Agenda item - Oral questions from Councillors
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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.
20.1 The Mayor noted that 14 oral questions had been received including a late question that she had accepted from Councillor Hyde, and that 30 minutes were set aside for the duration of the item. She then invited Councillor Janio to put his question to Councillor Yates.
(1) Councillor Janio – City Governance
20.2 Councillor Janio asked the following question, “Councillor Yates you have been the Leader of the Council now for a couple of months, in that time have you formed any opinions on the committee system and its continuance with committee structures going forward any changes to the Neighbourhood Committee and finally can you also please commit 100% of your time and effort to propose measures through the cross-party committee system that will sort out the mess that the Administration has allowed to happen throughout the city i.e. failure to tackle difficult issues head on?”
20.3 Councillor Yates replied, “I can deal with the first part, and I could deal with the second part but actually it is up to Councillor Janio to ask a question that is of relevance and is of general policy, neither of those two questions that he raised are such; so all I can do is suggest that when Councillor Janio meets with me he ask what my opinion is on things.”
20.4 Councillor Janio asked the following supplementary question, “When you were elected as a Member of the Council you were working in the NHS, does that mean that you have now given up your job in the NHS to commit to the Council 100% of your time?”
20.5 Councillor Yates replied, “I suggest that Councillor Janio reads procedural rule 9.9 which on page 12 of the Constitution that was published on 2 November 2017 clearly states that an oral question should be about policy matters.”
(2) Councillor Mac Cafferty – Bins
20.6 Councillor Mac Cafferty asked the following question, “The key performance indicators for bin collections as printed at last weeks’ PR&G Committee tell us on a ‘city wide’ scale what my residents have had to suffer for too long. Missed collections for recycling waste are up massively and are a disgrace. My residents are careful to separate their recycling and keep to their end of the bargain by disposing of waste responsibly and they need, and deserve a decent service. When is the Administration going to ensure that it keeps its end of the bargain and ensure timely and regular bin collections?”
20.7 Councillor Mitchell replied, “We do acknowledge that there have been problems in relation to waste and recycling collections. Since February we have been putting in additional support to stabilise the service and improve it as the report on this agenda exemplifies.”
20.8 Councillor Mac Cafferty asked the following supplementary question, “The report we are seeing later today tells us nothing other than a crisis in City Clean as I warned many months ago, front line cuts have been too vast and too quick. We have a panic report from an administration knowing the clock is counting down to the days for the next Council elections, too much fanfare from the Administration claimed it would get the basics right when is it finally going to admit that it can’t get the basics right?”
20.9 Councillor Mitchell replied, “We will not admit that, what we will do is to continue putting in the proper support to get this service performing as it should.”
(3) Councillor Wealls – PSPOs
20.10 Councillor Wealls asked the following question, “Are the Public Space Protection Order protected Hove West Lawns a free campsite and car park after 5pm on a Friday night?”
20.11 Councillor Daniel replied, “No these are not a free car park, they are protected by a PSPO but we do not have the resources to enforce PSPOs over the weekend yet. That is due to Government cuts, what we have done is bring in the Field Officers posts and they will be able to do weekend calls. However, just because we can’t enforce the PSPOs during the weekend hours that isn’t the only method of dealing with un-authorised encampment over the weekend. We do have other powers and ways of dealing with it which are carried out over the weekend if they meet the tests which we carry out in partnership with the police who are actually the enforcing agency of those particular powers.”
20.12 Councillor Wealls asked the following supplementary question, “As a member of the modernisation oversight group earlier this week we discussed the £1.28m that has been allocated to enforcement action over the next few years which we welcome, can I ask that some of that resource is directed to ensuring that the West Hove Lawns are not used as a free campsite and carpark over the weekend?”
20.13 Councillor Daniel replied, “I can assure Councillor Wealls that of course if there is an issue on Hove Lawns over the weekend and once the Field Officers are in place and operating they would deal with that. However I would also point out that there has been a reduction of 66% of unauthorised encampments throughout the city.”
(4) Councillor Phillips – Walk-in Centre
20.14 Councillor Phillips asked the following question, “One of the key benefits of our Walk-in centres is that you can attend without the need for an appointment and that they are in a convenient location. How will transient and other vulnerable people be able to access these services without having a negative impact on A&E?”
