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Agenda item

PUBLIC QUESTIONS

 

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.

Minutes:

(1) Mr. D. Smith asked when was it decided that United Caps could build a factory on land in Dinnington?

 

Councillor Lelliott confirmed a planning application for United Caps was submitted on the 17th October, 2018, but this had not yet been decided. The application would be considered by the Planning Board in due course. 

 

In a supplementary question Mr. Smith referred to a press release from Monday, 23rd July, 2018 and a photograph outside Riverside House showing Councillor Lelliott, Councillor Watson, the Chief Executive and the Project Officer for United Caps with a statement that United Caps had announced it would be constructing a new manufacturing plant in Dinnington.  A statement by the Leader of the Council confirmed the Council was excited to have a company of the quality of United Caps joining in the community and looked forward to working with them to ensure a timely completion of the new factory as well as their future expansion.  

 

Councillor Lelliott referred to a planning application being submitted in October when a Plant Manager had already been appointed and machines were being transferred to the Dinnington plant.  Reading this article the public could be led to believe there was an attempt to unduly influence the Planning Board. 

 

The planning application was forwarded to Dinnington Town Council in November.  Mr. Smith was not against the factory being built if the company were allegedly going to employ local people, but what he was against was the Leader, Deputy Leader and the Cabinet Member’s bias on the July statement when it was decided that this factory would be built in Dinnington.

 

Councillor Lelliott pointed out that as Chair of the Parish Council Mr. Smith would be fully aware of the Local Plan and the designated sites for development in industrial areas.  That particular site had always been in the Local Plan as an industrial site.  The planning application was submitted in October, 2018 and was referred onto the Parish Council in November.  Due process would be followed and the Cabinet Member gave her assurance that there had never been nor would there be any influence by the Planning Department to the Planning Board to make any decision.  It was a statutory requirement to follow the law.

 

(2)  Mr. P. Thirlwall asked could the Leader, following his question to the Leader at the October Council meeting, tell him what progress had been made to ensure that Elected Members complied with the law and properly completed their register of interests?

 

The Leader confirmed that both he and the Leader of the Opposition had reminded group members about their responsibilities under the law and he understood that virtually all Members have reviewed and updated their registers of interest.  Many were accurate to start with, but have been reviewed.  He pointed out that it was the responsibility of each individual Member to ensure their register was updated.

 

In a supplementary question Mr. Thirlwall  confirmed that despite Councillor Read’s efforts as Leader there were still six UKIP Members who had not completed their register of interests.  He referred to both Councillor John Turner and Dave Cutts, both on the Planning Board, who had not listed their properties that they owned.  This brought into question the decisions made at Planning Board because no one could tell whether in fact it could have been influenced by the properties that were not listed. 

 

Councillors Short and Simpson, both on the Standards and Ethics Committee, one had not listed his UKIP membership and the other had not filled in a declaration of interest form at all which was a criminal offence.  Also Councillor Brian Cutts had not listed the property that he owned and Councillor Marriott again had not bothered to complete a declaration of interest. 

 

To not complete the register of interests within twenty-eight days of being elected was a criminal offence and carried a £5,000 fine and potentially being barred from standing for office.

 

In addition, the Council had paid Councillor Cowles £8,000 a year for being Leader of the Opposition, but up to a few weeks ago had only three members of UKIP.  The rest had technically been the biggest opposition party as Independents.  He, therefore, asked did the Leader believe that he, and the Monitoring Officer, were complicit in knowingly allowing six UKIP Members to commit a criminal act.

 

The Leader confirmed he did not believe that he and the Monitoring Officer were complicit in knowingly allowing six UKIP Members to commit a criminal act.

 

(3)  Mr. S. Ball explained that despite several calls to adopt the IHRA the Leader had dismissed them and asked was he following in the Labour Leader’s footsteps?

