To put questions, if any, to Cabinet Members and Committee Chairpersons (or their representatives) under Council Procedure Rules 11(1) and 11(3).
Question 1: Councillor Baker-Rogers asked to encourage participation in parkrun, please, could car parking charges be waived at the Clifton Museum car park until 1030am on Saturday mornings?
Councillor Sheppard explained that fees and charges were set annually through the budget setting report to Council in March and could not be altered at this time. Many of the events organised at the parks and green spaces by others shared objectives with the Council’s own, in terms of promoting healthy lifestyles and encouraging people to take part in physical activity. The income collected from parking formed part of the budget available to the Green Spaces service which ensured safe and enjoyable spaces. Reducing that income would impact on the Council’s ability to provide or maintain such spaces so that activities could take place.
In her supplementary Councillor Baker-Rogers indicated that park runs were a fantastic initiative but asked how the Council would encourage participation in the Clifton Park Run?
In response Councillor Sheppard said the Council was happy to work alongside partners who had the commitment to promoting physical activity and exercise and understood they were popular events.
Question 2: Councillor Bacon asked would the Cabinet Member help me in allowing our churches in the borough to use the council’s bulky waste service?
Councillor Beck indicated that as a rule the bulky waste service was only available to residential properties due to the capacity and demand for the service however if there was a particular circumstance Councillor Bacon had in mind, he was happy to discuss this.
In his supplementary Councillor Bacon indicated it would be beneficial to speak with Councillor Beck outside the meeting but was a little confused as the churches were able to subscribe to the Council’s Brown Bin service but not use the bulky waste service.
Councillor Beck agreed to speak with Councillor Bacon after the meeting about this particular issue.
Question 3: Councillor A. Carter asked what briefings had the council leader had regarding areas of Brinsworth and elsewhere in Rotherham becoming part of a new enterprise zone?
Councillor Read explained a report on the Investment Zone was presented to the MCA on 5 June 2023 to approve submission of an application to Government. The papers and minutes were available online or could be provided directly if needed.
In his supplementary Councillor A Carter indicated his understanding of the paper was that it included significant parts of Brinsworth including areas of Phoenix Sports Club. He queried when that location and other locations that affected the Borough announced and when was the Leader planning to discuss that and seek the views of local councillors regarding use of that land moving forward?
Councillor Read as indicated at the beginning of the meeting, the overall geography of that spatial core was subject to discussions with civil servants in London, so there had not been local consultation on each part of that. He felt the more relevant question was regarding when proposals would come forward in each place and how would resources be used. For a lot of the area £80million would not address it and he did not expect to see physical regeneration across the whole of that area. As and when proposals were available for individual places, he that would then be the appropriate time to consult with ward members and look at the communities. In relation to the specific site mentioned, he was not aware of any specific proposal for development on that site at the time of the meeting.
Question 4: Councillor A. Carter asked would the council commit to undertaking an immediate review of Wood Lane in Brinsworth, and commit to bring forward plans to open the road to local traffic?
Councillor Beck explained that when the remodelling was undertaken for the Parkway scheme, one element of that was to review the impact of re-opening Wood Lane to traffic. Following the remodelling work conducted the conclusion remained the same that there were concerns around the impact that would have on Brinsworth itself, on roads such as Brinsworth Road, Bonnet Lane and Whitehill Lane. There was a very real danger that if the Council was to pursue it that the unintended consequences may not be appreciated.
In his supplementary Councillor A Carter noted this was discussed at the recent Parish Council meeting and members from both parties were in agreement overall that it should be re-opened. It was one of the most common issues that he received from residents, and he appreciated the concerns on the Parkway and his view was that since Parkway had happened it had changed things in terms of the likelihood that Brinsworth would become a rat run for traffic. He asked if a further review would be undertaken and share any briefings that had taken place since the Parkway had happened. He also asked if it wasn’t able to be opened in both directions, could the Council commit to opening it in one direction, out of Brinsworth for example?