20.15 Councillor Barford replied, “I can understand Councillor Phillips concerns and for background information the provider of the services at the walk-in centre, Care UK, has served notice on the CCG of their wish to withdraw from delivering the service in future. The CCG are at the early stages of considering how these services will be re-provided and have committed to consult and engage with patients and other stakeholders. The walk-in centre is not funded by the Council and not currently part of any CCG and Council integrated service. So, whilst the Council has no power to dictate to the CCG on any changes the Council will expect to be part of that process. From CCG colleagues we understand that the initial plan is for the 3 elements of the service, that is; sexual health, walk-in, general walk-in and the registered list to be re-commissioned as follows: sexual health to be re-commissioned continuing applicant choice, general walk-in to be re-commissioned as part of the CCG’s overall strategy to integrate urgent care by extended hours and additional capacity in primary care which will be supplemented and supported by the implementation of the urgent treatment centre and re-commissioned 111 service; registered general practice list to continue and consolidate on the newly refurbished North Street site. This is all expected to be achieved between April and October next year. As a city we do need to ensure that the relevant services are available and easily accessible, otherwise we will be setting ourselves up for further issues and costs further down the line and we do not wish for anyone to suffer avoidable negative consequences. On that note Councillor Phillips may wish to refer her concerns to the Health, Overview & Scrutiny Committee to seek further clarification from the CCG.”
20.16 Councillor Phillips asked the following supplementary question, “This is really worrying, especially considering the history of sexual health in particular where it was closed at Sussex University. I am wondering the caveat around that are one of the reasons they are saying that is ok is because we have the walk-in centre and now that is being closed. We are going to have real problems in the city coping so what equality impact assessment has been done to ensure vulnerable groups are not negatively impacted resulting in worse health outcomes?”
20.17 Councillor Barford replied, “I previously mentioned it is a CCG funded and CCG commissioned service at the walk-in centre but absolutely public health commissioners have been in discussions with the CCG commissioners to develop a plan to re-allocate funding for the sexual health services currently provided by the walk-in centre and to commission provision of the sexual health services in other settings in Brighton & Hove in the future and an equalities impact assessment will be part of that. This plan has not yet been formalised and no decision reached, but I can assure you the council is doing what it can to ensure that the decisions made do not impact negatively on the general public of Brighton & Hove.”
(5) Councillor Hyde – Women’s Suffrage
20.18 Councillor Hyde asked the following question, “On 1 February this year I proposed and spoke to my Notice of Motion of celebrating the 100th anniversary of suffrage and votes for women adding that approximately half the Members of this council are women. At that point in time I had not been able to source any celebrations which were going to take place and organised by the city council in the city. Our Council unanimously resolved to bring a report to the next PR&G Committee with details of events planned in the city. I am told and therefore shocked to understand B&H City Council has planned absolutely nothing by way of celebrations and there are no listings on the council web site. Other local authorities have many events planned. Why has this council not done the same?”
20.19 Councillor Daniel replied, “I do apologise that the report did not go to PR&G however, I can list events for Councillor Hyde, they are on our website under Museums & Libraries but I do take on board the point that perhaps labelling them all under Women’s’ Suffrage might be useful to help find them. We have an exhibition in the Jubilee Library by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 100 years on and that includes a reference to information about women’s suffrage which is still open until 22 July. We had the Brighton Dome and Women’s Centre annual event. In February the museum ran a program of events focused on suffragettes with talks and exhibitions and there were also further talks on women’s fashion. There have been a number of proposals over the course of this year from different groups who have applied to get blue plaques for suffragettes in the city and there are about four under consideration. The blue plaque committee are meeting to discuss those on 24 August and the ‘Our Visit Brighton’ team have been assisting with those proposals. That is in addition to a plaque in Hove to mark the home of suffragette Victoria Lydiard. Schools across our city have been studying the anniversary in different ways, for example Westdene Primary School had this week a visit from the a local historian and sang suffragette songs and read poems.”
20.20 Councillor Hyde asked the following supplementary question, “When I speak to residents in my ward and when I am out and about they know nothing about any of this. A lot of councils have had marches, publicity of major events taking place in their towns and cities and organised by the Administration and we knew nothing about this so what is the point for organising what are not mammoth events when as councillors and the Group who proposed a Notice of Motion knew nothing about it?”
