The Chair invited Members to raise items for general discussion arising from the Information Booklet of Executive Member reports which detailed activities carried out within the respective Executive Member portfolios (Section 1), Executive decisions taken (Section 2) or to be taken where known, prior to and following the meeting (Sections 3 and 4).
Question on Executive Member for Adult Social Care,
Public Health, Public Protection and Digital Inclusion report
Councillor Higgins in relation to Covid-19 Update
Councillor Higgins advised that she was surprised that there were not any up-to-date figures in relation to the number of Covid-19 cases in the town. Councillor Higgins also commented on the lack of availability of vaccines.
Councillor Coupe advised that he was not aware of any shortage of vaccines in the town. He advised that he had recently received up to date figures in respect of the number of Covid-19 cases and the number of people that were in hospital because of Covid-19, and he would share the figures with all members of the Council.
Question on Executive Member for Culture and Communities
Councillor Dean in relation to Homes for Ukraine
Councillor Dean queried regarding the figures for the number of people from Ukraine that were being hosted in Middlesbrough and whether any comparison had been carried out in relation to other towns that were the same size as Middlesbrough.
Councillor Dean also queried regarding whether the families had been well received, were happy and settled, and whether English lessons were being provided.
Councillor Hill advised that at the current time, 30 people were still waiting to travel to Middlesbrough. He advised that he respond to Councillor Dean’s other queries in due course, following the meeting.
Questions on Executive Member for Environment report
Councillor P Storey in relation to Waste & Green Collections
Councillor P Storey advised that a year ago, the Council had promised to provide an alley cat refuse vehicle for the Linthorpe Ward, however, to date, they had still not received the vehicle.
Councillor Cooper advised that there had been issues regarding vehicles breaking down and problems with accessing spare parts for the vehicles, but he was not aware of the Council’s intention to purchase a new vehicle.
Councillor Storey stated that she had been advised that the Council intended to purchase a new alley cat vehicle for use in Linthorpe Ward.
Councillor Cooper advised that an order had been submitted, but he was unable to advise on a specific date regarding when the new vehicle would arrive. He stated that Councillor Storey would be notified once the vehicle had arrived.
Councillor Cooke in relation to Waste & Green Collections
Councillor Cooke advised that the Council currently collected unwanted fridges and mattresses that had been reported on separate days, but they had committed to providing a complete clean-up so that all the items could be taken away at the same time, but this had not happened.
Councillor Cooper advised that two different vehicles were required to pick up fridges and mattresses. There would also be issues with staffing levels if a complete clean-up was carried out because of the requirement to use two different vehicles. Councillor Cooper advised that he could not provide an exact date for when a complete clean-up would be carried out.
Councillor Cooke advised that the clean-up scheme was supposed to fix the issue of things being collected at different times. The scheme was submitted at the same time as other schemes which had been implemented. Councillor Cooper advised that he investigate the matter and report back to Councillor Cooke.
Councillor Branson in relation to Tree Policy/Planting
Councillor Branson stated that he was pleased that the Tree Policy had been reviewed. He queried regarding what changes had been made to the policy and when the revised policy would be implemented.
The Executive Member advised that the section that had indicated that the Executive Member for Environment would be the arbiter in case of any disputes in relation to the future of any tree had been amended to say that any disputes would be considered by the Head of Service in conjunction with the Executive Member for Environment.
In terms of the implementation of the revised Tree Policy, Councillor Cooper advised that it was intended that the amended Tree Policy would be published as soon as possible.
Question on Executive Member for Finance and Governance
Councillor M Storey in relation to Quality of Service (We will ensure that we place communities at the heart of what we do, continue to deliver value for money and enhance the reputation of Middlesbrough)
Councillor M Storey stated that the Executive Member report did not make any reference to inflation and inflation pressures, when inflation was currently at 9% and the level was expected to increase in the near future to 11%. He queried regarding what action the Executive Member planned to take to mitigate the negative impact of inflation.
The Executive Member advised that he had discussed the issue in depth with the Director of Finance and had been advised that the biggest impact was the pay rise for staff. This was outside the Council’s control as national negotiations were ongoing with Trade Unions and the relevant body that dealt with pay for staff. It was an ongoing developing issue, but it was a high priority.
The Executive Member referred to the earmarked reserves for Adult Social Care and Children’s Services and advised that £7m had been transferred partly to support the improvement journey for Children’s Services but to acknowledge that the costs would likely increase.
The Executive Member advised that although there was no specific reference to inflation contained within the report, discussions had been held with the Director of Finance regarding this issue.
The Executive Member advised that each service needed to look at contingencies for instance in case of potential strike action by staff.
Question on Executive Member for Neighbourhood Safety
Councillor Higgins in relation to Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour (Increase CCTV across the whole town)
Councillor Higgins stated that it was good to hear about the installation of further cameras and she queried regarding how many staff monitored the cameras and within which time periods.
Councillor Grainge advised that the cameras were monitored on a 24/7 basis and sometimes, they were monitored by two people but at less busy times, they would be monitored by two people or at times, one person.
Councillor Higgins expressed concern regarding the fact that if the number of cameras increased to 700, there would be only one person monitoring them. Councillor Higgins also commented that the Council had spent thousands of pounds on the purchase of Belfast cameras but there was still lots of dumping of rubbish occurring and there was no evidence that the police were taking any action against the perpetrators. Councillor Higgins requested the figures for the number of CCTV cameras installed in each Ward.