 

The Leader confirmed he was only aware of one request from a resident for the Council to adopt the IHRA, which was the one Mr. Ball himself had sent him back in November.  The Leader also confirmed he had the exchange of e-mails in front of him that had taken place at the time.  His answer to Mr. Ball was exactly the same which was to say that if there was some suggestion that there were issues where members of the Jewish Community felt the Council had not acted properly and that any allegations of antisemitism were not being treated seriously, or if there was any evidence that adopting that definition would help the Council and would ensure that the rights of Jewish people, who lived in Rotherham, were well respected and well regarded, then the Leader would be very happy to have the debate.

 

At the moment there was no evidence, other than the one request from Mr. Ball himself.  If the evidence could be presented or if people were willing to come forward, even anonymously, and provide information or views that suggested that the Council needed to adopt to ensure it was functioning properly, then the Leader would take this very seriously.   Until then without the evidence the Leader was not prepared to play politics.

 

In a supplementary question Mr. Ball pointed out that this was not about politics, but about protecting people.  As a guideline it did not cost anything to follow, but shared information to advise what was anti-Semitic and what was not.  He expected the Council to sign up and this take on board so it knew what it was and was in no way political.

 

He assumed the Council would know what this was all about when he submitted his question.  However, he received an email from a member of staff seeking clarification and he questioned why someone should be asking as all the information had been forwarded about what anti-Semitic was.

 

The Leader pointed out that on occasions it was quite appropriate for staff to seek clarity from a member of the public about exactly what they were asking.  Again he referred Mr. Ball to his first answer which was that if there were evidence that this Council had not given due regard to any issues in relation of anti-Semitism or any issues which affected Jewish people who lived in the borough, then he would take this very seriously.  He had not seen this yet and it was, therefore, not necessary to take forward this definition.

 

(4)  Mr. M. Eyre asked, given this Council’s troubled relationship with the Chuckle Brothers, including regarding Barry’s support for a free school and previously forcing them to cease filming and leave the Town Hall steps, was the “Chuckle Square” decision, which had been labelled “unbelievable” and “a PR own goal” in any way, personal?

 

Councillor Steele confirmed it was a different Council to one in 1996 when the request to leave the Town Hall steps was made.

 

In terms of the free school the decision was made by the Secretary of State for the Conservative Party. 

 

Looking at the evidence regarding the petition by the Advertiser it claimed it was in the best interests of Rotherham and it was fully supported.  The 681 valid signatures that signed the petition amounted to 0.26% from a population of 260,786.

 

The Overview and Scrutiny Management Board was an independent Committee made up of cross party Members.  The unanimous decision was made following advice.  It would be for the Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environment to consider and decide upon following recommendations from the Board.

 

In a supplementary question Mr. Eyre referred to the support for the petition to honour one of the town’s most loved local celebrities and bring some pride back to the town centre, which supposedly this Council was all about.  He was shocked at the decision and whilst it was claimed not to be personal he asked the question because this was what other people had been saying.  There was reference to Maltby, but there appeared to be a lack of understanding about where the brothers were allegedly from and whether the Councillors in making the decision looked at an early episode of Chuckle Vision for their misconception.

 

He, therefore, asked if the Council had any plans to review the decision; after all the Labour Party made a lot of news about second votes.

 

Councillor Steele, again pointed out that only 0.26% of Rotherham’s population had signed the petition.  As the Chair he was only one member of the Board, but would not change his mind.  He was unable to comment on behalf of the Board’s other Members.  A clear recommendation had been made and this was now in the hands of the Council.

 

(5)  Mr. L. Harron in asking his question referred to Rotherham's values and being accountable about doing the right thing not just the easiest thing, responding in a timely manner and seeing things through with pace.  He referred to a constructive meeting on the 30th November, 2018, when he requested written guidelines about the petition scheme’s silence about switching off the webcast after the initial Overview and Scrutiny Management Board discussion when a petitioner had requested a review of the response to a petition.  He asked why did it take 75 days to get an initial response?

