To put questions, if any, to Cabinet Members and Chairmen (or their representatives) under Council Procedure Rules 11(1) and 11(3).
(1) Councillor B. Cutts formally withdrew this question.
(2) Councillor Brookes referred to the recent care proceedings case which had provoked a clear and strong moral reaction from all. Victims and their families should be protected from their rapists. The law notwithstanding, did the Deputy Leader agree that the Council was doing all it could to support staff to raise concerns and question practice over potential harm and ethical issues?
Councillor Watson confirmed the protection of individuals, whether children or adults, was central to social work practice. Practitioners worked hard to ensure that vulnerabilities and risks were understood and taken into account within the work that they did. It was important that staff worked within national guidance and statutory procedures to ensure that the complex nature of their work was set within national practice and had adherence to practice across the country.
By implementing Restorative Practice and Reflective Supervision social workers were encouraged to raise concerns and escalate challenges to their line managers in order to achieve the best outcomes for their children and young people. The Council would work hard to ensure that social workers and team managers have time for reflective discussion and where appropriate escalate concerns about case work to more senior managers. The Council were working hard to continue to promote the culture of learning throughout the service where workers were encouraged to be curious, raise concerns and reflect on what actions were required for each individual situation.
In a supplementary question Councillor Brookes was pleased to hear about the ongoing journey and the culture of learning and understood the Council had operated in the guidelines and asked if, with more foresight and with more questions being asked, there may have been a different outcome and perhaps a different one going forward for similar cases that may arise.
Councillor Watson confirmed it was impossible to talk about individual cases, but he was confident that workers did what was required by law and advised of them. Going forward any changes that may happen or be suggested Rotherham’s staff should not be in a position where they were unable to follow the law.
(3) Councillor Carter asked how many other rape victims who have had children consequently have had their rapists contacted about parental responsibility?
Councillor Watson thought it would be helpful to clarify parental responsibility – this was a legal term outlined in the Children Act 1989. It set out the rights, duties and responsibilities that a parent had in relation to their child. When issuing care proceedings the Council was required to contact all persons with parental responsibility and any person who the Council believed to be a parent without parental responsibility.
Family care proceedings were held in private in order to protect children and, therefore, the Council could not provide information on specific situations including the circumstances in which children were conceived.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked given that a number had not been provided how many rape victims have been contacted in this way.
Councilor Watson pointed out as reported in the news following Sammy’s story there were certainly other cases in other parts of the country involving biological fathers who have been convicted of violent offences who have been legally entitled to certain parental rights. Whilst he could not comment on what may or may not have happened here, when Councils were all following the same rules, it was inconceivable that there have not been other similar cases nation-wide.
(4) Councillor Carter asked who sanctioned whether or not a rapist was contacted by RMBC to be involved in their child's care?
Councillor Watson explained when the Council issued care proceedings to safeguard a child, it was required to give notice of those proceedings, by law to any person holding parental responsibility for that child and/or any person the Council believed was a parent of any child who was a subject of those proceedings. A parent with parental responsibility by law would automatically become a party to care proceedings. It was for the Court to decide whether a parent without parental responsibility should become a party to the proceedings.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked when was the Deputy Leader made aware of this being taken forward of rapists being contacted in terms of the Children’s Act.
Councillor Watson explained that these requirements in law were operational matters and not strategic. He did not believe Lead Members would be asked to comment on specific cases moving forward as it would be expected that staff acted within the law within their profession.
(5) Councillor Carter asked what representations had RMBC made to the Ministry of Justice to clarify guidance on contacting rapists about parental responsibility?
Councillor Watson confirmed the Council had been in continued contact with the Ministry of Justice since the articles in the press last week and was confident that the serious matters raised regarding the current practice directions in England and Wales were being treated with the gravity and urgency that they required.
An announcement was currently awaited from the Ministry of Justice on their next steps and the Council have re-iterated support to engage with them in their actions on this matter. The Council were very happy to work with them on what might be considered a suitable way of dealing with cases like this in the future.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked was this the first contact relating to these guidelines with the Ministry of Justice in the aftermath of the press stories.
