To put questions, if any, to Cabinet Members and Committee Chairpersons (or their representatives) under Council Procedure Rules 11(1) and 11(3).
(1) Councillor Hoddinott welcomed the good investment in libraries, including in her local one in Wickersley and asked the Cabinet Member to update her on the renovations taking place and when the library would reopen?
Councillor Sheppardconfirmed the modernisation programme at Wickersley Library and Neighbourhood Hub was near completion and the site would be reopening to the public on Tuesday, 1st June, 2021. The modernisation had included a refresh of the library to improve its visual appearance and revitalise the interior in the form of:-
- redecorated walls and new carpets/vinyl flooring.
- new furniture including a reception counter and mobile shelving.
- improved ICT area including new public PC’s, self-service unit and sections for people to use their own devices.
- a new study space.
- a new café area.
- a refreshed meeting room with new furniture.
This was, of course, just one part of the multi-million pound plan to invest in every library in the Borough, which had already secured a new library in Brinsworth and should see new facilities in Swinton and Thurcroft, as well as the new town centre library.
(2) Councillor A. Carter asked as the Council had declared a climate emergency, what was the policy and process regarding planting more trees on highways land?
Councillor Lelliottexplained the Council did not have a specific policy on planting more trees on highways land. Individual sites were assessed on their merits. The Council had committed some funding to match a number of partner organisations, with a view to planting more than 12,000 new trees. These would be planted in a range of urban settings including on highways land, housing developments and urban parks.
In a supplementary Councillor Carter asked why with the Council’s plan for more trees and achieved this in the last financial year, it found it often hard to get agreement from Highways. He asked would the Cabinet Member agree to undertake a review of the policies on highways in particular help tackle climate urgency, plant more trees on highways land and make the process much swifter.
Councillor Lelliott confirmed the Tree Management Protocols and Guidance set out the Council’s approach to the management of its own tree stock
As part of the Council’s budget setting process an investment of £350,000 over the next 2 financial years was approved. The Service was currently developing a proactive planting strategy and working to identify appropriate and available land to support the delivery of this.
(3) Councillor Sylvester asked could the Cabinet Member please give their opinion on Rothercard as a tool to aid social inclusion for deprived neighbourhoods?
Councillor Sheppard explained for those may not know, Rothercard was a discounted scheme offered to people in the Borough who fell into one of the following categories:-
· Young people aged 16 to 19 years in full-time education.
· Looked after children/young people.
· Anyone aged over 60.
· Refugees/asylum seekers dependent on asylum seeker support payments.
· Adults on a low income.
The scheme offered customers a range of discounts on leisure activities across the Borough such as:-
· Concessionary rates on a range of leisure activities at Aston-cum-Aughton Leisure Centre, Maltby Leisure Centre, Rotherham Leisure Complex and Wath-upon-Dearne Leisure Centre.
· A Junior Rothercard rate has also been introduced on many sporting activities giving Rothercard holders under the age of 16 an extra 10 percent off the concessionary rate.
· A concessionary rate at Rotherham theatres.
· A concessionary entry price at selected leisure venues across South Yorkshire.
Everyone would want to maintain the principle of offering additional financial support to residents who needed it. However, it had been a long time since the card scheme was designed. Whether Rothercard as it currently existed offered the right discounts to those who needed them most, and whether that was the best possible use of the Council’s financial support, was unclear at this moment.
This was why the Council was committed to reviewing the existing scheme and introducing a new card – perhaps an electronic version rather than a cardboard one – that met expectations and resources at the current time to give as much level of support in communities.
In a supplementary question Councillor Sylvester referred to deprivation and poverty and how this was not just about a lack of money, but exclusion from norms of society. Rothercard was a simple solution which back in its heyday had stickers in shops and worked for not just Council services. There appeared now to be less than 8,000 Rothercard owners so encouraged more support in this scheme and asked the Cabinet Member if he would ensure this was properly advertised with discounts and targeted and marketed in the areas and communities where the cards came from.
