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.


5.1            The mayor noted that oral questions had been submitted and that 30 minutes was set aside for the duration of the item. He asked that both the questioner and responder endeavour to keep their questions and answers as short as possible, in order to enable the questions listed to be taken.


(1)   Councillor Williams


5.2            Councillor Williams asked, what is the administration is providing for those subjected to fuel poverty, which there are many considering the huge hike in fuel prices that we are experiencing, and we know that this is hitting the most vulnerable in our city. I do know that there are some government measures, but what are we doing as a Council is what I'd like to know?


5.3            Councillor Powell replied, we have asked for a report to go to the Health & Wellbeing Board to spell out the work the Council is doing to support residents in fuel poverty. Do come to this if you can. I'm guessing it's going to be online. But we can also ask where Member briefing on this, but as I say I have quite a lot of information to give you and I can get this as a written response to you.


Since we've learned of the energy bills crisis which a Green obviously outlines to me the vulnerability of fossil fuels. We've immediately turned to how this will impact, particularly already vulnerable communities, and a number of initiatives are underway each winter.  public health commissions the warm for wellbeing programme to help struggling residents better afford their fuel bills and warm up their homes. The Warmth and Well-being program is delivered by the Community and Voluntary sector partners to support those in the greatest need.


With in-depth information and advice, warm home checks with three small measures in depth, debt and benefits advice and small hardship grants. In addition to this, the Council has a Specialist Tenancy Sustainment Officer in post advising our own tenants on energy and bill saving. The Council is also working in partnership with the Local Energy Advisor Partnership (LEAP) a free energy and money saving service that helps people to keep warm and to reduce their energy bills and those lead energy advisors can help with things such as finding a cheaper energy deal, fitting a free energy saving kit in their homes, checking eligibility for insulation or a new boiler. Giving practical advice on heating systems and saving energy and arranging a free Money Advice consultation to help with benefits, debt and other money problems.


We've invested to kickstart a warmer homes scheme for the city and the initial element of this scheme increases the funding available for home improvements such as insulation, anything from £7.5 to £20k. I'm not on the Housing Committee, but you can get further details on this as it doesn't fall under the TECC portfolio, but as a Labour Housing Spokesperson, you will be aware of the newly created Energy Enforcement officer role and that officer will be looking at supporting landlords and landladies and landlay people to comply with the private rental sector minimum energy efficient regulations and will be enforcing standards where landlords and landladies our slow to comply. So in terms of retro fitting our own council stock, I will refer you to a carbon reduction report that went to the Housing Committee in November, and I also have the information on the work public health teams are doing as Public Health & Housing Co chair a cross-sector, multi-agency, fuel poverty and affordable warmth steering group.


There is various support in place and planned across the city. We are currently developing a resource from frontline workers across all sectors working with the most vulnerable households, detailing what is available and clarifying referral routes and options.


5.4            Councillor Williams asked a supplementary question, I'm aware of all the initiatives that are going on in the city and I applaud all of them. Well, what I'm asking now is this is happening now. We can't wait for the future. We can't give people an energy efficiency advice when we've got hiking up of the prices that they can't possibly afford. Are we going to enhance that hardship grant, I think that's that the crux of it. That's what people need right now at this moment.


5.5            Councillor Powell replied, I will look into it and get back to you.


(2)   Councillor Nemeth


5.6            Councillor Nemeth asked, lots of local authorities elsewhere have made huge efforts over the Christmas period to attract shoppers into town and city centres, often by easing parking restrictions or backing local trade schemes. Brighton and Hove's offering was to fine around 100,000 people, residents and visitors for contravening incredibly complicated rules on so-called bus gates, in the heart of our shopping areas.

How would you justify this situation to frustrated traders at a time where we are trying to encourage ‘shopping local’?      


5.7            Councillor Mac Cafferty replied, an awful lot of the data that we have on what's happening in the city is positive and we have feedback from places like Churchill Shopping Square that actually sales levels are pretty good. They're at the same level that they were in 2019 in terms of retail vacancy rates we are above at 9.18%. We have lower retail vacancy rates against the GB vacancy rate of 14.5.  A recent report produced by Owen Mark Mitchell gave us a predicted general GBA growth in quarter four of 7.5% year on year. there's an awful lot of evidence, saying that we're doing quite well.