20.21 Councillor Daniel replied, “What I will do is make sure an event like this, summarising what I have told you is certainly circulated to any residents and also support you personally in anything you come up with in terms of this subject.”
(6) Councillor Gibson – Bes Use of Public Money for Housing
20.22 Councillor Gibson asked the following question, “This concerns the answer that I received at Housing & New Homes outlining the net costs of short term and temporary accommodation which showed that from 2013-14 when it was about half a million it has escalated to a drain on the council’s resources of now £2.768 million. We are losing a huge amount of money to the private rental sector that is further exemplified by the answer in today’s addendum on page 15. I would like to remind Councillor Meadows that we had a Notice of Motion passed in December which was a unanimous agreement to develop buying private rented accommodation for public use for short term and emergency accommodation. Other councils have been doing this, it makes sense it is an invest to save, benefit income will be coming to the council and if offers the prospect of cutting our costs and paying ourselves. When will this happen?”
20.23 Councillor Meadows replied, “As Councillor Gibson will know, because he is on the Estates Regeneration Board and H&NH Committee and various other Member boards, that we are already building council rented/ temporary accommodation. H&NH Committee also agreed to purchase property from Orbit Housing Association which will be turned into council rented temporary accommodation, because we are aware costs are escalating and we are happy to use landlords like yourself for temporary accommodation and the conversion of the former Oxford St Housing office once again is a conversion that will be used for temporary council rented temporary accommodation. We are already doing this, we would like to do it faster but we need the other two parties to support that proposal.”
20.24 Councillor Gibson asked the following supplementary question, I would point out that the accommodation referred to is longer term temporary accommodation my point is about short term temporary and emergency accommodation on which the costs continue to escalate. It is really important that the Chair of Housing understands the brief and understands what we are talking about. The Joint Venture that was referred to as charging 37.5% market rent. Do you agree as Chair of the Joint Venture Board that it is really important that you understand how the rents are set for the Board that is building these homes?
20.25 Councillor Meadows replied, “I do understand.”
(7) Councillor Mears – Local Businesses
20.26 Councillor Mears asked the following question, In 2008 the country went into a national recession many blamed Tony Blair for his handlings of the banks. As we all know high streets and small businesses are the backbone of our country. As the then Leader of the Council our Administration introduced a number of initiatives including ‘Be local – Buy Local’ supporting businesses and the economy in the city. By encouraging shoppers to buy local and not travel to other areas which offered cheaper parking in modern shopping centres. Can the Leader of the Council inform us what steps the Administration are taking to protect the city’s high streets and the local economy following on from the loss of businesses due to the rise of online shopping?
20.27 Councillor Yates replied, “In terms of action and what the Council is doing, it is still working with the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce; it is developing a new economic strategy and supporting what is going on around Brighton & Hove Connected and the Bid. Digital Catapult Centre in Brighton including 5G test measuring and it is the first 5G test bed outside of a university campus in the country. We are also then moving on to develop the Immersive Tech laboratory and there has been £70K secured for Immersive Tech to be part of Digital Catapult. Small Business Saturday was fantastic last year and we managed to get the National Small Business Saturday bus on Friday 24 November in Ship Street for a four hour period to raise the profile of local businesses and we are hoping to do the same again this year.
