Agenda item


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 referred to the local Tory MP criticising the Towns and Villages Fund in Wickersley and Greasbrough which were not even in his constituency so asked should local residents not have their say instead? 


Councillor Allen confirmed that everyone should be respectful and referred to the projects in the Towns and Villages Fund, which was developed locally and especially via locally elected Ward Members. In addition engagement and consultation happened with residents and businesses before the scheme started on site to ensure people could provide input and to develop and agree a scheme that local people and locally elected members approved. 


The local neighborhoods teams worked across all parties and undertook consultations with local communities and local residents had their say.   Feedback was positive and the well commented on illuminated clock tower at Wickersley was locally well regarded, a popular local landmark and produced delight. 


The Greasbrough Scheme, the ward of both Councillors Allen and Elliott, worked with local people to turn ideas into reality and an innovative green corridor project had made a real difference to residents and in the neighbourhood. 


It was suggested that it would be unwise of local politicians to contradict the views of local residents as they knew what was best for their own areas.


In a supplementary comment Councillor Hoddinott confirmed receipt of some positive feedback from residents so took the opportunity to thank Councillor Allen for the work in leading neighbourhoods and getting projects delivered all over the borough with residents being consulted on what they wanted.


(2)   Councillor Monk explained that following announcements from the Government of a significant expansion of early education entitlement and asked how did the Council plan to ensure there was sufficient, high quality childcare and education to meet increased demand across the Borough.


Councillor Cusworth explained the Council developed an annual Early Years and Childcare Sufficiency Report 2023 which detailed the areas where it was projected that additional capacity may be needed to meet any anticipated demand. It was evident that there would be additional demand across the Borough where additional places would be required from September 2024 and September 2025 (when children from nine months old would be entitled to a free place).


The Government had given local authorities an amount of capital funding to increase capacity for both the Early Years entitlements and wraparound childcare programme but it was just £538,000 for Rotherham. 


Officers had been working with the sector to develop the mechanisms to enable both schools and providers to access the funding available. The bidding process had been subject to extensive consultation and bids were now being invited in order to distribute the available funds quickly and equitably, in accordance with the national guidelines which had been provided.


Additionally work was ongoing with the Rotherham Inward Development Office to agree a business advice package for providers. In addition the Council was working with a range of partners to develop and implement a training and recruitment drive to increase the availability of Early Years staff.


The bidding process had been subject to extensive consultation. Bids were now being invited in order to distribute the available funds quickly and equitably, in accordance with the guidelines which have been provided.


(3)   Councillor Reynolds asked did the Council still subsidise Magna?


Councillor Alam confirmed they did not.


Magna received loans from the Council in 2006 and 2008.


After a period of non-payment due to market conditions the Cabinet Member was pleased to say that Magna have made consistent repayments since April 2022. All accumulated interest had been paid off and the regular monthly payments covered both principal and interest.


In a supplementary question Councillor Reynolds asked if he could have the actual terms of agreement in writing?


Councillor Alam confirmed he would check first with the Monitoring Officer as to what could be released.


(4)  Councillor Reynolds confirmed having secured (with the help of Commissioner Sir Derek Myers) £6.19 million from Theresa May for child sexual exploitation victims.  He asked where had this money gone and what percentage did the victims get?


Councillor Read confirmed that in November 2015 Commissioners, led by Sir Derek Myers and the Leader of the Council, a one-off grant of £5.2m was received from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).


As detailed within the business case agreed by the Government, the £5.2m was secured to improve the Council, but predominantly within that to improve and sustain Children’s Services particularly the costs of increased numbers of Social Workers, funding for post-abuse support contracts with the voluntary and community sector and the implementation of a new social care computer system liquid logic.


In a supplementary question Councillor Reynolds asked how much went to the victims?


Councillor Read referred Councillor Reynolds to the agreement with the Government at the time for those purposes set out and agreed.  This was not a fund to go to directly with survivors and was not primarily what the fund was for.


