Agenda item

Questions to Advisory Cabinet Members and Chairmen


(1)  Councillor John Turner asked with regard to the introduction of videoing of meetings being a major move towards democracy, did this ruling apply to Parish Councils or was it optional.


The Leader explained Parish Councils were not obliged to webcast their meetings, but they were obliged to permit filming, photographing and audio recording.


The Council also supported the extension of the webcasting of meetings and was extending webcasting from Council, Cabinet, Planning Board and Overview and Scrutiny Management Board meetings to all Scrutiny Commissions and the Health and Wellbeing Board.


Councillor John Turner referred to the difficulties within some Parish Council meetings and asked the Leader to lobby for any funding to support the filming of Parish Council meetings.


(2)  Councillor John Turner asked, since the evacuation of the multi-million pound Bailey House and its now seemingly desultory usage, what was the plan.


The Leader explained Bailey House was fully occupied on every floor, and contained a number of services:-


·                Ground floor - Corporate Print Room, Streetpride Town Centre Cleaning Team and storage, museum workshop, store and fine arts store.


·                First floor - Corporate Post Room (approximately 1/3rd of floor space, Elections Office and preparation area (1/3rd floor area), Bibliographical/ Library book store (approximately 1/3rd of floor space, Corporate archives (remaining floor area)).


·                Second Floor - GMB Office, Emergency Planning store and Corporate Records Management.


·                Third Floor - Cultural store and security store, Schools’ Connect Team, further general storage.


In a supplementary question Councillor John Turner referred to the largescale space within Bailey House and asked if the Leader agreed with him that it was bad asset usage.


The Leader could not agree with Councillor John Turner and pointed out that building management was being looked at moving forward.


(3)  Councillor C. Vines asked why was Habershon House put up for sale and staff informed of sale, who was responsible for this and who gave the authority for the sale and again why was it Opposition Members had to read the Advertiser to be informed of this?


The Leader confirmed at no point had Habershon House been put up for sale nor had staff been informed that the house was up for sale. The report in the Advertiser followed a meeting between the Local Authority officers and staff at Habershon House inappropriately suggesting that Habershon House was to be closed. It would appear that following this meeting someone then approached the Advertiser with this misinformation.  


This meeting took place with no authorisation or knowledge of either Elected Members or the Commissioners. The Strategic Director had investigated how this miscommunication occurred and had put checks in place to ensure there was no repeat.


Councillor C. Vines in a supplementary question asked could the Advertiser be approached to print a retraction on the misleading information.


The Leader indicated the Advertiser could be asked.


(4)  Councillor C. Vines asked why and what was the reason for so many personal and intrusive questions being asked of prospective new Council tenants such questions as where do they buy their clothes - M & S or Matalan and where do they shop for food.  What had this got to do with the Council’s housing staff.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, explained prospective tenants were asked to complete an income and expenditure form at both application and offer stage of the allocation process.  This was to ensure that Council properties were affordable and sustainable to them.  The income and expenditure form asked how much was spent on food and clothing, but did not ask specifically where the customer shopped. 


The income and expenditure process assisted applicants to understand the cost of running a home and what a Rotherham Council tenant was required to pay to sustain their tenancy. 


(5)  Councillor C. Vines asked had the survey of the damp and mould (sic) issues in Council housing stock been completed, what was the outcome and what action was being put in place to remedy this problem made worse since the decent homes programme  was completed as this problem was now causing  many tenants’ health problems.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, explained no such survey existed.  Rotherham had 21,000 Council homes and a number of these homes have a problem with condensation and mould related issues. The main cause of this related to poor ventilation of moisture within the property rather than damp arising out of a failure of the physical fabric of the building. 


