Agenda item

Questions from Councillors - to a member of Executive Board, the Chair of a Committee and the Chair of any other City Council body


Canning Circus Creative Hub


Councillor Georgina Culley asked the following question of the Deputy Leader:


Back in 2013, Canning Circus Creative Hub were threatened with eviction and mounted a successful media campaign which resulted in Nottingham City Council, the landlord, accepting that they should be allowed to stay and following a £50,000 grant to Nottingham City Council, the Hub were promised a much-needed refit to bring their long neglected buildings up to modern specifications.


Four years later, after waiting patiently for works to begin, they are now being threatened with eviction again while in the interim Nottingham City Council have been developing plans to sell off The Hub, along with all the other publicly owned buildings in the Grade 2 listed block for conversion to, “attractive rental accommodation”.


When will Nottingham City Council begin their meticulously planned and promised refit, to ensure The Canning Circus Creative Hub remains an asset to the 30+ businesses as well as to those in the broader creative community of Nottingham, who are mentored at The Hub?


Councillor Graham Chapman replied as follows:


It has already been publicly stated that the £50,000 which the Council committed to support the works to the building is still available. However, surveys done since suggest that bringing the building up to safe and acceptable standards, including fire standards, will cost many times more that amount. The amount being given is £700,000 to £750,000, and the Council can neither directly meet the costs, for reasons that we all understand, nor support the expenditure through subsidised rents.


Consequently, we are in direct discussion with Canning Circus Creative Hub to look at if, and how, it might be possible to allow them to remain in the existing premises. However, the more realistic solution is that we will find that we will have to look for alternative premises for the Creative Hub, and the Council have been working with them to identify suitable properties and locations. This will then enable them to move in to appropriate and fit for purpose accommodation, on similar and affordable lease terms to those that they benefit from now, and to continue to do their business.


I do understand the frustration, but there is no easy solution to this, if there had been then it would have been found. Finally, I have spoken to Councillor Collins who is responsible for this particular portfolio, the properties portfolio, and he is intending to meet the Canning Circus Creative Hub in order to discuss the issues in person.


Armed Forces Day


Councillor Georgina Culley asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture:


The Leader of the Council will recall that on Armed Forces Day last month this Council held no events for the Armed Forces but did, on that day, hold and pay for the Lord Mayor’s Parade. Can the Portfolio Holder explain the justification behind the shameful situation of Nottingham being the only major city in England to have no event held to celebrate and commemorate Armed Forces Day this year?


Councillor Dave Trimble replied as follows:


Thank you, Lord Mayor and can I thank Councillor Culley for her question.


We are committed to celebrating our armed forces, both past and present. In 2013 we were proud to host the National Armed Forces Day event, and it was a great success, by all accounts it was the biggest and best national armed forces event there had been until then. An estimated 100,000 people attended, and we would be supportive of hosting this once again with the support of the Ministry of Defence. 


In 2014, for the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, we had 2 large scale events in the city, plus an outdoor event. There was Trent to Trenches which lasted for four months, and covered the entire upper floor of the Castle, including a section devoted to Albert Ball – a great war hero from Lenton, There was also Fields of Battle which premiered in Paris, with Nottingham being its first UK premiere. It comprised a large scale art exhibition, such as the one outside Loxley House on Station Street, and it covered the whole of the city for two months. The Market Square also played host to one of only four national UK World War I road shows, which was hugely successful.


In 2015 we continued to support events at Wollaton Park, albeit these were much smaller, due partly to reduced government funding, and Ministry of Defence hardware available locally.


Late in 2016 discussions were held with both Newark and Derby to see if there were any synergies with the respective events planned for 2017. The aim of this was to try and join together at a bigger level, creating a much larger event that everyone could support. Thereby getting not only a larger county wide audience, but also a greater Armed Forces presence in one place, otherwise the Armed Forces presence would be spread much thinner across the whole of the county. Lord Mayor, this year it was decided that the host of that would be Newark, and that was supported by the local and regional Armed Forces groups, with the aim to create that much bigger and better event but, more so than that, a more sustainable and long term event for the future.


