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.


(1)  Mr. Liam Harron referred to the minutes of the Council meeting on 5th September, 2018 where the Leader stated:-


“the Council would take action based on the outcome of that review” - a review by the Information Commissioner


On 21st September, 2020 the Information Commissioner totally dismissed RMBC’s allegations that his request for information about “evidenced dishonesty” was vexatious, so asked was the Leader prepared to debate this matter in public?


The Leader explained the Council rejected an FOI request from Mr. Harron because it believed it to be vexatious.  Mr. Harron requested that this decision be reviewed by the ICO.


Mr. Harron seemed to be implying that there was evidence of dishonesty and that this notion was supported by the ICO.  This is simply not the case. 


The ICO were saying the Council could not apply Section 14(1) to the request (i.e. vexatious) and the Council were, therefore, to review its response.  This was very different to the ICO implying or supporting that there was and/or was evidence of alleged dishonesty.


Whilst the Council still believed it to be vexatious, the ICO did not believe the request was vexatious and hence requested the Council answer the request which it had done. 


The Council had now fully complied with the ICO’s findings and answered the FOI request. 


On 15th October, 2020 the ICO contacted the Council to confirm the case was closed.  Therefore, the Council had complied with the Decision Notice and also considered this matter closed. 


The Leader explained he had not seen any evidence of what Mr. Harron described, but suggested if wanted to bring that forward to write to the Leader and raise, he would be happy to give it his due consideration.


In a supplementary question Mr. Harron indicated he had sent the Leader evidence three plus years ago.  He had referred to this at the last meeting and raised a similar matter at the last Cabinet meeting where he was advised to make a complaint.


Mr. Harron described how he had attempted to make a complaint and had received correspondence from the Complaints Manager dated 18th July, 2019 where he refused to look at a very specific complaint and the reason he gave was information was to be reviewed.  He had heard nothing since.  He found it very confusing how to lodge a complaint and asked would this now be looked at and progressed.


The Leader was aware Mr. Harron had engaged in lots of correspondence and it was believed to be inappropriate in this meeting to speak about individual officers of the Council.  He suggested Mr. Harron resubmit his complaint and copy himself in and if he was still dissatisfied the Local Government Ombudsman would adjudicate.  This was the process Mr. Harron should follow.


(2)  Mr. Thirlwall referred to the last Council Meeting where he raised the issue of Councillors B. Cutts, John Turner and Reeder’s continued failure to properly complete their Register of Interests.


He asked could the Chair of the Standards and Ethics Committee please tell him what actions she had taken to remedy this matter?


Councillor McNeely, Chair of the Standards and Ethics Committee, confirmed the Monitoring Officer and her staff had liaised with the relevant Members and their party, to ensure that the Members’ Register of Interest forms were up-to-date and appropriately completed.


All of the Register of Interest forms of the Members referred to now included membership of the Rotherham Democratic Party.


In a supplementary question Mr. Thirlwall expressed his surprise it was done given the amount of times it had not been completed.


He had been told that all Members of the Brexit Party emailed in to change their registration from the Brexit Party to Rotherham Democratic Party.  He had spoken to the Chief Executive about the audit trail and emails in place and was waiting for a third tier tribunal to see if he could access.  He failed to see why the change from the Brexit Party to the Democratic Party had not been done if all Members already emailed in last year.  Even following on from his question at the last Council Meeting in September the three said Councillors had not updated their Registers for over a week, and Councillor Reeder had not updated hers for a further month.  He asked for an explanation why this was not done immediately.


Councillor McNeely described the difficulties some may be facing with working at home with differing internet speeds.  She was satisfied the Registers were now complete and this had been chased by the Leader of the Opposition.


(3)  Elizabeth asked how many cases of CSE had RMBC dealt with in each of the years since the Jay report and for the answer to be broken down into cases arising from the Jay Report and cases not arising from the Jay report.


The Leader confirmed the use of the Working Together (2018) definition of CSE:-


1.     “Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive something (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing and/or another or others performing sexual activities.

He explained what could be recorded with the number of children who were supported by Social Care or Early Help Services and where any risk at all of Child Sexual Exploitation was recorded within their file.  It was made clear that this did not suggest that each child had been a victim of sexual abuse, but that their vulnerability to it had been identified.