Councillor Watson confirmed the first contact would have been last week. However, Rotherham had its own Legal Team that knew how the law worked so you would not expect the Council every time a Social Worker had to take a decision to ring up the Ministry of Justice to see if they agreed with the action being taken.
(6) Councillor Carter asked what representations had RMBC made to try and change the law about contacting rapists about parental responsibility?
Councillor Watson explained the Council had requested, along with many others, that the Ministry of Justice undertake a review of practice guidance and support had been offered to such a national review as it was felt Rotherham had experience in this field.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked when did those first representations happen.
Councillor Watson referred to the answer above and confirmed the first contact would have been last week.
(7) Councillor Short asked had the Council signed a non-disclosure agreement with HS2 Rail Link?
Councillor Lelliott confirmed a Service Level and Non-Disclosure Agreement with HS2 was signed by the Council on 13th July, 2017.
The Council had signed it because without signing it, HS2 would not provide information to the Council and, therefore, the Council’s ability to represent local communities would be impaired.
In a supplementary question Councillor Short was disappointed, but not surprised that twenty-six Councils, including North Yorkshire, had signed these agreements. The perception by the public were these agreements were gagging orders to keep residents in the dark to prevent them from mounting campaigns against building HS2. It was a perception and not in public interest at all, but only that of HS2. By signing the agreement it would appear the Council was not supporting the residents it claimed to be supporting. The Council was saying it was against HS2, but quietly had signed a legal agreement.
Councillor Lelliott wished to clarify the position. Perception was not always fact and true. Signing the agreement meant that HS2 could share information with the Council in advance of it becoming public and for the Council to respond to proposals. Without this the Council would not be able to make representations on behalf of the Council and on the people it represented. Signing of the agreement was a necessity to ensure the Council was kept informed of developments.
(8) Councillor Cowles asked if the position could be clarified on the Cross Keys and No. 28 Moorgate Street with regard to their current NDLR tax status and did this result in a cost to the tax payer, if so, how much was the taxpayer percentage contribution and what had been the taxpayer cost to-date?
Councillor Alam confirmed the Open Minds Theatre Company (OMTC) took the tenancy of the both properties from 30th September, 2016 and they received 80% mandatory Charitable Non-Domestic Rates relief on them both.
They had been liable to pay the remaining 20% of the Non Domestic Rates from the tenancy start date.
Legislation required the cost (loss of income) of the 80% mandatory relief to be shared in the following proportions:-
· 50% Central Government.
· 49% RMBC.
· 1% Fire Service.
Reduced business rates income to the Council in relation to the Cross Keys, Moorgate Street from 30th September, 2016 to 31st March, 2019 was £3,188.74.
Reduced business rates income to the Council in relation to 28 Moorgate Street, as a result of the 80% mandatory relief from 30th September 2016 to 31st March 2019, was £1,292.50.
In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles understood the properties were being used for storage and resource. However, he had never seen anyone taking stuff in or out. Furthermore, a notice had been posted indicating an asbestos problem and realistically people should not be disturbing this material. He asked if the Council could investigate what was going on with these buildings, how much was being stored, if the charity was making best use of its funds, taxpayers money and storage utilisation.
Councillor Alam confirmed that the charity had given assurances that they were using these buildings for storage and the legal position was that if they were using the building for occupation then they were entitled to relief.
(9) Councillor Cowles referred in a recent communications release concerning Eastwood properties. The officer referring to the properties described them as “two rat infested homes”, PR 21562, their words not his and he asked did this clearly indicate the failure of the Eastwood Deal and Selective Licensing?
Councillor Beck confirmed no, but that it showed that if the Council had followed Councillor Cowles’ advice and that of the opposition party and not introduced selective licensing, the residents in those properties would still be living in rat infested houses.
Instead, because of the policy the Council introduced, the landlord was facing criminal charges, an unsafe property had been closed, and the tenants were living in suitable accommodation. He would always defend that the Eastwood Deal and selective licensing were a success.