The Council was trying to deal with these problems proactively. For example, all technical staff have been specifically trained in detecting damp and a significant amount of money was being invested to improve the insulation of the most thermally inefficient properties through external wall insulation, cavity wall and top-up roof insulation programmes. This work made stock far easier to heat and less expensive to keep warm and reduced the likelihood of cold surfaces in the property which attracted moisture. The Council was also replacing extractor fans with humidity sensitive fans and where there were obvious issues of tenants creating moisture, but not ventilating appropriately, advice was being provided to tenants.


The Council’s housing team also worked with colleagues in Public Health to reduce the incidence of fuel poverty and helped to keep people warm during the winter months.  This work was targeted at the most vulnerable tenants. This included advice and guidance on how to operate central heating systems efficiently. As part of this all the Council’s repair operatives have been trained to offer basic advice on issues relating to fuel poverty and were aware of where to signpost tenants who needed specific assistance with this issue.


Councillor C. Vines pointed out that the issues were to do with mould and not condensation and offered to escort the Advisory Cabinet Member around the properties so she could view for herself.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, welcomed such an opportunity and would arrange a suitable date/time in her diary.


(6)   Councillor C. Vines referred to Councillor McNeely’s report to Cabinet on selective licensing where it mentioned that landlords were implicated in child sexual exploitation and asked was there any evidence to support this and what evidence was there to say that landlords could not be trusted to self-regulate.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, referred to Councillor McNeely presenting two reports to Cabinet on the Selective Licensing Scheme.  The first on the 27th November, 2013 (Minute No. 131) presented the business case for selective licensing and requested permission to go to public consultation, the second presented on the 19th March, 2014, gave an initial indication of the consultation outcome (Minute No. 216). Neither of these reports suggested that landlords were implicated in child sexual exploitation.


Selective Licensing was a tool available to Local Authorities to raise standards in the private rented sector. The Authority had taken the view that in the areas of concern, this mechanism was the only reliable way to ensure that all landlords met the same basic standards. Previous attempts at self-regulated accreditation have been shown to be ineffective. This matter was considered as part of the Judicial Review held in the High Court, which found in the Council’s favour.


In a supplementary question Councillor C. Vines referred to a minute of a meeting of the Majority Group and was informed this was not a Council meeting.


(7)  Councillor C. Vines referred to the private sector housing forum set up by the Council twelve months ago and asked how many meetings have been held, how many landlords were informed and how many had signed up to the landlord accreditation scheme to date.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, explained the Council had not set up a private sector housing forum. The landlords did, however, hold a private sector landlord forum which the Council was often asked to contribute to and was happy to do so. This meeting was held approximately three times a year and organised jointly by the National Landlord Association (NLA) and the local private sector landlord group, Rotherham and District Residential Landlord Association (R&DRLA).


The Council had contributed to this forum since its re-establishment early in 2013.


The Council did not offer a landlord accreditation scheme, but now operated  the Selective Licensing Scheme in certain areas.


(8)  Councillor C. Vines asked, with the introduction of taxis having to install cameras in the taxis, which he endorsed fully, could the Advisory Cabinet Member please assure him that no loans or grant funding or any tax payers funding would be made available to taxi operators or drivers with them saying they could not afford them.


The Leader gave Councillor C. Vines the assurance that no taxpayers funding would be made available.


(9)  Councillor C. Vines asked with regard to high profile of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham could the Advisory Cabinet Member please confirm if all housing officers, workforce and contractors who visited schools and Council housing were CRB checked.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, reported that all employees and volunteers working for the Council who would have unsupervised access to vulnerable groups, whether in schools, Council or private homes and establishments, have the appropriate DBS checks undertaken in accordance with the requirements and definitions applying to DBS and to Safeguarding. Contractor’s employees were required to comply on the same basis.


In the context of schools and Council housing, the role or activity that a person performed dictated whether a DBS check could or should be undertaken. Consequently not all employees, or contractors, who visited schools or Council housing would be eligible to have a DBS check undertaken.


In a supplementary comment Councillor C. Vines suggested that as a matter of course would it not make sense to ensure all those working in these environments were DBS checked.  He had a few ideas and was happy to share these with the Advisory Cabinet Member.