Many of the businesses that you've referred to have weathered the storm of the three lockdowns, some have closed sadly, yet this time with Omicron with the cases rising in the words of one of our business representatives trade has fallen off a cliff. We have huge concerns for small businesses now without recourse to any Government grants, access to furlough schemes, self-employment grants and the last-minute measures of something Omicron mask wearing onto the already exhausted retail and service industry workers you might be familiar with the figure from the UK hospitality body, the trade body for UK hospitality has broadcasted that takings are going to be down 40%.  My challenge back to you is that we need Government assistance in terms of what is happening to the economy not just here but all around the country. This is this is something that is being raised by a number of different bodies it has been raised by their official opposition in the Houses of Parliament.


5.8            Councillor Nemeth asked a supplementary question, visitors have been in touch with me about this topic, one from Heathfield. Reading it very quickly he said he's going to stay away from Brighton & Hove in the future, a lady from Canterbury said, I most certainly will ensure I never visit Brighton again and will advise my friends and associates to do the same. Will the Leader of the Council commit to fixing these faulty junctions so that no one else is fined -as a matter of urgency?


5.9            Councillor Mac Cafferty replied, had we been able to discuss the notice of motion this evening, were talking about the different ways in which we were going to understand what was happening with the bus gates and one of the things that we're going to be doing and making sure of is bringing an oral report to Januarys meeting of the Environment, Transport & Sustainability Committee, where we will be able to reflect on what's happened and be able to reassure not just yourself Cllr Nemeth, but the entire city that we are listening to what's happened, and what action will be continuing in the future, but we do want to make the point - the absolute failure of the Conservative government is what we need to be talking about in terms of supporting small business. And I would like you, Cllr Nemeth to be able to bring that back to Conservative Ministers.


(3)   Councillor Evans


5.10         Councillor Evans asked, in the wake of the shocking murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent focus on the safety of women and girls in public, including a survey showing an extraordinary 97% of women saying they had been subject to harassment or worse. P&R committee agreed on July 1st of this year to set aside funds to carry out a study in Brighton and Hove on women’s safety, both actual and perceived. The existence of this funding was mentioned in passing in a TECH Committee report update in September, but not that any action had been taken on it.


As I remember this had all party support, this was one of the items officers were due to bring back to the budget Review Group, but I understand that that hasn't happened yet. Could you please update us on when the local study might be designed and commissioned?


5.11         Councillor Powell replied, the survey has been designed and will go into the consultation portal in the New Year. It is hoped that the consultation responses will start to inform the development of the Borg strategy and officers have been prioritizing the consultation for the new domestic abuse strategy which, due to legal requirements, will be published in January 2022.


5.12         Councillor Evans asked a supplementary question, the same TECC report mentioned Brighton & Hove City Council's application alongside both East and West Sussex and the OSPCC for Substantial Safer Streets. Funding from the Home Office and I wondered what was happening with that and when we might hear the results of that application.

5.13         Councillor Powell replied, the bid for the Safer streets, tranche, three funding bid was successful with nearly £1,000,000 awarded across Sussex. Workers already started to spend the funds as per the application to the Home Office a Borg coordinator is being appointed and will work within the neighbourhood policy policing team to deliver the work. The work plan includes healthy relationships sessions in schools, a bystander  and upstanders program, the development of a safe space app, and a media campaign.


Funding was also obtained to improve lighting around The Old Steine, Pavilion Gardens, and the War Memorial, and a bid to the safety of women at night fund was also successful, and workers started to deliver those work streams. This also includes the deployment of taxi marshals on Fridays and Saturdays at East St and West St ranks and additional policing patrols.


(4)   Councillor Meadows


5.14         Councillor Meadows asked, why is the administration proposing to reduce the published admissions number for Council run schools in the outer suburbs of Brighton, where there are a higher proportion of families living whilst leaving the inner-city areas unchanged?


5.15         Councillor Clare replied, I suggest you ask your Government Schools Adjudicator who made it clear when we tried to make reductions at some of the schools in the central city. But we weren't able to do so.


5.16         Councillor Meadows asked a supplementary question, perhaps we should be asking those schools that have been protesting to us this evening that they should go to appeal as well. My question though is why are Labour and the Green Councillors not actively campaigning to support their local schools in their areas?


That would be affected by this proposal. But then I thought, don't bother to tell me, but explain it to the parents of those schools affected.


5.17         Councillor Clare replied, 13 Members of your Group on the school Organisation Working Group, including some who are now campaigning against the proposals. They were there when the School Organisation Working Group put those proposals forward. Your group voted for the consultation. This is a consultation process, and we are committed to working cross party and we are committed to listening to the results of the consultation. I've made it clear already this evening that my mind is not made up as my colleagues will do, so I'm sure if you ask them, the fact is we are being asked to make a number of difficult decisions. Because of the result of Government policy and that is in the hands of the Conservative Party.


