To put questions, if any, to Cabinet Members and Chairmen (or their representatives) under Standing Order No. 7(1) and 7(3).
(1) Councillor Sansome asked could the Cabinet Member confirm were there homeless people in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and how many.
Councillor Beck confirmed the Authority sympathised with those who found themselves in that position. Given the deterioration in the weather, officers had been out each day supporting those people who were rough sleeping, the number of which fluctuated.
The Council co-ordinated a Rough Sleeper count in Rotherham and in November, 2017 two people were identified and supported.
In terms of statutory homeless between April, 2017 to the end of January, 2018 there were 92 households identified and during this period 451 households were prevented from becoming homeless. These were on the housing register waiting for accommodation and given priority for properties.
Homeless households were supported in finding suitable private rented accommodation, but there were also 484 households who were homeless on the Housing Register waiting for accommodation for a variety of reasons.
The Council was also proactively involved in various projects having attracted over £800,000 in funding to assist services in tackling this challenge and to abolish this problem. Rotherham was not alone as this was also a national issue.
In a supplementary question Councillor Sansome asked the Cabinet Member to consider the position of those people who were encouraged to come off streets for shelter, which was not possible if they had pets and for this to be overcome to encourage those in need to come into shelter whilst taking care of their pets at the same time.
Councillor Beck was in agreement, but was not familiar with any particular cases. He asked Councillor Sansome to share any information he may have to see if this could be taken forward.
The Mayor also pointed out she was working on these type of initiatives with Shiloh and Thornberry Animal Sanctuary.
(2) Councillor Carter asked could the Cabinet Member reassure him that all services tendered by the Council to external organisations paid the Rowntree Living Wage, as directly employed Council workers received?
Councillor Alam explained that as Councillor Carter was aware, the Council could not legally oblige all the providers of commissioned services to pay the Rowntree Living Wage.
However, the Council did encourage contracted services to pay the Living Wage. The Council had a minimum standards Charter which was built into tender processes. There were a range of criteria within the Charter and a question within the tender asked organisations whether they were willing to promote and support the Charter and work towards the principles it set out.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter pointed out the Cabinet Member mentioned the Living Wage in the Charter, but in the budget extra funds was being allocated for changes to the National Living Wage and asked if it was the National Living Wage in the Charter or the Rowntree Living Wage.
Councillor Alam confirmed it was the National Living Wage standards within the Charter.
(3) Councillor Simpson asked when would his idea of full photo ID be in Rotherham Taxis, along with promises of other more visible Taxi ID being implemented?
Councillor Hoddinott assured Members that the current policy required all taxi drivers to have a taxi badge, which was displayed at all times whilst working, including a photograph of the licensed driver, together with their name and license number.
In a supplementary question Councillor Simpson pointed out that in the last two years he had only seen photographic I.D. evidence once when it accidentally dropped out.
Councillor Hoddinott urged Members that any breaches of the Policy should be reported immediately to the Licensing Section either by telephone or by email.
(4) Councillor Sansome pointed out that after 2020 the European Medicines Agency would move from London to Amsterdam with the loss of 900 jobs, a budget of 322 million euros and asked what would the impact for the residents of the Borough in accessing new drugs, vaccines etc.
Councillor Roche explained that it was with regret that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was planning to move to move from London to Amsterdam by the end of March, 2019.
It was too early to say if there would be any impact on people in the UK or the Borough, but he gave his assurance that the Health and Wellbeing Board (which included members from the CCG, NHS England and Healthwatch) would work to identify any negative impacts and escalate any concerns to the appropriate authorities.
It was also pointed out that Public Health England have not yet undertaken a quick review of literature so we unable to comment on the likely impact of this move at this time.
In a supplementary question Councillor Sansome believed all Members of the Chamber would appreciate being well informed about this issue through full Council, Health and Wellbeing Board, Scrutiny or a seminar of the measures that would be required and in order to inform residents of what was forthcoming.
Councillor Roche gave a guarantee that as further information came to light he would make sure Members were kept fully informed of any impacts and take any action as required.