 

Councillor Steele confirmed he had agreed to a meeting on the 30th November where several issues were discussed. A commitment was made to provide feedback, but this was following further clarification from relevant officers.  He apologised for the delay, but had not committed to a timescale in the meeting. However, a full response was provided on 13th February, 2019.  Councillor Steele would have preferred if Mr. Harron had raised his concern about the delay earlier.  He confirmed he was more than willing to meet with Mr. Harron to discuss matters further.

 

In a supplementary question Mr. Harron thanked Councillor Steele for his apology, but had emailed the Head of Democratic Services on the 10th December and also forwarded the e-mail to the Assistant Chief Executive.  In it he wrote his understanding about the steps being taken about the response – one; that guidelines would be drawn up, which he had received and which provided written clarity.  Secondly, which he had put in writing on the 10th December was the Chair’s views and why the webcast should be switched off.  He found Councillor’s Steele’s response interesting as it claimed he would follow due process while he remained in the role as Chair. 

 

Mr. Harron agreed and disagreed with some of the views of Councillor Steele in the meeting, but with regards to the decision about the switching off of the webcast after the discussion, it seemed as though this was the decision for the Chair and if this seat was vacated and another Chair took the role then they may make a different decision.  This seemed wrong because it was about correct procedure and process and he, therefore, asked if this could be reconsidered to ensure this was not a decision that lay with an individual Chair, but that some mechanism was found for stating that this was the position of the Council.

 

Councillor Steele believed it was not appropriate to discuss in public issues that may have an impact and that due process should follow through the Council.  The Board considered it appropriate that both Cabinet Members and officers should leave the room during deliberations and full recommendations suggested.

 

Councillor Steele had responded and fed back to Mr. Harron following the meeting on the 30th November, 2018.  However, unless the Constitutional Working Party altered its position with regards to petitions the practice about discussing a petition in private would continue.

 

(6)  Mrs. M. Harris wished to focus on the dismal, dirty state of Wellgate; a major historic thoroughfare, which the Council had made few attempts to improve.  Litter, filth, food, glass, dirty nappies like “Slumdog Millionaire”.  She asked, why this was the case when two concrete litter bins were scrapped with no replacements.  This was a HUGE problem in and around Wellgate and the roads that it served.

 

Councillor Allen thanked Mrs. Harris for her question and once received immediately when to look at the area for herself and every day since.

 

Councillor Allen had consulted with the service about what action was taken in Wellgate as she was sorry to hear that residents have observed litter and waste problems, especially as the Council did prioritise this area.Wellgate was cleaned every day from the town centre to the multi-storey car park, with the remainder of the street being cleansed on a weekly basis. This level of service was well above that delivered to the majority of the Borough.

 

On Monday Councillor Allen observed Streetpride litter-picking and a guy from the vegan restaurant was also out sweeping his frontage.  However, it was obvious residents were observing different as they lived in the area.

 

Council enforcement staff also undertook regular patrols, and since the enhanced enforcement arrangement began in September 2018, twenty fines have been issued for littering on Wellgate.

 

In terms of the concrete bins these were in the process of being replaced or removed.  There were eleven litter bins on that stretch of Wellgate.  However, given the issues raised, Councillor Allen asked Mrs. Harris if she could meet her on site and walk around the area to identify together to look at what needed to be done.

 

Mrs. Harris commented that she was happy to meet Councillor Allen and suggested a walk along Warwick Street which she had walked down about three hours ago.  It was something like Slumdog Millionaire.  

 

The Council had tidied up the lovely Minster gardens and had employed a private firm to fine people.  The area was much improved, but if people could see the cigarette ends, litter around the ancillary areas, dog excrement, cans and takeaway food litter.  It was disgusting. 

 

Mrs. Harris was not complaining about the inefficiency of Streetpride, although their role was limited, it was more about the actions of the residents of Rotherham.   She suggested the Council take a more stringent policy of fining outside the town centre.