For each of the years referenced, the number of children identified as such were:-


No. of New Cases


















Since the Council introduced its current risk assessment profile in 2016, about half of the cases mentioned have been identified as being “low risk”, with 16% being seen as the highest risk. At the lowest end of the scale, the assessment suggested that the appropriate support and mitigation was in place to prevent harm from occurring, whereas at the top of the scale professionals would be seeking to take urgent action to prevent imminent harm.


Ofsted have conducted a focused visit to Children’s Services in the last few weeks, and in their (verbal) feedback inspectors commented that Rotherham managed risk effectively, having met with staff from Evolve as well as looking at these risk assessments.


The overwhelming majority of the children referred to would not have featured in the Jay Report, most of these were adults when the report was produced.


Rotherham’s Post-Abuse Support Services between July 2016 and September 2020 supported 971 individual survivors of CSE, many of whom would have suffered their abuse during the period covered by Professor Jay’s report.


The Leader was happy to provide the numbers in detail in writing.


In a supplementary question Elizabeth asked given the uncertain times. what had been done to prevent or intervene in CSE cases throughout the pandemic.


The Leader explained the threat of child abuse and the need to prevent continued through the current circumstances.  Social Workers were in direct contact and supportive work was taking place to prevent crimes.  In addition, regular intelligence and Police operations remained ongoing.  So as much work was being done and this would continue.  If there were any particular concerns he was happy to pick this up outside of the meeting.


(4)  Mr. Felsteadasked could the Cabinet Member justify the business case for the Willmott Dixon Housing schemes please numbers and financial performance?


Councillor Beck, Cabinet Member for Housing, explained the Masterplan for Rotherham Town Centre set out a vision for making the town centre a great place to live, work and visit, and clearly articulated the need for more homes.  As well as the major investment into Forge Island and other regeneration projects, the Council was leading the way with town centre housing development, and in 2017, Cabinet resolved to build homes on three key sites within its ownership.


Willmott Dixon was procured as the Council’s construction partner, and work was now well underway to build 171 houses and apartments on the Sheffield Road car park, Millfold House (now demolished) and the former Henley’s garage on Wellgate.  These sites sat at strategically important, highly visible gateway locations in the town centre, adjacent to other sites with the potential to accommodate further housing development. The delivery of new homes across these sites would promote investor confidence in further residential town centre development and provide a significant contribution towards Rotherham’s wider housing growth requirement. It was also important to maximise the scheme’s contribution towards meeting the Borough’s affordable housing need, with many other sites within the town centre presenting viability challenges. The provision of 72% affordable housing on this scheme would have a significant impact


The nature of these ex-industrial, brownfield sites posed significant viability challenges, something the private sector were unwilling to take on due to development risks and no return on their investment. It was, therefore, important for the Council to step in and utilise public sector investment in the early stages of delivering the Town Centre Masterplan.


Value for money assessments were undertaken which the Council did in conjunction with many experts putting the scheme together and validated by Sheffield City Region and Homes England.  It was important to remember the Council had not done this scheme in the town centre to make a profit, but to make a long term investment into the regeneration of the town and wider benefits.  More people were living in the town centre and spending money.  One part of the Town Centre Masterplan that was externally validated and assessed was for the building of 171 new homes with the contractor now on site.


In a supplementary question Mr. Felstead pointed out the 171 homes had since risen to 177 homes as more land had been purchased.


He asked why was the Council losing £20 million with nothing architectural pleasing with back-to-back housing and spending potentially inflated prices per apartment.  He acknowledged the need to build housing, but at what cost. 


Last year three blocks of Council housing for 215 units were being sold for £75,000 yet the Council was spending £250,000.  With the £20 million being overspent the Council could have built more in the town centre or built a shopping centre.  He, therefore, asked what procurement route had the Council gone down and what contract was Wilmott Dixon on.


Councillor Beck explained it was not possible to compare one project against another, particularly on the scale being spoke of here.  The Council had to acquire additional land to deliver on the units.  The levels on the site meant the development was not all flats, but a good proportion were actually houses.  The contract had gone  through a robust exercise to deliver these new homes and this would ensure they would have a lasting impact and vibrancy on the town centre.