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 explained that six Questions on Notice had been received for consideration at the meeting and would be considered in the order in which they had been submitted. A maximum of 15 minutes was allocated to consideration of these questions and the answers provided and there were no supplementary questions.
Question submitted by Councillor S. Douglas
“Can the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Board update council on the progress that has been made with the scrutiny of fireworks, which occurred following Councillor Hunter’s submission of a Motion on this subject in December 2020?”
The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Board responded by explaining that the Motion from Councillor Hunter that was submitted to Council in December 2020 had been discussed initially at a meeting of the Board on 11th January 2021. During this meeting, Members had discussed the Motion and eventually agreed that further information should be requested from a relevant source before deciding whether or not further investigation was required. This proposal was seconded by Councillor Douglas. At the meeting of the Board held on 26th April 2021 there was a further discussion of this subject.
During the April meeting of the Board, Members received a report on the subject of fireworks. This reported that the Council was undertaking a procurement process and would take into account issues such as the noise of fireworks at Council-run events. The Board was also informed that the Council always issued communications in relation to any Council-run events and aimed to avoid holding fireworks events on the same night as other organisations to minimise disruption to the community.
There was no firework event in Bromsgrove Town Centre in 2021 due to concern about potential Covid-19 transmission and instead an Illuminating Autumn event took place in Sanders Park. The Board therefore had not discussed the matter again in 2021. However, the Board were due to discuss the matter further in March 2022. Councillor Douglas was advised that she would be very welcome to attend this meeting. The Chairman of the Board also offered to share copies of the minutes of the previous Board meetings with Councillor Douglas together with a copy of the report that was considered at the meeting held in April 2021.
Question submitted by Councillor R. Hunter
“Street Name Plates
What is Council’s policy on timescales for the replacement of missing street name plates? How long should the maximum waiting time be?”
The Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services and Community Safety responded by explaining that there had never been a timescale agreed for the replacement of Street Name Plates. The process that the Engineering Team followed was that once a report was received, an inspection was undertaken to establish what was required as it could mean re-erecting the existing sign or a completely new sign might be needed. If a new sign was found to be required, subject to the budget being available, an order was placed with the approved manufacturer. (At this stage delivery times could vary dependant on their workload). Once the sign had been delivered, the Council’s Minor Works Team could plan for the installation. (Again, at this stage the timing of this would depend on the volume of work that the Minor Works Team had and the urgency of that work).
Council was asked to note that during the Covid restrictions, this work was somewhat delayed, as the Minor Works Team were heavily engaged on other Health and Safety and Covid related issues and helping to ensure important Council Services were maintained. The Minor Works Team were concentrating on clearing the backlog of new street name plates awaiting erection, and all were programmed to be in place by the end of January. With a return to normality with the Council’s working arrangements, post Covid, any future issues with Street Name Plates could be addressed with greater efficiency.
Question submitted by Councillor J. King
“Local Heritage List
When will Council finalise and publish a local heritage list, which identifies the location of heritage assets valued by the community and defines their significance, in order to protect them from being lost or damaged?”
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services responded by explaining that the conservation team were working on the Local List but progress had been delayed by the corporate land registry project, although Officers were in a position to now focus fully on the list. Unfortunately, one of the conservation officers had left the Council the previous Friday. The intention was to replace this officer as soon as possible. The primary focus of the new officer’s role would be to progress the list, splitting up the task on a parish-by-parish basis. Where there were no parishes, the Council would use the non-parishad area as if it were a parish to help better manage the task. Officers continued to work hard on identifying non-designated heritage assets through the development management process, and this was helping to protect valuable assets from any harm.
Question submitted by Councillor S. Robinson
Councillor R. Hunter asked the following question on behalf of Councillor Robinson:
“This council declared a climate emergency over two years ago. Could the portfolio holder please update council on what steps have been taken to replace BDC’s diesel-fuelled vans and fleet with the far more sustainable electric alternative vans? Additionally, how will the legacy diesel vehicles be disposed of in a sustainable way, that also delivers value for money to the taxpayer?”
The Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture and Climate Change responded by commenting that Officers had been working with the Energy Savings Trust, which had undertaken an investigation and produced a general report on the Council’s current fleet considering both the possible savings in carbon emissions and funding. Alternative fuelled vehicles were an emerging technology and with the information available currently, it was worth noting that electric vehicles might not be the best option for all elements of the Council’s fleet.
