Agenda item

Questions

The Joint Leaders of the Council, or the Chair of any Committee or Sub-Committee, to take any questions that may be submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.

Minutes:

The Council considered the following questions submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.

 

Question No. 1

 

Question From:

Councillor Alan Amos

 

Question to:

Councillor Marjory Bisset, Joint Leader

 

Question:

How will irresponsibly slashing the gull control budget by 50% from £70,000 to £35,000 address the gull epidemic that now engulfs the entire City; and what is the point of and how she can justify wasting £5,000 on a gull survey when this Council has spent £70,000 this year only to leave the city with the highest-ever number of resident gulls but now thinks that half that budget can achieve what £70,000 has clearly failed to do?

 

Answer:

This looks like a very clear statement, but I don't think it really reflects the facts, and the facts are these: that the current core budget for tackling gulls is £35.5k, there was an increase of £30k, approved by Environment Committee in 2019/2020, so since then it’s been £35.5k, and therefore, the core gull control budget that is factored into the Council’s medium term financial plan has not been reduced by 50%, it remains the same.

 

Over the past few years, single year increases have been approved from use of reserves. Given the financial challenge this Council faces, having to make savings of £2.3m over the next 3 years, Environment Committee have approved a lesser single year increase of £4.7k above the core budget of £35.5k for 2024/25, having received a report that confirmed the proposals will maintain the impetus of past activity, focussing on the locations where most impact can be made.

 

The additional £4.7k will be used for a gull survey, to enable us to continue to monitor and assess the impact of our work on gull numbers, to inform future investment decisions on this area of work. In addition, having an up-to-date survey will be critical in supporting further successful applications to Natural England for licences to control gulls.

 

Supplementary Question:

I thank Councillor Bisset for that answer, I think, but isn't it the case that this Council has never taken seriously the enormous disruption, disturbance, nuisance and health danger posed by these vicious flying rats? Normal, proper budgetary procedure would be to first establish the facts - for example how many gulls are now infesting the city - and only then decide afterwards what the budgetary provision should be, rather than as has happened on this occasion, slash the budget and then say “Oh, by the way, how many more gulls are there now?”

 

Answer:

I must reiterate that we haven't slashed the budget, all we've done is not spend the same amount this year as we did the year before. It is very difficult to control the gulls, I think the Council makes a good job of trying to control the gulls. That’s it.

 

 

Question 2

 

Question From:

Councillor Alan Amos

Question to:

Councillor Marjory Bisset, Joint Leader

 

Question:

Acknowledging that the mobile CCTV parking enforcement camera has been a great success in showing commitment to dealing with the scourge of dangerous and selfish parking outside schools and in reassuring the public that this matter is being treated seriously, that as the enforcement authority for this scheme set up and funded by County Council Highways, will she proactively inform County Highways that this Council strongly supports the continuation of this pilot which originated in my Division of Bedwardine by ensuring that the City enforcement team is fully resourced and enthusiastic about it, and that the pilot be extended to other problem parking locations in the City and throughout the County?

 

Answer:

So, the City Council acts as enforcement agency on behalf of Worcestershire County Council as Highways Authority. The original decision to trial a Mobile Enforcement Vehicle was taken by Worcestershire County Council and it is for them, and not for us, to decide on its future, including whether it operates elsewhere across the County.

 

The vehicle which is in use each day has had a positive impact within the city, as it has enabled Civil Enforcement Officers to have greater coverage of the whole city and be more agile where complaints of illegal parking are received. Its operation is not solely focussed on school parking in the Bedwardine Ward, and it is already being focussed on other problem parking locations across the city.

 

I am informed that our Parking and Enforcement Manager is working positively with his County Highways colleagues to facilitate the continuation of the Mobile Enforcement Vehicle within Worcester. We have been informed by County that funding to continue with use of the vehicle within Worcester is in place until April 2024.

 

Supplementary Question:

Is she aware that my local residents around Pitmaston Primary School are every day plagued by inconsiderate and selfish parents, some getting there an hour early with engines running, just to get a parking space next to the school entrance? Therefore, will she ensure that City parking enforcement take a much more robust approach to this problem at this location and certainly by positively supporting innovative enforcement measures such as this mobile CCTV camera van?

 

Answer:

I wasn't specifically aware of the problems outside Pitmaston School, but I am aware of the same problem outside many of the schools in this city, and one of the reasons for this problem is that a market has been established in schools so that people are encouraged to send their children to whatever school they like, and this was introduced by the Conservative government. In my opinion if children went to their nearest school there would be far less need for people to drive across the city in cars to deliver their children to a particular school. I think it's a big problem, and I'm certainly in favour of this particular operation. I’d just urge Councillors to keep in touch with the enforcement officers and make specific requests when the problem is bad, and if each school gets some attention, then hopefully at least the problem won't get worse.