(5) Councillor B. Cutts referred to his question No. 2 on the 24th January. He was regularly asked of the progress and expected date of completion of the bus shelter on Wickersley Road/Middle Lane and asked if he could be advised when.
As the Cabinet Member had given her apologies for this meeting, a response would be provided in writing.
(6) Councillor Carter asked how many properties have been lost to the Council housing stock under Right to Buy legislation over the past five years, and how did the Council plan to replace this lost Council housing stock?
Councillor Beck explained Right to Buy sales nationally had declined to their lowest level for many years and by the end of the last Labour Government to record all-time lows. However, numbers had increased each year since 2012 when the Coalition Government increased substantially the maximum discount to buyers.
So far this year 63 Right to Buy sales had been submitted and last year there were 152. Over the last five year period 716 Council homes have been lost through the Right to Buy Scheme.
To counteract this the Council was committing more than £50 million to the Council housing growth in the latest Housing Revenue Account business plan and the major programme currently underway would deliver 167 new homes for Council rent through the Site Clusters programme with Wates and the Homes England grant funded programme.
The Council also had plans to deliver more homes in the Town Centre, would commence a pilot to deliver homes for older people and young people and was working together to deliver specialist bungalows in various parts of the Borough for families who had particular needs for adaptations.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked if the Council was also building private homes for first time buyers as a revenue generating project.
Councillor Beck confirmed that there were shared ownership products within the housing development being built along with proposals for rent to buy initiatives. This would mean any surplus generated from privately occupied homes could be reinvested back into the Housing Revenue Account to deliver even more Council housing.
(7) Councillor B. Cutts asked what was the financial result in last year for Magna Trust compared to the previous two years?
Councillor Alam confirmed for the last three financial years the surplus, excluding depreciation, for Magna had been:-
(8) Councillor Carter had asked about Aggregate Industries Asphalt at December’s Council meeting and asked the Cabinet Member if she could provide an update on how this investigation was progressing?
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed the Council was investigating a number of complaints in relation to bitumen type odours alleged by residents to be originating from Aggregate Industries in Sheffield. It should be made clear that the Council had no evidence to demonstrate that the odours were indeed from this company.
Officers have maintained regular contact with the residents who have complained about the odour and continued to work with them. A meeting was held on the 24th January, 2018 to find out where the odour was coming from. Technical information was available and it was suggested that Councillor Carter sit down with Officers and go through this information in more detail as to how this investigation was progressing.
(9) Councillor Simpson for the second time asked could the Council defend against the privatisation of the NHS.
Councillor Roche explained the Labour Party created the National Health Service – its proudest achievement, providing universal healthcare for all on the basis of need, free at the point of use. In the aftermath of war and national bankruptcy, it was a Labour Government that found the resources to create a National Health Service. It would appear it was the intention of the Tory Government to run this down.
The current national Labour policy was that it would invest in the NHS, to give patients the modern, well-resourced services they needed for the 21st century.
The next Labour Government would reverse privatisation of the NHS and return the health service into expert public control. Labour would repeal the Health and Social Care Act that puts profits before patients and make the NHS the preferred provider. It would reinstate the powers of the Secretary of State for Health to have overall responsibility for the NHS.
Whilst the Council obviously did not control either the law or the decisions made by the NHS locally, it was clear there was one solution that participants could take part in – elect a Labour Government.
However, as Councillor Simpson had asked about local response it was worth adding that the Council did not have a say in the letting and tendering of any contracts by the NHS. It could only put a point of view to the Rotherham Hospital Trust and CCG as it was not the decision maker.
Personally NHS privatisation was one reason why everyone should have grave concerns about the proposed trade deal with the USA which would mean it would be illegal to stop any American company bidding for any contract including those in the NHS and including all those in Rotherham. It could well include GP surgeries which were already privatised individual businesses.
In a supplementary question Councillor Simpson referred to the Labour Party in 2004 allowing a foot in the door for surgeries with people like Virgin Care that was a real problem at the moment. If this was a matter worth fighting for then the Council should fight for it.
The Mayor did not feel there was a need for a response.
