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.
The Chairman advised that 6 questions had been submitted for consideration at the meeting. There would be no subsidiary questions.
Question Submitted by Councillor P. McDonald
“The Institute for Employment Rights (IER) report, compiled by 11 specialists in occupational health and safety and labour law, claims that Covid-19 guidance is not being properly enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The government’s approach to enforcing its guidance in the workplace has been underfunded, light-touch and run by an understaffed HSE. As a result, researchers claim that workplace risk has not been managed properly, and is not in line with the government’s claim that is making workplaces Covid-secure. Researchers said there has been widespread failure to control risks of airborne and surface transmission in workplaces, shown by the emergence of infection clusters.
Considering this what action is the Council taking to ensure the Council is Covid secure?”
The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling explained that the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it many challenges, many of which required swift action to put in place safety measures to ensure that the Council could continue to deliver its services in an efficient way, whilst also minimising the risks to staff of transmission of the virus. The Council had, during the previous twelve months, followed Government guidance in relation to working from home, the wearing of masks, social distancing, testing and all other guidance issued by central Government. The Council had also taken a number of actions and continued to implement any changes required by Government in order to ensure compliance. Some of these actions included:
· All business continuity plans were checked and updated as the pandemic developed in the early part of 2020.
· All staff who could work from home were told to do so with additional infrastructure and equipment provided by IT services.
· Specific risk management was undertaken for all staff in customer-facing and frontline roles.
· A frequently asked questions update had been maintained for staff throughout the pandemic, with updates based on changing Government guidance.
· Regular communications had been issued across the organisation to highlight changed guidance or the need for compliance.
· Communications reminding staff where the nearest testing centres were had been issued.
· General risk management was undertaken for all colleagues, ensuring those frontline colleagues with identified vulnerabilities were either safely redeployed or permitted to work from home.
· PPE was provided along with advice on how to best utilise it and dispose of it safely after use.
· In buildings, COVID-secure measures were put in place, such as:
- teams being split into cohort groups to reduce transmission through the mixing of groups.
- hand sanitiser stations provided at various points throughout buildings.
- social distancing markings and reminder posters put in buildings.
- limited numbers of staff allowed in offices ensuring compliance with social distancing.
- social distancing was further enabled through the introduction of one-way systems, restricted access points, QR code posters for track and trace, signing in/out books and a desk booking system requiring staff who needed to work in the office to book a desk to ensure social distancing was maintained.
- enhanced cleaning regimes were put in place utilising a red/green card system, where staff had used desks or other areas.
- single person access to shared areas such as toilet facilities, had been introduced.
- screens used in public facing areas.
· Vehicle sharing had been limited other than within cohort groups with the use of face coverings when in vehicles with windows open and reduced conversations or speaking.
· In early 2021, all staff, contractors, and visitors had been required to wear face coverings in common areas, with frontline teams such as those in the Place and Waste teams having daily temperature checks.
· From April 2021, all frontline staff were supplied with 2 home kits of Lateral Flow Tests (covering 7 weeks) and were encouraged, in line with government guidance, to test twice a week.
· A plan had been developed to conduct a thorough clean and removal of items in the workspaces such as old paperwork and items of clothing in order to ensure the work environment was as clean, uncluttered, and hygienic as possible. Clear office spaces would make cleaning regimes more effective when more staff were able to return to the workplace.
· Officers would also be expected to bring their laptops into the workspace to minimise the sharing of any equipment. Desks would have a large screen, keyboard and phone which would be regularly cleaned. Staff laptops would connect to these peripheral devices.
· Any other equipment that did not belong in the office would be removed. Staff would have access to designated clean kitchen spaces to make drinks and other refreshments again to ensure the enhanced cleaning regimes were made as effective as possible.
All measures had been published and communicated throughout the organisation and were regularly reviewed when there were significant changes, such as updates to guidance from Central Government, when entering national lockdowns or regional tiering systems. Controls were managed locally by frontline team leaders and managers as appropriate, with regular reminders, poster campaigns and toolbox talks, with support from the Senior Health and Safety Officer.
Question from Councillor R. Hunter
“Please could you clarify what this council’s policy is on grass mowing and how regularly residents of estates that are maintained by this council can expect mowing to take place?”
The Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services replied by advising that the Council carried out grass cutting alongside its other duties for cleanliness across the District using the Place Team. The team did not work to a fixed schedule for grass cutting and there was some variance in the grass cutting frequency each year that reflected the level and speed of growth, as well as other priorities on the service resources.
The Council received funds from Worcestershire County Council towards the maintenance of their verges to meet highway safety, which was equivalent to 3 cuts a year. This was topped up to a higher standard at Bromsgrove District Council’s expense.
Officers aimed to cut verges between 6 and 9 times a year, depending on the growth that season and resources available. This equated to an average of 4-6 weeks between each cut. Open Spaces, Play Areas and ornamental areas were maintained to a greater frequency to reflect their usage.
Question from Councillor S. Robinson
“With High Street shops reopening this month, in order to entice shoppers back to support our High Streets, please may we have an update about when the promised car park refurbishments will be completed?”
The Leader responded by informing Members that A 5-year programme for the maintenance of the car parks was proposed and approved by Cabinet on 25th November 2020 and Full Council on 2nd December 2020. This report provided a comprehensive schedule of planned works and associated costs which ensured that all the car parks were improved and maintained to a safe and high standard.
Work already undertaken since the report was approved included the introduction of cashless payments and a virtual permit system. The work planned to take place in 2021/22 included resurfacing and the introduction of new machines and lights on Parkside and New Road Car parks. Some work planned to take place unfortunately had been delayed due to Covid restrictions in place in the early part of 2021 and would therefore be undertaken in the new financial year. This would include the installation of CCTV and the upgrading of machines to accept car payments for North Bromsgrove Car Park and the upgrading of the lifts and lighting in the Multistorey car park.
The planned replacement of the Pay on Foot system had been delayed while negotiations took place with interested parties.
The work planned to take place in 2022/23 included resurfacing, new machines and lights on School Drive Car park together with an extension to the existing Shopmobility office.
A detailed breakdown of the works planned for 2023/24 and 2024/25 could be found as an appendix to the original report.
Question from Councillor J. King
“At a time when residents’ interest in the progress of our council’s work to mitigate climate change is very high, could the council website and social media be used much more effectively to communicate the achievements and progress made to date please?”
The Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services replied by explaining that action was already being taken to update the relevant pages on the Council’s website. Information about the Council work to encourage carbon reduction did already exist, though was featured on the pages for a range of service areas on the website. The Climate Change Officers had spoken to the Communications Team about optimising and linking specific search words to enable ease of access, and as such Officers had designed an updated map of pages relating to carbon reduction work and would be taking this back to the Communications team for review shortly.
Officers always put out relevant and updated messages on social media as and when there were newsworthy or interesting things to note. Recent activity included regular messages being issued regarding various waste streams, with the most recent focusing on reduction and recycling correctly over Easter. In addition, the electric vehicles charging project was advertised on social media in early April 2021 to inform interested parties about installations. Information had also been issued on social media in respect of the Burcot Lane low carbon development in March 2021.
There was insufficient time available to consider 2 further questions that had been submitted for consideration at the meeting. A proposal was made for the time available to consider Questions to be extended but this was not taken forward.