Councillor Sheppard confirmed involvement was key and when the new scheme was relaunched he would be looking at Members to promote being a provider. The key aim was for a holistic approach to communities in order to enable people to play an active role in activities and social groups and break down any barriers to participating in society.
(4) Councillor Sylvester asked with an estimated £16 billion in unclaimed means tested benefits each year (source entitledto.co.uk) an example being a take-up rate of just 60% of eligible claimants for pension credit (source DWP) what measures did the Council have in place to maximise benefit take-up in the Borough please?
Councillor Sheppard confirmed the Council’s Advocacy and Appeals Team provided debt and complex benefit advice. Referrals come from Adult Social Services, direct from the public and CAB. Through the work of the Financial Inclusion and Advocacy and Appeals Teams, over 2,500 residents have been supported making benefit claims and appeals. The total value of benefits claimed as a result of this advice was over £2.1m since April 2019.
The Council also commissioned Citizens Advice and Kiveton Park Advice Services, and worked alongside a number of other groups as part of its “Single Advice Model”. From all the work undertaken in partnership across a range of issues, the amount of money gained that has benefited people in Rotherham had increased from £2.8 million in 2019 to £5.4 million in 2020.
In addition, the Council also commissioned Age UK and MacMillan to provide specialist support to specific groups.
Finally of course, the Housing, Revenue and Benefits and Care Leaving staff would regularly signpost residents to national welfare services at times when it was felt they may be eligible.
In a supplementary question Councillor Sylvester referred, as an example, to a local elderly resident, who having worked all his life and then cared for an elderly relative, found himself without any money for 7 weeks, having to use food banks and no idea how to access or seek help digitally in order to claim. He asked, therefore, if the Cabinet Member would look to working with the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods to perhaps enable Members’ surgeries to be used as a one-stop service in Wards where people struggled.
Councillor Sheppard confirmed he would be more than willing to help any individual out especially where they were struggling with applications and would happily work with the Cabinet Member, Neighbourhoods Teams and even Councillor Syvester if any families wished to contact him.
(5) Councillor A. Carter asked after the disastrous anti-business Cumulative Impact Zone policy was introduced to Wickersley, would the administration commit to removing this during the next 3 years and would they give a commitment today that they would not look to introduce any more of these in other areas of the Borough?
Councillor Lelliott was confused with what Councillor Carter meant by “disastrous”. As night time entertainment venues began to re-open after the lockdown, all the signs continued to indicate a thriving local economy in Wickersley, but with local residents able to call on some extra protections from the Licensing Service to help to reduce anti-social behaviour. The Council would consider any future areas based on their circumstances and following consultation with local residents.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked given that the Cabinet Member disagreed, did she not see that there were areas in the Borough and district centres that had seen a sharp decline in business. Clearly the Cabinet Member did not have the policies to improve district centres, even when the Council was pro-business and supported jobs in the local economy.
Councilor Lelliott disagreed there had been a disaster in Wickersley. The Licensing Policy supported businesses to thrive and ensure communities had a decent quality of life and as a result no applications to this effect had been refused.
(6) Councillor C. Carter asked why fly-tipping and littering were still an issue on Grange Lane in Brinsworth and what enforcement action had taken place in the past 12 months?
Councillor Beck explained the Council had undertaken 6 fly tipping investigations in the Grange Lane area of Brinsworth over the previous year. Unfortunately, due to no evidence being available, no formal enforcement action had been taken in relation to these investigations. As ever, if there was evidence that would enable enforcement action, the Council would do so.
Officers did, however, visit the area regularly to undertake patrols and respond to complaints and Fixed Penalty Notices for littering were issued, most recently nearby on Brinsworth Lane.
The Cabinet Member reassured Members more widely that even though enforcement action was affected significantly by the pandemic, in the last year 59 Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued for fly-tipping offences across the Borough and since September, when the Council’s enforcement partner restarted, 647 Fixed Penalty Notices had been issued for littering and dog fouling across Rotherham. Between January and March this year 28 cases had also been prepared for prosecution and were currently awaiting a Court date.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter confirmed some real progress had been made, but did the Cabinet Member agree the need for additional steps to solve this problem.