(5)  Councillor Burnett asked did the Labour administration support businesses both inside and outside Rotherham Town Centre?


Councillor Lelliottt confirmed they did.


In a supplementary question Councillor Burnett asked if the Cabinet Member agreed with him that the Council needed to encourage small businesses such as Deer Farm Park rather than having empty premises in the Town Centre.


Councillor Lelliott confirmed the Council did need to support all businesses and thanked the Member for being able to provide the following information (which would also be provided in writing):-


Much of our business support activity was co-ordinated through the network of award-winning business hubs:-


·              Matrix at Dinnington,;

·              Fusion in Templeborough;

·              Moorgate Crofts in the town centre; and

·              Century in the Dearne Valley.


Allowing for support to businesses across the Borough, in the north, south and centre.


Last year the Council invested a further £6.5 million in a new hub at Century 2 which provided an additional sixteen offices, twenty workshops and two laboratory spaces for businesses to grow in Manvers.


Over the last 12 months the Council had:-


·          Provided space in business hubs for 193 start-ups and SMEs all of whom benefitted from the supportive environment of a fully managed service, with wrap around business support.

·          The Adviser Team engaged with 527 businesses across Rotherham on a range of issues - from business strategy, supply chain development, recruitment, digitalisation and many more.  

·          Ran 75 workshops on various business topics which had 359 attendees and also supported 230 business start-up enquiries through the Launchpad programme.

·          Secured external funding to provide direct financial support to businesses that had allowed to agree grant awards totalling £275,000.

·          In January this year secured funding for a Rural Grants Programme which provided grants of up to 50% for businesses in rural areas that have projects that could demonstrate a positive impact on the local economy and create jobs.


527 businesses engaged was the number of unique businesses against which interactions were recorded during 2023.


Grants in last 12 months included:-


·              Productivity and Digitisation Grant: fifteen proceeding/paid (£161k)

·              Business Support Grant: twelve proceeding/paid, three processing (£42k)

·              Launchpad start-up grants: twenty proceeding/paid, eight processing (£35k); plus fifteen UKSE grants paid (£7.5k)

·              Rural grants: three proceeding (£29k)

·              Low Carbon: Pipeline of fifty-one businesses being engaged by a specialist consultant to complete energy audits (with funding available to implement carbon reduction measures).


(6)  Councillor Hoddinott was surprised to discover there was no joint pathway between the Police and the NHS about how spiking incidents were dealt with, meaning many victims were not being given blood tests.  She asked would the Community Safety Partnership commit to looking into this issue and possibly brokering a joined-up response? 


Councillor Alam confirmed the Community Safety Partnership would commit to looking into this issue with a view to brokering a joined-up response.  The Detective Superintendent of the Violence Reduction Unit, had confirmed there was a local agreement between the NHS and the Police, although this was not a formal pathway. 


As each spiking case was unique, the Police did take a person-centred approach when incidents were reported, to determine the action required.  The Detective Superintendent would take the question further and provide more details about the local procedures.


In a supplementary question Councillor Hoddinott would appreciate seeing those formal procedures and asked if the Community Safety Partnership could look at training and awareness raising.


Councillor Alam welcomed the feedback and would discuss this further with the Community Safety Partnership.


(7)  Councillor Hoddinott asked if it was possible to report how many local authority maintained schools have a deficit budget this year?


Councillor Cusworth confirmed that based on the latest budget monitoring position there were fiveschools forecasting a deficit by the end of 2023/24.


In terms of school budgets approved in May 2023 the year had started with two schools having deficit budgets.


In a supplementary question Councillor Hoddinott asked of the five forecasting deficits this had a big impact on schools and particularly with those local authority maintained schools were the Council providing support to them.


Councillor Cusworth confirmed how difficult it was and had seen some of that first hand in the past, but the Children and Young People’s Finance Team were working with schools in a deficit position with the aim of trying to bring finances into line.  With rising costs and inflation this was even more concerning for schools, but if the Member wished to discuss this further the Cabinet Member was happy to meet further.