In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles believed this indicated the initiatives had failed. Selective licensing did not give the Council any powers it did not already have. It merely transferred cost and raised rents as a result. If this was success then he would not like to see failure. The press release went on to cover rat infestations, gardens full of rubbish and a further house with a rodent problem. All these issues had been raised by himself previously. The Eastwood Deal had been in place at whatever cost, the local MP had visited recently and a rodent had run out in front of her. She commented that you would not get rid of the problem until the waste was removed. Rodents did migrate and on occasions when Councillor Cowles had walked at the back of the Town Hall he had seen rodents as there was waste food all over the place. The problem was becoming widespread. The emails he had referred to previously in the summer highlighting this problem had also been sent to the Cabinet Member responsible so she could not deny that she was not aware of the rodent problem. He asked when would the Council tackle the problem with some urgency.
Councillor Beck confirmed Eastwood did have its challenges, but good progress was being made. Crime and anti-social behaviour was falling in Eastwood and standards was rising which could be evidenced. More people were playing a part in that area of the town. When properties were first inspected in Eastwood more than 90% did not meet legal requirements. Now over 94% met the standard expected. The Council would continue to work to bring about improvements.
(10) Councillor Napper asked what steps was RMBC taking with regards to complaints against the Customer Service Department?
The Leader did not specifically know what Councillor Napper had in mind. However, the formal complaints procedure was managed outside of the Customer Services Department.
This year there had been a total of 36 formal complaints received regarding Customer Services since 1st April, 2018.
44% (11 out of 25) of complaints for Customer Services were upheld or partially upheld since 1st April, 2018. Any further specific issues the Leader was happy to pick those up.
In a supplementary question Councillor Napper referred to a visit to the Town Hall last week where he was asked by the Chair of the Northern Housing Panel if any people had complained to him about Customer Services. He found this quite alarming with the number of complaints that the problem was not being dealt with.
The Leader reiterated the invitation to pick up these matters after the meeting.
(11) Councillor Napper asked did RMBC employ a Housing Fraud Officer?
Councillor Beck confirmed the Council did not employ a specific Housing Fraud Officer, but the Housing Service did have a number of checks in place for the detection and prevention of fraud. For example, all Right to Buy applications were put through a series of checks by officers working in the Right to Buy and Leasehold Service to ensure fraudulent applications were not made. When processing applications officers would include proof of ID and proof of residency and carry out anti money laundering checks.
In respect of tenancy fraud officers working in the Housing and Estate Management Service carried out a rolling programme of tenancy audits/verification checks by visiting tenants in their home and asking a series of questions to confirm who was living in the property and the details of the household corresponded with the tenancy. Such visits and enquiries helped investigate any allegations of non-occupation or subletting of Council tenancies.
(12) Councillor Jepson asked what was the future of the Chesterfield Canal Steering Group given that there have been no meetings held since April of this year. He had contacted the Assistant Director for Culture, Sports and Tourism some eight weeks ago on this matter and was still waiting for a reply.
Councillor Allen confirmed a reply with an explanation and an apology had been forwarded onto Councillor Jepson. The next meeting of the Steering Group was scheduled for the 17th January, 2019.
In a supplementary comment Councillor Jepson was hopeful the meeting would take place as it had been nine months since the last one.
(13) Councillor Carter asked what progress had been made since the last full Council meeting in regards to ending period poverty in our secondary schools?
Councillor Watson confirmed all schools and academies have a delegated budget which included an amount allocated to address health, safety and welfare issues. As part of this arrangement, secondary schools routinely held a stock of female sanitary products in first aid/medical rooms and designated facilities for the use of pupils where needed.
What appeared to be a problem for some pupils was their inability to ask for help. It was, therefore, proposed that an approach be made to the secondary heads at their meeting next week where the Deputy Leader was to speak to them about the principle of having somewhere in school a stock of products without pupils having to ask.
