Agenda item

Questions to Cabinet Members and Chairmen


(1)  Councillor C. Vines referred to the recent Cabinet re-organisation where Councillor Hussain had been moved to Environment and asked was this because like the Opposition the Leader felt there had been very little social cohesion or integration of ethnic minorities during Councillor Hussain's tenure?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, confirmed that the new Cabinet Portfolios have been aligned with Directorate services to ensure clear lines of accountability. Councillor Hussain had taken on broader service portfolio whilst he himself had taken responsibility for cohesion related matters. This indicated the importance of the cohesion agenda.


In a supplementary question Councillor C. Vines referred to his own experiences in business and found it unusual to move someone from a position if they had been doing a good job.  Only those people that were not doing a good job were removed.


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, did not pass any comment.


(2)  Councillor M. Vines asked if the Council were receiving donations for the victims of child sexual exploitation and one donation of £50,000.00 and if this was true asked if she could be told where these donations were going?


Councillor Hoddinott, Deputy Leader, confirmed that the Council were not receiving donations, but believed reference was being made to the South Yorkshire Community Fund, which the Council had put in £20,000 and as reported in the media, received a £50,000 donation. Members of the public could also donate to that fund.


The Cabinet did receive presentations and a report from victim support groups and the Deputy Leader was happy to share details from that if Councillor M. Vines would find that useful.  It was also noted Councillor Clark, Deputy Mayor, was running a tombola in aid of Rotherham Women's Counselling service and would welcome donations.


(3)  Councillor Cowles asked now it appeared that Councillor Stone was unlikely to take any further part in the running of this Council would the Leader write to him to demand his resignation in order that the residents of Silverwood could have genuine representation on the Council?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, explained that Councillor Stone was elected by the public, but advised that the manner in which an individual member sought to undertake his or her duties was a matter for that member.  This was, of course, on the basis that a member attended at least one meeting of the Council within a period of six consecutive months.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to the lack of power to enforce and why this man was being supported for doing nothing.


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, pointed out that assumptions were being made that Councillor Stone was doing nothing.


(4)  Councillor Gilding asked how could the Council justify the payment of £40,000 to the former Strategic Director of Children and Young People's Services?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, pointed out that the former Strategic Director had not been dismissed, but stated that she had worked for the Council under a contract of employment which entitled her to six months’ notice.  This contractual entitlement had to be abided by when the arrangements to ensure that the former Strategic Director of Children Services left the authority were considered. 


The dismissal of a Senior Social Services Officer had to be approached correctly.   For example, in the case of Sharon Shoesmith, who was dismissed by Haringey Council following the death of baby Peter, the costs to the Council of her unfair dismissal were in excess of £600,000. 


When the cross-party Staffing Committee considered the arrangements for Mrs. Thacker’s departure from the Council, they took into account the implications in both cost and time of instigating formal procedures, as opposed to the speedy and straightforward resolution of the situation by mutual agreement. The payment was significantly less than the Council would have been contractually obliged to pay  Mrs. Thacker in respect of  entitlement to notice pay.


The arrangement had allowed the Council to move on and demonstrate that proper leadership arrangements were to be put in place.


In a supplementary question Councillor Gilding asked what kind of pension she was to receive based on the salary she received?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, was unable to comment on the exact terms of her pension, but had it on good authority that her pension benefits were not enhanced.


(5) Councillor Hunter asked now the Council had decided to listen to the people it previously ignored, would it listen to the 6000+ objectors to the Labour Party’s 'concrete the countryside' policy and review the Bassingthorpe Farm development?


Councillor Godfrey, Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods, confirmed the Council had adopted its Core Strategy and that the Bassingthorpe Farm proposed development was designated as a strategic allocation by the Independent Planning Inspector who examined the Core Strategy. When looking at the information in support of the development of this area as well as the objections to the proposal he felt that the scheme should be brought forward to provide much needed housing in an accessible location to meet the housing needs of the Borough. The principle of development in this location had now been established and the site had, therefore, now been removed from the Green Belt and was allocated for residential and employment development with a local centre and recreation provision.


The concept framework for planning applications had been developed and the current version of this was available on the Council’s website.


In a supplementary question Councillor Hunter asked if the Cabinet Member was prepared to put the question of housing development in this area to a referendum so the plans could be approved by the people.


Councillor Godfrey, Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods, reiterated that the Core Strategy had already been formally adopted by the Council and a referendum was not open to be part of this process.


