Councillor M Wilkes
At a previous budget meeting, full council approved a motion I put forward to increase our empty homes staffing from 3 to 6. This has started to have a positive impact. The number of empty properties bring brought back into use with the help of officers has increased significantly.
Unfortunately, the manager in charge of that department has left the authority and rather than recruit to that position, the job has been split between other posts.
I recognise the need for service heads to have the autonomy to manage their teams as they see fit. However, this department has been given specific additional resource for a specific purpose by this full council. It does not seem appropriate for that service to then be cut, both in principle and without even telling any of us about it. Any suggestion it will not have an impact would make no sense given just how good this manager was.
The saving by not replacing this position is in the order of £60-£80,000. We still have over 6000 empty properties in the County, a grotesque waste of resources especially when we are planning to build on the greenbelt.
It would seem appropriate for an additional staff member to be recruited to make sure that we achieve our targets and bring more properties back into use. The department would still save money on staffing costs.
Will the Cabinet member commit to investigate this and seriously consider giving the team back this lost resource; and could we as councillors be notified where management jobs are deleted or senior staff leave the authority so we are not wasting our time calling people who no longer exist and so we can legitimately challenge the loss of posts if we feel it appropriate to?
Councillor K Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Strategic Housing and Assets thanked Councillor Wilkes for his question and the continued support and acknowledgement for the great work that the housing team continued to provide.
In respect of the empty properties, the Council was continuously monitoring the performance of the team and how they worked with colleagues in ensuring their impacts were maximised. This was not just about numbers, but the location and what went alongside this work in terms of investment and impacts in the wider community. Even prior to the previous manager leaving, it was identified that to place the empty property team within the regeneration team with other professionals dealing with property and area improvements may provide better outcomes for communities as a whole.
Councillor Shaw assured Councillor Wilkes that the existing manager had significant experience and Councillor Shaw believed there would be no overall loss in respect of this particular area of work, and was hoping to see more numbers of empty homes brought back into use as a result.
In terms of cuts to the service, staffing numbers had increased and continued to increase due to the excellent work and reputation of this service area accessing external funding to increase frontline services. Work and financial investment in respect of homelessness, selective licencing, the local lettings agency and housing support had all seen increases in staff numbers over the past three years.
The Head of Service alongside his management team continued to make efficiencies across the service team which did not impact on and can sometimes improved the operation and outcomes of frontline services. Councillor Shaw had been fully informed of the decisions and why they had been taken and fully supported the team in this area. Councillor Shaw was also assured that they would continue to monitor the outcomes of the team and keep members engaged in the process going forward.
In terms of keeping members informed of staff changes Councillor Shaw did not intend to introduce what undoubtedly would be an administrative burden on already busy staff. Councillor Shaw was interested in how senior management were using the resources allocated to them in the budget process to deliver positive outcomes for our communities. Councillor Shaw was tempted to ask why Councillor Wilkes did not seek the same arrangements at the height of the coalition government’s austerity programme that had led to nearly 3,000 jobs being lost at the Council.
Councillor R Ormerod
It appears that the Millburngate development is causing major cracks to the road on Framwellgate Peth. Furthermore, there are cracks in the brickwork of the retaining walls and steps to the Highgate development. Given Durham County Council’s interest in this development and the seriousness of the situation, can the relevant cabinet members please confirm how long the council has been aware of the problem with the road surface, when they were going to tell the public and what they now intend to do to ensure that neither the road nor the nearby buildings suffer further potentially irreversible damage which could result in road closures and risk of serious damage to residential properties.
Councillor Stephens, Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Local Partnerships thanked Councillor Ormerod for the question.
The Council was aware of signs of movement in the carriageway and footpath on Framwellgate Peth together with reports of issues with adjacent private properties.
The Council was undertaking investigations to determine the cause of the movement and were in discussions with and were due to meet the developer to review the situation. The Council would, of course, assess whether the adjacent development works had contributed to this and action accordingly.