Committee that the offer document was legally binding and if not adhered to legal advice would be sought to resolve it. In addition Members also queried the future plans of Tristar and what effect the government’s Welfare Reform would have on their future business plans. Officers explained that Tristar was aware that there would be a drop in income due to the current economic climate however this would be reviewed under the scrutiny process due to the complex nature of the business plans.
Members were asked to consider and receive evidence from representatives of the Teesside Pension Fund to investigate the ethical issues raised regarding investment in the tobacco industry.

The representatives gave the Committee a brief overview of the Teesside Pension Fund, its history, which authorities were involved and what its responsibilities to its members were. The representatives explained that investments must only be for the financial benefit of the fund and its Members.

In particular it was explained to Members that the two key policies made by the panel in the past allowed the delegation of all investment decisions to the Head of Investments, giving the Panel the ability to review, scrutinise and criticise the performance of the Fund with independence.

The Committee also heard that Teesside Pension Fund was an active member of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), which was a grouping of Local Authority funds with investments of over £100 million.

It was reported that the LAPFF was currently trying to get a better understanding of the tobacco industry and how they were working with public health officials prior to deciding if the fund should be withdrawn.

The Chair referred to the 1984 case of Cowan v Scargill which challenged specifically investing in certain industries but that the court upheld that this was a breach of fiduciary duty. Whilst the representatives of the Fund stated they acted on their fiduciary duty requiring them to maximise returns, they had taken some ethical considerations such as climate change, however no specific consideration had been taken regarding investment in tobacco companies.

Discussion took place around the longevity of the tobacco industry due to the fact that the number of smokers was in decline. It was highlighted by the investment panel that due to global restriction and consolidation, the tobacco industry had been strengthened; therefore investment was still financially good. The Fund Investment Panel also indicated that if the future of the tobacco industry showed decline and lower returns then this would be taken into account as to future investment. The Health Improvement Specialist informed the representatives that there was guidance available showing investment in tobacco companies was in decline and challenged the Investment Panel to investigate investing in more ethical companies which were showing similar returns to that of the tobacco industry.

The Committee suggested that consultation take place with Teesside Pension Fund members asking if there were any objections to the fact that their pension funds were invested in the tobacco industry.

The Chair of the Pensions and Investment Panel informed the Committee that investments needed to be spread across all sectors which included what could be considered unethical investments. If restrictions were put on particular companies then investment areas could be restricted.

Members highlighted that some local authorities had already pulled out of investing their pension funds in the tobacco industry and asked the investment panel if this could be investigated further, whether it was an ethical decision, and if there was any financial loss. The Head of Investments explained that it would be too early to tell and also almost impossible to identify gains or losses at individual industry level. The Fund Investment Panel were then asked if investments were discussed at the LAPFF and if member authorities were investing ethically. The Fund Investment Panel confirmed they did not discuss investments with each individual authority at the LAPFF and at this stage did not feel it needed investigating further.

It was discussed whether Stockton Council could unilaterally request the panel to disinvest in the tobacco industry as Teesside Pension Fund was made up of four local authorities. It was suggested a review of the Fund’s statement of investment principles (SIP) would be possible although the Fund did not currently see the need for one. If the four authorities made senior representation from an appropriate level and through the correct channel to the Chair of the Panel to request a review to change the SIP and disinvest in the tobacco industry this would be considered. If a review did go ahead there was no guarantee it would be successful and the decision would be the Panel’s to make.

The Scrutiny Officer informed the Committee that a special meeting had been scheduled for the 22nd May 2013 to take evidence from the Cabinet Member of Adult Services and Health and consider any recommendations regarding pension investments in tobacco companies.
The Scrutiny Officer informed the Committee that the next meeting of Housing and Community Safety was to be held on the 22nd May 2013 to consider the evidence gathered during this meeting from the Review of Tobacco Control. Representation would be made by Councillor Jim Beall the Cabinet Member for Adult Services and Health.

Members were also informed that consideration would be given to the 'Overview of Community Safety’, during the Housing and Community Safety Select Committee meeting which was scheduled for the 6th June 2013, alongside considering the concluding elements of the tobacco review.

The Review of Tobacco Control would finally conclude during the meeting which was scheduled for the 18th July 2013.
The Chair had no update to report.

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