Agenda item

Mr Mike Hill (Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services)


1.            Members welcomed Mr Hill, Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services to the Select Committee Hearing. 


2.            Mr Hill explained that he had held the portfolio for Community Services since 2005, this portfolio contained core front line services which had a large impact in terms of social isolation in Kent. 


3.    The portfolio could be divided into 4 broad groupings:


a.    Public protection, Regulatory Services, Community Safety, Trading Standards, Kent Scientific Services, Coroners, Public Rights of Way, Gypsies and Travellers, Community Wardens and Emergency Planning.  Mr Hill was also the Chairman of the Kent Community Safety Partnership and the Chairman of the Police and Crime Panel;

b.    Libraries and Archives;

c.    Countryside Leisure and Sports, Countryside Partnerships and Volunteering;

d.    Culture and Creative Services, including Turner Contemporary. 


4.            The Chairman explained that there was not currently a specific stand alone strategy for loneliness and isolation, but that it was contained within an overarching strategy.  The Chairman stated that Community Wardens and the Voluntary Sector played an important role and he asked Mr Hill how he saw KCC’s strategy for loneliness and isolation developing. 


5.            Mr Hill commented that all the services within his portfolio had a role in preventing social isolation.  He particularly referred to libraries which were used as safe havens and he considered that there should be a stand alone strategy to tackle loneliness and isolation.  This should be in two parts, the first offering activities for residents, places to visit, areas with internet access and the second targeting intervention more directly to combat social isolation.  Community Wardens had a large role in targeting people who were socially isolated, their roles had changed from being a law and order service to working with communities, to be aware of vulnerable people in communities and to signpost them to the agencies which could help. 


6.            Mr Hill also referred to the Home Library Service which was run by volunteers and was a regular point of contact for many residents and an important part of their lives. 


7.            The Trading Standards Service had evolved and was now part of the front line community safety work, it now focussed on people who had been subject to scams and other fraud. 


8.            Members were pleased to hear about the Home Library Service and asked for more information about how many library services there were throughout Kent.  There were suggestions that library hours should be increased; the library was considered to be a location to meet other people, gain access to computers and education for free.


9.            Mr Hill stated that a new library strategy was due to be published, the core issue was the buildings of which there were 99.  These were considered to be a vital point of contact for communities and it was hoped that this view would be supported, libraries were more than just book lending services. 


10.         In response to a question about the number of Community Wardens and where they were deployed Mr Hill explained that there were 70 wardens and their areas were set out on KCC’s website.  In relation to scams a Member asked if there was further contact after the initial issue had been resolved, Mr Hill explained that follow ups were carried out and if necessary residents were signposted to other organisations which were able to help. 


11.         Members were hugely supportive of the community wardens, the link between them and charitable services was invaluable along with their support for vulnerable people.


12.         The Chairman explained that the Select Committee would be visiting the Community Wardens to understand more about their role. 


13.         In response to a Member’s comment about opportunities for partnership working Mr Hill explained that the Council was looking at Cultural Commissioning and building further partnerships however this was not easy in the current financial climate.  A Member commented that the Select Committee would be putting cost benefits onto the aspirations of the Select Committee.  It would be helpful to set out a cost benefit analysis of the Community Wardens and other preventative services. 


14.         A Member asked how it was decided which areas community wardens should be deployed to and Mr Hill explained that this was done on a needs basis. 


15.         Mr Hill explained that much of his portfolio was not a statutory service, however he was convinced of the huge value in areas such as Community Wardens.  Members considered that one of their recommendations should be to retain and if possible increase the number of Community Wardens in Kent.  Mr Hill explained that previously there had been 100 wardens and this had been reduced to the current level of 70, he strongly recommended that the number of wardens did not go below 70.  One Member asked whether it would be possible to run a pilot scheme to look at deploying wardens in areas where it would be possible to measure their output.  Mr Hill informed Members that historical evidence was available around the effectiveness of Community Wardens as well as a report by Christ Church University which might be worth the Select Committee’s consideration.  


16.         In response to a question about what more could be done to reduce social isolation and loneliness Mr Hill considered that it was vitally important to strengthen communities.  Social isolation occurred where communities were weak or non-existent.  It was considered that residents felt happiest when they were surrounded by friends and were safe, with places to go and things to do.  There was a stark difference between living somewhere where that happened and where it didn’t happen.


17.         It was important to support the infrastructure of communities and Members considered that the voluntary sector in parts of Kent was very strong. The Chairman referred to volunteers who used their own cars to take residents to hospital and the value of services such as this.  One member also referred to residents with very niche needs, who would possibly not access services to meet their needs.  It was considered necessary to look at benefits for volunteers as they were such a valuable part of communities. 

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