 

 

Question 3

 

Question from:

Councillor Alan Amos

Question to:

Councillor Lynn Denham, Joint Leader

 

Question:

When is the scheme for the Council to house some 100 illegal immigrants is due to start; and where is the surplus housing stock in the city to accommodate them?

 

Answer:

I'm not aware of any illegal immigrants in Worcester. If Councillor Amos is aware then illegal activities and detection of them is the responsibility of the Police, so I’d suggest he should make appropriate reports if he's aware of a problem.

 

Supplementary Question:

Does Councillor Denham think housing illegal immigrants should be given priority over 3,500 people on Worcester City's housing waiting list and if the Council can find accommodation for illegal immigrants, why cannot the Council find it for housing local Worcester people?

 

Answer:

Again, the terminology “illegal immigrants” is not one that I recognise. If you are referring to asylum seekers then those are the responsibility of the Home Office and that has been contracted out to Serco.

 

In November last year Communities Committee instructed Officers to write to both those bodies to confirm this Council's preference to adopt a regional dispersal model for asylum seeker accommodation. Officers are in dialogue with Serco with respect to their interest in properties in the city. To date that’s solely been in the private rented sector with the vast majority of properties that they have indicated interest in not being pursued.

 

It’s perhaps worth noting that when an asylum seeker receives a positive decision to remain, they can seek accommodation across any housing tenure within any area of the UK. It does not fall solely to this Council to accommodate them under our statutory housing duties, and I would also refer the Councillor to the Housing Strategy which in fact we adopted at our last full Council meeting two months ago and is referenced in the minutes we have today.

 

Question 4

 

Question From: 

Councillor Sue Smith

Question To: 

Councillor Karen Lewing, Chair of Environment Committee

 

Question: 

Chapter Meadows is a key part of the City’s Green Flag Riverside Park.  With the apparent winding down of the Duckworth Trust, there are concerns that the Meadows’ future ownership and maintenance may be in doubt.  What is the City Council doing to ensure that this special area retains its historic place in Worcester’s green space and biodiversity?

 

Answer: 

I understand that with the changes at Duckworth Trust there are many services that Duckworth Trust have been serving for our city over the years that people are worried about, and this is just one of them. So, I'd like to just kind of clarify what we know at the moment if that’s okay.

 

For people who don't know Chapter Meadows, it's an area across from the Cathedral and it's been managed through grazing and cutting of hay since Roman times, acting as floodplain and providing a home for wildlife as well as being a green space for recreation. It is a really valuable and much-loved asset in the heart of the city.

 

The Duckworth Worcestershire Trust is ending its operational activity and so Officers have been in discussion with the Trustees regarding the future ownership and management of the site. We understand that the Duckworth Trust are talking to one or more organisations about transfer of ownership whilst safeguarding the site through continuing with the current management practices.

 

The Duckworth Trust supports numerous volunteers and has done a huge amount of good work to promote sustainability and environmental issues over the last 25 years, and we would like to thank everyone involved in delivering the vision of the late Cecil Duckworth.

 

Once we know more and once we get more information about what’s happening at the Duckworth Trust, I will ask officers to bring a report to the Environment Committee.

 

Supplementary Question:

What powers does the Council have to ensure Green Flag standards of maintenance into the future please?

 

Answer:

There are no live discussions about the Council taking over the Duckworth Trust, looking after Chapter Meadows. There are other organisations who are in discussions. Apparently, the maintenance cost every year is about £20,000 and we don't have any detailed costing about that. There are also other pieces of land – there is a piece of land at Cotswold Way known as Apex Ponds - and Duckworth Trust are again in discussions with third parties. So, we're obviously interested in those.

 

One of the key things that people should be aware of is that Trust is winding up its maintenance operations with no paid employees we think from the 31st December, so this is a key thing that we need to make sure is in place. I know Officers will continue to have dialogue with Duckworth Trust to make sure that these places are maintained correctly, thank you.

 

 

Question 5

 

Question from:

Councillor Hannah Cooper

Question to:

Councillors Denham & Bisset, Joint Leaders

 

Question:

Have the Joint Leaders had feedback from the Cabinet Member for Highways at Worcestershire County Council regarding the Worcester City Centre Transport Plan?

 

Answer from Councillor Bisset:

We have received no formal response from the County Council regarding the Worcester City Centre Transport Strategy. The Managing Director has met with the responsible Director and has been told that the Strategy will not be presented to Cabinet for consideration but reference to the Strategy should be included in the City Council’s response the forthcoming County Council Local Transport Plan 5 stakeholder consultation.

