Agenda item - Member Involvement

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Agenda item

Member Involvement

To consider the following matters raised by Members:


(a)           Petitions: To receive any petitions;


(b)           Written Questions: To consider any written questions;

          i. Cllr Shanks - Primary school places

          ii. Cllr Goldsmith - Refurbishment work at the Hive 

          iii. Cllr Goldsmith - Holiday provision for children with disabilities


(c)           Letters: To consider any letters;


(d)           Notices of Motion: To consider any Notices of Motion referred from Full Council or submitted directly to the Committee.




(d) Petitions


There were no petitions.


(e) Written Questions


20.1    Cllr Shanks presented her question, which can be found on page 15 of the agenda, to          the Committee.


The Chair provided the following response:


Thank you, Cllr Shanks, for your question. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all those children and their families starting school for the first time our best wishes, knowing they are attending schools that deliver a high-quality education across our city. 


There are currently a total of 369 unfilled places in reception intake for September 2023, which is 14% of the total places available. Numbers can and do fluctuate and so we use the school census in early October as the formal number of take up of places. This data informs our forecast of pupil projections in future years and will be available to the Committee when admission arrangements for September 2025 are determined by this Committee in January 2024. 


The data in the October census also informs school’s funding allocations for the next financial year 2024/25. The DFE has established School Resource Management Advisers to support schools and local authorities to help schools operate as efficiently as possible. It is a free service, funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. We will be working with the School Resource Management Advisers going forward to support efficiency across primary schooling in the city. 


The council has already set its admission arrangements for September 2024 and parents can start applying for school places from now. We will continue to liaise with schools on the number of primary places available next September to avoid excessive amounts of unfilled places. For example, a variation to a schools’ published admissions number might be made so that they take in a reduced maximum number of children. 


At Committee today, we have a report on the proposals to bring Hertford Infant and Junior school together from September 2024. This demonstrates our commitment to working with the city’s schools to ensure efficiency across primary schooling.  In November, the Committee will receive details of the proposed consultation on our admission arrangements for September 2025. Both myself and Cllr Taylor have been meeting Headteachers and Chairs of Governors to discuss what proposals need to be put forward and to hear what their initial views are and to consider any alternative options. Some of these may be possible to bring forward for September 2024 and we will receive more details at November’s Committee meeting.


          Cllr Shanks asked the following supplementary question:


          Yes, I recognise the issue. I suppose in terms of, you know, the numbers of families in        the city and numbers of children going down, which is to do with lots of other factors, I           wonder if closure of schools is one of the options you will be considering?


The Chair provided the following response:


As I say, Cllr Taylor and I are visiting many heads and many Chairs of Governors and we will be talking to them about arrangements that we may have going forward and we will bring these arrangements in November’s Committee meeting.


20.2    Cllr Goldsmith presented her question, which can be found on page 15 of the agenda, to the Committee.


The Chair provided the following response:

Yeah so, I think I covered quite a lot of that earlier on in the meeting but the council are working closely with the contractor on this project since the contract was awarded. Unfortunately, we were only told on 13 August 2023 that Phase 1 works were not going to be completed in time for a September start and that had been despite regular assurances from the contractor up to that time that the deadline would be achieved. As soon as the contractor confirmed that this was the case, we have worked with the school to identify and prepare alternative premises for the pupils. We have also been working with Directors of the contractor to obtain a programme for completion of the works that all parties can have confidence in.


The project is in three phases, the delay is in phase I and has been as a result of extended lead in times for windows and doors, which is currently an industry wide issue. The contractor is currently reporting a delay to the delivery of steelwork for the new build element into early 2024, with phase 3 being complete by the end of March 2024.


The contractor has undertaken to put together a programme to completion which we are due to share in September and we will continue to work closely with the contractor to ensure that they meet the revised programme. We will insist that company Directors attend the progress meetings, held at least monthly, and that they flag up any delays to us as soon as they become aware of them.  We will continue to monitor progress on site in our role as Employers Agent and it has been agreed that a weekly report on building progress will be shared with parents who have children on roll at the Hive.


          Cllr Goldsmith asked the following supplementary question:


Could that report also be shared with councillors possibly as I think I might be helpful for us to look at it as well. I also wanted to ask, because Cosmur did declare bankruptcy, or at least self-insolvency in May this year, and I was just wondering how quickly the council were aware of that and if the council did anything to mitigate the impact of that and whether other options at the time were considered?


The Chair provided the following written response following the Committee:


I am happy that we share the monthly progress reports with councillors for the project.


The Council became aware of Cosmur’s financial difficulty at the end of April 2023 through a non-attendance on site by a sub-contractor. We immediately undertook an investigation and sought support and advice from our colleagues throughout the council and our partners to support next steps. Cosmur informed us they were taking the route of a company voluntary agreement (CVA) in order to continue trading as they had suffered delayed financial harm from the current market instability (COVID, war in Ukraine and Brexit).


Historically there had been 2 roughly equal parts to their business; the major refurbishment element and a new build element. The issue for their business was around the new build element and that the issue with this side of the business had started to impact on the major refurbishment element (the part that the Hive Project was procured through). To mitigate the impact of the one on the other, they had been working with a restructuring specialist to close down the new build element of the business to protect the major refurbishment side. Entering in to a CVA was the best route to consolidate the position. They had been working with their creditors for some time prior to the Council being aware and agreement to the CVA was reached on 11 May 2023.


We considered this information in respect of The Hive project and how best to continue.  The only option, other than continuing with Cosmur, would have been to terminate the arrangement with Cosmur and seek an alternative contractor.  This would have meant a delay to delivering the project of at least a year while we re-tendered the project.  It could also have resulted in a significant increase in costs because of the current high rate of inflation.  Finally, there was a possibility that Cosmur could take legal action against the council for terminating the agreement since they had not technically become insolvent.   


In light of these facts, we decided that the best course of action was to continue the project with Cosmur.


20.3    Cllr Goldsmith presented her question, which can be found on page 15 of the agenda, to the Committee.


The Chair provided the following response:


We are aware that it is becoming increasingly challenging for families of children and young people with disabilities to identify and access a suitable club for their child to attend in the school holiday periods. It would be difficult to undertake an audit of holiday provision at this time as our main provider, Extratime, will be winding up their organisation from the end of October 2023, therefore we will be in a period of transition.


To ensure that we have a new holiday offer in place by Easter next year, we are working with parents/carers through a short breaks working group and engaging with specialist providers from across Sussex. To identify any potential gaps in our future commissioning of short breaks, PaCC have agreed to co-produce a survey to go out to parents/carers by the end of September so that we have all of the necessary information ready to start the commissioning process for the new offer in November this year.


(f)  Letters


20.4    There were no letters.


(g) Notices of Motion


20.5    There were no notices of motion.


Supporting documents:


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