(10) Councillor Carter asked how much money raised from Section 106 contributions in the past 12 months has been returned to developers by not being spent within the allocated time period.
As the Cabinet Member had given her apologies for this meeting, a response would be provided in writing.
(11) Councillor Napper referred to Fortem who was a company contracted by R.M.B.C. This company made a profit of £2.3 million and was now to make 20+ staff redundant in Rotherham. Councillor Napper asked what was the Council’s position with regards to Fortem in the future when they could afford to keep these people on.
Councillor Beck explained Fortem have confirmed that the current number of staff affected by the proposal was 16, but due to the part-time nature of many of the roles, this equated to 13.5 full time equivalent (FTE) roles.
Fortem had offered their assurance in regular dialogue with the Council that they were complying with all legal obligations and engaging with the Trade Unions with meaningful consultation.
The picture was more positive with the changes at Fortem and how they were to be restructured. They were looking to create a new Northern Training Academy in Dinnington at the Rother Valley Campus in partnership with Rother Valley College which would create/employ 13 new positions. Furthermore, Fortem were looking to strengthen their Northern Support Hub and create more employment of which the potential risk of redundancy may be minimized. The actual redundancies would be much lower than those at risk.
(12) Councillor Carter asked what measures were the Council taking to be prepared against cyber security attacks.
Councillor Alam explained the Council took the threat of cyber-attack very seriously and had put in place a “defence in-depth” methodology in attempts to defend against cyber threats. This meant numerous layers of security had been created that, if breached at one level, offered additional or different layers of protection at lower levels.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked how did the Council benchmark in terms of cyber security measures, had there ever been any assessment on performance and had anything been learnt if we were consulting.
Councillor Alam reported on the exercises which involved designated persons attempting to breach the system. Regular updates were also provided to ensure the cyber protection was active.
(13) Councillor M. Elliott referred to his question on the 25th January, 2017 where he asked if the Council were ever likely to consider recycling of plastics. He received a rather negative response and he, therefore, asked if it had taken a revelation that Rotherham would soon be the only Authority in the country not collecting plastics, to embarrass the Council to now consider it.
Councillor Hoddinott did not accept the premise of the question and confirmed she was not embarrassed by the comment. She had spoken to local residents and had taken on board the consultation where a number would prefer for plastic to be collected from the kerbside. Passing the budget today allowed the Council to find the resource and the funding in order for this action to be taken.
Councillor Elliott welcomed the news that funds had been earmarked for the collection of kerbside plastic. He suspected the collection of plastics featured highly in the bin tax consultation and understood a consultancy firm was involved. The fact that plastics was not even considered begged the question about value for money.
Councillor Hoddinott pointed out plastic was considered and throughout the consultation the Service had been clear about the extra cost of recycling plastic which was around £700k. The Service did not have the funds earmarked to bring that in at the time. Through the consultation the Cabinet Member would love to have been able to include the recycling of plastic, but the funding at that time was not available.
Councillor Hoddinott did wish to comment on the reference to the bin tax and pointed out that unfortunately irresponsible phrases like bin tax have led the public to misunderstand that this was a tax on their Council Tax bill for green waste. It was emphasised this was not the case and was an opt in system not a tax.
(14) Councillor Sansome asked would the Cabinet consider holding a seminar to update Members on the current position with “STP” or whichever acronym it went by. He was aware some Members may struggle to explain its technicality when challenged by residents.
Councillor Roche was happy to hold a seminar as there were a few misunderstandings about the STP.
The STP was now referred to as the Integrated Care System (ICS) following recent NHS guidance issued on 2nd February, 2018 and many Members were concerned about the possible implications of Government cuts and policy towards the Health Service.
The Council, Rotherham Foundation Trust, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Trust, Clinical Commissioning Group and Voluntary Action Rotherham have come together to form the Rotherham Integrated Care Partnership because it was important that everyone worked together to deliver the best services locally and brought in extra money and much needed resources.
