Agenda item - Oral questions from councillors

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Agenda item

Oral questions from councillors

A list of Councillors who have indicated their desire to ask an oral question at the meeting along with the subject matters has been listed in the agenda papers.


25.1         The Mayor reminded the Council that councillors’ oral questions would be taken in the order as listed on the council agenda and that a period of 30 minutes was set aside for the item.  Should any questions not be reached at the end of the time period, those councillors would have the opportunity for their question to be carried over to the next council meeting.


25.2         The Mayor then called on Councillor G. Theobald to put his question to the Leader of the Council.


25.3         (a) Councillor G. Theobald asked, “In view of the Government’s recent announcement that they will provide £800 million to local authorities in England to freeze council tax next year, can the Leader of the Council please confirm that he will be accepting the £3 million that will be on offer to Brighton & Hove?”


25.4         Councillor Randall replied, “The government is offering money to Councils; the Chancellor recently announced that funding from one-off savings of over 800 million pounds in Government Department budgets would be used to fund the second year of a Council Tax freeze. However, unlike the freeze in Council tax for this year, it would only be funded from one year which would leave us with problems later on.


            Local Council’s will qualify for a council tax freeze grant equivalent to a 2.5 increase in Council tax if they agree to a council tax freeze for next year. The one off grant is equivalent to a 3 percent increase in council tax. In the current year all councils, police and fire authorities decided to implement a council tax freeze and qualify for a council tax freeze grant. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has the power to limit Council tax increases of any authority where he believes that increase is excessive.


            For 2010, 2011, 2012 he deemed that 4 percent was excessive.  He will announce his judgement on excessive council tax increases for the next year probably at the end of next month.  The impact on the local council tax pay roll is that the average council tax in Brighton and Hove paid in 2011 - 2012 is £1196 per dwelling which is exactly the same as the average for England i.e. a Council tax freeze 2012 - 2013 as opposed to a 3.5 percent increase, will save the average household in the city 42 pounds a year or 80 pence a week.


            The biggest saving will be made those people who live in the most expensive properties; the poorest people in the community receiving a hundred percent council tax benefit will save nothing, the impact on the resources of the Council are these. The planned increase of 3.5 percent which is our plan for 2012 – 2013 will raise an estimated 4.2 million in additional resources through council tax.


            The proposed 2012 – 2013 council tax freeze grant of 3 million the equivalent to 2.5 increase in Council tax, will be payable for 2012 – 2013 only.  If the Council agrees a freeze for 2012 – 2013 the savings target for the next year will increase by 1.2 million i.e. the difference between the planned increase and the Council tax freeze grant.


            When the Council tax freeze grant ends in 2013 – 2014 the Council will need to identify a further 3.1 million savings to cover the loss of grant.  Over two years the Council, therefore need a further 4.3 million additional savings above the current forecast savings level and as Councillor Kitcat has put it in the Local Government Chronicle, “we will be going over a cliff.”


25.5         Councillor G. Theobald asked the following supplementary question, “Neither Councillor Randall nor I nor anyone in this room has a crystal ball, so you don’t know that the government won’t repeat the same offer to Councils next year.  So my point to you Councillor Randall, could you just confirm in a yes or no that you are turning down 3 million pounds and that you will be subjecting the Council tax payers of Brighton and Hove to a 3.5percent increase in their Council tax rather than having their Council tax frozen?”


25.6         Councillor Randall replied, “That was the answer I gave at the beginning, but of course not all your colleagues were in the chamber when I gave it.”


25.7         (b) Councillor Mitchell asked, “Following the expressions of concern from youth service providers in relation to future funding for youth services and given the high and increasing number ofchildren coming into the care of the local authority, can Councillor Shanks confirm whether she is looking to make savings specifically from youth service budgets to offset this and if so please could she explain the reasoning?”


25.8         Councillor Shanks replied, “Budget discussions are ongoing and will be ongoing; I have a past in youth work. I feel very strongly about youth services, I think they are very valuable.  Quite a lot of young people engaging in their own communities is a very valuable provision for young people.  Brighton and Hove doesn’t spend a huge amount of money on its youth services.  Youth services are under threat nationally and in fact were moving up the league in terms of the amount we provide just because everybody else is shutting down completely in Kent, in West Sussex particularly, so it’s a subject really dear to my heart and obviously other discussions happen in budget and the issues about young people coming into care are also very important and we need to protect them, so it’s a very difficult balancing act to make.


            So I can’t give you a guarantee about that at the moment but it will be something that will be discussed in the time to come.  Any lobbying that anybody can do in any party about youth services will be helpful; nationally there is a lobby of parliament on Tuesday.”