(10)  Councillor M. Vines referred to the recent press release from the National Crime Agency where it stated 'We have 47 boxes of written material from Risky Business which contain nearly 1500 written files.”  It also goes on to state it had a further 45 boxes and asked where have they come from as it was thought they had all been stolen.


The Leader explained in its press release, the National Crime Agency was referring to the full volume of material it had access to as part of Operation Stovewood. The National Crime Agency press release stated that the further 45 boxes have been obtained by following links - from the 47 boxes of Risky Business files - to “information from other sources and within other investigations”.


References to missing or stolen files from the Risky Business Office as referred to in the relevant reports amounted to only a very small number of files that were alleged to have been removed from the Risky Business premises.


In a supplementary question Councillor M. Vines asked why had these files not been found before to prevent the victims suffering further distress.


The Leader was waiting on the outcome of an Audit Report and once the details were received the information would be shared.


(11)  Councillor M. Vines asked why was there a charge of £13 being made to set up a direct debit for the new private landlord scheme when it cost nothing to do this with other utility companies who also rewarded for this method of payment?


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, explained the additional fee added to instalment payment plans for selective licencing represented the actual cost to the service of raising invoices and direct debits levied from the sundry accounts service as well as the time to generate and process invoice payments.  The cost of this was not built into the normal license fee as to spread the cost across all license applications would have been unfair to those who chose to pay in advance.


In a supplementary question Councillor M. Vines asked if a discount was provided for paying by direct debit and she was advised by the Advisory Cabinet Member that there was not.


(12)  Councillor M. Vines asked now it was into July how many landlords have been inspected and been issued with their license.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, confirmed the first licenses were expected to be issued during this month.


The first inspections would also take place this month. These were to ensure that homes were compliant with license conditions and that improvements were made as early as possible in the life of the scheme.


(13)  Councillor Hoddinott referred to a few months ago Leaders of all parties in the Chamber supporting a voluntary sector funding bid for the Base Project and asked could the Leader explain the outcome of that bid and what the Council was doing to support the voluntary sector in tackling Child Sexual Exploitation?


The Leader paid tribute to the work of the former Deputy Leader and the Cabinet and confirmed that, following a successful bid to Ministry Of Justice for funding, the Children Young People and Families Consortium had been allocated £262,000 to extend the capacity of existing services to support delivery of child sexual exploitation services in Rotherham. The Council supported the writing of the bid and had funded the marketing of the service.


Ten member organisations of the Children, Young People and Families Consortium identified “hotspots” for child sexual exploitation and had been identified as The Base Projects. These were:-


·                Swinton Lock

·                Activate (The High Street Centre, Rawmarsh)

·                YWCA Fleming Gardens

·                Safe@Last

·                Barnardo’s

·                Clifton Learning Partnership

·                GROW

·                Rotherham Women’s Refuge

·                YMCA - My Place

·                Kimberworth Park Community Partnership


The organisations would be providing counselling and 1:1 support to attend counselling sessions, family support and family therapy, support to access Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), help with benefits and housing issues and therapy work in the form of art, poetry and music.


Councillor Hoddinott welcomed the news about the successful bid for support to work with victims and survivors.  In a supplementary question expressed concern that this was short term funding and asked the Leader what support was being provided to these organisations to ensure they provided the necessary services for many years to come.


The Leader confirmed additional funding had been added to the base budget to provide for the long term support to victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation.  Information had been collated from the one year grant allocations and work was now taking place to ensure the right support was put in place.  Robust exist strategies were being used to transfer services successfully for those providing long term support.


(14)  Councillor Wallisasked could the Leader provide an update on the implementation of Selective Licensing, with particular reference to Eastwood?


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, explained there had been an extremely positive response from landlords.  505 applications have been received in the first two months of the scheme, which represented 40% of the anticipated licensable property.  The highest uptake had been in Eastwood with almost 50% of licensable private rented property having had applications submitted.  