(8)  Councillor Jones explained that earlier this month the Leader of the Council wrote to the Environment Agency asking them to clarify their position around BH5 at Droppingwell.  He asked could the Leader explain the context of the letter and why he felt the need to send it, bearing in mind his comments at the November Council meeting.


The Leader confirmed he indeed did write to the Environment Agency in January 2024 and the content of the letter did include questions on Bore Hole 5.   The Environment Agency had given different advice to different people at different times. 


The primary purpose for letter was because that in written correspondence from the Environment Agency it seemed to be at odds with their previous position provided to the Council, which was that the lack of this Bore Hole in place was not critical to the operation of the permit.  In fact, in June 2020 the Environment Agency wrote to the Council and stated ‘failure to reinstate Bore Hole 5 was not critical in terms of permit regulation’. In December, 2020 the Environment Agency had this information  on the website - then failure to reinstate BH05 is not critical in terms of permit regulation


I received a response  to my letter from the Environment Agency in the last few days that provides contradictory information to that previously provided to the Council and the public and the Environment Agency was now stating that they ‘have concluded that monitoring from BH5 is required to assess cross-gradient impacts to groundwater quality.’


It was wholly unacceptable that the Council had been presented with information that is contradictory.


Droppingwell Tip only currently existed owing to a failure by the Environment Agency to properly deal with the Permit. The contradictory information that was now being presented indicated that the matter continued to be handled by the Environment Agency in a way that harmed the public confidence in all agencies that were required to deal with these issues. Indeed this Council has already passed a motion of no confidence in the Environment Agency.


Consideration was now being given to whether to commence the actions necessary to take legal action against the Environment Agency for the repeated and egregious failures in this case and also if there were grounds to seek Judicial Review of the approach taken.


In a supplementary question Councillor Jones pointed out that the Bore Hole was also on a quality assurance map and from 2016 all these documents were publicly available.  On this basis why did the Leader advise Members to vote against something that had not been properly investigated and would he now apologise to residents of Droppingwell.


The Leader confirmed he would not apologise.  The Council have acted on the information that was available and would do everything needed to do to get to a better position. 


(9)  Councillor Jones referred to February’s Improving Places meeting where the Senior Management Team admitted that the signposting and communication of the markets access restrictions were not carried out as well as they could have been so asked what had been done to correct this.


Councillor Lelliott confirmed it was recognized that the Council could have been  clearer in communications and signposting.


To address this all tenants and traders since then have been visited individually to explain the changes and temporary signage installed pending the erection of site hoardings.


The Council had also publicised the changes to access with multiple posts over social media and on its website. In addition, the contractor was designing notice boards to be installed in prominent positions for both traders and the public of works forthcoming in the weeks ahead providing information on the progress of the works on site.  A meeting was also to be arranged also to discuss this  further.


In a supplementary question Councillor Jones pointed out that bearing in mind the aspirations to take business along with us did the Cabinet Member not think we should be offering compensation to the four affected businesses?


Councillor Lelliott confirmed she would respond in writing once further discussion had taken place.


(10)  Councillor Ball had left the meeting so would receive a response in writing to his question.


(11)  Councillor Ball had left the meeting so would receive a response in writing to his question.


(12)  Councillor Jones explained during the last year members have struggled to re-locate or even buy new CCTV to tackle issues within areas and this had also affected projects like the towns and villages work.  He asked could the Cabinet Member please give an update on when the CCTV services would be back to normal.


Councillor Alam explained that through over £600,000 of investment provided by the Council, the amount of CCTV had quadrupled in efforts to improve safety and feelings of safety across the Borough.


The Council had committed to do a full review and audit of all cameras, which had now been completed.  Requests were being processed again and a total of thirty-nine cameras were now ordered.


In a supplementary question Councillor Jones pointed out that over the last twelve months several incidents have occurred where CCTV could have been a welcome asset for people’s witness statements affecting investment into the towns and villages fund.  He asked could the Cabinet Member, therefore, ensure that all outstanding orders and requests be completed prior to May, to accommodate those Member requests previously agreed.