There was also a national project called the “Red Box Project”, which placed red boxes in supermarkets in the same way as food banks so that members of the public could donate products so they could be put into schools and be readily available. An appointment had been made with the Chair of the “Red Box Project” to consider such a scheme in Rotherham to which Councillor Carter would be invited. There was a local scheme, however, and the details would be shared once contact had been made.
This was an issue as austerity continued to bite for families on very limited incomes that would have to make the choice about food, heating or sanitary protection. This was a serious issue that needed to be taken forward.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked if the meeting would consider how the “Red Box Project” could be rolled out in Rotherham with local businesses and local charities helping out.
Councillor Watson confirmed he would be approaching local business or local charities to see how they could help with funds to roll out this programme.
(14) Councillor Carter asked what were the results of the recent homelessness audit carried out in Rotherham?
Councillor Beck confirmed the Council did not do a homelessness audit, but did monitor the number of homelessness cases and the number of rough sleepers through an annual count. This information was returned to Government as part of a national count return.
The service was currently working with eighteen known rough sleepers and was writing a new Homelessness Prevention and Rough Sleeper Strategy that would be published in the spring.
The Council had also seen an increasing demand around homelessness. It was important to make a distinction of those vulnerable at the point of being homeless and having no home. This was an increasing issue for services and the Council took its duties seriously to work with those people to find a home as soon as possible through Council housing stock or out in the private/voluntary sector.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter firstly asked about the annual canvas, what form this took in the borough and how it happened and secondly, what statutory provision and obligation did the Council provide to homeless people in finding accommodation.
Councillor Beck confirmed the Council did signpost. Rotherham was fortunate to have Shiloh, the homelessness charity in Masbrough, who were there to support people who found themselves homeless. With them the Council were working hard to help people in those situations. The Help for Homeless People Card had also been issued and circulated.
In terms of the national audit a day was selected during the year for Council officers to count the number of rough sleepers found throughout the borough during the day. This was a growing issue nationally and it was very important the Council continued do all that it could.
(15) Councillor Jepson withdrew this question and asked that it be deferred to the Council Meeting in January, 2019.
(16) Councillor Carter asked how many retail units were now vacant that were occupied in April, 2017 in Rotherham town centre?
Councillor Lelliott confirmed the town centre had eleven more vacant properties in April, 2018 than it did in April, 2017. Sixteen of the properties which were recorded as vacant in April, 2017 had been re-occupied by April, 2018.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked was the net change seven fewer retail units or eleven more.
Councillor Lelliott confirmed that in April, 2017 of 378 town centre properties 94 (24.86%) were vacant.
In April 2018 of 376 town centre properties 105 properties were vacant (27.9%).
(17) Councillor Jepson referred to all Councillors recently being given the opportunity to object to the Government’s proposals to allow shale gas exploration to be classed as permitted development which removed the decision making on these applications at a local level and asked did the Leader agree that it was disappointing that only nine chose to do so.
The Leader confirmed he was one of the nine who had signed this as Leader of the Council, but was aware that not all Members had received the email in the first place so was unable to comment on their behalf.
The Leader was also aware that the Planning Board had formally written to Government formally opposing those changes and Scrutiny had looked at this also so a number of Members had actively taken part in some discussions opposing those proposals.
In a supplementary question Councillor Jepson welcomed the answer from the Leader and wondered if not all Members had seen the email. Perhaps it would be helpful if this could be recirculated to all Members so that they were aware of changes.
The Leader confirmed this would be done.
(18) Councillor Carter asked did the Cabinet Member not think the previously mentioned changes to burial times in Rotherham went far enough in addressing the needs of Rotherham’s communities?
Councillor Hoddinott explained the proposed changes introduced an additional 3.5 hours of available burial capacity each day which was a significant increase in overall capacity from the current arrangements.
This was a change that had been long campaigned for and the Cabinet Member took the opportunity to thank the faith and community groups, scrutiny, officers and Councillor Alam for their support in getting the change and making it happen.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter again asked if this change went far enough for dusk and daytime hours when compared to neighbours in terms of this being a first class service that Rotherham deserved.
