To receive any questions relating to items on the Agenda from members of the public and replies thereto.
Mr Quinn, a local resident, asked a question relating to agenda Item 8 – Financial Monitoring.
You will be getting the same verbal Financial Monitoring report that has been given to other Committees and Groups in this cycle. In it, you will be told that £600,000 is being taken from the Housing Revenue Account to settle a ‘long running contractual dispute’.
The public have already asked questions, but got no answers - because the matter is subject to a ‘confidentiality agreement’. The Officer giving the verbal Financial Monitoring report will probably be saying the same to you.
It seems strange that a ‘confidentiality agreement’ should have been signed, when much of information on this matter has already been put into the public domain - by both this Council and the liquidator of Pemberton Homes.
Council Officers have published risk reports informing Members of problems with the Palmerston Park and Birchen Lane developments and that a claim against the Council was being considered. Officers stated they were confident that any claim would be rebuffed, as they had obtained ‘appropriate legal advice’ before the Council terminated the contract – so the risk was ‘low’.
The liquidator for Pemberton Homes Limited published the fact that a claim had been made against the Council in respect of the ‘alleged wrongful termination of the contract’. The value of the claim was said to be nearly 7 Million Pounds.
The costs of dealing with this claim will also have come out of the Housing Revenue Account, so the total loss on this matter is much more than £600,000.
This is public money and its loss will have a significant impact. Questions should be asked and answered.
This ‘confidentiality agreement’ ensures that Officers can avoid answering difficult questions, from the public, about the loss of this public money. But Members can ask - internally.
My question to you is:
What do Members of the Housing PDG intend to do about the loss, to the Housing Revenue Account, of more than £600,000 from this matter?
The Chairman stated that since this matter was covered by a ‘confidentiality agreement’ the Group were not allowed to discuss, ask questions or put forward ideas about this issue in open session.
Mr Gerald Conyngham then asked a question in relation to item 9 on the agenda, concerning the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme. He stated that…..I am the convenor of Welcoming Refugees in Crediton. Our original aim was to campaign for Mid Devon to join the Syrian Resettlement Programme which has happened and a commitment made to take up to 5 families over 5 years. Currently there are 3 families in the District. Our family arrived in March this year just before lockdown so their activities have been very restricted. However they have settled well, are learning English on line and have an allotment. Our group have organised some activities for them to meet people, within the Government guidelines.
We are not a community sponsorship group, however we welcome the plan to encourage community sponsorship and are pleased to hear there is a group in the District set up for this purpose. Not every community is able to undertake the work involved in community sponsorship and so we would like the council to back both types of scheme in the future ie Government and local authority run schemes (especially the new UK Refugee scheme) which are run in partnership with RSD and local communities, as well as community sponsorship schemes. Especially since the local authority scheme does not now involve work for MDDC officers since the work is contracted out to an agency run by South Hams and West Devon. So far only 3 families have been rehoused in mid Devon whereas the target is 5.
My question to the committee is:
Will you back both types of schemes to enable more refugee families to come to Mid Devon, agree to join the new UK Refugee scheme, and commit to take at least 5 families, in addition to community sponsorship ones, once restrictions are lifted?
AntheaDuquemin spoke in relation to the same issue….I am the person who bought the house in Crediton that is being used for the resettlement scheme. I am really delighted with the way that things have worked out and I want to thank the committee and Mid Devon District Council for resolving previous difficulties by agreeing to use SeaMoor Lettings Agency as a third party solution. It seems to work well for everyone involved and SeaMoor make letting the house through the scheme completely simple for me as the landlord and as I understand it there are no associated problems for the Council. All costs to the Council are taken care of through the funds that are administered by the County Council. The family who live in my house are fantastically appreciative of their new lives in Crediton. They have received brilliant support from ‘Welcome Refugees to Crediton and they seem to be settling in very well as Gerald has just said. There is no evidence of them experiencing problems similar to those mentioned in the report and it really seems that everything associated with the house in Crediton has been positive.
I am now aware of a specific person who wants to replicate the experience by buying a house for the resettlement scheme in Crediton. This person has cash and is actively looking for a property to buy that would fit the resettlement scheme requirements. With knowledge of how supportive ‘Welcoming Refugees to Crediton Group’ is and how well the family have settled, it seems ideal to introduce one more family to the town. Whilst the Crediton Group isn’t well enough resourced to operate the community sponsorship scheme, they are brilliant at providing the level of contact needed and compliment the services of the refugee support network. It also appears as though the Crediton community have been generally welcoming and there is no reason to believe that another new family from Syria or elsewhere couldn’t settle in equally well.
The report notes that 3000 pledges of support have been received from local authorities against a national target of 5000 for the year leading up to March 2021 so Mid Devon District Council’s original pledge of 5 families to be resettled presumably means that our remaining 2 places are part of that pledge? So can the committee tell me please, once the international Covid restrictions are lifted sufficient for resettlement to happen again will the Council commit to honouring its original pledge of resettling 5 families under the Resettlement Scheme and can they reassure the potential house buyer that if the house is bought and can be approved suitable for the Resettlement Scheme, will the Council allow for at least 1 more family to be resettled in Crediton either under the existing Syrian Resettlement Scheme or under the UK Resettlement Scheme, whichever is current at the time when the house is approved?
The Chairman stated that the questions posed in relation to this item would be answered once the Syrian Resettlement Scheme was discussed at item 9 on the agenda.