(5)   Councillor Pissaridou


5.18         Councillor Pissaridou asked, many residents in North Portslade signed up to the scheme for Garden Refuse last summer and I thank the team for the fantastic way they dealt with the flurry of applications, but due to Covid and industrial action collections were missed.


The contract between residents and the Council sets out that ‘your garden waste will be collected every two weeks for one year. Some of our residents contacted the service and reported that their bin had not been emptied and they were told that the missed collection would be added onto their allocation meaning they still received the same number of collections for their money, but over a slightly longer period. Many residents didn’t report their collection being missed. If one person’s collection being missed on a certain round, then all collections would be missed. Can I assure my residents that all those collections that were missed, irrespective of whether they reported it or not will have it added to their allocations?


5.19         Councillor Heley replied, thanks for your question and obviously sorry to hear about the disruption that sounds right to me, but I'd like to double check with the team and get back to you. If you want to email me the specific round and I can ask about the round and the general question.


5.20         Councillor Pissaridou asked a supplementary question, I can't do that, because I don't have the specific rounds. I was hoping that the records would show the number of people that have complained and the rounds so they could be linked. If the team could check that I’d be most grateful.


My residents put their bins out on their specific day, and they were not emptied. The Council's contract sets out at 2 the Council will carry out a collection of our customers containers on the specified collection day and at three, the Council reserve the right to change the customers collection day and will notify the customer of any such change by email or letter at least two weeks in advance.


More recently, the collections were missed without any such notifications. The residents were confused as to what action they should take. Some residents left their bins out on the public pavement, others brought them in. In other words, there was confusion and frustration and the people that left them on the public pavement, they block the narrow pavements here in North Portslade and they had no idea when they could expect their garden waste to be collected. Can I have an assurance that that the undertaking, given by the Council in that contract will be applied and residents will be notified as that sets out please.


5.21         Councillor Heley replied, we always try our best and I know you and everyone here knows the issues that we currently have in City Clean so I won't go into them now, but we always try our best and I'll get back to you.


(6)   Councillor O’Quinn


5.22         Councillor O’Quinn asked, the CHAMS service run by Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust was closed earlier this year from January to March, offering only limited online services. Was Brighton & Hove Council informed of this decision and did they hold the Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust to account for this in the months afterwards?


5.23         Councillor Clare replied, I wasn't personally informed, I didn't actually know that. I suggest that might be the sort of thing that we can ask the CCG at the Health & Wellbeing Board. I'll ask my colleague, Councillor Shanks if she's willing to have that discussion there. We of course do what we can around young people's mental health and we do run the schools’ wellbeing service. But the CCG commission CAHMS and we don't have oversight of that.


5.24         Councillor O’Quinn asked a supplementary question, for young people on the autistic spectrum, the limited offering from CAHMS earlier this year meant they were particularly affected. Please you could, could you provide an update on when the much heralded, for some years, Neurodiverse facility will come into operation?


5.25         Councillor Clare replied, I don’t have that detail so I will get you a written answer.


(7)   Councillor Mears


5.26         Councillor Mears asked, can the Chair advise why there has been an overspend on the housing revenue account budget of £1.456 million this year?


Can you chair also advise whether the administration is planning to borrow from the housing revenue account reserves in 2022-23 to plug a shortfall in in the budgets coming forward?


5.27         Councillor Gibson replied, that sounds like two questions, and we've got to give short answers. The reasons for the overspend are many and complex, but in in the very short quick answer there was a backlog of works arising in the worst period of the pandemic, and there was a transition of our workforce being brought in-house from Mears and both those things have contributed delays which are being caught up In terms of the reserves the budget is still being prepared, but we're going to have a Budget Review Group with yourself and Gill and myself and hopefully Siriol and we'll be able to look at it then.


5.28         Councillor Mears asked a supplementary question, why is the Administration, targeting the contributions of the poorest people in the city, council tenants and some leaseholders to balance the Budget Council.  Council tenants and leaseholders are already paying a huge price for the Council's failed policy of insourcing the Housing Repair service which has cost millions, more than expected and resulted in a worse service? Why must they now pay again for the Council’s poor budget management?


I would also like to thank Daniel Harris for raising the issue of Kendal Court, which has had a very sad death happen very recently and, as he has stated, East Sussex County Council are looking into a legal action against Brighton & Hove City Council. As we are not allowed to discuss our Notice of Motion this evening on the Council's placement of homeless people. I'm pleased he has highlighted this really very serious issue.


