Agenda item

Questions to Cabinet Members and Chairmen


(1)   Councillor Vines asked could the Deputy Leader tell him if Rotherham MBC would be following the lead of Leeds and Nottingham Councils in using the legal loophole to reassess bedroom size and use to lessen the impact this discrimination tax was having on some of our most vulnerable people and if not why?


The Deputy Leader confirmed Rotherham would not be following the lead of others and reported that this matter had already been considered in a delegated powers report to the Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods on 20th May, 2013 which set out the reasons the loophole should not be used. The report also included details of the support to be given to Council Tenants in financial hardship as a result of the Bedroom Tax.


Rotherham had 3600 properties that may be affected by the Bedroom Tax  with more than 2100 different house types.  To reassess bedroom size would have a negative impact on the Housing Revenue Account and the thirty year business plan.


Should the Government discover the Rotherham was using a legal loophole it could penalise the Council.


(2)  Councillor Gilding asked what exactly went wrong with “Digital Region South Yorkshire” when the Government was having to bail it out with £45 million of taxpayers’ money?


The Leader reported that Digital Region was a South Yorkshire wide innovative pathfinder project which commenced in 2006 seeking to transform the economy of South Yorkshire through the implementation of a high speed broadband network to support growth and job creation. This had been recognised at national level by the Government’s initiative to roll out high speed broadband through its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) delivery model whose aim was for 90% of premises to have superfast broadband access by 2015.


At the start of the project, BT and other network operators made it clear that South Yorkshire was not a priority for investment even though broadband access in South Yorkshire was perceived to be five to seven years behind other parts of the country. Hence the need for it to be a public sector led scheme. The project did, however, act as a catalyst for BT and other network operators to expand their operations within South Yorkshire such that they now have 70% broadband coverage across South Yorkshire compared to 30% at the start of the project. DRL currently provided a further 13% coverage (83% coverage overall).


Within such a groundbreaking, complex and challenging project there were inevitably many risks including generating sufficient business to achieve the project’s overall aims. The unexpected introduction of BT and other network operators into the market and the fall in broadband prices had meant that the revenues Digital Region expected to generate have not been realised. The shareholders, therefore, unanimously agreed in March, 2012 to go through a re-procurement process which sought to transfer more of the risk to the private sector in line with the BDUK model. The cost of transferring risk to the private sector together with the delays caused by the need to undertake a re-procurement have led to an increase in the level of public sector funding required.  The Department of Business, Innovations and Skills had continued to support the project throughout the re-procurement to date, but now see themselves at a point where they wished the local authority shareholders to take on responsibility for its future strategic direction.


The Leader was unable to speak on behalf of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, but the fact they have continued to support the Digital Region project throughout the re-procurement to date and have committed to making financial assistance of up to £45 million available was perhaps indicative of their desire, and that of the other shareholders, to secure as much of the transformational aims of the project as possible. 


(3)  Councillor Vines asked was RMBC following the Government guidelines on spare bedroom exemption for disabled people who required a second bedroom and exempting them from the additional tax imposed on having a second bedroom and carrying out assessment where required?


The Deputy Leader confirmed that the Council was following the Government guidelines on the spare bedroom exemptions for disabled people and exempting them where appropriate.


(4)  Councillor Gilding asked as Rotherham was classified as an ‘Asylum Dispersal Area’, what responsibilities did this place on this Council?


Councillor Hussain explained that the dispersal of Asylum Seekers in the UK was the responsibility of the UK Border Agency under the direction of the Home Office.


In the summer of 2012, the UK Border Agency took the decision to transfer direct local responsibility for accommodation and support of asylum seekers from the Local Authority to G4S.


Since that time the direct responsibilities of the Local Authority were very limited, however, there was responsibility to provide the children of asylum seeking families with education, as well as offering residual support under the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Act, to failed asylum seekers who faced destitution, and were unable to immediately return to their country of origin.


The Local Authority had of course other general duties not specifically aimed at Asylum Seekers such as the responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of the area, which could include such issues as ensuring community safety and cohesion.