To receive questions from members of the public who may wish to ask a general question of the Mayor, Cabinet Member or the Chairman of a Committee.
(1) Mr. D. Smith, on International Women’s Day, wished to offer his congratulations to the Mayor in the manner in which she had represented this town over the past year. In relation to his question he asked with the amount of houses built in Dinnington over the last ten years why was it that RMBC have only collected just under £24,000 from one developer.
Councillor Lelliott explained the residential developments that had taken place in Dinnington generally provided for affordable housing on sites that did not generate additional Section 106 contributions. However, £55,000 including the £24,000 referred to by Mr. Smith had been received for public transport initiatives.
In a supplementary question Mr. Smith referred to nearly £200,000 being received over the years in Section 106 monies in Dinnington. Very little, if any, had been spent on Dinnington’s infrastructure. He was also in receipt of a letter which indicated the Council did not have to consider the opinions of the Town Council. Bearing this in mind having spent £87,000 of Section 106 monies on travel passes just imagine what £87,000 could be spent on. Taking this in to account how could you expect a Parish Council in Rotherham to trust the Council to run the Community Infrastructure Levy and deal with it properly.
Councillor Lelliott explained the Council could only work with the figures provided. However, officers had been asked to provide a full answer in writing to Mr. Smith and the Cabinet Member offered to have a meeting after Council to go through this in more detail. Different developments depend on Government legislation and whether or not Section 106 contributions could be triggered as to the viability of the development sites. Some money had been used for sustainable transport initiatives and a full answer in writing could be provided on this. The Community Infrastructure Levy policy had been approved by Council and once the Town Council received their 25% they would appreciate how efficient and open and transparent you had to be to spend Government monies.
(2) Mr. P. Thirlwall firstly wished to thank the Chief Executive for including on the Mayor's letter the motions appearing on the agenda and how easier it was in the public gallery to follow the debate, secondly reminded the Leader he was still awaiting a response from him and Councillor Lelliott on how CIL money was intended to be spent and whether it could be used on reversing the disastrous Bramley traffic system and thirdly, Councillor Watson indicated some time ago that he was looking at revising Standing Orders, but if not completed yet could consideration be given to looking at the 50 word limit for questions from members of the public.
He referred to the basic annual allowance claimed by Councillors which was £11,605. As the UKIP Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Cowles claimed a further £8,717.
He asked could the Leader explain what extra duties Councillor Cowles performed to warrant claiming the extra allowance and what benefits were received by the Tax Payers of Rotherham?
The Leader was conscious Mr. Thirlwall was still waiting for a letter from himself and Councillor Lelliott on Bramley. On the issue on a review of Standing Orders this was being considered by the Constitution Working Group. The basic allowance and special responsibility allowances, where applicable, including the Leader of the Opposition, were considered by an Independent Remuneration Panel and then approved by full Council.
There was no role description defined within the Council’s Constitution covering the additional duties received by the Leader of the Opposition. As well as leading the major Opposition Group, Councillor Cowles was also the Vice-Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board and sat on the Joint Improvement Board with Commissioners.
In a supplementary question Mr. Thirlwall pointed out the difficulty for the opposition to achieve anything as they did not have a whip, which meant no control. As a responsible opposition party Mr. Thirlwall thought an alternative budget would be submitted. If no alternative budget then this was remiss of the party and may have been one of the reasons for the Leader of the Opposition special responsibility. Whilst it might be they say no notice would be taken of their budget as they would not win the vote, but when he himself was an Independent Member, Mr. Thirlwall had submitted an alternative budget, which whilst lost to the vote, saw the contents he had suggested implemented in the following year.
The Leader was not sure what the Opposition would present today, but the people of Rotherham had the right to elect who they wanted to represent them.
(3) Mr. J. Jackson asked did the Council accept, that directly due to their own agreed/voted budget setting, that it had/was, implementing and operating a harmful council tax policy that removed JSA benefit from homeowners and not rental JSA claimants, thus forcing a situation where such groups were required to use charity food banks?
The Leader explained Mr. Jackson had asked a similar question at Cabinet a few weeks ago. He clarified the award of JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in accordance with their rules and would not be affected in any way by the Council’s Budget and Council Tax setting or its local Council Tax Support scheme.
The question was in relation to the raising of Council Tax and the level of support and whether this impacted on home owners differently to those who rented those properties. On checking it did not matter if you were a home owner or rented a property, unless you owned more than one property and the capital meant you were expected to pay more council tax.