Councillor Alam confirmed the appointment of a new manager who would deliver on commitments.


(13)  Councillor Jones referred to in Rotherham West seeing a lack of primary age children’s places with a lot of children now being asked to travel long distances to their nearest school with a space.  He asked could the Cabinet Member tell him what was  being done to address this issue.


Councillor Cusworth explained some schools in Rotherham were more popular with parents in the Borough. Some parents also crossed the boundaries of Rotherham to access provision. Despite this, there were sufficient places in each locality and regularly achieved in excess of 90% first choice admissions.


There was some limited oversubscription pressure resulting from the exercise of parental preference in Rotherham West and North. This affected three schools.  School places were projected around local planning areas and the Local Authority was required to ensure that there were sufficient school places within the local planning area for all children who required one.


Any child requiring a school place in Rotherham West was able to be allocated one within a reasonable distance of two miles as specified by the DfE. Typically, the Council were able to allocate schools that were well within this distance.  If Cllr Jones is aware of a specific example where this distance is exceeded, then this case can be considered by the Access to Education Team.


Although some schools within the Rotherham North and West planning area were oversubscribed, there were other local schools that have a number of surplus places available. As such, the Council was able to meet the statutory duty to provide school places and could not increase capacity at an individual school that was oversubscribed.


The Cabinet Member offered Councillor Jones the opportunity to meet outside of this meeting to discuss further.


In a supplementary question Councillor Jones explained Rotherham West was one of the quickest expanding areas in the Borough.  There were four primary schools without any capacity, crossing patrols or any crossing facilities.  Parents were now being asked to walk children past the schools to get to their nearest school with a place so there was a need to make those journeys safer.  He asked why had any of the road safety schemes not been approved.


Councillor Cusworth confirmed this was her area of responsibility, so would endeavour to set up a meeting with Councillor Jones and relevant officers to discuss further.


(14)  Councillor Ball had left the meeting so would receive a response in writing to his question.


(15)  Councillor Ball had left the meeting so would receive a response in writing to his question.


(16)  Councillor Tinsley referred to the Maltby Restoration Scheme which was being undertaken by the same owners that owned Droppingwell. He asked what confidence did the Council have that these operators were keeping to current planning conditions and environmental permits?

Councillor Sheppard confirmed that Community Protection Officers were aware of the work towards the Maltby Restoration Scheme. Both Planning and Community Protection had enforcement powers and were monitoring the progress of the work. The Environment Agency was the permitting authority and had a monitoring and enforcement role in this scheme.  If breaches of conditions or legislation were identified, appropriate enforcement would be progressed.


In a supplementary question Councillor Tinsley asked if the Council had powers to monitor from a planning perspective and was it being actively monitored?


Councillor Sheppard confirmed the Council was aware of the taking place and undertaken by MHH, which was a private contract in which Council had no role.  If there was any breach in legislation the Council would take enforcement action.


(17)  Councillor Ball had left the meeting so would receive a response in writing to his question.


(18)  Councillor Tinsley pointed out after multiple requests for road resurfacing on Queens Corner Maltby, the Council continued to fill the same potholes with temporary shovel pat repairs. He asked would the Council commit to proper repairs on this busy junction?

The Leader confirmed the extensive repair of the A631 High Street junction with B6427 Muglet Lane Maltby had been included on a forward programme alongside other roads also requiring repair of a similar condition.


What he could not give at this stage was a date for these repairs, but did confirm the forward programme would be reviewed as the Highway Repair Programme for 2024/25 progressed.


In a supplementary question Councillor Tinsley asked if the commitment could be sooner as these repairs did not last long.  This was  a busy road and with extra houses, a bus lane and heavy traffic travelling along it which had featured on a 999 ambulance show, could this be given serious attention.


The Leader confirmed this would be reviewed as part of the forward programme of works.