Councillor Beck confirmed this was an ongoing issue across the country not just in Rotherham and the Council was having to work smarter and work with colleagues across the borders. He would continue to work with Members out in neighbourhoods and would look to innovative ways of tackling these issues moving forward.
(7) Councillor C. Carter referred to Council housing tenants in Brinsworth being assured that the scheduled refresh of their properties was due for the 2018/19 financial year, yet this had not happened. The Cabinet Member was asked what were the reasons for this and when could residents expect this to happen?
Councillor Brookes confirmed that there had been a delay to planned capital investment work in Council housing at Brinsworth, due to COVID.
The Housing Service carried out external stock condition surveys in Brinsworth in 2018/19. This information was used to help plan what works if any, would be needed within the next 5/10 years in this area. Work for residents in this area was expected in 2022/23 over the next 2 financial years.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked given that the refreshes were significant and behind schedule which was unacceptable, what steps were being taken to ensure delays like this were prevented in the future.
Councillor Brookes confirmed the budget had been carried over to enable the works to be completed and assured Councillor Carter that, as the new portfolio holder, she would be monitoring repairs and maintenance and housing asset improvement programme were at the top of her agenda.
(8) Councillor Miro asked how much of the recyclable waste collected was currently recycled and how could this be improved?
Councillor Beck explained the Council was serious about increasing recycling and undertook a significant Waste Service review in 2018 including consultation with residents with transformation over last 3 years. This resulted in improvements to recycling being introduced across Rotherham, including the introduction of plastic recycling and the introduction of the smaller pink lidded general waste bin.
This had been a real success with the amount of cans, glass and plastic collected having doubled and paper and cardboard waste collected increasing by nearly 40%.
The Service was now collecting 75% more dry recycling from residents’ homes than in 2018. The general waste from pink lidded bins was sent to the waste facility at Manvers, where more recyclable materials were extracted and sent for processing. Only 1.7% of the waste produced in Rotherham was sent to landfill.
This meant that the Council currently recycled 43.16% of all waste collected.
(9) Councillor Tinsley asked with the application deadline for the Levelling Up Fund on 18th June, would RMBC make a credible bid for investment in all 3 Rotherham constituencies where £60million was up for grabs. Where for example in Maltby, this could form part of a bid for improvements to the High Street, Coronation Park or to save the old Maltby Grammar School building.
Councillor Lelliott explained she was sure that after 11 years of austerity, everyone would all want to see more investment in the Borough, and it was a shame that the Government had chosen such an ill-conceived system as the Levelling Up Fund to dangle the carrot of money in front of communities like Rotherham.
Councillor Tinsley mentioned 3 potential projects that may all be very worth, but the Government had given just 3 months to draw up costed schemes, to be judged against Treasury Green Book methodology, asking for public consultation. In contrast, the Government took nearly 5 times as long as that just to approve the Future High Streets Fund bid.
Despite that, staff were doing all that they could to ensure that the Council submitted 3 bids by the Government’s 18th June deadline, comprising those projects most capable of meeting the Levelling Up Fund criteria. This could include consideration of projects in Maltby as well as other areas.
(10) Councillor Castledine-Dack asked could the Council confirm that it would submit a strong bid for £20 million from the Levelling Up Fund which was based on plans put forward by Dinnington Community Land Trust and Dinnington St John's Town Council to rejuvenate Dinnington town centre in time for the first-round deadline on June 18th?
Councillor Lelliott explained, without repeating from the answer before, that the Council aimed to put forward a bid that included the Dinnington District Centre and engagement with key stakeholders was underway with a review of the existing proposals from a range of groups. Projects would be put forward that meet the Government’s criteria for this funding stream.
(11) Councillor Elliott asked what justification was there for RMBC Leaseholders having to pay out a 35% increase in their service charge this financial year.
Councillor Brookes explained this was good news in that overall leasehold service charge bills were lower this year compared to 2019/20. The average cost per leaseholder this year was £427, whereas last year the average cost was £965 – a reduction of more than half.
