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).
Questions on Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Children’s Services report
Councillor Hellaoui regarding Government-funded Holiday Activity Fund and Feast of Fun Groups.
Councillor Hellaoui referred to the two groups mentioned in the Executive Member report in respect of the Government-funded Holiday Activity Fund and advised that there had been 34 Holiday Activity Groups and 12 Feast of Fun Groups, that had provided food, activities, and trips to over one thousand children. Many of those children had been in receipt of free school meals. Councillor Hellaoui listed all 34 Holiday Activity groups and all 12 Feast of Fun Groups and stated that she wished to thank all those involved.
The Executive Member stated that she had mentioned in her report that there were activity groups operating across the whole of the town. Over £1m had been spent locally on the provision of free activities and over £200m nationally, which assisted in preventing social isolation and provided food to those children who might not otherwise have received a warm meal. The Executive Member thanked all those involved in organising the Holiday Activity and Feast of Fun Groups.
Councillor Saunders commented that it was pleasing to see the improvement in Children’s Services. He stated that on behalf of the MICA group, he would like to give credit to the current Director of Children’s Services, the staff, and the Executive Member for Children’s Services.
The Executive Member stated that recruitment to the service was still an issue alongside placement of children outside the area, but this was a national problem. The Executive Member advised that it was a whole team effort which included the labour group members that were members of the Children’s Services Scrutiny Panels.
Questions on Executive Member for Environment report
The Chair advised that as the Executive Member had submitted his apologies for the meeting, the two councillors that had indicated that they would like to ask questions on his executive report could email him direct or ask the questions and they would be forwarded to the Executive Member for a written response.
Councillor Furness stated that the provision of nutritious meals was good, but it would be tough going forward. He stated that he was a Governor at Newham Bridge School and they had noticed an increase in parents in receipt of Universal Credit. The school was looking to bridge the gap by providing free breakfast clubs. He asked whether the Council could look to fund free meals across all schools.
The mayor advised that not only people on benefits, but some people who were in work, struggled to pay for school meals. The Council would be unable to fund free meals for all schools as funding was the responsibility of schools and the government. The mayor advised that if people who did not currently qualify for school meals were struggling then they should contact the Council. The mayor stated that he was happy for Councillor Furness to contact him and the Executive Member to discuss the issue.
Councillor Arundale stated that he would like to ask his questions and would be happy to receive a written response.
Councillor Arundale stated that his questions were as follows:
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>Are there any proposed sites for tree planting sites around the Sandy Flatts area?
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>As the Council is responsible for several meadows; are all of them harvested as well as cut?
Questions on Executive Member for Finance and Governance report
Councillor Rooney referred to the Head of Resident & Business Support and the Welfare Benefits Team and congratulated them on their work in relation to the Welfare Strategy.
Councillor Rooney referred to paragraph 1.4. of the Executive Member report regarding the comment that the funding for Children’s Services was “archaic”. Councillor Rooney queried regarding what the Executive Member intended to do regarding Children’s Services Funding to mitigate the issue.
Councillor Rooney queried whether there was a Council-wide strategy that would cut across all services to deal with the impact of the current cost of living. The Councillor also queried regarding what the Council intended to do about the people who were working who fell through the gaps in terms of funding because they were not entitled to access certain children’s services.
The Executive Member advised that in terms of a Council-wide strategy, the Welfare Strategy brought lots of vulnerable people together, similar to a one stop shop. However, in terms of financial strategy, work was in progress to refresh the Medium-Term Financial Plan.
The cost-of-living crisis would increase cost drivers for adult social care and children’s services. The two main cost drivers were the over reliance on agency staff and the commercial nature of children placements. One of the things that the Council could consider was setting up its own centres.
The Executive Member highlighted that in terms of funding for children’s services, the Council received a set amount, so even if the demand for children’s services increased, the Council would not receive any additional funding to deal with the increased demand on services. Some of the issues facing children’s services would take one to two years to improve.
Councillor Rostron referred to the role of Section 151 officer and the fact that the Council had appointed to the role on a temporary, part-time basis. Councillor Rostron queried whether employing a Section 151 officer on a temporary/part-time basis was viable.
The Executive Member advised that when the job was advertised, because of the criteria required to carry out the role, no applications had been received. The person who was currently carrying out the role was hardworking and often worked out of hours. The aim however was to employ a full time Section 151 officer.
Councillor Furness queried whether the figure of £9m was correct in terms of the budget gap and what percentage it represented in terms of the Council’s budget shortfall.
The Executive Member advised that the £9m represented the current years overspend. The service areas were required to produce a recovery plan to meet the shortfall. The projected budget gap for the following year was changing all the time, but a more accurate prediction could be available in December.
Questions on Executive Member for Neighbourhood Safety report
Councillor Higgins referred to parking issues outside schools in the Nunthorpe and Marton Wards and queried whether patrols were there was a rota in place to ensure that patrols could be carried out outside other schools in the town. Councillor Higgins stated that in a school in her ward, some disabled children were unable to get off their bus due to people parking inappropriately.
