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Agenda item

MEMBERS' QUESTIONS TO DESIGNATED SPOKESPERSONS

 

To put questions, if any, to the designated Members on the discharge of functions of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority and South Yorkshire Pensions Authority, in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 11(5).

Minutes:

(1)  Councillor Napper referred to the Police and Crime Commissioner increasing the precept to Police by 14% and asked why?

 

Councillor Sansome pointed firstly the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel was a scrutiny board and secondly it was for the Police and Crime Commissioner to answer questions on his budgets.  He, however, made the following points.  The budget assumed the Force could make £4.0m of savings and used £2.6 million of reserves.  If the Police and Crime Commissioner did this he could increase the number of police officers by 55 (40 would go into neighbourhoods).

 

This would be the first time since 2010 that the overall number of police officers in South Yorkshire would have gone up.

 

At the same time South Yorkshire Police continued to face exceptional other cost pressures including Hillsborough and CSE which were expected to cost in the region of £7 million in the coming year.

 

The South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel thoroughly scrutinised the budget proposals and did understand the need to increase the precept.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Napper asked was part of the precept used to fund the false arrest of the residents in the tree protests and who were compensated out of court.

 

Councillor Sansome confirmed this was a question for the Commissioner and the Police, but gave a commitment he would seek to find an answer.

 

(2)  Councillor Cowles explained Councillor Sansome had previously agreed with him that the 101 call system, despite being a straight forward application, remains unfit for purpose. Therefore, he asked could Councillor Sansome say why he had agreed to the uplift in the precept when he believe he stated he would oppose the increase?

 

Councillor Sansome explained having reminded himself of the response he gave at the Council meeting on 23rd January and clarified he had agreed that the 101 system was unfit for purpose. What he had said was that he shared Councillor Cowles’ frustrations around the difficulties the public were experiencing with the 101 system. He had also assured fellow Councillors that the Police and Crime Panel had regular updates on 101, both at full Panel meetings and other meetings with the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Panel with the Commissioner and it was an issue the Panel was collectively concerned about, and would continue to monitor.

 

On the second point in respect of the uplift in the precept, he had not said he would oppose the increase, but both he and Councillor Short said it had to be right for the people of Rotherham.

 

The Panel held a Budget Workshop on 29th January, 2019 prior to the formal meeting on the 4th February, 2019. The proposals were looked at in great detail, and many questions asked. The Panel considered its options carefully and, whilst the increase in the precept was agreed, it was with a strong recommendation that the Commissioner discussed an increase in police officers and/or PCSOs over and above the forty that were proposed for neighbourhood policing across South Yorkshire.


The Panel did not agree the increase lightly, and if anyone wished to watch the webcast of the Panel from 4th February, 2019, the statement Councillor Sansome read out voiced strong concerns about the need to increase the number of neighbourhood police officers put forward which was supported by Councillor Short.  This debate would continue with the Commissioner and Chief Constable as to how this progressed.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to last year the Police and Crime Commissioner being given the option to increase charges by £12.00 a year for homes in council tax Band D, with corresponding increases for other bands. This year doubling to £24.00. 

 

In a recent interview Dr. Billings said early indications suggested South Yorkshire residents were struggling to keep pace with rising costs in a poor area, but were willing to pay more provided they could see the benefits.

 

Councillor Cowles wished the benefits could be seen as he had been asking for the 101 system and it had been promised for at least two years.  He, had, therefore, asked for Councillor Sansome to invite the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable to the Council to explain their actions and so therefore, asked when they were coming.

 

Councillor Sansome commented on the benefits of South Yorkshire Police and it was worth noting that when Chief Constable Crompton was in charge neighbourhood policing ended.  Since Chief Constable Watson was in the position he was policing had moved back into neighbourhoods which was why he was pleased that a number of the UKIP councillors were pleased with the way community safety was progressing because of neighbourhood policing.

 

This was the stance the Police and Crime Panel had with the Chief Constable on the need for more neighbourhood policing.