Councillor Beck explained that at the moment it was a designated primary public transport link and emergency vehicles could use when necessary. He committed to considering the impacts that the new Parkway scheme was having on traffic in Brinsworth.
Question 5 Councillor Jones noted that Rotherham was now in transition from a market town to an entertainment venue, to ease this transition he presumed we should be putting on events within the town centre, can you give me the exact budget the team has to deliver this?
In response Councillor Lelliott indicated she wanted Rotherham town centre to be both a thriving market town and an entertainment venue. Over the last four years the events programme in the town centre had doubled including the annual UPLIFT Skate and Arts Festival which attracted an estimated audience of 5,000 visitors and residents. The recent Rotherham Festival saw footfall in the town centre rise by 25%.
The total Council budget for events was £238,223 of which £20,000 was the net budget for town centre events. This was used to attract external funding from Flux, the Arts Council and meant that the gross budget for town centre events for this year was £287,000.
In his supplementary Councillor Jones noted at a recent meeting he’d been informed that a new two-hour format was the preferred option. He had also been informed there was no funding for town centre events. He questioned if the Council was developing the town centre as an events experience, then it should be properly funded.
Councillor Lelliott referred back to her previous answer that a total of £238,223 was available. She was delighted that the Council organised the successful Armed Forces Day celebration which was a valued part of Rotherham’s activities each year.
Question 6: Councillor Jones noted that Rotherham west councillors had taken the decision to purchase an extra CCTV camera to tackle ASB, but we have now been informed that no cameras can be purchased or relocated until further notice, can you tell me why?
Councillor Alam explained the Council had invested over £800,000 in new CCTV equipment over the last two to three years, meaning a lot of new equipment had been provided. Officers were currently reviewing current provisions and future needs before undertaking further purchasing.
He explained that the possible re-location of cameras was an option and requests to move ward cameras were prioritised based on risk and could be made via CAP’s meetings. A task group would consider the appropriate risk and impact assessments prior to any changes.
In his supplementary Councillor Jones noted that one of the main reasons for requesting CCTV was to tackle anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and violence. He asked if ward members and residents could be given some idea of how long the review would take and how long they would have to wait for a camera?
Councillor Alam explained the review was being undertaken now and he could not indicate when it would end but he would raise Councillor Jones’ concerns and get back to him.
Question 7: Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked did we have any indication of the amount of cheques cashed by pawnbroking services following last year’s £150 council tax rebate which saw so many shocking queues outside of town centre pawnbrokers?
Councillor Read explained that unfortunately there was no way of checking where the cheques had been cashed.
In his supplementary Councillor Bennett-Sylvester felt that a substantial number of cheques had been cashed elsewhere. This was considered as part of the scrutiny process, and no one envisaged seeing queues of people trying to cash them in. He asked what lessons had been learned that, should this be needed in the future, would enable to people to access the money quickly?
Councillor Read explained that the number one lesson was that the information provided needed to be very clear that residents could exchange those cheques at Council offices for the full value and to ensure that staff were available to assist with this. He noted that the Council actually supplied the cheques to residents quicker than any other local authority.
Question 8: Councillor Monk noted that research showed that children who access early years provision for longer have improved educational outcomes. It also shows that high quality early years education benefits children from lower income backgrounds in particular. Can the Cabinet Member for Children tell me what the take up rate in Rotherham is for our 2-year-olds?
Councillor Cusworth offered thanks for drawing attention to the importance of early years education for our children. Research had found evidence that attending early year provision could improve a range of outcomes for children including laying the foundations for future long-term developmental milestones.
She explained that the take up rate in Rotherham for children receiving Early Education Funding was 90% in the Spring term 2023, 96% in the Autumn term 2022, and 88% in the Summer term 2022. These were the highest take-up rates achieved in Rotherham.