The next step would be to engage with a specialist consultant who could undertake a detailed investigation looking at each vehicle within the fleet and consider; the task undertaken by a vehicle and where this was, vehicle availability, alternative fuel options that were suitable for the task and what was the right fuel for that vehicle. In addition, they would also advise on the right time to invest, grant funding availability, infrastructure and energy suppliers. The consultant had confirmed that due to the high level of demand for their services, they would not be able to start work until July 2022 and the review itself would take several months to complete.
Once the Council had received the detailed review, officers would produce a report towards the end of the following financial year providing a ‘Blueprint’ of the Council’s proposed fleet replacement for the following 5 years. It was vitally important that the authority should get this right due to the high level of future investment required to replace the Council’s fleet and to ensure that the authority’s services could operate efficiently and effectively.
Replaced vehicles were sold via a compliant bidding process to achieve best value. Vehicles that had little or no resale value were sold as scrap and disposed of correctly.
Question submitted by Councillor K. Van Der Plank
“More and more details are being uncovered on a daily basis, about the alleged behaviour of the Prime Minister and leading government officials. It’s clear this is having a hugely negative impact on public trust which not only affects national government but impacts local government too. This Council worked hard to navigate the problems presented throughout the pandemic and I would ask the Leader what she and her administration will be doing to try to maintain faith and confidence in public life here in Bromsgrove?”
In response to the question, the Leader provided an update on the actions that the Council had been taking during the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to continuing service delivery. This included the following:
· Leading a District Incident Management Team alongside local partner organisations. The objectives of this team were; to explore district specific issues and outbreaks, examine the drivers of Covid-19 transmission, generate population specific mitigations and solutions and problem solving across all sectors.
· Working with Worcestershire County Council and NHS data specialists to develop a list of clinically vulnerable residents in the District in order to target support.
· Playing a leading role in participation and escalation of issues where required to the Health Protection Board, Local Resilience Forum and other local groups.
· Taking part in community engagement work, including the vaccine hesitancy survey.
· Organising for a team of Covid Advisors to work in the District to support businesses and the community.
· Providing operative support, marshalling and car parking space at testing sites.
· Issuing staff bulletins and frequently asked questions (FAQ) guidance.
· Co-ordinating a communications programme with messages disseminated via social media, local media and colleges.
· Carrying out a comprehensive review of business continuity and service-based risk assessments.
· Working with Bromsgrove District Housing Trust (BDHT) on an ongoing basis to ensure that there was nobody rough sleeping in the District.
· Supporting Worcestershire County Council with work to establish Here to Help.
· Facilitating staff into volunteer roles that supported the community, such as door knocking vulnerable residents.
· Supporting Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations to obtain Government grant funding.
· Enhancing youth work provision in the District.
· Offering the flu vaccination to Council staff.
The Leader commented that she intended for the Council to continue operating in this manner moving forward.
Question submitted by Councillor A. English
“With news that the energy price cap is going to increase by 51% on 1st April, what is this Council going to do to mitigate the impact of spiralling energy costs on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our communities?”
The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enabling responded by explaining that the benefits section at Bromsgrove District Council were committed to supporting residents who were struggling financially both in the short and long term. The Council had a dedicated Financial Independence Team (FIT) who could help with; income maximisation, benefit take up and budgeting advice as well as being able to signpost to other specialist agencies and partners. The Council administered a range of benefits to support residents, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Support, Discretionary Housing Payments and Council Tax Hardship Payments. The authority also had an Essential Living Fund (ELF) scheme which could help with utility costs, food parcels and supermarket vouchers.
The Council’s teams also promoted the Worcestershire Household support fund which was running via Act on Energy. This included winter fuel payments, fuel debt payments and physical interventions such as boiler replacements. Full details and how to apply could be found via the Act on Energy web site.
In addition, the Council funded an energy advice service, currently delivered by YES Energy. Householders could call the energy advisors to receive guidance on how best to reduce their fuel bills, with support on a range of topics including:
· Finding the best tariff and energy deals
· How to best use heating controls
Funding was also available for eligible residents to support the installation of a range of energy and money saving home improvements such as insulation and heating. This included the Council funded Bromsgrove Energy Efficiency Fund, which acted as a safety net for vulnerable low-income owner occupiers needing new heating systems and simple insulation.