To deal with any questions on notice from Members of the Council, in the order in which they have been received.
A period of up to 15 minutes is allocated for the asking and answering of questions. This may be extended at the discretion of the Chairman with the agreement of the majority of those present.
Question Submitted by Councillor J King
“The leader assured this council recently that all Bromsgrove District Council workers are paid at least the real living wage currently £9.30per hour). Could she now assure this council that this includes those who are sub-contracted to work on behalf of Bromsgrove District Council delivering public services? Could she also confirm that it is a condition of any tender process for council services that sub-contractors must pay their staff the real living wage and if this is not current practice , could steps be taken to put this condition in place?”
The Leader responded by explaining that this issue had previously been discussed at a meeting of Council and had also been referred to the Overview and Scrutiny Board for a full investigation to be carried out. A motion had been put forward on this matter on 21st November 2012 and the Board received an initial report on 22nd April 2013 and a further report on 15th July 2013. The second report was the most relevant to the question that had been asked, as it highlighted the issues which could have an impact on the implementation and monitoring of the living wage. This was acknowledged by the Board when Members determined that no further action should be taken. The Leader offered to share copies of the minutes of the relevant meetings and reports that had previously been considered on this subject and advised that the position had not changed since then.
Question Submitted by Councillor R. Hunter
“Given that the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has recently exposed the selection criteria for the £3.6bn Towns Fund for being ‘vague and based on sweeping assumptions’ to the extent that it is a ‘risk to the civil service’s reputation for impartiality’ will the Leader write to the Secretary of State to ask that any future funds of this type are distributed using a fairer and more transparent process?”
The Leader advised that the matter of fairness and transparency had been addressed in the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee’s Report published on 11th November 2020, following the inquiry ‘Selecting Towns for the Towns Fund’. The Council supported the report’s conclusions and recommendations, including the recommendation that “to avoid accusations that government is selecting towns for political reasons, the Department [i.e. Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government] should be upfront and transparent about how it reaches funding decisions as the Towns Fund progresses, particularly the planned competitive round. The principle of openness and transparency should extend across the whole of government when it is selecting some local areas, but not others, to benefit from taxpayers’ money”. In this context, the Leader advised that it would not be appropriate at this stage to write a letter to the Secretary of State in respect of this matter.
Question Submitted by Councillor C. Hotham
“In the six months to August 2020 Wychavon District Council collected 957 tonnes of road sweeping, in the same period Bromsgrove District Council collected only 43 tonnes. Is the Portfolio Holder concerned that this failure could lead to localised flooding as road gullies become even more blocked with debris?”
Councillor M. Sherrey, Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services, provided an answer to the question in her capacity as the relevant lead Portfolio Holder.
Members were informed that unfortunately, there had been a number of mechanical issues with the Council’s large sweepers during the year that had significantly disrupted operations up until September 2020. This was in addition to the Coronavirus issues, which resulted in the sweeper drivers providing support to the waste collection service due to staff shielding and isolating.
The Council had taken steps to replace, as well as repair, this equipment in order to restore the full service, and by December 2020 the sweepers were operating at normal levels again, with a new sweeper on order and expected before Christmas. The Council had been targeting resources to ensure that all known flooding hotspots had been managed as a priority since September 2020.
Staff had been monitoring the state of the district whilst sweepers had been off the road, to ensure that the Council was targeting resources efficiently. The team hoped to bring standards back to normal levels by the new year, with leaf fall being the greatest challenge at this time of year.
Members were asked to note that in the same period last year the Council swept 466 tons of material with sweepers. It was difficult to compare the amounts collected in districts due to the number and type of roads in each district. The Council normally operated 1.5 large sweepers across Bromsgrove, and 1 mid-size sweeper. Under the shared service with Redditch, the Council operated a total of 3 large sweepers and Redditch had been equally affected. The Place Teams also used mini sweepers which could manage small amounts on pavements but could not cover the work of the large sweepers. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, staffing had been a challenge across all services due to isolation requirements and shielding. The Council had prioritised waste collection services to ensure continuity for residents.
Question Submitted by Councillor P. McDonald
“Would the Leader write to Chancellor Rishi Sunak not to leave low-paid workers struggling on less than the minimum wage by increasing its 80 per cent contribution to workers’ wages to 100 per cent, so that those on minimum wage get their full pay if their bosses do not top up their wages, after he extended the furlough scheme to March next year.”
The Leader replied by explaining that whilst the Council acknowledged the impact a reduced salary had for workers on less than the minimum wage, when balanced with the national financial position and the funds the Government had already provided to support workers during the pandemic, it was felt that the current support contribution of 80% to workers was appropriate at this time.
Question Submitted by Councillor J. Till
“Following the recent coverage about cycling & walking in Bromsgrove. Could the Leader confirm the Council’s commitment to active travel?”
Councillor A. Kent, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services, responded to this question in his capacity as the relevant lead Portfolio Holder.
Members were advised that, along with colleagues at Worcestershire County Council, Bromsgrove District Council was committed to promoting and enhancing active travel as an alternative to cars. In recent years, the Council had worked with Worcestershire County Council on the national productivity and investment fund (NPIF) scheme. This fund would provide over £3 million to support 9 new or improved active travel routes across the district and these schemes were in the process of being implemented.
The A38 Bromsgrove Route Enhancement Programme (BREP) was in the process of working up the details of innovative green walking and cycling corridors to compliment the physical work being done in and around the carriageway of the A38. The section between Charford Road and the Oakalls would provide over a kilometre of new or improved walking and cycling routes of which approximately 50% would be a high-quality segregated section, 20% on new shared surfaces, and the remaining 30% on quiet and safe streets. In addition, as part of the Active Travel Fund, Bromsgrove District Council was supporting Worcestershire County Council on the provision of an active travel route between Bromsgrove and Redditch. As part of the work to be undertaken on the Local Plan, active travel would feature in the transport assessment work, ensuring that going forward the reliance on private car use could be addressed.
The planning applications for both Whitford Road and Perryfields provided new walking and cycling infrastructure both within and off site, including a new link through Sanders Park. In the case of Perryfields, the proposal contained a new mobility hub, which in due course might offer e-bike rental schemes, enhanced bus availability and provision and other mobility measures to help reduce the reliance on private car use.
During consideration of the response to this question concerns were raised by Councillor R. Hunter about the reference to the Active Travel Fund. In addition, Councillor L. Mallett noted that Worcestershire had performed poorly on servicing active travel. Furthermore, he noted that of the two planning applications that had been referenced in the answer, one had been refused and one was a live planning application. The Monitoring Officer suggested that these concerns should be discussed further outside the meeting.
Reference was made by Councillor S. Robinson to the need for the public to have a right of reply where accusations were raised pertaining to the public and she expressed concerns that this had not been possible in relation to the question and answer about cycling and walking in Bromsgrove. Councillor A. Kent advised that no accusations had been made in relation to the public and he requested that this exchange be recorded in the minutes.