Leasehold service charge bills were comprised of a range of elements including contributions to any major repairs, building insurance, communal cleaning, and management costs. It was only the management cost element of the leasehold service charge that had increased, from £107.14 last year to £142.55 this year. However, since major repair works had been reduced during the pandemic, bills had fallen accordingly.
The fee did not cover the cost of running the Service and it was agreed to full cost recovery so management costs were fully recovered.
In a supplementary question Councillor Elliott had spoken to leaseholders and sought their views. This increase would give an extra £20k so who would benefit; not the resident. One such resident was paying for his own building issues, repairs and, with no communal areas, was not getting anything for paying his service charge. Only leaseholders with communal areas, stairs and entrances were getting a service. Would the Cabinet Member look at how the increase was calculated, who signed it off and why some leaseholders have to pay for no end product.
Councillor Brookes explained the costs calculated were a proportion of staffing costs dedicated to leaseholder management. It was not possible to identify costs for this particular resident, but the Home Ownership Service provided clear information to leaseholders on how they could challenge services charges if they believed them to be unfair. The Council also offered various repayment options to any leaseholders who were struggling to pay the charges.
(12) Councillor Barley asked if the Leader agreed with her that it was high time the Council made business more accessible to the public and, therefore, ourselves more accountable, by scheduling these meetings, as well as the meetings of Committees and Boards, outside of office hours?
The Leader replied that meetings held at a time allowed Members of the Committee or Council to play a full role, but was happy to consider when was the best time for Members to take part in those meetings.
Improving Lives regularly met in the evening and had had no discerning improvement in attendance. The Council did not guillotine its meetings. However, a guillotine may be required if meetings moved to an evening especially if they continued into the small hours. A later evening meeting may not always be the best and not necessarily all accessible to the public. This would be set in the context of when the best time would be for each meeting.
(13) Councillor Barley asked did the Leader not think that the Labour Party’s nomination of the same Mayor for the third year in a row, in what was commonly an annual honorary position, exposed the lack of depth in the dramatically smaller Labour Group and further contributed to the impression that Labour was something of a setting sun in Rotherham?
The Leader disagreed.
(14) Councillor Barley asked if the Cabinet Member was satisfied that all possible work had been done, and no stone left unturned, in the effort to protect women and girls in Rotherham from organised sexual exploitation, and that the horrors of the past remained in the past?
Councillor Cusworth assured Councillor Barley the Council had strong services and partnership arrangements in place to prevent CSE, and to support victims of such terrible crimes when they did sadly occur. The Council continued to work closely with the National Crime Agency to prosecute perpetrators of non-recent offences, and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For many of those people, they very much continued to live with the horrors of the past. At the same time, there would always be men who wished to sexually abuse children. So no-one should be in any way complacent about that.
Since being elected in 2016 the Cabinet Member had been involved in matters related to CYPS, CSE and post-abuse support for survivors. She suggested that all Members work together to raise awareness and report everything. CSE was everyone’s business and she looked forward to working with everyone.
(15) Councillor McNeelyas the Ward Councillor for the Boston Castle Ward, which included the Town Centre, wondered what the Cabinet Member’s response was to the MP Alex Stafford’s comment that “Forge Island is a White Elephant Scheme”.
Councillor Lelliott confirmed she was astonished to hear the comments from the MP for Rother Valley South. She did not think it was the job of an MP to run down the town that they represented, but this, of course, was the problem with the Tory approach of pitting communities against each other for one-off pots of funding.
Forge Island was the key step in delivering the town centre masterplan - a masterplan, that was developed through extensive consultation with communities, businesses and investors and which clearly identified that:-
· People who lived in Rotherham wanted a development like Forge Island – a development they would use and that they could be proud of and;
· That businesses and investors could see the opportunity that Forge Island offered and were eager to be part of Rotherham’s successful regeneration.
The Cabinet Member was glad the Council had pressed ahead, secured a developer, completed high quality enabling works, signed up a state of the art, 8 screen multiplex cinema and were close to announcing deals with other occupiers. Far from being a white elephant, Forge Island was exactly what Rotherham needed, it was what people wanted, and she was proud to say it was being delivered.