Matters referred to committee
Matter referred to O&S by Council on 17th October
A matter was referred to the committee from 17th October Council concerning fuel poverty and the work the council was doing to support deprived areas.
The Chair moved into the debate about how the committee could respond to this:
- One Member stressed the need to act proactively and urgently, taking a broad-based approach that increased awareness and understanding.
- One Member highlighted the importance of insulation and efficient heating to the issue of fuel poverty. Investing to save was key, but they also needed a skilled workforce to deliver this, and a rolling plan to ensure quality work and reliable contractors.
- One Member noted that the O&S committee was already running a task group on the topic of tackling deprivation, which had been set up before the current cost of living crisis escalated. The task group reported back to O&S and would eventually go on to Council, perhaps highlighting areas like planning policy where the council could make the biggest difference (for example with regard to secondary glazing). Another Member suggested adding fuel poverty to the task group’s remit.
- One Member noted that it would not be possible for a single O&S meeting to cover the issue in real depth, so it would need to identify a particular aspect to focus on.
- One Member highlighted the option of a Cabinet Member Working Group (CMWG), and noted that there was already one in place focusing on Housing. It was important to avoid overloading the council’s resources, both in terms of finances and officers.
- One Member noted that the option of getting developers to fund council planning departments was being explored elsewhere in the country, and could provide greater scope to invest in the council’s workforce.
The Chair summarised that fuel poverty was clearly an issue of great scope and complexity, with a real lack of precise information around it. For example, they did not know how many houses in the town were poorly insulated, and what degree of insulation would be needed to get these up to standard. The committee needed to engage with Cheltenham Borough Homes (CBH) and get an assessment from them. The CMWG for Housing also had a role to play, as did the scrutiny task group and a number of council departments. The referral highlighted a crisis that would not be solved overnight, and would require a properly resourced long-term plan.
In terms of actions, he suggested that the current Housing CMWG be involved in developing this long term plan, along with the scrutiny task group on Tackling Multiple Deprivation. The chair’s group would also consider who could be invited to future O&S meetings to provide additional evidence, such as CBH, the fire service, environmental health and property services.
Members supported the recommendations as a sensible way to tackle a broad issue, and stressed the need to involve partners wherever possible. Another Member was pleased with the response but reiterated the need to act fast, with the number of households in fuel poverty expected to rise considerably over the winter.
Another Member echoed the need to focus on the council’s housing stock, but added that the private rented sector was a key player too, for example with identifying unregistered houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) and ensuring fire safety. The council had less direct control over this and would need to take an approach that used more stick and less carrot, along with supporting the fire service to ensure public safety. It would be interesting to hear about not just what CBH were already doing, but what they planned to do as well.
- The Cabinet Member Working Group for Housing be involved in reviewing the long term plan for council housing retrofitting;
- Fuel poverty be added to the specific remit of the ongoing Scrutiny Task Group on Tackling Multiple Deprivation;
- The Chair’s group consider who could be invited to future O&S meetings to provide further insight into the issue: e.g. CBH, the fire service, Environmental Health and Property Services.