5.29         Councillor Gibson replied, it is a complex, question and we could debate at great length the pros and cons of in sourcing the costs and how you measure costs and the benefits for the workforce and the benefits of a settled workforce with a future. I could put lots of points and you could put points about the additional cost and I could say well, but actually you know the Mears contract was ending the building costs were going to go up with inflation, so it would get very murky and it's not really something we can do in an oral question, but I'm sure we'll have another opportunity so, thank you for raising that and keep persisting with your questioning on them.


(8)   Councillor Fishleigh


5.30         Councillor Fishleigh was unable to attend the meeting and did not put her question to Councillor Heley.


(9)   Councillor Childs


5.31         Councillor Childs asked, what action will the Council take and when to engage with British Telecom to arrange for the removal of underused and misused public telephone boxes that scar our city?


5.32         Councillor Heley replied, we already do engage with BT. We've got a long running project where they remove redundant telephone boxes and we as the local planning authority received notification from them about which one should be removed and so there's already a system in place. But if you want to send me any specific ones that are causing particular problem or there's been a delay then let me know.


5.33         Councillor Childs asked a supplementary question, will the Council agree to seek legal opinion on what action and powers it and the police may use to address vandalism, drug crime and befouling of public call boxes should BT fail to remove them?


5.34         Councillor Heley replied, I am sure we can ask our excellent in-house Legal Team, those questions for you.


(10)    Councillor Barnett


5.35         Councillor Barnett asked, why following the Democratic decision to remove the Old Shoreham Road cycle lane has the Council now included a cycle lane at Old Shoreham Road as a priority item in its’ Local Cycling and Infrastructure Plan. Why does the Council not listen to the residents who were consulted and were against this cycle lane or to the democratic vote of councillors, which calls for the cycle lane to be removed in its entirety?


5.36         Councillor Davis replied, the LCI is a long term cross-party active travel plan that's been around for quite some time, and you're ETS colleagues have had ample time to scrutinize the decisions and the inclusions of various routes in there, and I would strongly suggest that you speak to your colleagues.


5.37         Councillor Barnett asked a supplementary question, the Council is obsessed by cycle lanes, but walking is also important for many residents. Many residents walk across Old Shoreham Road to the Hove Cemetery to the village and graveyard. I have children that crossed the Old Shoreham mode walking not cycling to go through the cemetery to get to the schools. Residents have requested a proper pedestrian crossing and a speed camera at this point for the elderly. With the Council focus on putting it as safe, crossing for those visiting the cemetery into the local cycling and walking infrastructure plan.


5.38         Councillor Davis replied, I implore you to talk to your colleagues on ETS to have this included in the LC whip. I'd be very happy to improve any road safety aspects, but it's a constant that this city is obsessed with cycle lanes. 93% of our roads do not have cycling infrastructure on them and if we are to improve, walking and cycling for active travel in our city we will have more cycle lanes we have to offer people better alternatives. I would gladly look into or try and help you with a pedestrian crossing in the Old Shoreham Road. If you'd like to bring that to your colleagues at ETS, I'd be happy to consider it.


(11)    Councillor Wilkinson


5.39         Councillor Wilkinson asked, at Full council in July of this year in response to a question, I asked the administration stated that the Green Party is against Park and ride schemes and its’ spokesperson suggested he did not believe such schemes will assist in realizing carbon neutrality by 2030. This despite Brighton & Hove’s’ first ever climate assembly, having in its top ten recommendations, the introduction of park and ride to minimize car use in the city. Fortunately, the Council agreed that very day to support a Park and Ride Project Feasibility Study. Can the administration please inform the Council today on what work has been done to progress this feasibility study?


5.40         Councillor Davis replied, I definitely want to get back to you with a more fulfilling answer with regards to the feasibility study. We are in in partnership with Brighton Hove Buses. We have got a park and ride experiment next spring that we are looking into and again the park and ride topic is very tricky. We are 180 degrees city enclosed by national land and National Trust land that's impossible to build on, plus, if we need to build a successful park and ride, we need to close down our city centre car parks. Unfortunately, they're privately owned, and we couldn't possibly buy them off. I am happy to answer you about the feasibility study in a written answer.


5.41         There was no supplementary question.


(12)    Councillor McNair


5.42         Councillor McNair asked, if Carden primary is reduced to a one elementary school, it would be impossible to operate its specialist speech and language centre. What provision would be put in place to support these children should Carden elementary be reduced in size?


5.43         Councillor Clare replied, I’ve had conversations with the Head directly, we have a compromise proposal which the School Organisation Working group will be asked to consider. I urge you to attend the School Organisation Working Group which you are a member of so that we can discuss that proposal.