Councillor Read, to aid the question, pointed out that the National Planning Policy Framework only allowed for a referendum to increase the number of houses, but not to recommend a reduction.


(6)          Councillor Jepson asked, following the 2013 LDP Consultation, a 1,900 signature petition and a written submission objecting to a proposed Gypsy and Traveller site at South Anston were lodged with the Council, but have been totally disregarded. Would the Cabinet Member agree to meet him and the group to discuss their objections in more detail?


Councillor Godfrey, Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods, confirmed that she would be happy to meet Councillor Jepson and that all the issues raised in last year’s consultation have been responded to in the “feedback report” which was now publically available and could be viewed on the Council’s website. None of the comments made have been disregarded – they have been taken into consideration in reaching a decision about sites. However, the Council was required to allocate a site suitable for gypsy and traveller use where need existed (the assessment of need for Rotherham identified that a site for eight pitches should be allocated), where Barnsley had thirty-five pitches, Doncaster had forty-five pitches and Sheffiled had forty-seven pitches.


Three potential sites were assessed and the Kiveton Park site was chosen as the best potential site; this site could accommodate up to eight pitches. The sites were assessed along with the other possible Local Plan allocations and each had been subject to sustainability appraisal – polices have been included within the Local Plan which could ensure impact on the environment was taken into account when planning applications were considered and highways, education etc. have all been asked to assess and comment on the sites as part of the process


Statements of support have been received from two organisations representing Gypsy and Traveller communities stating that this would be a particularly suitable site, which would be welcomed by practically all Gypsies and Travellers.


In a supplementary question Councillor Jepson asked the Cabinet Member if she was happy to be contacted by email and welcomed the opportunity to discuss matters further.


Councillor Godfrey, Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods, confirmed her acceptance.


(7)          Councillor Turner referred to the past few years where the ruling Labour Group have concentrated on the import of Labour votes from across the world without any heed to the consequences and asked would the new Labour administration move to stop further building in green spaces and take control of beleaguered services?


Councillor Godfrey, Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods, reconfirmed that Core Strategy had been adopted.   The amount of housing required over the next fifteen years has been calculated based on a locally assessed need.  The Council had successfully argued for a lower target than that required in Regional Spatial Strategy. Although even this lower target still required some Green Belt release, the Council considers that this would allow sufficient land for residential purposes for at least the plan period. Put into context, the amount of land released from the Green Belt over the next fifteen years would amount to less than 2% of the Borough’s total Green Belt land.


In a supplementary question Councillor Turner referred to congestion on various roads such as the A631 and Herringthorpe Valley Road and asked that those Members elected by the people of Rotherham take a stand against the repercussions of building large numbers of houses and the potential for congestion where households have more than one car.


Councillor Godfrey Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods, confirmed that all factors such as highway related issues were taken into account when the development was proposed and approved.  Improvements were provided to the infrastructure by way of Section 106 Agreements or the Community Infrastructure Levy as part of the planning process.  The Sites and Policies Document was currently out for consultation to ensure that the sites going forward were allocated on the appropriately serviced in terms of roads, schools etc.


(8)          Councillor Parker asked if the Leader could tell Rotherham’s public if any organisation had given training or lectures in Rotherham Schools, Colleges or to Educational Support Workers, the Voluntary Sector on Child Sexual Exploitation prior to the Jay report or since the report was published?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, confirmed that the Local Safeguarding Children Board provided all designated leads in Rotherham schools an annual update on child sexual exploitation, and Governors were also trained on child sexual exploitation. Training was delivered to Governors on 4th March, 2014. Schools were also provided with access to the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board child sexual exploitation one day workshop, which ran bi-monthly. This workshop was also free of charge and accessed by the VCS in Rotherham.


In September 2014, an update on the Jay Report was provided to all Rotherham School Heads, at the Joint Heads Meeting. The Leader of the Council also addressed Head Teachers at this event and there was an opportunity for Heads to ask questions.


Where requested, additional training was being provided to learning communities. The Maltby learning community, for example, had requested child sexual exploitation training from the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, which was being delivered in November.


In addition training had been provided for all Elected Members and Bramley Parish Council on this issue.


It was important that all sectors of the community were engaged in finding solutions and to this end the Leader was to meet with BME women’s groups in early November, where training and development would be discussed.