 

In response to this information, the Managing Director wrote to the County Council on the 6th November 2023 seeking details of the LTP5 timetable, from development of the draft document, commencement of the stakeholder consultation, through to final Cabinet sign-off of the final plan. At the time of writing this note (23rd November 2023) the Managing Director has had no reply, but he will continue to persevere and push for information.

 

 

Question 6

 

Question from:

Councillor Tom Piotrowski

Question to:

Councillors Denham & Bisset, Joint Leaders

 

Question:

Are you satisfied with the outcome and recommendations of the Scala Theatre lessons learnt report? 

 

Answer from Councillor Bisset:

In addition to providing background information and an update on the latest position, the report provided a detailed chronology of key decisions and documents covering 50 individual decisions and actions spanning the period March 2020 to August 2023; a detailed financial chronology setting out all financial decisions between July 2021 and June 2023; management responses including references to evidence to 18 key lines of enquiry based on the National Audit Office’s Framework for Programme Review.

 

As a result of the above, the identification of 10 key issues, the corresponding opportunities for improvement and 13 formal recommendations, the Policy and Resources Committee discussed the contents of the report and unanimously agreed to the 13 recommendations, and in addition requested that the Managing Director writes to DLUHC setting out issues regarding the management of grant-funded capital programmes identified in the report; and agreed to amendments to the Council’s approved objectives for the project as set out in the report.

 

I'd also like to add that I was involved in the review and it was very thorough, and that in my opinion we embarked on this project, the project was made harder by the fact that there was a fixed timetable and not a long timetable to come up with project, to cost it and to get things moving, and those restrictions did affect the outcome, but we had to do our best within them.

 

Supplementary Question:

I'm very grateful to Councillor Bisset for providing this answer and for referring to the review of key lines of enquiry. I spent a considerable amount of time reading through the document, which to be perfectly honest reads like a catalogue of failures, so my supplementary question is this: given the findings of the report who should be held accountable to give the Council and the public confidence that the mistakes that were made are not going to be made again?

 

Answer:

My view is that accountability is not easily ascribed to any one person and is maybe not a helpful approach to what happened. The running of the Council is a team effort. As we so often remind ourselves, Officers advise, Councillors decide. The Officers gave their advice in good faith, having worked diligently in preparation and the review into what has happened was thorough and searching and people recognise where mistakes were made. The outcomes should serve us well in future projects.

 

 

Question 7

 

Question from:

Councillor Pat Agar

Question to:

Councillor Neil Laurenson, Vice-Chair of Communities Committee

 

Question:

Tower Hamlets Council recently withdrew the young women's football team time slot at their practice ground and gave it to the men. Is the council aware of any such discrimination in Worcester?

 

Answer:

The Council is not aware of any such examples of discrimination in Worcester. As part of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy we remain vigilant to exclusions, whether intentional or not. Worcestershire County Football Association have a Women and Girls Football Development Officer based at their Claines Lane HQ.

 

It is believed, I’m told, that the scenario at Tower Hamlets was created by local facilities being extensively oversubscribed. I think that means football is very popular in London.

 

The South Worcestershire Playing Pitch Strategy 2022 identified a shortfall of 3 Artificial Grass Pitches in Worcester. The Local Football Facilities Plan identified Perdiswell Leisure Centre and a second Artificial Grass Pitch at the University of Worcester as priority projects. The new pitch at the University opened this summer, with a further pitch planned to open at Perdiswell in the autumn of next year, subject to the approval of a Football Foundation funding bid supported by £200,000 of funding from Worcester City Council.

 

The location of the third pitch will be determined in conjunction with the Football Foundation once the Artificial Grass Pitch at Perdiswell has been in operation for 12–18 months, so that local supply and demand can be re-assessed.

 

Women’s and girls’ football is one of the Football Foundation’s four priority groups and a balanced programme of use is required to be evidenced as part of the funding application process. During that application process for the new AGP at Perdiswell Leisure Centre, in depth consultation has taken place to determine the needs of local women and girls’ teams from both a training and match play perspective. I hope that answers your question, but I’m happy to take a supplementary.

 

Supplementary Question:

That gives me some consolation, I mean we're all aware of the Lionesses’ huge success internationally and it has encouraged a lot of young women and girls to play football - a lot more of them anyway - and I'm aware very much of our own equalities commitments and our recent new Strategy. But, will the Council ask our Communities Committee to look into equalities policies and practices at Council-owned sports facilities and other Council-owned venues to ensure that equalities are fully observed?

 

Answer:

The short answer is yes. I have no notes for this answer. As someone who's been on a journey over the last two years - completely unrelated football – the Equality Act 2010 has become my bedtime reading and I will ensure that it’s brought up with Officers who help the Communities Committee to do their work, thank you.