Agenda item

Executive Member Update: Executive Member for Communities and Education

The Executive Member for Communities and Education, Councillor M Smiles, will be in attendance to update the Board on her aims and aspirations, progress made to date and to highlight any emerging issues relating to her portfolio.



AGREED that in accordance with Council Procedure Rule No. 5, the Board agreed to vary the order of business to consider the remaining agenda items in the following order: 5, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9.




The Executive Member for Communities and Education, Councillor Mieka Smiles, was in attendance to update the Board on her aims and aspirations, progress made to date and to highlight any emerging issues relating to her portfolio.  The following officers were also in attendance: the Director of Regeneration and Culture; the Executive Director of Children’s Services; and the Head of Stronger Communities.


As part of her update to the Board, the Executive Member discussed her portfolio under three areas – Communities, Culture and Education.




·        In terms of aims and aspirations it was explained that, overall, this was to achieve a safer Middlesbrough because this impacted upon wellbeing, business and perceptions of the town.  In addition, the Executive Member wished to see further joint working to avoid duplication and to spread resources further, and also to support communities to help themselves.

·        The Executive Member currently chaired the Community Safety Partnership.  A Community Safety Strategy was currently being finalised, which had required extensive partnership working.

·        The Neighbourhood Safety departments had recently been revamped, with a new structure consisting approximately 60 Street Wardens now in place.  The Street Wardens had received new powers, including the ability to compel individuals to provide personal details.  A new Operational Manager had also been assigned to post.

·        Active Intelligence Mapping (AIM) – a Data Analyst had been employed to pull together crime and Anti-Social Behaviour statistics; fortnightly meetings were held to discuss major issues and the deployment of resources.  This was progressing well.

·        Locality working – this had been slightly delayed due to COVID-19, but a large amount of collaborative work had been carried out virtually.

·        Regarding the Community Grants Scheme, there was £160,000 of grant funding available for community groups to apply for (for grants of up to £1500).  The Executive Member sat on the grants panel that awarded the funding and felt that a lot of positive work was taking place in local communities.

·        A Community Strategy was currently in development.

·        In terms of emerging issues, reference was made to the reopening of the Community Hubs and Libraries from 12 April 2021.

·        Reference was made to smaller community and charitable organisations; it was felt that close monitoring of their progress during COVID-19 was required.




  • In terms of aims and aspirations, reference was made to the success of the Big Weekend event.  Next steps to build on that success by bringing further high profile events to Middlesbrough were impacted by COVID-19, but work was now taking place to create a calendar of events.
  • In terms of income generation, the Executive Member wished to enhance the Council’s commercial outlook; reference was made to the Town Hall and increasing profits for reinvestment in cultural activities.
  • Work was taking place to improve key assets, such as Newham Grange Farm and Teesauraus Park.
  • Of importance to the Executive Member was heritage preservation, with mention being made of the Old Town Hall, Captain Cook Pub and the Transporter Bridge.  Support to culture was also a key priority.
  • Regarding progress made to date, reference was made to the Middlesbrough Cultural Partnership, which was a collective chaired by the Head of Culture.  Over the past year, all of the organisations had been awarded a collective £1m, which was an excellent achievement.  A new website had been established and a dedicated Press Officer assigned to post.
  • Reference was made to Newham Grange Farm, the work being undertaken and to the creation of a new, refurbished linear building which would host educational activities.
  • Regarding Christmas lights, although people could not be invited into the Town last year due to COVID-19, these had been a success, with many positive comments being made on social media.  This success would be built-on later this year.
  • Regarding the Towns Fund and Future High Streets Fund, the Council had secured £36m, another excellent achievement.  The Executive Member explained that she had been an advocate for use of a portion of the funding for heritage preservation and events.
  • Over the last year, applications for recovery funding from the Arts Council had been made wherever possible; circa. £500,000 had been received for culture.
  • In terms of emerging issues, this was about reopening and looking at the events calendar.  The task of the Events Team was to achieve a balance between promoting events with the restrictions/expectations of COVID-19; progress was likely to be slow but steady to ensure safety.  Museums would be reopening in mid-July.