Councillor Hoddinott noted Councillor Carter referring to dusk and daytime hours and pointed out that some of the comparators were larger cities when Rotherham needed to be compared with towns. The position would now be monitored as this was a pilot from 1st April, 2019. The three and a half hours a day extra was a significant increase in the service and she was pleased that this change had been achieved.
(19) Councillor Carter asked when did the Cabinet Member intend to make a formal announcement on the proposed changes to burial times?
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed the formal announcement date was yet to be agreed, but this would be well in advance of the trial which was planned for April, 2019.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked how did the Cabinet Member propose this announcement would take place.
Councillor Hoddinott explained there would be a series of briefings and public announcements along with discussions with community and faith groups. In getting this change there would also need to be a sequence of events that would require discussions with Registrars, the Coroner and Funeral Directors about how the opening hours would affect their business and services.
(20) Councillor Jepson asked when would the results of the ‘Waste Bin Review’ of 2017 be implemented and the promised new bins installed borough wide. He had contacted Streetpride on 20th March this year to report a badly damaged bin at North Anston, this had still not been replaced and asked if there was a reason why.
Councillor Allen confirmed that there was a backlog of litter bin requests. The Council had undertaken a procurement exercise to implement the replacement programme. The programme had now begun, but a decision was made to replace the old open-topped concrete bins as a priority, given the impact of these on the local environment, especially during windy weather. The service was now starting to work through the programme, and it was expected the damaged litter bin at North Anston would be replaced early January.
As part of the capital budget this year, the Council were investing £56,000 in renewing and replacing litter bins.
An eight week trial was shortly to be embarked upon for solar powered compaction bins and on conclusion the results would be fed back into the Streetpride Working Group for a discussion.
In a supplementary question Councillor Jepson asked if he could have a copy of the programme of replacement bins for when these were likely to be rolled out around the borough on a ward by ward basis if possible.
Councillor Allen would discuss with officers if this was possible to supply.
(21) Councillor Carter asked could RMBC guarantee that current safeguarded land in the local plan would not be developed on during this plan period?
Councillor Lelliott confirmed it would be safeguarded.
(22) Councillor Jepson referred to the Council deciding to set a two year budget up to 2020/21 and asked did the Leader agree that this would place financial restrictions and influence any future decisions that needed to be made by the new administration that would take over following the next elections in May, 2020.
The Leader explained that by law, the Council had to determine its budget requirement by 11th March each year and set a balanced budget to apply for the following financial year 1st April to 31st March. The responsibility to do this fell to the Elected Members of Council in place at that time and provided some certainty in the plans moving forward.
(23) Councillor Carter asked how much Council owned land had RMBC sold to housing developers in the past five years?
Councillor Lelliott confirmed that 27.12 acres (10.97 hectares) of Council owned land had to been sold to Housing Developers since December, 2013.
(24) Councillor Carter asked did RMBC intend to take on some of its neighbouring local authorities' housebuilding requirements beyond its own requirement under the "duty to cooperate" in this local plan period?
Councillor Lelliott confirmed the Council did not.
(25) Councillor Carter asked what was the process and policy for contacting the Council and subsequent end of tenancy when a relative died who lived in a Council house?
Councillor Beck confirmed that when a Council tenant passed away, the Next of Kin would notify the Council. This could be done in person at one of the customer service centres, over the phone through our Corporate Contact Centre or in writing.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked what happened with that information, was it disseminated to other Council departments and how long were the family given to vacate the property.
Councillor Beck confirmed the information was disseminated to other services and usually it was around two weeks that the family were given to vacate the property.
(26) Councillor Carter asked how did RMBC deal with meeting dietary requirements of school children with medically diagnosed intolerances or allergies at school?
Councillor Watson explained the school meals service had a rigid process for dietary requirements. A meal would be supplied to meet the needs of the pupil providing they had been diagnosed by a doctor/dietician. Written medical evidence was required prior to provision of any school meal. The service would be notified of any pupil dietary requirements by the school the pupil attended. The service did not have direct access to any pupil personal information.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked given that process what procurement took place to ensure that school children, in terms of free school lunches, were given a suitable equivalent meal and what was the process when something went wrong or a mistake was made with food given to a child that was not appropriate to their allergy or intolerance.
