Agenda item



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 in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 12.


(1)  Mr. L. Harron was unable to attend today’s meeting so his question would be answered in writing.


(2)  Mr. P. Thirlwall asked how did the Leader reconcile the opposing statements in the Council’s Constitution, Rules of Procedure, when rule 18(17) stated that the mover of an amendment had the right of reply and rule (30) clearly stated, that the mover of an amendment does NOT have the right of reply?


The Leader believed Mr. Thirlwall had received a written a response from the Chief Executive on this matter.


Interpretation of the Constitution was not a matter for the Leader as this was a matter for the Mayor, as Chair.


The Constitution had been subject to external review by the Association of Democratic Services Officers who had assisted with the refresh and having checked with them their interpretation of Standing Orders was the same as the Council’s.


Paragraph 17 was clear that there was a right of reply for a proposer of an amendment.  Paragraph 30 referred to the absence of a right of reply for the proposer of an amendment in the debate on the substantive motion AFTER the debate on the amendment.


The Leader agreed the wording was not as clear as it should be and this would be rectified.


In a supplementary question Mr. Thirlwall believed the Council, on this occasion had got it wrong.  The Leader, in his opinion, had also given the wrong answer, should have offered an apology and indicated the mistake would be corrected at the first opportunity instead of trying to defend the indefensible.  He should also have apologised about not looking into the fifty word limit for public questions and also admitting he was wrong about paying the Leader of the Opposition an allowance  He asked the Leader if he agreed with him.


The Leader explained he agreed with many matters raised by Mr. Thirlwall, but not all.  On this occasion the rules were interpreted and followed with intent and this was checked and confirmed with the people who put together the wording.  The Leader appreciated Mr. Thirlwall’s frustration, but agreed to disagree.


(3)   Mr. D. Smith was unable to attend today’s meeting so his question would be answered in writing.


(4)  Mr. N. Carbutt asked could the representative outline for the benefit of the public of Rotherham, South Yorkshire Fire Authority/SYFR underspends on total revenue receipts that had been committed to reserves for years 2006-2018 e.g. underspend for 2006, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.


Councillor Atkin confirmed he would need to send him a year by year breakdown in writing.


Underspends during this period have contributed to reserves of around £25 million. The growth in reserves was mainly a consequence of the retirement rate of operational staff outpacing the rate at which the Service’s funding had reduced, and the fact that uncertainty about the extent and duration of future cuts have left the Fire Authority with no confidence to recruit new fire fighters (which was now a forty year commitment).


A significant proportion of these reserves were intended to be spent over the next few years on necessary capital projects - including investments in equipment, vehicles and buildings for firefighters. This would leave a much smaller amount of other earmarked and general reserves (expected to be around £5 million), to provide for other initiatives and unexpected future costs, such as insurance and operational contingency.


In a supplementary question Mr. Carbutt explained he had expected an individual breakdown of reserves, but assisted the Chamber by confirming there had been no overspend on budget since 2006.  Last year there had been a £2.2 million underspend, the year before that £3.2 million and the year before that £1.6 million.


To Mr. Carbutt’s knowledge and checking statement of accounts, the Service had not used its full allocated budget in previous years and moved its resources into reserves.  This was in excess of what it would cost to keep Rotherham’s second night time appliance.  This was reason enough for this Council to review and revoke the decision and Mr. Carbutt welcomed the offer for this to go into scrutiny for further consideration. 


Mr. Carbutt wanted to make a point from the FBU perspective this was not a financial decision, but a political one and the plan to move staff from Rotherham from nights to Parkway in Sheffield on days was, in fact, cost neutral. It was simply moving staff.  Whilst this issue was debated Rotherham was left with one fire engine at night and Sheffield would have eight fire engines 24/7 covered during the day.  This seemed ludicrous when Rotherham was the eighth fastest growing economy and had had some fantastic achievements for securing the future for steel and indeed the opening of the second furnace increasing production.  Building on this infrastructure the Fire Service helped to keep those businesses safe.


Crewe, a Labour controlled council, had recently overturned a similar decision and it was within the gift of this Council to do the same.  It just required the political will and on this basis Mr. Carbutt asked Councillor Atkin in what forums had he raised this issue with the Fire Authority.


Councillor Atkin confirmed he had raised the issue of the second appliance with the Fire Authority and in meetings in Rotherham.  It would also be considered at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board on the 21st March, 2018.


He also pointed out that whilst Mr. Carbutt referred to there being eight appliances in Sheffield during the day there were actually five in Rotherham during the day, not one. 


(5) Mr. P. Cawkwell explained that in a fire emergency it was hard to convey details in a 999 call to SYFRS. It was imperative that sufficient resources were deployed and he asked Councillor Atkin if he considered it acceptable for Rotherham Central Fire Station residents to rely on only one fire appliance at night to ensure their survival in an emergency.


Councillor Atkin explained that it was the case for the rest of South Yorkshire, and indeed the rest of the country, the Service’s response to 999 incidents continued to be supported by crews from other nearby stations, depending upon the nature and the scale of the incident. During the night time period, Rotherham’s situation was no different to fourteen other stations which also have a single fire engine available, and relied upon supporting appliances from elsewhere.


However, as Mr. Cawkwell may be aware, at the last meeting this Council expressed its concern about the reduction in overnight staffing levels, and subsequently asked the Chief Fire Officer to discuss the issue in Scrutiny, and this would be taken forward over the next few weeks.


In a supplementary question Mr. Cawkwell pointed out that with the Forge Island development for a hotel, restaurants etc. and the already large scale fire at Rotherham Interchange, there was a need for two pumps on the run in Rotherham at night it was that simple. 


The moral case was there and held weight, the logistics were there and they held weight, the finances were and that held £27 million of weight and Mr. Cawkwell asked if this decision would be looked at again on the merits of fire safety as opposed to a political decision pushed by Councillor Atkin for reasons unknown.


Councillor Atkin assured Mr. Cawkwell that the Fire Authority looked at everything under risks and safety and the importance of keeping the people of South Yorkshire safe was too important.  It was not political.  Reference was made to there being only one fire appliance in Rotherham at night, which was true.  Once the first pump in Rotherham was committed to an incident, the reserve crew on standby were deployed and the second pump could be in place within fifteen minutes.


(6)  Mr. R. Beecher withdrew his question at the meeting.


(7)   Mr. J. Bellwas unable to attend today’s meeting so his question would be answered in writing.


(8)  Mrs. R. Askwith withdrew her question at the meeting.


(9)  Mrs. M. Beckwas unable to attend today’s meeting so her question would be answered in writing.


(10)  Mr. J. Dumphey asked with such an emotive decision to be made by Cabinet Members in the near future, which would affect hundreds if not thousands of Rotherham residents, would it not be reasonable to expect  ALL voting Members to visit the service sites concerned prior to any final decision as to their futures.


Councillor Roche confirmed Members have the option to visit all Council services. He had regularly visited all of the directly provided service centres from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, and he was aware other Members have also taken the opportunity to do likewise.


Other Members and Councillor Roche had visited other Local Authorities to view best practice in areas such as North East Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and others.  He himself had an annual plan to visit all centres and visited Addision last year.  In addition, he received regular updates and briefings on current services for learning disability and adult social care.  Members were kept fully aware of what services offered and were briefed.


In a supplementary question Mr. Dumphey explained on the reports that were being put forward so far, he had read them and believed they did not truthfully reflect the true value of centres such as Addision which was why his question was so important.  He asked if the Cabinet was going to base its report on a flawed, biased and misleading report and its recommendations.


Councillor Roche explained he and the Cabinet were not going to make any decision based on a biased report.