Questions to Cabinet Members
(1) Councillor Cutts asked could the Cabinet Member please advise on the design capacity for the number of people to work in the new Municipal Building and confirm what arrangements were made for entering and exiting off Don Street regarding car parking?
Councillor Smith confirmed that the capacity of the building in terms of workstations was 1,322 (this was the figure after the incorporation of the Library). The number of staff identified as moving in was 2,075, but this did not take account of the current staffing reviews.
In respect of car parking, vehicular access was off Don Street where there were 118 internal and 46 external car parking spaces. This access route had been approved as part of the planning consent, which included consultation with the Council’s Highways Section.
(2) Councillor Middleton asked when the new Council building on Main Street was fully operational, which existing Council buildings would remain in use and for what purpose?
Councillor Smith explained that the Town Centre buildings proposed to be retained were:-
· Town Hall - accommodating Council Chamber, Mayor's accommodation etc.
· Eric Manns Building - operating as an extension to the democratic and Members facilities in the Town Hall.
· Station Road - retained as corporate records storage.
· Civic Theatre.
(3) Councillor Gilding asked what was the total estimated cost of the A6021 Wickersley Road/Broom Road Accessibility Improvements?
Councillor Smith reported that the total estimated cost of the A6021 Wickersley Road/Broom Road accessibility improvement scheme was £470k.
Funding for this scheme had been sought from the Local Transport Plan Strategic Fund, which funded significant Integrated Transport projects across South Yorkshire. Requests for funding from the Strategic Fund were assessed on their merits against all other requests for funding across South Yorkshire. Schemes were scored by the promoting authority and the Local Transport Plan Central Team and funding was then allocated to schemes on a priority basis, with those giving the most benefit receiving funding.
We have successfully received £141k from the Strategic Fund in 2010/11 for the Wickersley Route scheme, which aimed to improve accessibility for pedestrians, cyclists and bus users. The full scheme, included:-
· The extension of the existing out of town bus lane on Wickersley Road on its approach to Stag Roundabout
· The benchmarking of bus stops along the route including the partial infilling of a bus layby on Wickersley Road to provide buses with additional priority when exiting the stop on this key bus corridor.
· The provision of Zebra crossing facilities on all arms of Stag Roundabout (currently only 1 arm has a Zebra crossing)
· Pedestrian crossing and cycle lane improvements along other sections of Broom Road.
A bid for the remaining funding to complete the scheme would be made from next years Strategic Fund. At present the full implications of the Comprehensive Spending Review on the available funding for 2011/12 were still to be confirmed.
(4) Councillor Thirlwall referred to a previous Council Meeting where Councillor Stone stated he had full confidence in the Right Honourable Denis MacShane M.P. and asked did the Leader still have that same confidence now?
The Leader confirmed he did.
(5) Councillor Fenoughty asked what extra provision of grit had been made for this winter?
Councillor Smith explained that in an average winter the Council would expect to use between 3,500 - 4,000 tonnes of salt through routine salting and the new depot at Hellaby had the capacity for over 4,000 tonnes. Because it was stored under cover this meant that the salt should remain at optimum moisture content for spreading; coupled with a finer grade of rock salt this should enable the Council to reduce the rate of spread applied as a precaution when frost or ice was forecast; in effect the supplies would go up to 15% further. The salt barn at Hellaby should be full by mid-November.
In addition, 2,000 tonnes of salt was ordered and delivered to Greasbrough Road. This was planned to be used for the period up to Christmas after which any remaining stocks would be taken into store at Scotch Springs storage compound at Maltby and held as a strategic reserve.
(6) Councillor Cutts asked, with the new high-tech facilities in the re-furbished Council Chamber, would the new projector and screen be allowed to illustrate and assist in question time during Council Meetings or discussion during a Motion?
The Leader replied that there would be no recording or illustrations using the equipment at Council Meetings.
(7) Councillor Middleton asked did any leases or tenancies of existing buildings contain any provisions which would give rise to capital or continuing expenditure when they were vacated?
Councillor Smith confirmed the majority of buildings that would be vacated were owned and occupied by the Council and included Bailey House, Crinoline House, Norfolk House and others. These properties were not, therefore, on lease, but would continue to attract costs after vacation had taken place. Typical costs for the period after vacation and before disposal would be security, maintenance, empty rates, utility costs and services contracts.
The only building that was presently leased by the Council (as tenant), and contained staff bound for the new offices, was the Ground Floor of Enterprise House, presently occupied by RBT Welfare Benefits. The lease was for a term of five years from 31st October, 2008 and, therefore, did not expire until October, 2013, some nineteen months after the anticipated move to Riverside House. A number of options were being explored, including the exercise of the break clause in the lease and the finding of temporary accommodation in the interim period.