Councillor Watson explained that one of the problems was if a child was not at a larger school where there were choices each day. However, if you were that one child that had a specific dietary requirement it would be unreasonable to cook different choices each day. It did limit the element of choice and Councillor Watson could not see a cost effective way around this.
In terms of mistakes with diets Councillor Watson had no knowledge of any such situation, but if Councillor Carter was aware of any specific case then he asked if he could share the information with him after the meeting.
(27) Councillor Carter asked how would the long overdue introduction of kerbside plastic recycling be communicated to residents?
Councillor Hoddinott explained a seminar was held to inform Elected Members of the process by which the changes to recycling would be implemented and communicated to residents and this took place on the 2nd October, 2018. This was well attended.
The Communications Plan was also discussed by the Improving Places Select Commission and how the detail would be communicated to residents
Changes to collections would be communicated in writing to all households, supplemented by bin tags and stickers at the appropriate time. Information would also be made available online, including a video.
Another seminar was taking place on 8th January, 2019, to further inform Elected Members about how the services would be introduced and communicated to residents. Councillor Carter had been invited to attend.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked for the date when the changes would be communicated and when would the recycling take place.
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed all this detail would be reported at the seminar. The recycling changes would be rolled out in four phases across the borough in stages so people would get to know at the relevant time. This would take around three months weather permitting.
(28) Councillor Carter referred to the Government announcing last month a top up of the Transforming Cities Fund to £2.4 billion and asked how much have each of the six Combined Mayoral Authorities been guaranteed in funding from this?
The Leader confirmed the 2018 Budget said that the Government was extending the Transforming Cities Fund by a year to 2022/23 and that this would provide an extra £240 million to the six (sic) metro mayors for significant transport investment in their areas: £21 million for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, £69.5 million for Greater Manchester, £38.5 million for Liverpool City Region, £23 million for West of England, £71.5 million for the West Midlands, and £16.5 million for Tees Valley.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked would the Leader agree that not getting the devolution deal for South Yorkshire means that it was now missing out on a significant amount of money.
The Leader confirmed he did agree South Yorkshire was missing out.
(29) Councillor Carter asked since the last Council meeting on 31st October, what contact had the Leader had with the other three South Yorkshire Council Leaders in securing their agreement to progress the Sheffield City Region devolution deal?
The Leader confirmed he was in contact with the other three South Yorkshire Council Leaders and Dan Jarvis, the Elected Mayor, and would continue to drive this issue.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked if the Council was any nearer in reaching agreement on this as it would seem to him that the Sheffield City Region Mayor had been in post more than six months and no progress had been made.
The Leader confirmed the Sheffield City Region Mayor had been in post for six months, but prior to that the Leader himself had been the chair so perhaps more than anyone the Leader felt the pain on this issue.
The Mayor had said publically that he had met with the Secretary of State in the last few days and he would continue to push with the Government to deliver on a manifesto commitment that we should sign up on the 2015 deal first and then try to use this for the authorities that wished to move to a one Yorkshire proposal. It would be premature for the Leader to speculate on any discussions, but the Mayor had the Leader’s full support on taking this forward.
(30) Councillor Carter asked when would the proposed new pedestrian crossing in Anston by the A57 crossroads be built?
Councillor Hoddinott explained there was no confirmed start date for the works. There had been objections to the Traffic Regulation Order required to enable the scheme to progress. The Cabinet Member along with Ward Councillors were keen to progress this crossing in this area and she looked forward to supporting them in this.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked if this crossing was now at risk of not going ahead, where would the money from the Sheffield City Region be spent instead.
Councillor Hoddinott explained every effort would be made to resolve this. The Traffic Regulation Order was being processed and officers were looking to get a resolution to this by the end of January, 2019.