The Living Wage Campaign, something that we are working alongside the Chamber to deliver. I am really proud to be Leader of a Labour Group who has signed up themselves with their first employee to be a living wage employer because we believe not just in saying the right things or having the right policy but actually following it up with action something that Councillor Daniel has just pointed out. In terms of retailers specifically, we are working on the retail vacancy survey and that will be hopefully updated from the Bid. I can give some up to date figures from last year. In the city centre shop vacancy rates were just under 6%, in the bid area slightly over 6% and nationally at 12%. We could say that sounds good our retail vacancy rates are low but if you look at what is going on in terms of where we sit in terms of the LEP area we have some significant issues about vacancy rates that are not positive and not about take up but capacity. They are actually saying that we don’t have sufficient capacity for growth and that we are stagnating and causing problems in our economy by not having sufficient capacity for people to move into and that is shown up by the number of small and medium businesses compared to micro businesses. We have high levels of micro businesses in the city but it looks very much like they are struggling to find spaces to grow and if we are not going to grow the city’s economy to provide better jobs to provide the money that people need to see the housing developments that people need in this city then we will be failing that is why it is really good that the LEP is demonstrating that we have done that sort of engagement, that we have looked at the issues and that we want to take that forward to the Government and say to them “you told us about this Brexit bonus, about the benefits of getting the Structural Fund back; so give us the benefits of that Structural Fund back. Allow us to be investing in proper business infrastructure in proper business support in the city. A piece of good news is the Amex development in Edward Street being delivered, with significant pieces of business space being delivered. We need more, yet at the same time just outside our city’s boundaries but not outside our city’s economy IKEA, unable to reach a decision. I am proud of our Planning Committee being able to reach decisions and I welcome the role that all councillors across the political spectrum played in making those decisions.”
20.28 Councillor Mears asked the following supplementary question, “It is interesting re the reference to the Old Amex site in Edward Street as one of their Members in charge of Economic Development voted against that actual Planning Application. I am sure the Leader of the Council will be delighted to know that local businesses are actually going to bring forward their own ‘Be Local Buy Local’ because it was so successful in the City. Can the Leader of the Council confirm to the city he does not support the Labour Shadow Chancellor or when defending his support for socialist Venezuela has repeatedly on record promised to pursue the overthrow of capitalism? What can the Administration offer our hard working entrepreneurs who are striving to succeed in their city and as the Leader of the Council could he state his Administration will do everything it can to help and support the city’s economy.”
20.29 Councillor Yates replied, “Yes because without an economy you live in anarchy and none of us here believe in anarchy.”
(8) Councillor Littman – 3GS
20.30 Councillor Littman asked the following question, “In March 2016 taking out the 3G Contract, Councillor Mitchell was quoted as saying “We are often asked to take the tougher stance around anti-social behaviour, such as dropping litter, fly posting and dog fouling and graffiti,” this new scheme along with the publicity and education programme will tackle the problem head on and send out a strong message that deliberate anti-social behaviour which blights our city will not be tolerated. After nearly two and a half years of this new scheme taken together the amount of litter, fly posting, dog mess and in particular graffiti in the city is as bad as I can remember it in 56 years; does Councillor Mitchell still believe that the 3GS contract has successfully tackled the problem head on?”
20.31 Councillor Mitchell replied, “Yes I do believe that, I think it has sent out a very strong message that we will not tolerate despoiling and littering in the city and in particular fly tipping.”
20.32 Councillor Littman asked the following supplementary question, “We obviously disagree on this. Given what I consider to be the abject failure of the outsourcing of enforcement to a private firm, together with the fact that many councillors in-boxes are full of complaints from residents about the heavy handiness of issuing fines when small businesses make minimal errors when recycling their waste and given that the contract runs out in 2019 may I ask what research has gone on or is envisaged to go on regarding brining the service in-house with zero net costs for the Council and hopefully becoming an income generator for the council?”
20.33 Councillor Mitchell replied, “A decision on re-procuring and enforcement contract will take place this autumn and an enforcement policy is being drafted and will be brought to ETS Committee in October. This will provide the basis for re-procuring the contract should Councillors wish to do so and I have already asked officers to work up an in-house option as part of this process.”
(9) Councillor Barnett – Trespass at St Helen’s Green
20.34 Councillor Barnett asked the following question, “Across our great city from St Helen’s Green to Preston Park we have all experienced the negative impact of the travellers descending on our Wards. Tax paying residents of B&H get a fine for fly tipping waste, illegal parking and other anti-social behaviour. Please can you tell us why this Administration has failed to fine the inhabitants of illegal encampments for their inconsiderate and unacceptable behaviour?”
20.35 Councillor Daniel replied, “The number of unauthorised encampments on park and open spaces has reduced from 113 when we took office to 49 last year. Partly due to PSPOs, we have sent out 217 PSPOs breach warnings since the introduction of the orders in April 2017 of which 75 have been issued in this financial year. I would like to make a further comment that given those facts and figures, St Helen’s had a 2-hour incursion as far as I can see do you not think it is irresponsible to characterise travellers as descending on the city and likely to stoke fear and tension within our communities?