5.44         Councillor McNair asked a supplementary question, I look forward to hearing this positive sounding proposal. My supplementary was just, can I have reassurance that everything will be done to maintain provision for speech and language, children and other children with particular challenges within the city?


5.45         Councillor Clare replied, yes.


(13)    Councillor Bagaeen


5.46         Councillor Bagaeen asked, apart from the Government funded Old Shoreham Cycle Lane (OSR) could you confirm advise how much highways and infrastructure funding and where in the Hove Park Ward has the Administration invested since coming to power over a year ago?


5.47         Councillor Mac Cafferty replied, no I can't. I need to remind you as well, but oral questions should relate according to 9.8 of the Constitution to matters of general policy only. The Constitution is also clear that when a question is technical or operational and it can be knocked out of order. So unless your supplementary is a general policy question, I'm afraid of not going to be able to answer I'm going to  get you a written answer that can be prepared.


5.48         Councillor Bagaeen asked a supplementary question, that's fine, officers accepted the question. Councillor McCafferty is so I'll leave that with you and then I'm happy to have a written answer for this one.


I think we both agree that cities should catalyse greater investment in sustainability, also infrastructure, and you went to COP so you will have seen and heard what's it is we are investing in infrastructure. You will have seen at COPs that cities where catalysing greater investment in their infrastructure rather than relying on subsidies or grants. So thinking about 2030, do we have a plan for what the investment gap is in wards such as Hove Park given the amount of investment in building that's currently going on at the moment so that infrastructure can keep up?


5.49         Councillor Mac Cafferty replied, you're absolutely right that where development is happening, we need to ensure that the infrastructure is built to support that development, and one of the key points in the planning paper that was thankfully pulled by the current Secretary of State a lot of the detail that Green councillors around the country responded on was on this point. I agree with you in principle, but there needs to be, if there's going to be development, the infrastructure to support the development. Because we are a city that has signed up to carbon neutrality by 2030 in less than a decade. Obviously, that needs to be done with an eye on all of those commitments as well. I need to get you a written response on this because both the first and supplementary questions were quite detailed.


(14)    Councillor Brennan


5.50         Councillor Brennan asked, I think two people spoken about Kendal court and the fact that there was a death yesterday and I was absolutely fuming, I have been unwell, so I haven't really been in my local homeless groups but I'm still very much in touch with people on the on the street and vulnerable people.


Four or five years ago different groups, professional, local Arch health care, Justlife, fulfilling lives have all said that Kendal court was unsuitable for vulnerable people. Why because people would die in there. We're sending people there and they're dying. There is no support there, I think basically the place should be closed.


We have a duty under the Care Act, and we are failing people just the same as our children in care these are vulnerable people that need just as much care.


People have literally been taken there in ambulances; I've got evidence of that. I'm asking the leader that we really should halt any more vulnerable, complex needs people being sent to Kendal Court, that way we won't have any more deaths. We have we have a very good local temporary accommodation facility in Hove it has support for people, to me it's one of the best. In there we have had people from Worthing and Lancing. I know it's spot purchase so it may be more money we really need to look into this. We need to stop it; we need to get to the core of whom it's sending people there who's not really looking into the person that they are sending.


5.51         Councillor Mac Cafferty gave an initial reply, I have met and the leader of East Sussex about at Kendal Court. We've been able to talk quite frankly and as was indicated earlier by Councillor Gibson, our officers have met them and I'm on the matter as well. We are listening on this and I completely hear you and I am really worried about this as well. I know that our housing leads are much closer to the detail so I will hand over to them.


5.52         Councillor Gibson then replied, it is a such a saddening situation and clearly, we need to look at matters, with a very critical eye and we don't want to do and knee-jerk reaction because there's a few media headlines because the sad truth is that people die in in quite a few of the emergency accommodations. It is not a great solution for people but we don't want people to move out this city and we've had Healthwatch reports on Kendal Court and one of the recommendations led to the welfare officers and the laundry, but it clearly is still not sufficient. It's not ideal we are recommissioning, our emergency accommodation and putting more in investment into that.


We've got to recognize that there is a general problem with people in very difficult circumstances often and no Care Act, people should be going to Kendal Court. People in insecure accommodation, we need to support them and move them on as quickly as possible. I recognize that it's not just Kendal court, but really focus on Kendal Court because it saddens me so much that this has happened. We appeared to have made some improvements following the deaths in the previous administration in in 2018. But we all need to work together on this


5.53         Councillor Brennan asked a supplementary question, I'd like to be kept informed up to date with what's going on because it is part of my experience  and what I was in the Council for in the 1st place. So I'd like my experience to be respected in that sense.


5.54         Councillor Gibson replied, yes.

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