In a supplementary question Councillor Parker asked if the Leader was aware of child sexual exploitation training being provided from the same address as an Elected Member and linked to another business.  It would appear that the said Elected Member could be seen to be profiting from the distress caused, which was totally unacceptable and what information had this Elected Member had to come to the conclusion that there was a business opportunity from such a situation and why had that person not forwarded information on to the Police or other agencies?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, suggested that if Councillor Parker had information that this was, indeed, taking place then it should be forwarded onto the Monitoring Officer for investigation.


(9)           Councillor C. Vines stated that a common theme of those who have resigned or been forced to leave their employment over child sexual exploitation was their involvement in Common Purpose Training and asked would the Leader guarantee no more tax payers money would be spent sending people for this shady practice?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, stated that the Council had not spent any money on training provided by Common Purpose in the last six years and there were no current plans to source any training from Common Purpose in the future.


In a supplementary question Councillor C. Vines asked could he be given the  names of people who had received common purpose training in this Council or this Authority?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, confirmed that this information would be sought and the information would be provided in writing.


(10)       Councillor Cowles referred to Councillor Hoddinott being appointed Deputy Leader and according to the constitution now paid around £33,000. Having seen the extensive list of Councillor Hoddinott's interests, including as an employee at North Yorkshire Council, just how many full days per week does she spend working for Rotherham Council?


Councillor Hoddinott, Deputy Leader, confirmed she was a part-time officer for Unison employed by North Yorkshire County Council, which would shortly cease on the 1st November, 2014 when she would take an unpaid career break and would be able to spend the majority of the time fulfilling the position of Deputy Leader and Ward Councillor for the Wickersley Ward serving the people of Rotherham.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles asked if Councillor Hoddinott would ensure that her declaration of interest form be kept up-to-date.


Councillor Hoddinott, Deputy Leader, confirmed she would and which would apply to all Members of the Council and had noted that some Members had included addresses which indicated they did not live in the Borough.


(11)       Councillor Gilding asked what was the anticipated settlement following the early retirement of the Chief Executive?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, explained that the Chief Executive had announced his resignation and not his early retirement from the Authority.  The arrangements to secure the Chief Executive’s departure have not been finalised.  Once those arrangements were agreed Members would be informed if there were any costs to the Council.


(12)        This question was not permitted as it did not relate to the affairs of the Council or Borough, in accordance with Standing Order 7(1).


(13)       Councillor Cowles referred to last month, in response to my questioning, Councillor Hussain stated that the Council had not had state sponsored segregation in Rotherham and Britain. In light of the fact that Councillor Hussain had been moved to Environment, he asked if he could take it that the Leader agreed, that the Council have had state sponsored segregation?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, referred Councillor Cowles referred to his previous response to Councillor Vines which he felt adequately deals with this question.


However, he did wish to make it clear that that he personally deplored racial segregation and did not accept that there was any such practice in Rotherham. However, if Councillor Cowles had evidence to the contrary then he was urged to pass this to the Leader or the relevant authorities so the matter could be investigated given the seriousness of the allegation.  


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to the 2011 census results, which when combined with the social housing data, indicated that there was clear evidence of segregation within Rotherham’s Council housing, which was allocated on a needs basis and asked what was the Council prepared to do to ensure a realistic solution?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, confirmed he was willing to meet with Councillor Cowles for him to listen as to what he had to say.


Councillor Hussain, Cabinet Member for Environment, tried to assist and pointed out that the census was purely for the country and not related in any way to social housing.  Where people decided to live, whether this was in Council housing allocated to them or not, was up to the individuals concerned.


(14)       Councillor Gilding asked what information could the Leader give Members about the theft of confidential files on child abuse from an office at Riverside House?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, stated that the Council had no information regarding any theft of confidential files from Riverside House. If Councillor Gilding had any information relating to this, it should be forwarded to the Chief Executive immediately, so that it may be investigated.


The allegation that there had been a break-in at the Risky Business premises was the subject of a detailed investigation by the Council’s Internal Audit Team.  As part of their investigation, Internal Audit had contacted the Police (who have confirmed they have no record of a break-in) occupiers of the building at the time of the alleged break-in, and the building caretaker. To date they have not obtained clear evidence of a break-in and further evidence was being sought prior to a final conclusion being reached.


With regard to allegations that minutes and Children’s Services files were missing, these matters were the subject of investigations by the Council’s Audit Team and Human Resources Officers.  


The Council was taking all of these allegations very seriously and, notwithstanding the fact that some related to a considerable time ago, they would be investigated as fully as possible.


