Cllr Realey said she was new on this committee, but pointed out that councillors meet a lot of people that might be entitled to investment and could staff come to a future meeting and give a talk on this?
David Ball said he would make the information available and Paula was available already to businesses. He said they cold come to each meeting and signpost councillors.
The Chair said he had added an item to the work program that day, which was an update on the Housing Market Renewal Initiative by Ian. Ian said a decision was imminent, there was a transition fund but they had been left in limbo.
Cllr Niblock said he lived in a Housing Market Renewal Initiative area, declared a prejudicial interest and left the room.
Ian said a decision was imminent, he had spoken to the Homes and Communities Agency. They had advised him that by January 2012 a decision should be made.
The Chair, Cllr Johnston said the next meeting on the 16th January was on his 40th birthday. He thanked the officers.
Cllr Gerry Ellis queried why the committee had to go into closed session for the last item regeneration update, surely Wirral Council should be open with the public? The Chair Cllr Johnson replied that it was because of commercially sensitive information and the press and public were asked to leave.
The Chair said the question had been asked by Stuart that officers were not equipped to answer. He moved his motion and called for a councillor to second his motion. Cllr Pat Hackett seconded the motion.
Four councillors voted for, four councillors voted against.
The Chair had a casting vote, the Chair, Cllr Johnston decided to keep the extra information there.
David Ball gave an update on future plans for the Business Start Programme. He said that the plan had been to continue until March 2012, however the winding up of the North West Development Agency by the end of December meant that intensive start-up help would end by the 31st December. They had served notice on Enterprise Solutions of this. They would try to develop future options and Kevin would bring a report to a future meeting in the New Year. There would be support under the new Enterprise Allowance, which was a government-funded scheme to support unemployed people funded by the Department of Work and Pensions. He would circulate a briefing note with the technicalities but this program would help certain sections and not be the universal service they had at the present time.
Cllr Wittingham asked if Wirral Biz would be gone? David Ball said that Wirral Biz was the trading name and would go with the demise of the agency.
Cllr Mountney asked when they were instructed to wind up, would they lose money? David Ball said following the move from the North West Development Agency there may be instructions from central government, but they had expected the money till 2012, it was just ending sooner than anticipated. Cllr Wittingham said it was the “government’s fault”.
Cllr Mountney said he welcomed the report and the financial information included. The Chair said he wanted to add something to the work program. Cllr Wittingham referred to 4.4.1, 4.4.4 in reference to a 21% decrease in contracts made. The Chair said he wanted to carry on with the point about why the next two pages had come here. David Ball said the previous performance report format had covered what was relevant to the committee what worked well, performance indicators and actions which gave an opportunity for scrutiny and comment. The second half was lifted from a report of Jim Wilkie to the Cabinet. He thought the corporate information might be of interest, but was not directly relevant to the report. The reports had been merged together. In reference to Cllr Wittingham’s question he would have to go away, ask and circulate an answer to the committee as he didn’t deal with those areas.
The Chair said he would be more comfortable if they only received information relevant to the scrutiny area and were just asked to cover the remit of the committee and not ground other committees cover.
Cllr George Davies said the second part followed on from a two-part report on finance and the economy. He understand that the financial part had been added but he didn’t see the relevance to the Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Chair said he would move that in future only performance indicators relevant to the committee would be used. Cllr Ellis said it was helpful background information to see and note.
Cllr Wittingham asked if they would use Wirral Partnership Homes, the answer given was yes.
Cllr Realey said she had concerns about the under 35s and the single room rate which comes into effect in January 2012. She said this would reduce benefit for those affected with private landlords to £63/week. Cllr Realey said it would affect seven hundred to nine hundred people with a nine month contingency. Until people were thirty-five they would only be allowed a room. What were they doing she asked?
Ian said it would address under occupation and its impacts. They would work with registered social landlords and private sector landlords over the introduction of the new rules. There would be opportunities for sharing and a raft of different approaches.
Cllr Realey said in Devonshire Park there were a lot of big houses being converted to HMOs. If landlords were getting £65/week for each one this would “bring back bedsit land”. The Chair expressed concerns over the effect on the elderly and the young and asked for a further report on it as well as on the HMRI situation.
The Chair asked if there were any questions on the Department for Work and Pensions Work Programme.
Cllr Wittingham said there may be movement on Department of Work and Pensions rules which stated they couldn’t share statistics them externally. Eventually he hoped this would change and the statistics would be made available to councillors.
David Ball said he was concerned with the work program as they can’t check or understand the effect of interventions on the labour market. There had been discussions that they may release them on a confidential basis, if it was helpful they could be shared with councillors once officers had been informed. He said it was important to understand what was going on and tackle a number of issues on the worklessness agenda.
The Chair said he wanted it minuted and invited any other questions. There were no more so the report was noted.
The Chair asked for questions or concerns on the second quarter performance and financial review.
Cllr Wittingham in reference to the table on page 63, asked if they had enough capacity of smaller homes to meet their social housing target? Ian answered that in terms of numbers, looking at the occupation strategy of existing users, registered social landlords and housing association would work with tenants to find opportunities within the existing housing stock. They would be encouraged to move into smaller accommodation, which was difficult for the elderly and could get emotional if they felt they were being forced out. His view on future supply was that the Welfare Reform Bill would lead to existing tenants moving to smaller properties that would free up units for larger families.
Cllr Steve Niblock said he was curious about the method used. He said the ward he represents was not in there and he wanted a map of all of Wirral made available to councillors.
Jane Morgan said it was in more detail in the needs assessment by super output area. They had drawn out comparison between the ten most and ten least deprived areas to show the disparity and pockets of deprivation.