The new Team Leader had been appointed and other posts were due to be appointed this month and this policy would have a positive impact for tenants in Rotherham.


In a supplementary question Councillor Wallis pointed out that in the absence of a Fair Rent Act this was the best approach the Council could take in order to protect vulnerable tenants and asked, given that only 50% of landlords had registered with the Council at this stage, what action was being taken to encourage registration.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, confirmed many landlords were awaiting the outcome of the Judicial Review, but the information required from landlords would be followed up during July.


(15)  Councillor Atkin asked could the Leader of the Council inform Members in the last five years how many properties have been sold under the right to buy and how many have been replaced?


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, confirmed the number of Right to Buy sales over the last five years was 295.  Over the same period the Council provided 153 replacements.  In 2015/16 the Council negotiated a further 70 new homes which would be delivered later this financial year.


In a supplementary question Councillor Atkin asked if the Cabinet Member agreed, which she confirmed, that the Government should adopt a policy for replacing like for like properties that have been sold.


(16)  Councillor Cowles referred to a press release on the 15th June, 2015, and in the Advertiser of that week and asked was the Leader aware that Basharat Hussain a CSE suspect skipped bail in the week prior to his court appearance and flew to Pakistan.


The Leader confirmed he was aware and had made enquiries subsequently with the Police.


There was a myth that Police had powers to remove passports from individuals who had not been charged with an offence and hold them for as long as the Force deems necessary. This was not possible where someone had not been charged with an offence and was answering his/her bail dates and where there was no actual intelligence (as in this case) to indicate he/she would seek to avoid justice. The Police were clear that such an application on human rights grounds would be overturned by any Judge. 


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles asked if since the question had been submitted whether contact had been made with District Commander Harwin to put the question to him.


The Leader pointed out that an all Member Seminar was scheduled for later in July giving a progress update to which District Commander Harwin and Ian Thomas would be in attendance.


(17)  Councillor Cowles referred to the Rotherham Politics page on Taxi Licensing where it indicated that Sajid Bostan of Rotherham Private Hire Drivers said they had "fixed the Council, fixed the Police, fixed the Advertiser and fixed the local BBC" and asked what did the Leader know of this and could he prove that the statement made by Sajid should not be taken seriously?


The Leader was unable to comment never having met Mr. Bostan and he had not appeared to have fixed anything.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles asked for assurance that Mr. Bostan was not referring to Licensing.


The Leader confirmed he did not know Mr. Bostan.


(18)  Councillor Cowles asked, following his request at the previous meeting to see the map detailing the proposed BT broadband implementation plan, had the Leader reviewed this plan and what did he think of it.


The Leader referred to the initial planned rollout of the implementation across South Yorkshire with the first area going live in Dinnington.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to the implementation plan which had little coverage in 2015, a little more in 2016 with the bulk in 2017 and asked how many people paid for goods and services to have them delivered in three years.


The Leader explained this was a national scheme with other Local Authorities taking part to access high speed broadband.  Everyone wanted to see this scheme delivered and it was hoped Rotherham would benefit from mass coverage in the next few years.


(19)  Councillor Cowles asked did the Leader accept that politicians nationally and locally should learn from past mistakes and analyse what went wrong in order to prevent such mistakes happening again.


The Leader accepted this statement.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to Digital Region and how this was dismissed as an I.T. project and asked that cash be generated to support services and asked how the Leader was expecting to tackle this.


The Leader explained little opportunity had been given to working on the Casey report, but suggested there be some cross cutting scrutiny to look at these issues.


(20)  Councillor Cowles referred to a recent press article highlighting that a number of schools built by a national building contractor using PFI funding had been found with defects hazardous to children and asked did Rotherham have any schools constructed using such a funding source.


Councillor Watson, Deputy Leader, confirmed the Schools PFI Project involved a partnership between the Council and Transform Schools (Rotherham) Ltd. The contract included the rebuilding/refurbishment of fourteen schools and their facilities management for a period of thirty years from 1st April, 2004.