The work of this group was governed by the Rotherham Integrated Health and Social Care Plan with activity ultimately overseen by the Health and Wellbeing Board which meant it could be scrutinized and challenged by Members. At Borough level partners were focused on working together to deliver improved health and social care outcomes at a place level. The improvement of the patient journey was a fundamental part of the integration activity.
(15) Councillor Carter asked how much money raised from Section 106 contributions needs to be spent in the next 12 months before being returned to developers.
As the Cabinet Member had given her apologies for this meeting, a response would be provided in writing.
(16) Councillor Carter asked would the Council commit to fund free sanitary product schemes in schools in an effort to alleviate period poverty.
Councillor Watson explained all schools have a delegated budget which included an amount allocated to address health, safety and welfare issues. As part of this arrangement, secondary schools would routinely hold a stock of female sanitary products in first aid/medical rooms for the use of pupils where needed.
(17) Councillor Carter asked was the Council currently running a deficit to the Local Government Pension Scheme, and if so how did the Council plan to address this?
Councillor Alam explained the latest position was the Council was up to date with its liabilities. Any further information could be obtained from the Council’s representative on the Pensions Authority, Councillor Ellis.
(18) Councillor B. Cutts asked could he be given an explanation of the past system, password, and costs incurred on RMBC by taxi companies in trafficking C.S.E. victims around the country.
Councillor Read had been advised the Council had no record of operating such a system. He was conscious this was a rumour that cropped up from time to time and urged anyone, who had information to suggest a system was in place or that officers were involved in some kind of criminal activity, to contact the National Crime Agency and report this information as this would need to be investigated properly.
In a supplementary question Councillor Cutts explained that as part of his leisure time he had read through Ministry documents and as a consequence passed on to the Council his findings where in these documents it referred to taxis and their activities. In addition, he had read two books that had been equally analysed by him and listed. He found it difficult to accept the Leader’s comments, but he would continue to pursue his concerns.
The Mayor indicated a response was not required.
(19) Councillor Sansome referred to the recent re-starting of “N” Furnace which was good news for all, and asked could the Cabinet Member reassure Members she will be working with Liberty to protect the current jobs and any further recruitment.
(20) Councillor Carter asked could the Cabinet Member please provide a status update on the diversity of the Council’s workforce, progress of this over the past 10 years, and how this compared with local demographic data.
Councillor Alam explained that over the last 10 years the Council had made progress on the diversity of the Council’s workforce, in some areas significant progress and in other areas there had been a steady increase, including:-
· The top 5% of earners who were women has increased from 48.02% to 66.43% since 2008 so a significant increase.
· The top 5% of earners who were members of the BME community had increased from 1.79% to 3.27% since 2008 and the overall workforce figures for BME were currently 4.05%.
· The percentage of employees with a disability was currently 8.53% compared to and in 2008 this was 3.53%. Whilst this was still significantly below the local demographic figure (16.2% 2011 census) the Council was moving in the right direction.
Councillor Alam confirmed he would provide a table with a detailed breakdown after the meeting.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked if there was an average earnings within the figures above.
Councillor Alam confirmed that the Council did not currently capture this data.
(21) Councillor Carter asked with the increased road crossing budget, could the Council guarantee a badly needed puffin crossing on Bawtry Road would be installed in the next financial year?
Councillor Hoddinott expressed her disbelief that Councillor Carter had voted against the budget that increased the road crossing budget that residents had been raising as a concern.
Action on these important issues was taken forward by the current administration to mitigate road crossing budgets being cut by Central Government.
Consultation had been undertaken on Bawtry Road about a number of measures that could alleviate road safety.
The road crossing budget was allocated on a needs-led basis and there were already 2 schemes for this year that were a higher priority.
(22) Councillor Napper referred to a Rotherham resident, who was taken to court by R.M.B.C. for breaking planning law and ordered to take the building down. The resident was now being supported by R.M.B.C. to have the decision reversed with the help of the R.M.B.C. Legal Department and he asked why.
(23) Councillor Cowles asked as the Council have been informed that the store holders of the bazaar market have been given a rent reduction due to the poor trading conditions currently experienced, could the Cabinet Member confirm or otherwise if this true and, what was the percentage reduction?