The Executive Member advised that walking to school was being actively encouraged in schools which was better for children’s health and allowed them to converse with parents on the way to school.
The Street Wardens were patrolling in areas where there were known issues, but Councillors should contact the one-stop shop to advise where there were issues with inappropriate parking outside schools. The Street Wardens were patrolling in other wards in the town.
Councillor Blades advised that it was good to see that the use of CCTV and collaborative working had resulted in convictions and custodial sentences. The Executive Member had advised at the last meeting of the Council, that he would provide a list showing the number of CCTV cameras by ward, however the list had not been received.
The Executive Member advised that he had sent the list to Councillor Higgins, but he would circulate the most up to date list showing the number of CCTV cameras by ward, as requested.
Questions on Executive Member for Regeneration report
Councillor J Walker referred to paragraph 4.1 of the Executive Member report regarding the fact that bids had been submitted to the Government to seek funding for a number of projects affecting derelict buildings through the Levelling Up Fund. Councillor Walker queried regarding which derelict buildings were included and the level of funding requested. Paragraph 4.2 of the report stated that the bids submitted by the Council, focussed on providing the resources to bring a number of town centre buildings back into use, with a decision being expected by the autumn. Councillor Walker queried whether the bids referred to in paragraph 4.2 were the same bids mentioned in paragraph 4.1 of the report.
Councillor J Walker stated that she was pleased to see one of the units in the Cleveland Centre re-opening as a clothing shop. Councillor Walker queried with regard to how much the Cleveland Centre was costing to maintain in terms of rent, cleaning, security, and insurance and whether the Council was receiving rent from the businesses in the Cleveland Centre or any other Council owned shopping centres.
Councillor Walker stated that she would like this information by the next Council meeting, and she suggested that they might be included in the Executive Member’s next report.
Councillor Walker also commented that it was good to see that the town had the highest business start-up, but she queried regarding how many of the businesses were still running after one year.
The Executive Member advised that he did not have the exact figures for funding requested from the Levelling Up Fund to bring derelict buildings back into use, but he would provide Councillor Walker with them in due course. The funding could potentially be used on bringing back into use, the House of Fraser store, and the former Crown Bingo premises.
Councillor J Walker advised that as her questions were quite long, she would forward a copy to the Executive Member for a written response.
Councillor Hellaoui noted that there had been an increase in small businesses in 2022, which might be expected because of the covid pandemic. Councillor Hellaoui queried regarding ongoing support and monitoring available to small businesses and how many new small businesses had folded in the same period. The councillor also queried with regard to how many new jobs had been created as a result of the new business start-ups, how many had been lost and what contribution to the town budget the new businesses had made.
The Executive Member advised that a report produced by one of the largest lenders to small business had identified that the number of small businesses registered in Middlesbrough in the first part of 2022, equated to 610 per 100,000 people. This represented a 43% increase for the same period in 2021 and a 94% increase for the same period in 2019. This equated to 5 new business start-ups per day and represented the highest number of new business start-ups in the North-East.
The Executive Member advised that he did not currently have the figures requested for the number of small businesses that had closed and the number of new jobs that had been created, but he would forward them to Councillor Hellaoui in due course.
Councillor Hellaoui advised that she forward a copy of her questions to the Executive Member following the meeting.
Questions on Executive Member for Young Adults and Democratic Engagement report
Councillor Rooney commented that the level of take up for postal voting was positive, but she queried whether a copy of the postal vote application form and how to register for a postal vote could be included in the Love Middlesbrough magazine. Councillor Rooney also queried about how many first-time registrations had occurred and figures in respect of the postal vote returns.
The Executive Member advised that he fully accepted the comments from Councillor Rooney, and he acknowledged that the more ways used to promote postal voting the more advantageous it would be.
Councillor Hellaoui queried regarding engagement with young people on voting and democracy.
Councillor Hellaoui queried with regard to what materials would be used to encourage and motivate young people to become engaged, what curriculum strategies teaching materials and lessons plans would be used and how much time in the school timetable would be allocated to these lessons. In addition, how would the Executive Member be able to ensure that there was no political bias in the material that was being delivered to young people. The councillor also queried whether it would be possible to collect any data in respect of whether there was an increase in young people voting, following the initiative to increase engagement of young people in the democratic process.
The Executive Member advised that it may be difficult to collate the data requested by Councillor Hellaoui. In terms of engaging with young people, the aim was to make the process as interactive as possible. The Youth Council would be urged to engage with young people. The Executive Member advised that in terms of political bias that councillors needed to step out of their political realms when engaging with young people.
Councillor Furness referred to the number of documents requested by voters in respect of the requests for Voter ID. cards. Councillor Furness queried whether the Council was going to receive further funding to assist with the requests.
The Executive Member advised that the Council had not received any information in relation to potential funding available at this time, but he would update the Council once the information became available.