The Schools were constructed by Balfour Beatty Construction.


The project has provided:-


Ø   New schools for Coleridge, Ferham, Kimberworth, Maltby Crags Infant, Maltby Crags Junior, Meadowview and Thornhill Primaries and Winterhill, Wingfield and Wath Secondary Schools.


Ø   Part new build and refurbished schools at East Dene and Wath Central Primaries and Clifton, Thrybergh and Wickersley Secondary Schools.


Additionally, extended school use has been provided as follows:-


Ø   New Key Young Person’s Centres were provided at Thornhill Primary and Wath Secondary Schools and significantly refurbished centres at Wingfield, Clifton, Thrybergh and Winterhill Secondary Schools.


Ø   Sure Start facilities at Ferham, Thornhill and Wingfield.


Ø   Space for Sports and Arts facilities at Ferham and Clifton.


Ø   Children’s Centres at Coleridge and Kimberworth.


Ø   Clifton Project facilities at the Cranworth Road site (The Place).


All the schools were designed and constructed to DfE guidance and building regulations at the time of construction.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles asked if any of the schools had been built by Balfour Beatty and whether they had been asked to come back and give an assurance that there were no defects and that Rotherham children were safe at school.


Councillor Watson, Deputy Leader, confirmed all the projects were Balfour Beatty Construction.  The PFI providers had surveyed all the schools and had rectified or had a programme to rectify those defects which were generally regarding roof designs and interfaces, none of which were hazardous to children and were safe.


(21)  Councillor Cowles referred to fuel poverty being a national scandal, prepayment customers in particular paying as much as £400 per year more for supply versus direct debit customers and asked did the Leader agree that this Council should do everything possible to assist these people and protect the most vulnerable from this profiteering.


The Leader confirmed the issue of pre-payment meters was raised at the recent Overview and Scrutiny Management Board meeting (26th June, 2015) and the Council was deciding how best to communicate these messages to the wider public and informing them of alternative tariffs, which may reduce their fuel bills.


The Council did also offer support to residents who were struggling to afford heating and would give advice in relation to switching tariffs or negotiate with energy providers to re-schedule costs.


Councillor Cowles asked if the Leader would agree to lobby Members of Parliament again on this issue to look at local support schemes and how energy demands could be met.


The Leader confirmed he was happy to raise this issue with Members of Parliament and European Members of Parliament in terms of energy regeneration.


(22)  Councillor Cowles confirmed he had corresponded over the past month in regard to the Magna business plan, and been denied a copy enabling him to review and comment on the effectiveness of the plan. He asked had the Leader seen a copy and if not why not as the Council were paying for the consultation study.


The Leader confirmed the issue was under discussion at this stage and he himself had not had sight of the Magna business plan as he was waiting for PwC to report back.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles queried why the Leader had not seen the Magna business plan as he had contacted Magna direct to be informed that Magna had not denied access, but it was the Council itself that had and asked who was being untruthful the Leader, Karl Battersby or the Business Manager at Magna.


The Leader confirmed he was happy to forward on the email trails onto Councillor Cowles, but in terms of the cost of the plan, it was correct to push Magna in the right direction at as minimal cost to the taxpayer and once the report was ready a view would be formed.


(23)  Councillor Reeder asked had the Council given any planning permission for fracking to be undertaken and would they need planning permission.


Councillor Lelliott, Advisory Cabinet Member for Housing and the Local Economy, confirmed that exploration for suitability of an area for fracking could only take place in areas where the Department of Energy and Climate Change had granted a license. Exploratory licenses for general petroleum exploration (which would cover fracking) existed around Maltby and Dinnington). The licences were granted in 2004, were renewed recently and lasted until 2029. They would allow exploratory works to be carried out but for any fracking operation there would need to be planning permission. It was confirmed that no planning applications have been submitted and the Council were not aware of any exploratory works.