To receive a statement by the Leader of the Council on the activities and decisions of Cabinet and items included on the Forward Plan.
The Leader presented the statement that had been circulated about the activities and decisions made by Cabinet to allow questions and comments.
Questions were raised and responses were provided as follows.
On paragraph 2 – Town Centre Regeneration Update
Councillor Panter asked the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth how finances would stack up with the creation of public open space, homes, offices and shops.
Councillor Sweeney stated that Cabinet had agreed to take on Capital and Centric to do the plans and business case for York Place. The Council would borrow money to develop York Place. Upon Completion, Capital and Centric would reimburse the money including any interest incurred by the Council and would run the shopping centre.
Councillor Dave Jones asked the Leader to confirm if the parking rates on the new car park would be charged in line with charges on Council car parks.
The Leader stated that the car parking charges would be standard but would not preclude any of the offers brought in on other car parks. The new car park would have to compete with other private car parks in the town.
Councillor Brockie asked why the Council could not just value engineer projects instead of sharing the risk with a joint venture delivery partner.
The Leader suggested that Councillor Brockie meet with Simon McEneny who could go through the details from the Cabinet report.
Councillor Holland asked the Leader for an update on the construction timetable for the car park.
The Leader stated that work should be starting on site within the next week or so. This would be a 44 week building project (Summer 2024) at which time the
Midway would close and lead to the development of the Midway
Councillor Fox-Hewitt asked if Council could explore the viability of compulsory purchasing the Sky building and working with Capital and Centric to bring that project to fruition
The Leader stated that there were specific rules around compulsory purchase which would have to be met. Officers were continuously in touch with whoever was trying to gain control of the building.
Councillor Stubbs asked if the full market value or total cost that Capital and Centric would pay, included the value of the land.
A written answer would be provided for this.
On paragraph 3 – Medium Term Financial Strategy 2024/24 to 2028/29
Councillor Stubbs asked the Leader if he held the Efficiency Board or events at Westminster responsible for the shortfalls in the Strategy.
The Leader stated that the problems had come from inflationary issues related to the extended lockdown and the war in Ukraine. The issues had led to an increased pay award and an increased need for temporary accommodation. The Council would write to the Government and local MP’s to make a case for adequate support.
Councillor Paul Waring asked the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth for an update on the current in-year revenue position of the Council.
Councillor Sweeney stated that, at the present time the Revenue budget was in a balanced position.
Councillor Brockie asked for a timeframe for the consultation process for the Asset Management Strategy with respect to the town centre car parks.
The Leader stated that Cabinet would be receiving a report on the full consultation process. The Efficiency Board was dealing with the budgetary issues.
Councillor Dave Jones felt that the budget had been mismanaged and asked what was in place to stop the gap in the budget from continually expanding.
The Leader reiterated that the Revenue budget was in a balanced position at the current time. With regard to the pay award, the Council budgeted for 4% but subsequently, inflation was higher than predicted. £10m had been saved since 2018 as well as enhancing services along the way.
Councillor Fox-Hewitt asked for assurance that the Council was on target to meet its carbon reduction commitment in 2030 and that finances were in place to resource the commitments.
The Leader stated that a report would be going to the October Cabinet setting out the Council’s plan to get to net-zero. The MTFS already reflected this.
On paragraph 4 – Asset Management Strategy 2023-2028:
Councillor Allport asked the Leader for more information on the shared public services hub in Kidsgrove and what would happen to the existing one when services were transferred elsewhere.
The Leader stated that he could provide more information on how the hub would work and any ramifications for the Kidsgrove Town Council part at the Victoria Hall.
Councillor Bryan asked the Portfolio Holder if he was surprised that the Labour Group were against asset sales which would bring in much needed capital receipts, even though this administration had delivered the asset management sales previously put forward by the Labour group.
Councillor Sweeney stated that he was disappointed that the Labour group did not want to sell assets.
Councillor Grocott asked, in respect of Brick Kiln Lane, Chesterton, the exact location and what consultation had been done.
The Leader asked the Deputy Chief Executive to provide a plan for this. As these were just proposals, there had been no consultation as yet.
Councillor Dave Jones stated that the previous asset strategy was based on a list of assets that were put together by a group, created by a Motion by the Conservative Group and supported by other opposition groups and not by the previous Labour administration.
