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.


The deadline for the receipt of questions for this meeting is 10.00 a.m. on Friday 19 January 2018.


(1)  In asking his question Mr. L. Harron elaborated on the previous Council Meeting where the Leader had indicated he would reflect on the question detail asked at that point and would take a representation.  Mr. Harron had emailed the Leader and was awaiting a response.  


He went on to ask his questio that on 16th December, 2014 he offered RMBC two days for three months to help improve communication about Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).


Ian Thomas said:-  "There are thousands who want to help in a similar way."


He asked would the Leader ask Ian Thomas to give a written report about how he had used this help?


The Leader apologised for not replying to the email, but would endeavour to follow this up.


His concern would be around the Council’s ability to communicate effectively around CSE and was sure Mr. Harron shared his concern.  The Leader believed this had improved significantly. For example, secondary school age children, surveyed annually, were asked if they had been taught in school about safeguarding and child sexual exploitation.  Over half in 2015 confirmed they had. This had improved further to 81.15%. The highest percentage improvement had been with Year 10 pupils, which was now up to 90% in both 2016 and 2017.


On the basis of the information above the Leader did not feel it was a good use of the Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services time to produce a report.


Mr. Harron believed the Leader missed the point as his question was not about any of the response, but about using people’s voluntary time.  Within six weeks of him arriving in Rotherham Ian Thomas claimed thousands of people wanting to help.  The question was more around the Strategic Director of Children’s Services integrity when he said he would do things and whether he actually followed them up. 


Ian Thomas’ Deputy was Jean Imray and she had sat in the Chamber on the 6th September, 2017 and presented a report and claimed that a “so called” independent expert gave her reasons for Rotherham returning 1400 copies of a publication which was discussed three years ago.   In his supplementary question Mr. Harron asked would the Leader please provide all Councillors and himself with the name and position of the “so called” independent expert that gave these reasons to Ian Thomas.


The Leader was familiar with the circumstances described and was aware that Mr. Harron had pursued and attempted to obtain this information from the Council.  The Council did not hold this information and, therefore, was unable to supply it to Mr. Harron.


(2)  Mr. R. Beecher referred at the last Council meeting where Councillor Atkin stated the Fire Authority's budget had been reduced by almost 25% since austerity began in 2010. What he failed to state was how come in that same period the Authority had banked over £19m into its reserves. He asked why was that?


Councillor Atkin thanked Mr. Beecher for his question.  South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue had suffered severe cuts to its budget, having lost around £12.5 million in Government funding since 2010 – a 29% reduction. Throughout this period, the service had continually committed to providing the best service to local people within the resources available to it.  Strong financial planning and the timely delivery of efficiency saving proposals have enabled the Fire Authority to build up healthy 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 funding had reduced and having no confidence to recruit new fire fighters (which were now a forty year commitment) due to uncertainty about the extent and duration of future cuts.


A significant proportion of these reserves would now 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. Beecher explained how in November, 2016 at a FBU Branch Meeting he had asked Councillors Atkin and Buckley how much they would save with the removal of the second appliance in Rotherham.  Neither could answer yet they both voted for that cut.  In the same meeting Councillors were asked how the Fire Authority could amass such vast reserves and they were quoted as saying “When organising our finances we always budget to make a profit”.  Mr. Beecher was sure the public of Rotherham would be delighted to hear this given their Council Tax increases. 


He further quoted from the bulletin from the Chair of the Fire Authority “Whilst the primary function of the Fire Authority is to oversee and review the work of the service I want to make it clear that fellow members and I are extremely supportive of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue employees.  As much as we are here to serve the public, we are also here to help you in the important work you do, to promote achievements and to ensure your wellbeing”. 


He asked the Fire Authority spokesperson that if this was the primary function then prove it and give back the fire engine so officers could protect the public of Rotherham and allow them to do the job they signed up for and loved.


Councillor Atkin confirmed both he and Councillor Buckley attended the meeting at the FBU request and he did say the Fire Authority had budgeted and made a surplus.  Every year approximately twenty-five fighters retired, which was the equivalent of £1 million savings on revenue and cuts were not so severe.  This meant that over the last seven years the amount of spending out paced the cuts and had led to reserves.  These reserves were now being used so that fire fighters had the best equipment to do their job. 


(3)   Mr. A. Reid indicated the Fire Authority IRMP stated that when you change a station onto the day staffing system then night time calls would be covered by a resilience appliance, so where was ours at Rotherham?


Councillor Atkin confirmed that 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. The second fire engine at Rotherham was intended to be ‘resilience’ retained, meaning it would only be mobilised where Rotherham and other stations became sequentially committed to an incident  or incidents, which was infrequent.


The absence of such arrangements at Rotherham was currently covered by the facility to mobilise Birley Moor’s retained fire engine into Rotherham should the need arise. Similar arrangements were already in place at Barnsley, with night time resilience arrangements expected to be in place at Rotherham by late February.


In a supplementary question Mr. Reid pointed out that Barnsley day stepping had been in for three years and after eleven months Rotherham still did not have night time resilience in place.  He, therefore, asked Rotherham’s representatives to lobby other Fire Authority Members and stand up for their constituents and give back their front line appliance.


Councillor Atkin explained night time resilience arrangements involved fire fighters from nearby on-call fire stations staffing the second fire engine, in the event that the first fire engine was committed to an incident and where operational circumstances allowed.


He reaffirmed the point about the second appliance being removed.  This was not the case and it still remained in Rotherham.


(4)  Mr. N. Fretwell referred to the 1st January this year the Fire Authority issued 'H' days to staff, this meant both Barnsley and Rotherham had just one pump on nights.