25.9         Councillor Mitchell asked the following supplementary question, “Could you give an indication of when youth service providers will receive some certainty as to their financial position as part of the youth service review?”


25.10    Councillor Shanks replied, “Yes there is a youth service review going on at the moment and the results of the consultation are being looked at, but not until the final budget is set can we actually guarantee how much people will be getting, so until the end of February.  But the results of the review will be made public as soon as it is finished.”


25.11    (c) Councillor Wealls asked, “I’m not sure whether all Members are aware that we are in the very happy position that the Brighton Bi-lingual Primary School is granted permission by the DFE to move to pre-opening phase which I think is a fantastic opportunity for the city.  I’d like to thank Councillor Shanks who has agreed to meet the parents and teachers who are setting up the school.  Thank you very much, what I would like to ask is that you and the administration engage positively and proactively with this group of parents and teachers and other groups of parents and teachers who want to set up schools such as this in our city.”


25.12    Councillor Shanks replied, “I have agreed to meet them; we already have a Bi-lingual Primary School, St Paul’s School.  I really think Bi-lingual education is a good idea.  I personally am not keen on the idea of free schools which are actually independent schools and can set their own terms and conditions outside of the Local Authority.


            But yes, that is legislation.  At the moment we don’t have any other schools that have passed the test that the Government sets them.  One of the problems, obviously, is premises; we are finding it difficult to find premises ourselves.”


25.13    Councillor Wealls asked the following supplementary question, “I would like to encourage you to work with them please to help them find premises.”


25.14    Councillor Shanks replied,


25.15    (d) Councillor Morgan asked, “Now that the Green Administration has formerly abandoned any plans for ‘Park and Ride’ having voted down viable proposals during the last Labour Administration and with the recent decision to spend four million pounds on refurbishing city centre car parks, can the Cabinet Member explain what, beyond promoting walking and cycling, he proposes for reducing traffic congestion and pollution?”


25.16    Councillor Davey replied, “We are always stuck with the problem of trying to find local solutions to what are actually national transport problems. The overran deregulation of buses, the privatisation of railways so public transport is in private hands and run for private profit makes it a challenge for Local Authorities to deal with those wider issues.  We are working with the Local Authorities, we need to be identifying those journeys in the wider commute area and so working with East and West Sussex, maybe the Local Enterprise Partnership may provide some opportunities for dealing with those wider transport challenges that we face.”


25.17    Councillor Morgan asked the following supplementary question, “Could the Cabinet Member say whether the administration will be proposing significant increases to car parking charges in the budget?”


25.18    Councillor Davey replied, “No we are not proposing significant increases.”


25.19    (e) Councillor C. Theobald asked, “As one of the key gateways to the city for visitors it is extremely important that Pool Valley is made as attractive as possible.  The previous Administration made some changes to improve the road layout and to improve some of the adjoining properties by enforcement action but unfortunately the plans to provide shelter were held up by legal action. 


            Therefore could Councillor Davey please provide an update of any progress made since May and what further plans the new Administration has to make Pool Valley a place that we can all be proud of?”


25.20    Councillor Davey replied, “I now work with Pool Valley, we certainly hope to bring forward the Valley Gardens Project over the next few years and that will give opportunities to improve that whole area, it would be very nice to have a proper ticket office.  I know that was the original intention, it was originally intended that National Express were going to do that, but they withdrew that offer.  We will certainly continue to try to work to encourage them to do that.  It would be very helpful to have a proper ticket office and waiting room.”


25.21    Councillor C. Theobald asked the following supplementary question, “There used to be a ticket office there that was very welcoming, I hope this will be undertaken as a matter of urgency and a priority because a lot of people have been making complaints about the very unwelcoming area of Pool Valley.”


25.22    Councillor Davey replied, “I agree, a ticket office would be very nice and we will continue to encourage National Express to provide one.”


25.23    (f) Councillor K. Norman asked, “Many of you in this chamber will recall my email exchange with Councillor West and apologies from Councillor Randall for not consulting with all Withdean Ward Councillors about decisions that were made regarding Nineteen Acres. So why Councillor West, are you still not consulting with Withdean Councillors on this Subject?”


25.24    Councillor West replied, “Councillor Norman has had an apology from both the Leader of the Council and I regarding the lack of notice to ward councillors given by our officers before the site was made available.  I would hope he’d be satisfied with that.