In her supplementary Councillor Monk asked how the Council could be certain it was engaging effectively with those most impacted by deprivation?
Councillor Cusworth explained that significant work was undertaken with partners and early help to support take-up in deprived areas using links across multi-agency partners, children’s centres, health colleagues and wider services in order to promote the benefits. The Council had diversified its materials ensuring they were accessible to all areas of the community and targets specific areas.
Question 9: Councillor Elliot commented regarding Grange Park Golf Course, you will no doubt have seen the article in the Advertiser describing the poor condition of the course, I have had several golfers contact me saying the same. Are you able to say what discussions have taken place with the Lessees of the course in order to remedy the situation?
Councillor Lelliott explained the Grange Park Golf Course was managed by a private organisation and therefore the Council did not have any responsibility for the ground’s maintenance of the course. However, discussions had taken place with the owner regarding the ground’s maintenance. He explained there had been a series of dry weather, then wet weather and he was aware that under the terms of the lease he had to maintain it.
In his supplementary Councillor Jones agreed that the weather had been awful however the course was unplayable and no other courses had experienced the same issues. He asked for clarity as to whether the Council could force the owner to address these issues.
Councillor Lelliott explained the Council was working with the owner and were looking at the conditions within the lease to address this.
Question 10: Councillor Jones noted Rotherham Council were now looking into purchasing electric vehicles in larger quantities, can you please inform me what support measures and infrastructure are being put in place and what research has been done to support this decision?
Councillor Beck noted it was an ambitious programme purchasing a large quantity of electric powered vehicles. 114 vehicles had been identified to be changed and 64 of those had been identified as viable options to be replaced with electric powered vehicles.
Many authorities were considering the same issues, once of which was that a number of vehicles would be taken home by staff therefore a home charging policy would need to be developed to understand what would mean for the individuals.
The Council 30 charging bays located across the borough. It was a challenge but one the Council would make work.
In his supplementary Councillor Jones noted there were a number of inbuilt dangers around repairing both the mechanical and body damaged electric vehicles. He understood guidance had been issued to recovery mechanics not to move broken down electric vehicles without emergency services being present. He asked if the Council was satisfied that they were asking staff to use what could be unsafe equipment and was the Council following its own research or using someone else’s.
Councillor Beck said the Council had learned a lot from others, but it was following its own agenda and research. A lot of research had been carried out already over the past two years prior to it being considered by Cabinet. He was confident that the Council was up for the challenge.
Question 11: Councillor Jones said last year this council voted to enforce a new policy against repeat offenders that acquire multiple non-payment of fixed penalty fines, which included removal of the offending vehicle. Can you inform me how many vehicles have been removed since the new policy was enacted?
Councillor Beck noted the policy had been in place since 2018 and to date the Council had impounded 231 vehicles for persistent non-payment of fixed penalty fines, which was a tremendous achievement. Since 1 April 2023, the Council had impounded 10 vehicles and out of those 10 vehicles, 8 had been reclaimed with full payments being made.
In his supplementary Councillor Jones asked if there were situations where the offender’s car would not be removed if they were disabled for example? He also asked if the Council would consider publishing names of people who had more than five outstanding penalties in the Advertiser?
In his response Councillor Beck indicated concerns regarding any potential safeguarding issues of doing that. He would seek advice regarding this matter and respond in writing.
Question 12: Councillor Bennett-Sylvester would like to welcome the current taxi licensing review. He asked what was the estimate of how much per year a taxi licensed in Wolverhampton is undercutting the better-quality Rotherham licensed cabs?
Councillor Lelliott offered to email Councillor Bennett-Sylvester with the full answer to his question but went on to explain the cost of licensing a vehicle with Wolverhampton was approximately £135 and in Rotherham the vehicle licence costs between £179 and £271 depending on the age of the vehicle.