 

On the other benefits concerning 101 yes the Commissioner and Chief Constable had been invited.  He was sure the Cabinet Member would be willing to give a response.  He was not particular on who was invited to the Chamber, but was keen to know the answers.

 

(3)   Question 3 was withdrawn.

 

(4)  Councillor Cowles asked what was the cost to the tax payer of the failed 101 system to-date?

 

Councillor Sansome provided some background information and pointed out from the actual precept only 7% of the properties in South Yorkshire were in Band D.  More properties 75% were in Bands A and B which would have a weekly increase of 31p and 36p respectively. 

 

In terms of 101 South Yorkshire Police had had old IT systems for many years. They kept breaking down and needed replacing.

 

Two new systems were being developed for South Yorkshire and Humberside Police. The total capital costs were £3.5m for South Yorkshire and this had been covered in the capital programme. The Police and Crime Commissioner received capital grants from the Government towards this. 

 

All 101 systems across the country were facing unprecedented increases in calls and this was putting all systems under strain. In at least one force area the 101 system was recently completely discontinued for a while because the call handlers were overwhelmed.

 

The Police and Crime Commissioner accepted that as well as a new system, the volume of calls must be reduced, especially the high numbers of non-crime and non-police calls. He was looking to local Councillors to help educate the public about the appropriate use of 101.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles confirmed he was quite happy to pay the extra money when a system that worked was received.

 

He explained Dr. Billings also sat on the South Yorkshire Fire Authority and he chaired a collaboration board between that service and the Police to promote joint working.  This could also include abolishing the Fire Authority made up from Councillors from the four districts and take over the service.  According to him this would cut out duplication and save money by sharing services.  He also said he was delaying this activity.  Of course in other areas the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner was carried out by the Regional Mayor and that would save a further salary.  

 

Councillor Cowles, therefore, asked could Councillor Sansome ask him why he was not getting on with this to the benefit of taxpayers.

 

Councillor Sansome pointed out that in terms of the Fire Authority and Police and Crime Panel it was worth noting that the Fire Authority did not hold or scrutinise the work. It was a separate body within the Fire Authority, so if there was the will to take away one body then consideration would need to be given as to who would hold that person and officers to account.

 

Councillor Sansome raised the profile of the Police and Crime Panel which held the Police and Crime Commissioner to account.  He had raised issues previously about the former Member on the Police and Crime Panel and the questions that had been asked and their relevance.  However, he cared for the people of Rotherham and would continue to challenge the Commissioner with questions which were relevant.

 

(5)  Councillor Carter asked did the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority invest in companies who have arms deals in countries such as Saudi Arabia, and if so what percentage of the pensions fund was this?

 

Councillor Ellis provided some background about South Yorkshire Pension Authority’s first and legal duty was to provide pensions 50,000 members who have paid in and to be in a position to meet the liabilities.

 

This question was probably prompted following the Guardian publishing an article where it named five companies that were dealing in Saudi Arabia and  it did mention that South Yorkshire Pensions Authority had ownership of some shares. 

 

South Yorkshire Pensions Authority on 31st December, 2018 had approximately £29 million out of an £8 billion asset representing 0.36% value of the fund.   The majority of that was in Airbus; whose primary manufacturing was in civil aircraft which showed the difficulty of actually separating this out.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Carter was sure residents and pension holders would be shocked to know that that was happening.  He asked what percentage in total investment in those companies have been made over the past ten years and what plans were there to make representations to the Pensions Authority of potentially divesting from these companies.

 

Councillor Ellis explained it was quite difficult to say actually what percentage of the £29 million was with companies who were actually trading with Saudi Arabia.

 

There were companies in this country who were producing arms for forces and who came under scrutiny from Government and subject to regulations about what they were able to sell and to whom.  It was suggested that there was a need to lobby the Government to be a bit quicker in how they were judged who to sell to and Councillor Ellis confirmed she would be happy to join with Councillor Carter if he wanted to lobby by writing to Government in that regard.