The Leader was acutely aware of the impact of council tax rises on people on low incomes and was why the Council had maintained a relatively generous system of council tax support. For three quarters of residents across the country the impact of council tax rises would be greater for people who received council tax support. The proposals before Council today maintained the level of support.
In a supplementary question Mr. Jackson referred to the Mayor’s good work in the borough and was delighted to see in the newspaper a recent event she had attended to raise money for a charity food bank. What was the point of the Mayor raising money for a charity food bank when the Council was removing it and forcing people to go to the food banks due to income shortages.
The Leader understood the question, but explained the proposal to be presented today meant for the average council tax payer (54%) of the borough they would pay an extra 85p a week whereas people in receipt of council tax support this figure dropped to 8p per week. 8p for some people was still a lot of money, but for some people this was lower more than was available than in some places in the country.
The Leader explained if he could he would change the Government system or revert back to the previous system giving full council tax benefit to those on very low or no incomes, but under the present budget situation the current support scheme would be maintained.
(4) Mr. R. Beecher confirmed he was a firefighter with seventeen years’ experience, the last fourteen of which had been served here in Rotherham on Fitzwilliam Road as part of Green Watch.
He referred his question to theLeader of Rotherham Council and asked if he was aware of the Fire Authority’s latest proposal to significantly reduce fire cover at night time here in Rotherham by removing the second appliance and the time scale for the implementation of such cuts.
The Leader thanked Mr. Beecher for his service to the people of Rotherham which was greatly appreciated. He was aware of the Fire Authority’s proposals to reduce staffing numbers around the second Rotherham appliance, which was part of the Integrated Risk Management Plan which was coming to an end and consulted upon five years ago. This formed part of the implementation of that plan covering the period up to 2017.
In a supplementary question Mr. Beecher referred to the Integrated Risk Management Plan and it was correct it was part of the consultation. However, the consultation was purely a financial assessment since which the Fire Authority had £24 million in a reserve fund out of an operating budget of £49 million, which meant nearly half of its budget was in reserves.
Response times were increasing not only locally but nationally and fire deaths within this brigade had doubled in the last twelve months, which it was felt were linked.
The Fire Authority had asked residents of Rotherham for an increase in its funding through the council tax of 1.9% to raise a further £410,000. The removal of the second appliance had no cash savings proven and admitted by the ASCO, which would lead to significant increase in the risk not only to the residents of Rotherham, but also to fire fighters. My colleagues and I do not want to be stood here in twelve months’ time addressing this Council saying we told you so. On behalf of fire fighters in South Yorkshire Mr. Beecher strongly urged the members of this Council and others to engage and talk with Fire Authority members to seriously rethink these dangerous and unnecessary cuts.
The Leader was not an expert on determining where spend and the risk lay. However, he would take away the concerns raised to day and discuss this with the Fire Authority representatives in the way that he suggested.
(5) The Mayor explained the question from Mr. Carbutt was to the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Representative, but as both Council representatives were attending the National Fire Authority Conference the response from them would be supplied in writing.
Mr. Carbutt explained he was a Brigade Official for the Fire Brigade’s Union and used to attend with Councillors Atkin and Buckley and other Section 41 Members the LGA Conference, but had he been allowed to attend the Conference he could have put the question to them.
He, therefore, indicated the issue of second appliance response times was not mentioned in South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s latest proposal for an integrated risk management plan and asked if he could be informed of the predicted increase or decrease following the removal of the second night time appliance at Rotherham Fire Station.
Due to the consultation period ending before the next Council meeting in a supplementary question Mr. Carbutt indicated that with the wait and resources, appliances and fire fighters’ equipment and the speed of attack of vital fire factors, the successful outcome was whilst firefighting. The removal of the second appliance pole time night time was an asset that the people of Rotherham could ill afford to lose. The public consultation period was only six weeks. It could have been twelve weeks and the service have been asked to look at the appliance response times since the 16th December, 2016 and still have not received them. The previous IRMP’s response times have been received, but not the predictions following the removal of the second night time appliance in Rotherham. It was vitally important that these were received.
The Fire Brigade Union believed that the public consultation period was insufficient and the information required to provide an informed response as a representative body had not been afforded to the Fire Brigade Union in the correct manner. Would Councillors instruct Fire Authority Members, Councillors Atkin and Buckley, to extend the consultation period and mandate from this Chamber to revisit the proposals for Rotherham Fire Station and a guarantee was given to work with the Fire Authority Members if they would meet with the Union on providing alternatives so that a balanced budget could be achieved by 2020.