She explained that licensing fees could only be set at a level that recovered the costs associated with the licensing regime. Some of those costs were fixed irrespective of the number of licence holders, therefore, a higher number of licence holders could result in decreased licence fees. In Rotherham, this element of the charge was split between the 900 vehicle licence holders. In contrast, the fees in Wolverhampton were split between the 23,000 licensed vehicles, reducing the fee charged.
In his supplementary Councillor Bennett-Sylvester said one concern was that people had registered a taxi elsewhere and was not necessarily accepting the need for change in Rotherham and he asked it would be reasonable that people were being given the choice and could lead to them feeling unsafe?
Councillor Lelliott explained that was the purpose of the review of the policy that was intended to reduce the prevalence of out-of-town taxis in Rotherham.
Question 13: Councillor Bennett-Sylvester said given details of under occupancy in town centre council buildings such as Riverside, when can we expect to see a condensation of our estate by say the selling off of underused buildings like say the town hall?
In her response Councillor Lelliott noted the Council had made a number of savings by rationalising its property estate and disposing of surplus properties. The Council had a number of operational buildings of which the Town Hall was one and the Council had no plans to withdraw from it, not least because there would be significant costs associated with recreating the chamber.
In his supplementary Councillor Bennett-Sylvester mentioned the low occupancy rates in some buildings and if the Council could not show full usage of the build, would it be better to dispose of it to realise the capital?
Councillor Lelliott explained the Council continued to review all of its operational property portfolio to ensure it used its buildings effectively and efficiently to deliver its services.
Question 14: Councillor Tarmey asked does the cabinet member agree with me that it took too long for the council to take enforcement action following the Kiveton Park fire?
Councillor Beck noted the fire was put out in January this year and the priority was for extinguishing the fire, which had been done. The Council committed to use any powers available to ensure it did not happen again and for the removal of the waste. An enforcement notice had been issues and had come into effect. He was not aware of any appeal by the landowner at this time. It required the landowners to stop using the site for any further depositing of wate materials within 7 days and to remove all stored waste materials from the site within 6 months.
Councillor Tarmey asked if the Cabinet Member agreed with him that the Environment Agency had been left so badly underfunded by central Government that it was not able to take adequate enforcement action itself?
Councillor Beck agreed with this.
Question 15: Councillor Bennett-Sylvester said the HAF programmes are providing essential summer activities for children do we have figures on the percentage of places made available being booked and more importantly actually attended?
Councillor Cusworth noted that it was an essential part of the holidays and then programme had gone from strength to strength each year. The programme offered a wide range of activities and last summer 37 providers delivered 52 programmes across the borough with 14,486 children and young people receiving 14,486 meals whilst taking part.
The numbers for take up during the summer holidays were not yet available, however members were asked to promote this within their wards.
Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked what was being done to monitor the uptake of this programme and to ensure activities were being offered in the communities that were hardest to reach?
Councillor Cusworth said the Council was constantly striving to increase the uptake and did have an opportunity to offer unused places to those who were from other vulnerable backgrounds so that places were not wasted.
The figures for the summer could be provided when available.
Question 16: Councillor Cllr Bennett-Sylvester asked how did the amount planned to be spent on footpath replacement this year compare to the amount being spent on the Wellgate Cycle Lane?
Councillor Beck explained the resurfacing programme for this financial year was £800,000 and the Wellgate Cycling scheme would cost in the region of £3.5m however it was important to know that the £800,000 for footways was Council funded. The £3.5m for the cycling scheme at Wellgate and or all cycling schemes was funded from central Government through the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.
In his supplementary Councillor Bennett-Sylvester noted that 40% of footpaths under the RAG testing system were in the red section. He queried if there was any way of obtaining further funding?
Councillor Beck noted there had been an underfunding of resurfacing of footways for a long time nationally, in terms of grants for such things. The Council was also trying to prioritise areas, such as those around schools and main walkways. It also tried to ensure funding went towards resurfacing surrounding pathways when highways works were carried out, where possible.