20.36 Councillor Barnett asked the following supplementary question, “As we see the roll out of Field Officers, please can the Administration assure us that the rapid response unit will be on standby 24/7 so that people who are tempted to establish illegal encampments are moved on before having the chance to leave waste and destruction which needs sorting out at tax payers expense. Your response did not give me the answer I needed about costs and fines for travellers that leave the mess that tax payers have to pay.”
20.37 Councillor Daniel replied, “I do understand Councillor Barnett was at the time on the NICE Committee when we went through what the Field Officers would be doing and their hours and she has Members of her Group who have been voting through this policy and if she wanted a 24/7 service she should have made sure that was in the budget to pay for it. It is not 24/7 there was a 2-hour incursion as far as I know.”
(10) Councillor Page – Recycling Collection Standards
20.38 Councillor Page asked the following question, “When I brought my black boxes in from the street recently the transparent bag of batteries was left on top there was a large squashed cardboard box still in the bottom of one of my boxes, the lids were strewn across the street. Is this more to do with the new expensive agency staff or is it poor standard of service due to the chronic low morale of the permanent staff associated with high sickness rates?”
20.39 Councillor Mitchell replied, “All I can say is that I do not have the answer to Councillor Page’s own personal recycling issues but I am very happy to look into them.”
20.40 Councillor Page asked the following supplementary question, “What I said wasn’t really about me, it was about the poor standard of the service and Councillor Mitchell said earlier that she won’t admit that the Administration is not getting the basics right on this but would she agree that time is running out to get the basics right and the residents will shortly have an opportunity to judge that statement?
20.41 Councillor Mitchell replied, “No not particularly.”
(11) Councillor Nemeth – Crime on Hove Seafront
20.42 Councillor Nemeth asked the following question, “A recent theme has emerged of highly regular vandalism, criminal damage, trespass, theft and drug taking on Hove seafront. Each of these activities has a number of severe negative effects on a variety of council enterprises whether it be the repair of seafront shelters, the licensing of beach huts or the letting of council property. Would a Member of the Administration please give me a brief list of concrete actions to date, including dedicated meetings with police and victims, letters to police chiefs, policy changes to address the situation and CCTV checks?”
20.43 Councillor Marsh replied, “Most of what you have actually commented on is the responsibility of the police as they are acts of crime. I checked with the Seafront Office and the only incident we are aware of in relation to our responsibilities is the theft of the Hove Plinth display case. We are also aware of the vandalism of the beach huts. hey are a police matter and we work very closely with police colleagues about incidents but we are limited in relation to any action that we the council can take.”
20.44 Councillor Nemeth asked the following supplementary question, “I would like to hear a list of simple actions, the sort of crimes I am speaking about are the theft of items from Hove Lagoon, the beach huts being smashed up, the theft of the Hove Plinth display. Councillor Yates mentioned what he sees as the failure of successive Administrations to get a grip on a variety of seafront issues, so my question is should the current Administration be nipping this problem in the bud as it is a fairly new one, so it is not left for a future Administration to fix it?”
20.45 Councillor Marsh replied, “I agree that we want to nip all these things in the bud. As I said previously most of the criminal acts that you refer to are the responsibility of the police who I liaise with on a regular basis and I go through and take some of the specific things that you are mentioning and that I don’t know, being new to my post, how we have responded as a Council to the vandalism of the beach huts, but that is a criminal thing and I think it will be a police responsibility. However, I will provide you with a full and detailed written answer.”
(12) Councillor West – George Street Hove
20.46 Councillor West asked the following question, “At the ETS Cttee in June a number of issues were raised about George St by the Ward councillors. Councillor Moonan first of all was supporting a call for bollards to be introduced to protect pedestrians from drivers, and then Councillor Wealls called for banning juggernauts from the street. Both issues have been exacerbated by the increasing number of hours that cars and other vehicles are allowed into the street rather than just pedestrians. Councillor Wealls again called for the removal of the very popular bike hub and had that put at Tesco to send the customers there instead. With all the interest and concern being expressed in the wish to help George St, would Councillor Mitchell agree that it is high time that we had a positive vision for George St as a thriving destination, as a welcoming environment for people not cars, a place where people want to spend more time rather than hurrying through?”