 

(6)  Councillor R. Elliott asked having reviewed the answer received from Councillor Atkin at last Full Council with regard to staffing and the response of Rotherham’s second pump at night, he was concerned that the information given appeared to go against the previous information Councillor Atkin had given to Full Council and asked that he clarify his understanding?

 

Councillor Atkin explained Rotherham’s second fire engine was available all of the time in the day and on an ‘on call’ basis at night, on occasions when the first fire engine was committed to an incident.

 

Originally, the service had intended to recruit ‘on-call’ firefighters to staff Rotherham’s second fire engine at night. Instead, it made sense to use existing ‘on-call’ firefighters from Birley Moor fire station to provide this cover.

 

Birley also had a full time fire engine.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Elliott had, as a result of Councillor Atkin’s response at the last Council meeting, made inquiries himself and the information provided was factually incorrect.  There were no retained staff at Rotherham.  If the first pump was called out the retained staff at Birley or Dearne provided cover.  Rather most specifically the pump was not staffed at night.  The staff which Councillor Atkin referred to were located at Birley or Dearne and they responded to an alerter where they had five minutes to get to their stations and then they drove at normal road speed to Rotherham.

 

The average time for the other pump to arrive at Rotherham was forty minutes and as they were not called out until Rotherham One had been out for fifteen minutes.  This meant Rotherham was not covered for the best part of one hour so he asked did Councillor Atkin agree this was an accurate picture of the situation.

 

Councillor Atkin confirmed he had already responded to this.

 

(7)  Councillor R. Elliott explained it was deeply concerning that as an RMBC representative and Vice Chair of the FRA Councillor Atkin did not appear to have a grip on the matter at hand. The first requirement of a Council and an emergency service was to ensure the safety of residents and staff and he asked him if he agreed.

 

Councillor Atkin believed he had a grip on the matter and agreed the safety of residents and staff was paramount and the personal comments made against him were unwarranted. Both these statements he believed would be verified when the service was inspected in June this year.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Elliott pointed out that as a result of the actions of the Fire Authority much of the routine work of the firefighters was not being done.  In particular fire prevention checks and the installation of smoke alarms were outstanding.  Additionally key performance figures were going in the wrong direction increasing instead of decreasing. 

 

A motion was raised to full reinstate the second pump in Rotherham when finances allowed which everyone in this Chamber supported.  The Fire Authority were sat on £25 million of reserves - still no second pump.  Furthermore he had asked for this to be brought back to scrutiny which Councillor Atkin refused saying there was no point as there was nothing further to discuss; yet two weeks ago the Assistant Fire Chief, who incidentally lives in North Yorkshire, argued the very points given to Councillor Atkin.  This was not here where he could be questioned, but in the letter pages of the Advertiser.  Therefore, Councillor Elliott asked was democracy at stake here, was this Chamber irrelevant and should the Council accept what was said or passed in the Chamber because it would be ignored in the hope it would go away or if this Chamber was to be respected would Councillor Atkin please stand up for Rotherham and instruct the Fire Authority to get the second pump reinstated.

 

Councillor Atkin agreed a motion was passed that when finances were available the second pump would be reinstated.  Circumstances had since changed.  Changes were required to the close proximity stations because of the judgment.

 

The fitting of smoke alarms was continuing, not as frequent as previously, but continuing nonetheless.   If the second pump was reinstated this would mean there would be less money for the fitting of smoke alarms.

 

Reference was also made to vast reserves.   The Fire Authority were going to be inspected in June and the Government had taken her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in collaboration with the Fire and Rescue to start inspecting Fire Services in three tranches.

 

South Yorkshire was in the third tranche some time in June.  A report would then be received later in the year.

 

The first tranche had seen fourteen services inspected and the reports were available on the relevant website.  Councillor Atkin drew attention to  two such reports; one for Surrey who were criticised for using reserves to prop up outdated systems of working, which was exactly what Councillor Elliott was asking for in Rotherham.

 

The second for Lancashire was highlighted as an exemplar of good practice where they were using modern methods of shifting and staffing the pumps and ironically they had ten CPC stations,