To receive a statement from the Leader of the Council in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.
The Leader explained that due to the length of the agenda, he would not be making a statement. Instead he invited questions relating to contemporary issues:
(1) Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked a question in relation to the continuation of vouchers for meals during school holidays. He firstly explained how welcome it was but explained that, whilst parents were very grateful for the vouchers and the help they provided, it had been noted that a lot of the time, the vouchers were tied to one particular supermarket. On occasion, this meant some families were not getting the best value as they had to change where they usually shopped. Was there anyway the policy could be looked at to ensure families were given a choice of which supermarket they could use?
The Leader explained that, when the policy had been introduced, there were practical reasons for limiting the vouchers to certain supermarkets such as a supermarket being the closest to the schools where the voucher was issued. This had been considered to be the supermarket most likely to be used. However, the Leader stated that he would be happy to take the matter away and discuss with officers to see if there was any flexibility that could be built in. Councillor Bennett-Sylvester would then receive a written response.
(2) Councillor A. Carter stated that in recent weeks residents had been receiving letters from the Council regarding the Council Tax Rebate payments. The Government was funding the payments for Bands A-D but some households in Bands E-H had also received letters saying the Council was making a discretionary payment. He asked the Leader to explain the rationale behind that and what other options were looked at in terms of how to use that discretionary fund?
The Leader explained that most properties (excluding second homes) in Bands A-D were entitled to a £150 per household via the national scheme. That accounted for over 90% of households in the Rotherham Borough. Around 3,000 houses fell into Bands E-H. The Government had provided the Council with around £650,000 for discretionary funding. That discretionary funding could not be used for payments to properties in Bands A-D. The choice was then whether the Council should create a discretionary scheme for those households in Bands E-H (which would include some difficulties) or simply split the money across the properties, enabling all the households to receive some payment. The second option was chosen as it was seen as an easier solution for the residents. The households in Council Tax Bands E-H would, therefore, be receiving a payment of £90. This meant virtually every property in the Borough would be receiving some payment.
(3) Councillor Miro explained that there had been an accident in Waverley recently. There was significant damage to the cars involved but no injuries. Residents questioned the lack of roads signs in Waverley and Councillor Miro wanted to raise their concerns and try and avoid future incidents. He asked for further information on the road signs?
The Leader explained that Councillor Beck would provide a written response.
(4) Councillor Reynolds asked why the Council seemed bent on making the same mistakes in Ravenfield as it did in Bramley? He explained that he drove passed the site on the day of the meeting and stated that it was actually in Bramley, not Ravenfield. He asked the Leader to explain where it was and why was it happening. The Council had been made aware of the chaos it would cause and the only alleviation proposed was an 18 inch widening of the little roundabout where the old hotel used to be. He asked what that would achieve with all the extra cars and called on the Leader to heed the warnings of the past. He said 2 wrongs would not make a right and he accused the Council of not listening to the residents of Bramley. The residents of Bramley did not want the development, had never wanted the development but were told they had to have it. Why did the Council not listen, please?
The Leader explained that issues relating to planning should be raised with either the Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy or the Chair of Planning Board. However, in answering the question, the Leader explained that Rotherham Council, like all Councils, had to make sites available for development in order to keep a 15 year land supply. If the Council did not do this, the green belt could not be protected and development could take place anywhere. That site, therefore, had to be made available and the Government had to approve those plans. It took the best part of a decade to get through that process but that did not mean that the Leader thought every site was brilliant. However, the Council had to go through the process and allocate space to allow development. If this was not done, the green belt could not be protected. Those were the rules set out by Government.
The Leader said that he knew some Opposition Members had these difficult developments in their Wards and some were playing politics with those developments. The Leader further stated, that if they wanted to change the rules, they were welcome to try. But at the moment, those rules were in place and the Council having the Policies in place was in the best position to defend the green spaces.
In relation to which bit was Bramley and which part was Ravenfield, the Leader explained that there had been a referendum as part of the Community Governance Review. It came to Council and there were lengthy discussions. It was concluded that one side of the road fell within the Bramley Parish and the other side fell within the Ravenfield Parish. There were two rounds of consultation and it was decided the boundary should remain where it was.