  • The Executive Member was awarded this remit in summer 2020.  It was acknowledged that there had been some initial concern as to the vastness of the portfolio, but felt that a good understanding had been achieved since that time.
  • Regarding aims, reference was made to Middlesbrough’s maintained Primary Schools and to the Academies in the area.  The Executive Member’s aim was to ensure that staff felt supported by the Local Authority; this work commenced through visits to schools and discussions with Head Teachers.  Consideration was given to statutory responsibilities, including the provision of school places.
  • Mention was made of the Council’s ‘50 Futures’ initiative; the Executive Member wished to expand this.
  • Reference was made to Children’s Services and the challenges that had been faced; the Executive Member played an integral role within the improvement plan.
  • In terms of progress made to date, it was explained that constant dialogue had been established with Head Teachers and school staff, with support being provided as required – the example of hand sanitiser provision during the pandemic was provided.
  • Another significant achievement revolved around digital inclusion and £350,000 being invested to provide additional laptops to children across Middlesbrough.  Work was currently being undertaken on the development of a wider strategy for digital inclusion.
  • In terms of ’50 Futures’, the Executive Member had been approached by Teesside University who wished to see something similar to the initiative, but working across the town.  Work was currently being undertaken to develop a ‘one-stop shop’ for anyone in Middlesbrough seeking work opportunities or career development.
  • Regarding care leavers, the importance of ensuring the education of children in care was highlighted as a priority.  As part of this, opportunities for work placements within the Council for care leavers were constantly being sought, and it was noted that several successful appointments had been made.
  • In relation to new ideas, the Executive Member was currently working on a project entitled ‘School Streets’, which focused on limiting traffic outside of schools between certain hours.  This would mean that children would be more likely to travel actively to school in a variety of ways.
  • In terms of emerging issues, the biggest would revolve around children ‘catching-up’.  It was explained that the Government would be investing heavily in this and the funding would go directly to schools - further details regarding this were currently awaited.  It was highlighted that the Council had been awarded £1m from the holiday activity fund, which would assist with this work.  Regarding mental health in children, the difficulties experienced over the last year in respect of this were noted. School attendance, particularly for vulnerable learners, was also highlighted as an emerging issue.  Members heard that attendance was currently 93% in Middlesbrough versus 94.5% nationally.


Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.


A Member made reference to AIM and queried why this work had previously been discontinued.  In response, it was explained that this had been undertaken by the previous administration.  Work had been undertaken to reintroduce this and was proceeding well.  Reference was made to ASB issues being experienced and the importance of these being reported by residents to Councillors and to Cleveland Police.  A Member supported these views and commented on the importance of giving feedback to those reporting issues.


A Member made reference to heritage preservation, to the Old Town Hall and St. Hilda’s.  A congratulatory message was conveyed in light of the funding that had been received; the Member commented that they would like to see a plan as to how this would be brought back.  In response, the Executive Member explained that the Old Town Hall building needed to be made safe.  There had been some commercial interest in the building previously, but funds necessary to make the building safe had reduced interest.  Ideas to develop the building would be progressed once it had been made safe.


A Member made reference to Albert Park and the condition of the fountain within it, which was felt required investment.  In response, the Executive Member acknowledged this point.


A Member made reference to developments made in respect of the Southlands Centre and expressed disappointment over a lack of communication/engagement with Ward Councillors.  It was requested that Ward Councillors be kept updated in respect of progress made in order to help them support their residents.  In response, the Executive Member acknowledged this point and explained that Ward Councillors would be fully involved in the future.

A Member made reference to community grant funding and back alley gates, and explained that some gates had been removed.  It was queried whether residents could apply for grant funding in order to have gates re-installed.  In response, the Executive Member explained that this could be achieved; contact could be made with either the Executive Member or the Neighbourhood Manager to discuss this.