The Leader of the Council wrote to the Home Secretary on 17th September, 2014 inviting her to come to Rotherham to examine any of the files, but had not received a response.  In addition, the Home Secretary had commissioned her own review of information security at Rotherham Council, but no terms of reference have yet been published. 


The Council welcomed all such assistance in clarifying the position with regard to what had happened in Rotherham and what lessons could be learned.


In a supplementary question Councillor Gilding asked for clarification if any of the files related to child sexual exploitation and was surprised that any alleged theft should be a job for the Police?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, confirmed that no information regarding that theft was reported to the Police at the time.


(15)       Councillor Cowles asked if the Leader in his role of community cohesion was aware of Ted Cantles (author of the Oldham Riots report) and the "Wedge System" to integrate children at school across ethnic backgrounds and asked if the Leader was aware of the "Wedge System" and would he be implementing this in Rotherham?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, explained that he was not aware of Ted Cantle and the report of the Oldham Riots nor was he aware of the “Wedge System” so if Councillor Cowles had information or knowledge of this then he would be pleased to receive it.


The Leader would like to take this opportunity to share some information he did have with Councillor Cowles in case he was not aware of the make-up of Rotherham’s local schools.


Rotherham had sixteen secondary schools (half of them academies) and according to latest school data, White British pupils were in the majority at every one. There were ten secondary schools which were over 90% White British, but none which reached 50% BME.


There were ninety-six primary schools and White British pupils were in the majority at eighty-eight of them. There were sixty-one primary schools where over 90% were White British and two which were over 90% BME.


The ethnic mix of schools largely reflected the distribution of the different ethnic groups as well as parental choice. At secondary level, schools were either mainly White British (in outer areas) or mixed (in more central areas), reflective of the surrounding populations.


In terms of looking for the type of solution Councillor Cowles was inferring then the answer to this was that the almost total marginalisation of local authorities in the field of education, with policy set at the national level and delivered through the growing number of academies and free schools, was a major contributing factor.


Anyone genuinely interested in addressing the impact of education and community relations should now be looking to reverse this trend by recognising that Local Government must once again be in the driving seat of education.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to reports at the last meeting where clearly problems had been created by mass immigration into working class areas.  In relation to the “Wedge” system this was discussed at the Labour Party Conference and comprised of a management system allowing for children to be allowed to attend a school regardless of where they lived.


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, was not aware of this method of integration and asked that Councillor Cowles meet with him and an officer from Children and Young People’s Services to see if this system would be of benefit to the Council.


To assist Councillor Hussain, Cabinet Member for Environment, could not recall this issue being discussed at the Labour Party Conference, but confirmed he too was happy to sit down and work through how this issue could assist the borough in the future.


(16)       Councillor Cowles asked in light of the Heywood and Middleton election result, Labour Shadow Cabinet Member Andy Burnham stated the Labour Party needed to act on the serious effect mass immigration had had on working class people and asked did the Leader endorse those remarks?


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, confirmed that Immigration Policy was a matter for the Government. This Council would do all that it could to ensure that the town was a pleasant, prosperous and harmonious place to live.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles asked in view of this the Labour Leader was clearly out of touch with the working class and public opinion.


Councillor Lakin, the Leader, referred to his previous answer.


(17)       Councillor Cowles asked would Labour Members and the Leader agree with him that private sector companies were out of touch. Senior pay and conditions were totally unconnected to performance or ability and an insult to those at the bottom. If so, could he explain why he was prepared to continue to pay senior executives £160,000 p.a.?


Councillor Beck, Cabinet Member for Business Growth and Regeneration, confirmed the Council was required each year to publish in its pay policy the pay ratio which showed the ratio of the highest paid employee to that of the lowest paid employee. Rotherham’s ratio was only 13 to 1 prior to the payment of the Living Wage and, therefore, would now be even lower. This compareed to the Hutton review recommendation that the ratio in the public sector should be no higher than 20 to 1. The ratio in FTSE 100 companies reported by Income Data Services last week was on average 120 to 1.


(18)       Councillor Cowles referred to the 13th October, Monday morning Look North, where, on a lighter note, Clare Frisby referred to the Leader as Councillor Lackin and asked did he believe this was a mispronunciation by her or that he thought she was sending a subtle message to the electorate ahead of next year's election?


As a point of order Councillor Currie considered this inappropriate and not for consideration by the Council.