Agenda item

Leader of the Council's Statement

To receive a statement from the Leader of the Council in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.


The Leader started his statement by thanking his colleagues for their support as the new four year term of office started. He stated that the Council was a team with the Opposition being part of that team, providing the challenge that was needed. The Leader believed the Council was on the right track.


The Leader congratulated the Mayor and Deputy Mayor on their recent appointments. He also offered his congratulations to all new Members of the Council, from all parties and all parts of the borough. There were 21 new Councillors and a further 3 who were returning after a period away. The Leader stated that anyone who stood for election, whatever their views or party, had put their head above the parapet and that should be respected. In an age where politicians of all stripes were reviled and open to abuse, their commitment to public service should be respected along with the personal sacrifices that everyone in the room had made. The Leader stated that this was more important than ever because some candidates had accepted, if not actively encouraged, campaigns and personal slurs against their opponents and those had gone well beyond the usual boundaries of robust democratic debate, factual claims and political differences. The Leader stated that must stop now, before the well of democratic engagement was poisoned irreconcilably and before someone was hurt in Rotherham in the way they were in Sheffield and other parts of the country during the campaign.


The Leader said that competitive elections were a good thing. All Members were only there because the public chose to send them, and Members had to continue to earn their trust. The Leader welcomed the fact that the Labour Group was elected on a clear mandate based on the detailed plans set out.


The Leader explained that these were increasingly difficult and dark times for Councils everywhere. More and more teetered on the brink of financial disaster, a risk that the Council had been desperate to avoid. The number of children in poverty continued to rise, homelessness was higher in the UK than in any comparable western country. Waits in the health service were longer than they had been for a long time. The Leader also reported that in the news on the day of the meeting, the Police were being advised to make fewer arrests due to prisons overflowing. The consequence of those things landed more heavily on the Council Member’s shoulders than they did for any official in Whitehall or Minister in Parliament because this was the Council Member’s community. The role of Members had to be to continue to secure a home that residents could be proud of and a platform on which they could stand and fulfil their ambitions.


The Leader then confirmed his Cabinet as follows:


·                Leader – Councillor Read

·                Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Neighbourhood Working – Councillor Sheppard

·                Cabinet Member for Adult Care and Health – Councillor Baker-Rogers

·                Cabinet Member for Children and Young People – Councillor Cusworth

·                Cabinet Member for Finance and Safe and Clean Communities  – Councillor Alam

·                Cabinet Member for Housing – Councillor Allen

·                Cabinet Member for Transport, Jobs and the Local Economy – Councillor Taylor


The Leader stated that by working together right across the Chamber, they would fulfil their commitments to invest in roads and public spaces, the high streets and communities, to build a more inclusive economy where one and a half thousand people would be helped back into work or training and build hundreds more warm, safe and affordable council homes. They would crack down on litter and flytipping and give each child in Rotherham the best possible start in life, including through the baby packs programme.


In concluding his statement, the Leader stated that, before the politics began and the casework overloaded Members inboxes and social media bile poured in, it was important for Members to take a moment and remember that they made it to represent their community and that was a remarkable thing that they were doing.


The following questions were asked by Members and answered by the Leader:


1.    Councillor Z Collingham asked the Leader to join him in an expression of thanks to the Returning Officer and to the Electoral Services and wider team who put in long hours in the local election to make it happen and to make it happen very well? Councillor Z Collingham also stated that the results of the election contained many examples of people putting their trust in those who were deeply rooted in their communities, including an increased number of independents. He asked the Leader if he would, given there were perhaps a few people in his group who did not expect to get elected or had intended to retire, give Member some reassurance that the majority group, being tasked as it was with governance of the realm, would be stable, engaged and active in the four years ahead?


The Leader responded by giving his enormous thanks to all the people that worked on the election, including the significant number of people from outside the Council. His thanks went to all the people involved as none of the Members could be in the Council Chamber legitimately without that work. In response to the second question, the Leader stated that there where a number of people around the room who knew what it was like to be elected without necessarily expecting that in advance and the consequences of that over the period subsequent. The Leader committed to providing stable, engaged and active leadership.


2.    Councillor Bennett-Sylvester echoed Councillor Z Collingham’s comments regarding the running of the election, but specifically referenced the issue of information regarding the Voter ID that was required, and he stated that the team did a good job with the resources they had. However, Councillor Bennett-Sylvester stated that he came across people who were not turned away from polling stations but were not going to go and vote in the first place because they believed that they did not have the correct ID. Councillor Bennett-Sylvester said they had seen what the underclass could be like when it was concentrated, for example with the queues outside pawnbrokers, but this was something that was not seen. He asked the Leader if he would be willing to lobby the Local Government Association for a proper investigation into the number of people that had basically list the right to vote? Councillor Bennett-Sylvester felt that many more people would have lost the right to vote than had ever been prosecuted for electoral fraud. He also asked the Leader to press the case for the reversal of the voter suppression methods that had been introduced over the past years, such as Voter ID and individual registration?


In response to Councillor Bennett-Sylvester, the Leader stated that it was a very interesting idea. The LGA position on voter identification had been quite strong but the Leader stated that they would be willing to undertake some lobbying on that account and see what can be done. If a new Government was elected in the coming months, there would be an opportunity to review that legislation.


3.    Councillor Reynolds also thanked those involved for the running of a successful election. He then addressed the Leader and stated that Rotherham did not consult, it presented. What that meant was that it does a presentation and said this is what you are getting and from then on, it is a done deal. There was no consultation where opinions were actually sought, and views taken on board before the decisions were made. Councillor Reynolds asked why a question from a member of the public had not been answered earlier in the meeting when good people had turned up in bad weather to ask the question and they were dismissed by the Mayor as “you’ve had your answer” and they had not, and they feel cheated and short-changed because the question had not been answered. Councillor Reynolds stated that this was an important point. He asked the Leader if in future he would answer the questions as they were asked?


In response to Councillor Reynolds, the Leader stated that he fundamentally disagreed with the proposition in the way he had set it out in terms of consultation. The Leader explained that he had personally spent hours and days in playing fields and sports halls and Council buildings talking to the public and engaging with them in open ended conversations. The Leader stated the Council absolutely took the feedback on board. It was natural that a stronger and more pronounced response would be provided when there was a specific proposal on the table for people to look at and take a view on whether that was the right thing or the wrong thing. However, in providing leadership, there was a responsibility to put those things on table in the first place and that would continue. The Leader stated that he heard the concerns from residents earlier and that would be taken on board going forward and they did want to ease the problems that the community was facing. Members would always try to answer questions as best as they possibly could but there was a responsibility in leadership to bring forward proposals to make decisions and to make those decision in the best way possible.