(8) Councillor Thirlwall asked could the Leader tell this Chamber if it would be possible for other Members of the Council to challenge him for the position of Strong Leader next May and if so, would he welcome such a challenge?
The Leader pointed out that his term of office as Leader was due to end on the day of the Annual Council meeting next year and the same procedure for election would take place.
(9) Councillor Cutts reported that he was pleased to see the Chilean flag flown from the Town Hall, asked why though from the fire escape entrance and which of the three poles was the “primary flag pole”?
Councillor Smith pointed out that there was no particular reason for the decision to fly the flag from that position. It was flown to show support for the Chilean mining recovery. The primary flag position was the central flag pole.
(10) Councillor Middleton asked, bearing in mind the intention of three London Councils to amalgamate certain administrative functions to save £100 million, have any discussions taken place with Barnsley or Doncaster to save Rotherham comparable sums?
Councillor Wyatt pointed out to Members of the Council the steps being taken by this Council to deliver shared services, firstly with Doncaster, where Rotherham Council managed Doncaster’s Internal Audit Service and secondly with Sheffield, where this Council was leading on Emergency Planning Services on behalf of both Councils. Both of these developments would provide cash savings to Rotherham Council and enhanced service provision for both Councils through sharing good practice. They represented first steps in a potentially larger programme of shared services development.
In the meantime, the Council was continuing in discussions with partners both within Rotherham and beyond to identify pragmatic, readily delivered shared service arrangements.
(11) Councillor Thirlwall referred to the objective of establishing the ‘Ministry of Food’, at great expense to the tax payer, which was to combat obesity and asked had the Leader and Members of the Council been following the advice of the ‘Ministry of Food’ and if so had it resulted in Members of the Council losing weight?
The Leader was pleased to report that of the £135k set up charges for the Ministry of Food, the cost to the Council for the first year had been £7k and nothing for the second year. The Ministry of Food was not just about combating obesity, but had also provided:-
· Over 6,000 local people with a cookery lesson and around 150 people using the centre in a typical week.
· Over 3,000 people involved in “pass it on” events (to share recipes and cookery skills).
· More than 350 children using the Ministry of Food during school holidays.
· 35 young people from the borough completing work experience placements at the centre (in many cases this had influenced their future choices and aspirations).
· At least four cookery sessions delivered each week in Rotherham schools.
· The Ministry of Food Team supported over forty events across the borough.
· The popular children’s’ afterschool cook clubs were booked until the end of 2010 with bookings now being taken for 2011.
· The project had supported six future job fund placements.
(12) Councillor Cutts asked when would the Council be replacing 900 lamp-posts per year for a ten year period, i.e. 9,000 poles and asked why were we not able to illuminate St. Alban’s path at Wickersley with three new lamp-posts when this request has been running for year?
Councillor Smith reported that the capital funding allocated to street lighting was for the replacement of approximately 9000 ‘at risk’ failing lighting columns and could not be used for the provision of new lighting.
The installation of lighting on St. Alban’s Way footpath had been considered by the Transportation Unit, but there was currently no funding available from the Local Transport Plan programme this financial year for the implementation of this scheme. However, this scheme had been added to a list of potential schemes for consideration in the next financial year.
(13) Councillor Thirlwall asked in view of the dire financial situation the Council now found itself in, would the Leader reduce the number of Strategic Directors, Directors, Assistant Chief Executives and Managers and if job losses occurred throughout the Council would the Leader reduce the salaries of the above, together with the Chief Executive?
The Leader reported that he would not be reducing salaries, but pointed out that the numbers of Executive Directors was reduced some time ago down to the four Strategic Directors now in post at the present time. In addition out of the M4 Senior Management category of twenty-three people in post at the beginning of this financial year five posts were to be lost i.e. 24% in this group, including:-
· Director Culture and Leisure – ill health retirement.
· Two Directors leaving through Voluntary Redundancy (No Pensions).
· One Director to a three year secondment to Sheffield whose own job was now to be disestablished.
· One Director or Assistant Chief Executive once the recruitment to the new Policy and Performance structure was complete.
· 0.5 reduction through sharing a post to manage Internal Audit on behalf of an neighbouring Council.
It was also noted that this group of employees, while obviously well paid and at the top of their various professions, have already had a pay freeze for the last two years.
Question 14 remained unanswered after the thirty minute guillotine and the answer would be provided for all Members in writing.