In response to an enquiry regarding the operation of the Street Warden service and AIM, the Executive Member explained that meetings were operational in nature and not attended by Councillors.  Updates in respect of AIM could be provided by the Executive Member at the request of individual Councillors, but meetings were operational.  There was also potential for monthly round-ups to be provided to Ward Members, if deemed appropriate.


A Member commented that the additional IT equipment provided to schools during the pandemic was extremely welcomed and a great effort by the Council.  In response, the Executive Member commented that the Department for Education delivered 10,000 laptops in Middlesbrough; the remit was to help those children ‘slipping through the net’, e.g. children not seen as disadvantaged, but whose parents would struggle to fund such devices, particularly if there was more than one child in the household.


In response to a request for further information regarding the Street Warden service, the Head of Stronger Communities agreed to provide a budget breakdown for staffing and equipment for the service.  In addition, statistical information in respect of Fixed Penalty Notices and court action would also be provided.  In terms of Public Space Protection Orders, it was explained that the majority of actions were instructions, i.e. warnings, concerning a change of behaviour, as opposed to being concerned with income generation.


A Member made reference to locality working and commented on the excellent work being undertaken in terms of providing wraparound support to children in care.  The Executive Member welcomed these comments and felt that, once restrictions had been lifted and individuals could physically attend buildings, the service would develop further.


A Member made reference to AIM and issues such as fly tipping, and queried what work could be undertaken to increase reporting; in instances where individuals would not be willing to report matters, the alternative to that was queried.  In response, the Executive Member acknowledged this point.  It was explained that, as representatives, those in attendance at AIM meetings would be expected to raise any issues; it was understood that not all residents would feel comfortable raising issues.


A Member made reference to school uniforms and work being undertaken in this regard, and queried whether any further information was available.  In response, the Executive Member advised that research and discussion had been undertaken with schools and it was hoped that a report would be available in the near future.


A Member made reference to AIM and queried the inclusion of matters such as fly tipping - the Executive Member confirmed that this was included.  Reference was made to the Flying Squad initiative (the responsibility for which lay within a different Executive portfolio), which tackled fly tipping.  Other issues, such as bin fires could also be reported.  All information would be pulled together by the Data Analyst to look at those issues.  It was confirmed that, when residents reported issues, they were not required to leave their personal details.


In response to a query regarding AIM and the provision of feedback to Councillors and residents, the Executive Member indicated that the Police did produce Ward newsletters, but felt that the potential for an AIM newsletter could be looked at.


A Member made reference to the Flying Squad team and queried how many members of staff it had, and whether Street Wardens also supported the service.  In response, the Head of Stronger Communities advised that there were eight members of staff in total – four teams/vehicles with two in each.  Four of the officers had previously worked in what was an Environment Services team, and four were Environmental Enforcement Wardens who had already been dealing with fly tipping enforcement.


In response to an enquiry regarding the potential timescales for permitted outdoor gatherings, Members heard that an Orange Pip event was being planned to take place in August.  The Head of Culture advised that teams were cautiously looking at events, with different scenarios being worked on depending upon Government guidance being received.  The Executive Member highlighted the Council’s achievement in being named best digital MELA this year.


A Member made reference to fly tipping and commented that feedback was not always received in terms of reported incidents.  In response, the Executive Member indicated that this issue fell under the Executive Member for Environment’s portfolio, but this comment would be forwarded.  Reference was made to the Flying Squad and consideration given to publicity and awareness raising around fly tipping.


A Member commented on the reopening of the Town Hall and queried the possibility of holding a relaunch event.  In response, the Executive Member felt that this could be celebrated when permitted.


In response to an enquiry regarding the scope of the Executive Member’s portfolio and management of the remit, the Board heard that progress and successful management had been achieved through positive working relationships with officers, and holding regular meetings.


The Chair thanked the Executive Member and officers for their attendance and contributions to the meeting.


AGREED that the information provided be noted, and the agreed action be undertaken.

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