The Chair, Cllr Johnston said he was happy to move to the recommendations. They would make a note of the report and required regular updates. There were two work streams it related to, working out of poverty & neighbourhood regeneration. He wanted to “keep on top of it”.
The Chair moved the meeting to a report on the European Social Fund. He asked for any questions and asked one of his own. He said if the IT system was found not to be fit for purposes would this put at risk the grants?
David Ball said Hanlon was complicated to use, but was a grant requirement of the funders. It didn’t put the grant at risk because they now understood how to use it and could give the information requested. They were looking at how to uncomplicate it and tackle performance.
The Chair said the performance on the intermediate labour market target was well below what it should be and required remedial work, was there a claw back risk? David Ball responded that clawback could only happen if they had spent the money and not delivered. The intermediate labour market project had had delays since the start however it had been accelerated significantly. There were a hundred to a hundred and twenty posts on offer with thirty-six to be filled over the next few weeks. They were trying to negotiate extensions with the funders which would enable them to meet the targets in a longer amount of time.
The Chair thanked Paula Basnett and said that if councillors had a couple of hours that Invest Wirral was well worth their while visiting.
The Chair, Cllr Johnston said he hoped councillors had read the Child Poverty Strategy and Action Plan Progress Report and that Jane Morgan was here to answer any questions. He asked councillors if they had any questions? They didn’t, Cllr Johnston asked about the timetable for the action plan.
Jane Morgan said in the appendix it was not detailed as there were things to develop further regarding childcare where they wanted to understand the issues. There would be work done on this over the next couple of months, there were already meetings in the diary, it would go back to scrutiny in the New Year and Cabinet which would define what would happen for the next three years.
The Chair said he had attended an event at the Floral Pavillion, but what were they doing regarding engagement.
Jane Morgan explained that following the event people would be invited to targetted workshops involving providers and practitioners. Through the website they were trying to get people to be champions.
Cllr Realey asked if Bidston/Claughton was the worst in Europe for child poverty? Jane replied that it was the highest on Wirral with 72% living in poverty in parts of Bidston & Claughton.
Cllr Realey asked where Prenton was in the statistics. Jane Morgan pointed Cllr Realey to the detailed needs assessment which was a “complex technical document”.
Cllr Mountney asked where the relationship managers were from and what their skillsets are? Paula Basnett said some were from industry and the others were long term local authority employees. Two were long term local authority officers and three were fairly new but all of them had degrees. One was based on the IT sector, the construction sector relationship manager was a woman (who previously had had no background in construction but had learnt over the last two years). The other three had been longer in the team but had had no sector experience except for the last two years. In future they wouldn’t recruit local authority officers but buy in from sector experts instead.
Cllr Stuart Wittingham asked about the business forum. Paula Basnett replied that it is password protected, but they check the address and contact details. They had had lots of enquiries from Liverpool companies with offices in Wirral, but it was only for Wirral companies and businesses.
Cllr Pat Hackett said it was hard to find investment. Cllr Phil Davies arrived. Cllr Pat Hackett asked if there was proactive matching done between investors and businesses to invest in? He said it was important not to rest on their laurels and to have vision, strategy and ideas.
Paula Basnett said the appointment of an inward investment manager would help them to work closely with investors, to go out and be proactive and make organisations aware of the development sites on the Wirral. They also supported indiginous businesses. An investor was looking at Birkenhead Town Hall which had been a referral from Cllr George Davies. The investment manager would develop the inward investment strategy which would identify potential investors.
The officer said that they [Wirral Council] also worked with the Manufacturing Advisory Service on culture and had made eighty-one referrals in the last year. They go in with MAS who had a list of practitioners who helped with office or shop culture and worked to add value to the business, attract industry and keep the manufacturing base. Manufacturing hadn’t gone from Wirral, Teledyne CML and Cammell Lairds were examples of positive news on jobs.
Cllr Simon Mountney commented that it was getting increasingly difficult for businesses.
Paula Basnett said their aim was to increase membership on the business forum. According to their CRM system they had had contact with four thousand businesses over the last decade. Their aim was to have an extra five hundred register each year for the business forum, but it as getting difficult to get new business users.
Cllr Mountney asked if it was a local or national target. She replied it was a local target. Cllr Mountney asked how many hits a month it was getting.
Paula Basnett said it was password protected but they measured how long visitors spent on the site and what areas were of interest to them. Cllr Mountney asked how long on average each visitor stayed for?
The Chair, Cllr Johnston asked for a report on this to a future meeting.
An officer said that some businesses were not doing well and some were leaving the Wirral. One had made a decision to move to Hungary and Wirral Council was working with the hundred and eighty staff affected.
The forty-six apprenticeships were not just for young people. They also went into companies that they heard were experiencing trouble, to try to alleviate any cashflow problems. The project manager would look at the books and try to keep abreast of any financial problems.
Cllr Tony Cox asked about the profile of those chosen to be business angels, was a maximum percentage rate of interest agreed or was that between the business and the investor?
Paula Basnett said that they just coordinated it, but they could check out the background of business angels with Companies House. The interest rate was between the investor and the investee.
A councillor commented that first tier aerospace engineering as well as second tier precision machine engineering was coming back to the UK. A council officer said that Cllr Davies had been at an event about this a month ago organised by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport called “Give Yourself the Edge” in Bromborough. They were also working with the new management at North West Precision Ltd which was part of the manufacturing base. Wirral Council had also advertised the post of Inward Investment Manager, the closing date had been last Friday. He said managers go into engineering businesses and suppliers of engineering businesses so that Wirral keeps its engineering base and grows it when the conditions are right.