Both had serious house fires and unfortunately Barnsley's resulted in a fatality and he asked was Councillor Atkin aware of this?


Councillor Atkin confirmed the Fire Authority was made aware of all fatal incidents, including the sad news of the fatal incident in Barnsley.  As with all fire stations in South Yorkshire and around the country, the service’s response to 999 incidents continued to be supported by crews from other, nearby stations.  In both incidents on 1st January, as was the case for other incidents the service attended, the immediate response provided by the fire engines at Rotherham and Barnsley fire stations was quickly supported by fire engines from other, nearby stations.


Barnsley and Rotherham have had one fire engine on duty at night since day crewing arrangements were introduced. ‘H’ days ensured the service was paying only double time to the numbers of firefighters that were required to be on duty on a bank holiday.


The best way of stopping deaths was to prevent fires from occurring in the first place. It was for this reason the Fire Authority was supporting the Fire Service’s campaign to call on local authorities, health partners and third sector organisations to refer those who were most at risk of fire to it for support.


In a supplementary question Mr. Fretwell confirmed “H” days were given to staff on bank holidays to reduce the wages bill when the senior management team deemed too many staff were on duty.  On this occasion staff were available to put both Barnsley and Rotherham’s second appliance on the run yet for purely financial reasons they were not and the gamble resulted in a fatality.  He asked how many more gambles were the Fire Authority prepared to take before the errors of the cuts were realised.


Councillor Atkin reiterated ‘H’ days were used on bank holidays where there were more firefighters on duty than required to staff fire engines. They were used to avoid paying double time to more people than was operationally necessary.


The change to the staffing of Barnsley’s second fire engine happened in early 2016 and the change to the staffing of Rotherham’s second fire engine happened in March, 2017


(5)  Mr. M. Harrison was unable to attend today’s meeting and permission was given for Mr. Beecher to ask his question on his behalf and he asked Councillor Read if he was fully aware of the effects the cuts at Rotherham Fire Station were having on fire cover levels provided at night time, to the constituents he served?


The Leader wished to send his best wishes to Mr. Harrison and his wife.  He confirmed he was briefed regularly by the Fire Authority and he had recently met the Chief Fire Officer so he was informed of the developments in Rotherham.  He extended his offer to meet with members of the FBU separately if it was required.


(6)  Mr. C. Taylor explained how on 18th October, 2017 Councillor Denise Lelliott stated that Rotherham Council have a target of 14,000 new houses to be built across Rotherham of which 2% would be built on green belt land.   He asked could she confirm that these figures were correct.


Councillor Lelliott explained the Council had a statutory duty to produce a Local Plan and the Council’s housing target over the Local Plan period was 14,371 new homes. The sites to be allocated would take up 2% of land reallocated from Green Belt for development as a percentage of the total area of Green Belt land in the Borough.


Councillor Lelliott apologised if the information provided previously was not clear.   


In a supplementary question Mr. Taylor asked was the 2% of the total Green Belt land or 2% of the Green Belt land allocation in the Local Plan.


Councillor Lelliott explained, to avoid further confusion, that it was 2% of Green Belt land, with a total of 98% of the allocated sites being on brownfield land.


(7)  Mr. P. Thirlwall again referred to the Leader’s previous comment in March, 2017 regarding a review of Standing Orders and in particular the fifty word limit for public questions.


He asked about the Special Responsibility Allowance of £8,617 paid to the Leader of UKIP which did not appear in the Constitution, the Constitution had not been amended in accordance with Clause 19 (3) and the Special Responsibility Allowance did not appear in the minutes of the AGM, therefore, asked was this payment ultra vires?


Mr. Thirlwall had provided this extract from the Constitution:-


Clause 19 Review and Revision of the Constitution.

(3) Changes to the Constitution.

The full Council will ONLY approve changes to the constitution after considering proposals from the Chief Executive, the Director of Legal and Democratic Services and the Director of Finance.

However the Director of Legal and Democratic Services may make clerical amendments to the Constitution to reflect any changes in legislation or changes in the title and responsibilities of council officers or bodies without reference to the Council.


The Leader understood Mr. Thirlwall had been in correspondence with the Monitoring Officer in relation to this issue.  The payment of the Special Responsibility Allowance to the Leader of the main opposition group was not ultra vires and had been part of the Members’ Allowance Scheme since the scheme was introduced.  The Council amended the Constitution on the recommendation of the Independent Remuneration Panel in July, 2015 and further amendments to all allowances were agreed in July, 2017.  Whilst there was a clerical error in the report in July, 2017 the decision by Council still gave effect to the reduction in the special responsibility allowance of the Leader of the main opposition group because it applied it to all special responsibility allowances in the scheme. 


A full response had been provided by the Monitoring Officer about the Constitution and the Leader was advised the Council had acted appropriately and the Constitution updated accordingly.


In a supplementary question Mr. Thirlwall disagreed with the Leader’s response and believed the decision could not be made without coming back to full Council.  At the last meeting the Leader said on advice from the Monitoring Officer that minor corrections could be made to the Constitution between Council meetings even though Mr. Thirlwall had demonstrated this could not be done without full Council approval.  This had not been done and the Leader appeared to be sticking to a false statement.


Mr. Thirlwall, therefore, asked if the Leader agreed with him that a Special Responsibility Allowance of £8,617 over and above the basic council allowance should be paid to the Leader of the opposition party.


His description of the UKIP Party and ensuing comments were ruled out of order by the Mayor and the Leader passed no further comment.