20.47 Councillor Mitchell replied, “We have had very many good debates and discussions around George St and it has been a pleasure to welcome the two ward councillors along and to listen to their ideas and the view was expressed at committee. We are always keen to help them improve the road where we can and where resources allow.”
20.48 Councillor West asked the following supplementary question, “My actual question wasn’t answered and that was that does Councillor Mitchell agree that it is about time that we actually had a proper vision for George St, will you charge officers to take this forward?”
20.49 Councillor Mitchell replied, “I would refer Councillor West to my previous answer which is that we will continue a dialogue with ward councillors who both fully understand George St, its needs and those of everyone that uses it and we will be guided by them.”
(13) Councillor Druitt – Broadband
20.50 Councillor Druitt asked the following question, “In a press release of 18 March 2013 the council celebrated a recent grant of £3m from the Government to upgrade the city’s internet capacity, judging that it would boost business and create a thousand new jobs and 135 new companies. It was expected that the money would help fund enhanced fibre optic connections and make wireless broadband available in buildings and outdoors on mobile devices. Can I ask what five years later has been the impact of this funding and why parts of the city centre regularly suffer from speeds of less than 2 megabits per second required by Offcom a far cry from 80 megabits per second advertised in the press release?”
20.51 Councillor Yates replied, This is not about policy but is about matters that are of concern to us. The roll out of broadband is determined by market forces, with two main providers rolling out being Openreach and Virgin Media. They have traditionally dominated the market.
Councils have limited powers to be able to deal directly in that market because of State Aid laws so we are unable to play our part as fully as we could do if these laws didn’t exist. So we can’t deal with specific locations that aren’t well served by broadband. However, bear in mind that Brighton & Hove as a city has the fourth best provision of ultra-broadband (faster than 100 megabits per second) in the UK.
We may have people that are badly served but, they are being badly served by the broadband market. It is important to recognise 5G that I mentioned earlier can help to play its part in this. One of the things that we have been doing, as Board member of the LEP is actually looking at other ways to roll out fibre and is actually working on getting money out of the Government, i.e. that much talked about BREXIT bonus that we were all promised. Maybe some of that structural fund money can get invested by the LEP and actually come to us so we have a 5G ring around the city not only is that going to help residents but our important creative and digital industries, that help to support our economy.
20.52 Councillor Druitt asked the following supplementary question, “Openreach say that the junction box outside Brighton Town Hall isn’t planned to be upgraded and Virgin Media meanwhile says that the Council won’t allow it to dig up the road to lay the cables. Can Councillor Yates assure me that he will work with the Chief Executive to break the impasse and allow the broadband firm to do whatever they need to do to bring the broadband in this digital city up to 21st Century speeds?”
20.53 Councillor Yates replied, “It is a matter of policy and it is a requirement in my role as Leader to give the Chief Executive political instruction and direction. So I give direction to the Chief Executive to make the necessary arrangements.”
20.54 Prior to the final question being taken, Councillor Yates queried whether it was appropriate to take the question in view of the fact that Councillor Hyde had already asked one question and council procedural rules restricted Members to one oral question per meeting.
20.55 The Mayor noted the query and having consulted with the Monitoring Officer noted that one question per Member was the usual practice; however on this occasion, having already extended the time for questions, she was minded to allow Councillor Hyde to ask the question.
(14) Councillor Hyde – Planning Service
20.56 Councillor Hyde asked the following question, “Despite previous promises of an improvement plan for the planning process in Brighton & Hove which by any standards are poor we have yet another idea to improve this failing service. I seek assurances for proposals of planning officers dealing with individual planning applications not being permitted to answer the phone to residents or developers for the next three months. Will this proposal result in a guaranteed improvement to the service? The Administration’s decisions in the past have all failed; I wish to make it very clear that I do not blame the individual officers working within the planning service for the problems.
20.57 Councillor Yates replied, “I will answer Madam Mayor. It is not a question of policy, it is an operational matter determined by officers. It is not urgent and it is not a matter of policy.”
20.58 The Mayor noted that Councillor Hyde did not have a supplementary question and therefore brought the item to an end.