The Executive Member advised that he get back to Councillor Higgins in due course, regarding the number of CCTV cameras installed in each Ward. He advised that the cameras acted as a deterrent, but they also recorded twenty-four hours a day and evidence from the recordings had been used as evidence to prosecute fly tippers and had been used in the past as evidence in a murder case and various robberies.
Councillor Grainge advised that people needed to get better at reporting crimes or instances of anti-social behaviour. The cameras that had been installed had to be placed on a legal basis so evidence of reported instances of crime or anti-social behaviour could be used as a basis for determining the location of cameras.
Recently in the Ladgate Ward, evidence of a person damaging a house with a sledgehammer was captured and as a result, a camera was installed as a matter of urgency.
Question on Executive Member for Regeneration report
Councillor Branson in relation to new housing at St Hilda’s
Councillor Branson queried regarding the effect of ‘nutrient neutrality’ on future planning applications in the town and how wide an area would be affected and when the issue was likely to be resolved.
The Executive Member advised that the question was difficult at this time. All the Tees Valley authorities were affected. Stockton was the lead council in respect of this issue as they held all the finances.
Although the Council was unable to grant any planning permissions for housing developments at the moment due to this issue work was ongoing to bring potential schemes forward.
BCGEI were continuing to work with developers on plans for the 500 plus units needed at St Hilda’s.
Councillor Branson advised that funding was tight for local authorities and this issue could affect the Council’s revenue. He queried whether the Council would receive any compensation from the Government in terms of extra funding or whether services would need to be cut to make up for the shortfall.
The Executive Member advised that this issue was caused by agriculture. He advised that some funding had been allocated but Stockton were leading on any funding received.
Councillor Hubbard in relation to Southlands Centre
Councillor Hubbard queried whether the Executive Member agreed with engaging with all those people affected by the proposal in relation to the design and location of the Southlands Centre.
The Executive Member advised that funding for the building was in place and the Council was working with the local Councillors and residents to ensure that the plans were acceptable for them to be submitted to the Planning and Development Committee. It was hoped that work would start on the development in November, although this could not be guaranteed due to the volatility of the construction sector. Councillor Polano advised that he was in favour of working with the community regarding this proposal.
Councillor Thompson in relation to commencing work on the new Southlands Centre
Councillor Thompson commented that all East Middlesbrough councillors had not been contacted regarding the proposals for the Southlands Centre, only the independent councillors had been invited to the meetings to discuss the proposal. Councillor Thompson also queried about the timescale for commencing the building of the centre as the proposal had been agreed three years earlier.
The Executive Member advised that there had been ongoing negotiations with Sport England, Football England, the Council, and the local community which had taken time to come to an agreement.
Councillor Saunders stated that Councillor Thompson had received invitations to take part in the consultation process. Councillor Thompson advised that she had not been involved in the process. The Executive Member apologised if Councillor Thompson had not been invited to take part in the consultation process.
Questions on Executive Member for Young Adults and
Democratic Engagement report
Councillor M Storey in relation to help increase Political Participation and engagement across the town
Councillor Storey commented on the impact of the Elections Bill. He stated that 158 million votes had been cast in the last three elections and there had only been two convictions for voter impersonation. Over 3.5m people did not have photo id. and many of those were from disadvantaged groups. The type of photo id. currently used was typically a passport or a driving licence. It was currently £75 for a passport and £43 for a driving licence, so it was likely that many people would not be able to afford photo id.
Councillor Storey queried regarding what the Executive Member was going to do to ensure that people would be able to vote and had access to photo id.
Councillor Storey stated that the authority should be promoting the use of postal votes by holding roadshows, going door-to-door, and sending a postal vote application form out to every address with a stamped addressed envelope. Councillor Storey asked if the Executive Member would involve him in future discussions regarding the impact of the Elections Bill.
The Executive Member advised that the Elections Bill did have some benefits.
From the next elections, people would be required to provide a photo id. People could use their driving licence or passport as id. or in December 2022, people could apply for a free voter id. The Council would be promoting and marketing the availability of the id. In addition to this, in terms of accessibility, disabled people over the age of 18 would be allowed to be accompanied by an adult at the polling station.
In terms of absent voting, people would have to renew their application for a postal vote every three years instead of five years. Political entities would no longer be allowed to handle any postal votes that did not belong to them. Members of the public would only be allowed to hand in up to six postal votes at a polling station. With regards to proxy voting, people would only be allowed to act as a proxy for up to four people.
With regards to EU citizens, they would no longer be allowed to register to vote or stand in UK elections. There were however some exceptions to this provision. Countries that the UK had reciprocal agreements with such as Spain would still be allowed to vote and those who had leave to remain in the UK would still be allowed to vote.
There was currently a fifteen-year limit on allowing people that had left the UK to vote in UK elections, but this limit would be scrapped in the future.
The Mayoral, TVCA Mayoral and the PCC elections would in future be conducted using the first past the post system rather than the alternative vote method.
The Executive Member stated that the Elections Bill brought forward several good new provisions which would require a huge effort from the Council to facilitate.
If the voter id system could be rolled out effectively, by promoting the system via the Council and Council members it could improve engagement in democracy.
Councillor Storey stated that the Elections Bill was created to address a problem that did not exist. It would make it harder for people to vote at elections. The last By-election turn out was 11% and this needed to be improved. People needed to be encouraged to sign up for postal votes to avoid the need for photo id.
The Executive Member advised that he would be happy to discuss the issue with Councillor Storey.