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Agenda and minutes

Venue: This will be a virtual meeting and therefore will not take place in a physical location, in accordance with s78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Link: View the meeting live here

No. Item


Apologies for absence


Apologies were received from co-opted members Emma Lemon and Colin Powell. Apologies were also received later in the meeting from Councillor Peter McCabe.


Declarations of pecuniary interest


There were no declarations of pecuniary interest from members of the Commission. In relation to agenda item 4, Councillor Eleanor Stringer (Cabinet Member for Schools and Adult Education) declared that she was employed by the Education Endowment Foundation.


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 64 KB


The minutes were agreed as an accurate record of the meeting.


Covid 19 pandemic impact on children and young people pdf icon PDF 76 KB


The Cabinet Member for Schools and Education, Councillor Eleanor Stringer, introduced the report, drawing members’ attention to the impact that the pre-existing housing crisis had on families’ ability to cope during the pandemic. Councillor Stringer said that staff in the council’s Children Schools and Families department had worked hard to adapt and to implement new ways of working in order to protect services and that staff sickness levels had been lower that initially anticipated. Youth services were adapted to provide remote and outdoor provision. Home learning opportunities have been provided throughout and the number of children in schools has been increasing and reached over 4,500 this week.


Councillor Stringer said that her main concerns now were an expected increase in the number of children eligible for free school meals and the consequent impact on educational outcomes; an expected increase in safeguarding referrals and the need to continue to deliver planned savings. She said that she was confident that the resilience of staff, partners and children and young people would enable them to rise to these challenges.


Councillor Stringer and the Director of Children, Schools and Families, Rachael Wardell, provided additional information in response to questions:


·         Approximately 2,500 children are classed as vulnerable under the government’s definition during the pandemic. Staff have made contact with each family to discuss the appropriateness of those children returning to school – many of those with Education Health and Care Plans have chosen to stay at home due to health concerns. Social workers have made home visits to those at high risk and have made virtual contact with others.

·         There is a significant variation in the home environment that will impact on children and young people being able to access home learning. As children return to school the first priority will be to help them to settle in and to feel safe and ready to learn. Teachers will then assess and address pupils’ learning needs. Teachers are used to providing differentiated learning within the classroom but this is likely to be more complex post-Covid.

·         Once the detail of funding available from the National Tutoring programme is known, the council will support schools to access this  fund and any other funding opportunities and to use these to the best possible effect.

·         The council has been providing advice and guidance to assist all schools to open to as many pupils as possible by thinking imaginatively about how to use available space. Government regulations prevent schools from using other community buildings.

·         Youth centres are still not permitted to provide face to face services so services have been redesigned around the detached youth worker model. Zoom and other software has been used for meetings of the Youth Parliament and other groups. The council will be reaching out to existing external funders to encourage them to continue supporting youth services.

·         Around 300 school staff are self isolating or shielding, the vast majority of whom are working from home.

·         Although there is not currently a shortage of foster carers  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


Climate change strategy and action plan pdf icon PDF 120 KB

Additional documents:


The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Health and the Environment, Councillor Tobin Byers, welcomed the opportunity to bring this issue for pre-decision scrutiny prior to discussion by Cabinet on 13 July. He stressed his personal commitment to the urgency of addressing climate change and the importance of collective action by the council, partner organisations and residents to deliver the desired outcomes.


Tom Walsh, Sustainable Merton’s representative on the Climate Emergency Working Group, said that the response to the Covid pandemic demonstrated how much could be achieved when there is a clear rationale, leadership and funding. He said that climate change is a more dangerous threat with the potential for a much greater loss of life and he stressed the importance of lobbying in order to access new sources of funding and redirect existing funding streams.


The Director of Environment and Regeneration, Chris Lee, introduced the report. He re-iterated the urgency of the issue and highlighted the need to ensure that the climate change strategy is linked to other council strategies.


Chris Lee said that the action plan would present a funding challenge for the council, currently costed at £88m but this is certain to change. The increase in remote working will reduce some of the costs of council and other buildings but there is a need to invest, particularly in school buildings, to deliver renewable energy solutions. Also, infrastructure is required across the country in order to deliver the scale of new technology that will provide heating systems for homes, businesses and schools. This is currently unaffordable for most householders.


Councillor Byers, Chris Lee, Katie Halter (Climate Change Manager)  and Dominique Hill (Climate Change Officer) provided additional information in response to questions:


·         The council’s economic strategy is nascent, reflecting the financial situation of the council. The Director will look at how this could be addressed.

·         The stakeholder group provided considerable professional expertise and assistance in developing the action plan. The implementation phase will need to reach out across the borough’s diverse communities and engage with people for whom climate change is not a priority. Scrutiny of the implementation phase will sit with the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel.

·         The climate action plan workshop in February 2020 was attended by Clarion and some private housing developers. Local Plan policies are currently being reviewed to identify how these could embed mitigation measures and more ambitious standards, particularly for new buildings.

·         Sustainable travel policies will focus on the promotion of active travel (walking and cycling) as these generate zero emissions and also have health benefits. Electric vehicles will be the preferred option for circumstances in which private vehicle use is essential but these are not carbon neutral when embodied carbon is taken into account.

·         The council will apply for all relevant external funding opportunities it is able to as they arise.

·         The council is working with London Councils and the London Environment Directors Network to develop a London wide green approach to recovery from the pandemic. The recent statement from the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Scrutiny work programme during the Covid 19 pandemic - a proposal for restarting the scrutiny panels pdf icon PDF 111 KB


The Commission RESOLVED:

1          to restart the scrutiny panels, with indicative work programmes as set out in the report

2          to agree the work programme for the Commission subject to information being provided to Commission members by email on the progress made during 2019-20 on the Equality and Community Cohesion Strategy Action Plan so that members could take a view on whether this addresses issues highlighted by Black Lives Matter and, if not, whether an additional report could be received earlier than the scheduled April date.

ACTION: Head of Democracy Services