The Leader stated that the Asset Management Strategy was put together by Cabinet not Full Council. Councillor Jones had been referring to the Asset Committee that the Council used to hold. The Asset Management Strategy, inherited by the current administration had come from the previous Labour Administration.
Councillor Stubbs stated that, at the Board meetings, at no point was the hub discussed in detail. In addition, in the Strategy it stated that Kidsgrove Town Council would lease the shared services hub but there had been no consultation with Town Councillors, stakeholders or local residents. What was planned if the Town Council did not lease the building.
Councillor Paul Waring stated that, at no point had Kidsgrove Town Council agreed to lease the shared service hub. It was in the Strategy as a proposal only.
The Leader stated that there was a letter from the Town Clerk of Kidsgrove to that effect, sent in June which could be sent round to local Members.
On paragraph 6 – Delivery of a Homeless Hub:
Councillor Allport had some concerns regarding the scope of this as homelessness issues were now affecting families, not just individuals and also people with complex mental health needs. The Leader was asked if this had been taken into consideration.
The Leader stated that this was more about those individuals who present as homeless within the Borough, getting them off the streets into the accommodation. For families etc it would be more a ‘temporary accommodation’ matter.
Councillor Reece asked if, at the end of the 2025 funding round if further ongoing funding was unsuccessful would there be a contingency plan in place. In addition, the Council aims to end rough sleeping in the Borough by 2025. Would data be provided to show that this was on target.
The Leader stated that this was the Government’s target. The initial funding had come from the Shared Prosperity Fund. It was hoped that whoever was in power following the General Election in 2024 would carry on the commitment and funding would be required to continue the establishments that would be set up.
Councillor Barker asked the Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Wellbeing if she agreed that the facility would be operational, day and night providing access to healthcare and financial advice.
Councillor Heesom was pleased that funding had been gained for this ‘Multi-Agent Assessment Centre with Accommodation’. Working with entrenched rough sleepers who were the most vulnerable people in our society today who found difficulty accessing services. The Hub would also be a one stop shop to support all those who were vulnerable.
Councillor Dave Jones had concerns that the Hub would become the equivalent of Adult Social Care for a Unitary/County Council and asked what steps were being taken against a surge in costs.
The Leader stated that every Council was asking that question. There was a lobbying tool where more funding could be requested. Local MP’s would be approached to help with this. The matter had also been discussed at the Staffordshire Leader’s Board which was held with other authorities across the County.
Councillor Barker asked how the Council would deal with rough sleepers who did not want to be helped.
The Leader stated that there were amazing staff who worked on the front line to help those individuals with difficult circumstances.
On paragraph 7 – Future Delivery of Occupational Health Services:
Councillor Bettley-Smith asked the Leader if it was reasonable to anticipate that the new Sickness Absence Update report would result in improvement in the delivery.
The Leader stated that an item going to the next Finance, Assets and Performance Scrutiny Committee would offer a drill down into the facts, figures and history of sickness absence including the national picture. The new measures being put into place would be delivered as part of the new Occupational Health Service.
On paragraph 8 – Financial and Performance Review Report – First Quarter 2023/24:
Councillor Brockie asked for assurance that the stability and continuity of the Council’s workforce would remain a priority when considering cost saving measures.
The Leader stated that new indicators took a while to bed down. There was a page of indicators in Councillor Hutchison’s Portfolio that had not been reported due to the swap over but would be reported in the next quarter.
Councillor Dave Jones asked the Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Environment for an update on an issue with one of his residents. The resident had presented his recycling bin for emptying and the bin had not been returned. This had been reported over two months ago and no replacement had been provided. Councillor Jones if there were any replacement bins and if so, why a replacement had not been made.
Councillor Hutchison asked to meet with Councillor Jones after the meeting to gain the full details.
The Leader confirmed that there were many spare bins.
On paragraph 9 – Forward Plan:
Councillor Fox-Hewitt asked for confirmation that the Constitution had been amended to provide that his twitter account announces decisions of the Borough Council and not Cabinet or the Sovereignty of the Council.
The Leader deferred to the Sentinel reporter in the room who announced the decisions as and when they were happening. There were press releases and timescales and publicity was not unusual pending the Cabinet Decisions.