            I would just like to add that Nineteen Acres has been made available over the summer as a short term tolerated site and for Members information we have been given a possession order by the court last Friday, in order to be able to regain possession of the site.  So I believe that has been a useful exercise that the groups that have been encamped on Nineteen Acres would have otherwise been on more sensitive sites and parks which I know a lot of Members and residents would have been concerned about.  I would hope that Councillor Norman will feel that the use of Nineteen Acres has been helpful.”


25.25    Councillor K. Norman asked the following supplementary question, “You didn’t answer my question, which was why are you still not consulting on the subject with Withdean Ward Councillors.  You are still not consulting because you just said that a court order was approved on the fourteenth of this month but you did not tell us that this was approved on the fourteenth.  I read this in the Argus the day after so you didn’t consult with us, you didn’t inform us, and so you’re still not doing what I asked you to do.


            So my question veering away from my previous question will you now tell us about your ideas regarding this very sensitive wildlife area and will you be consulting with ward councillors and residents on those ideas in due course and perhaps you could just enlighten me when your summer time ends?”


25.26    Councillor West replied, “Councillor Norman I am aware that you have been receiving regular email updates about Nineteen Acres as a ward councillor and that you have been offered a meeting with officers to discuss Nineteen Acres which you didn’t take up, so I find that you’re asking me about consultation is odd.  We have been trying to do that and I note you were not made aware of the possession order.  I will look into why that was the case and I will ensure that you and other ward councillors will be kept informed over the next few days as matters progress.”


25.27    (g) Councillor Mears asked, “I’m following on from the Cabinet Meeting around Care Leavers and the Housing Management Meeting on the 26th September, will the Cabinet Member confirm when will tenants be consulted on the changes proposed to the Location Policy, how will tenants feed into the consultation process.


            The report to Housing Management makes reference to undertake in consultation, on anticipated changes to our location following the Localism Bill.  Is the Cabinet Member proposing to take both Care Leavers and the Wider Allocation Review together and what will the timescale be?


            And would she also answer following on from the Housing Management, will she be taking into account tenant’s wishes and also restore the voting procedure that’s always been at Housing Management where Member’s votes are taken and tenants have an indicative vote?”


25.28    Councillor Wakefield replied, “I well remember the Housing Cabinet Member meeting that you sat at and the Hosing Allocation Policy was approved by the Housing Cabinet on 22nd March 2011 and implemented in early May 2011.  This means that Brighton and Hove Care Leavers are treated in the same way as any other housing applicants they are not automatically put into a priority band.  There is a concern that this may disadvantage children in care and that our corporate parenting responsibility may not be fulfilled therefore a review has been started following my Cabinet Member Meeting yesterday.


            Could you consider replacing the band A allocation for Care Leavers once they have been assessed as ready for independent accommodation because not everybody who leaves care is ready for independent living.  A number of bodies will be consulted these include Choice Based Lettings which is a partnership group made up entirely of elected tenants and during the twelve week period they will meet about three times.


            It will also be taken to and discussed at Area Panels and at City Assembly.  So that’s how tenants will have input.  There’s also going to be a consultation process for registered social landlords, social workers, health partners, supporting people and other voluntary sector organisation which I would have to ask officers specifically for that detail.


            Most importantly the young people will be consulted, both those in care and care leavers.  If you want more detail about which young people will be consulted and how, I can provide that in a written follow up.  And following my Cabinet Member’s Meeting yesterday, the consultation period has started and it will continue for the next twelve weeks.”


25.29    Councillor Mears asked the following supplementary question, “You talk about the consultation process being twelve weeks, the meeting was on the 26th September, Area Panels have already met unless you’re proposing to call emergency Area Panels, they will not go within the timescale so I feel as though the groups that you’ve mentioned will be very disadvantaged by your time scale either you’re going to extend it or you’re going to make sure that the meetings are to be brought forward to allow tenants to have a proper say in the consultation.


            All councillors in this Chamber are very aware of corporate parenting.  Can the Cabinet Member reassure Council that by putting Care Leavers in to band A even though CYPT has the statutory duty for Care Leavers until they are 25, you will not be disadvantaging the other vulnerable groups on Band A on our Housing List which is over 11000.  And whether or not you are proposing any cuts on the Housing Homeless Budget and supporting People Budget?”


25.30    Councillor Wakefield replied, “Yes I am well aware that Area Panels have already passed however, I am told that some Area Panels will happen in the twelve weeks still. I f tenants feel that they are not entirely being consulted correctly and it is unfortunate how the panels fall in the time and when the consultation has actually started, we can put in extra Area Panels if it is clear that tenants do not feel that their input has been sufficiently consulted.


            We are well aware, Councillor, of the vast variety of different vulnerable groups that we have in Brighton and Hove and Portslade and the pressures on our Housing system.”

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