Every year we remember the fallen on Armistice Day at a very local level right across the city and county, including the Albert Ball memorial in Lenton, the ward that I represent.


Armed Forces Day was introduced by the government in 2009 to recognise a bigger and wider contribution of support for the Armed Forces, including the national event, as I said, which we very successfully hosted in 2013. A county wide event that everyone in the county can support which I believe is consistent with government thinking, or was consistent with government thinking. It was unfortunate, however, whereas the Nottingham event used to receive £10,000 in grant funding from government, this has drastically reduced year on year to the extent that Newark, the only Armed Forces event in the county in 2017, received a grant of just £1,000 and no military hardware. This does make it difficult for event organisers to make it an attractive offer for the public to enjoy and I would, at this point, ask the government to reaffirm their contributions locally to Armed Forces Day. In recognition that this was a departure from recent years, we agreed to make all of our venues available free of charge. We also set aside £10,000 for local groups to run their own event, unfortunately, no applications were received.


This year we will stage two Freedom of the City parades, one for the East Midlands Air Squadron, and the other for HMS Sherwood. Lord Mayor, we are absolutely supportive of our Armed Forces and we look forward to discussions with our partners, and the Civil Military Partnership Board, in the planning for the 100th anniversary of the end of the Second World War next year. So, as a city, we remain fully supportive of Armed Forces.


The Lord Mayor’s day procession and parade has become an annual event which took place on the 24th of June, a date clash with Armed Forces Day due to a busy city events calendar. In recognition of that we also offered the Armed Forces involvement in the Lord Mayor’s parade but, unfortunately, this wasn’t possible because of their commitments elsewhere on the day. In future years such a clash will be avoided. Thank you.


Central Library


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Deputy Leader:


Could the Deputy Leader of Council update the Chamber on what progress has been made in determining whether the delivery of a new Central Library, at Angel Row, will be achievable following the Leader’s decision to enter into negotiations for the existing site’s redevelopment?


Councillor Graham Chapman replied as follows:


Thank you, Councillor Rule, for the question.


The delivery of a new Central Library at Angel Row is achievable and the detail of what it may look like, and the cost is currently being worked up so that consultation can be undertaken on any proposals. I can also confirm, as was previously promised, that no decisions have been taken and no deal has or will be done on the potential redevelopment of the Angel Row site until an affordable business case has been worked up, and public consultation has been concluded.


Mobile CCTV cameras


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Community and Customer Services:


Could the Portfolio Holder explain for the justification behind the recent decision to place limitations on the number of mobile CCTV cameras deployed in wards across the City?


Councillor Toby Neal replied as follows:


Thank you, Lord Mayor, and thank you for the question Councillor Rule.


There are no limitations on the number of cameras in the ward, other than the usual ones which are financial or legal. There needs to be valid reason for the installation of the CCTV, and that needs to be set against the Data Protection Act and other legislation that’s relevant. We already have over 200 fixed cameras and 50 deployable public spaces cameras available, and if there are issues in a ward they can be moved, but ward members are quite entitled to spend their ward budgets and local Area Capital Fund in any way they see fit, which is why they are given the money.


Grenfell Tower fire


Councillor Liaqat Ali asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Housing and Heritage:


In light of the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in London last month, can the Portfolio Holder for Housing explain what steps Nottingham City Council has taken to reassure residents living in high rise buildings?


Councillor Jane Urquhart replied as follows:


Thank you, Lord Mayor, and thank you Councillor Ali for your question. I know one with particular importance to you as a Councillor with a number of high rise blocks in your ward, and I know that across the city other Councillors have been particularly concerned about this issue.


The first thing to say, of course, is that our thoughts are with those who have lost friends, family and loved ones in this dreadful tragedy. Since that tragedy happened Nottingham City Council has been proactive in the efforts that we have made to reassure both our own tenants and also to take positive action to ensure we know as much as possible about private high rise blocks in our city.

The levels of activity have been great, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the staff of Nottingham City Homes, Nottingham City Council and of Nottingham Fire and Rescue Service who have worked very hard in recent weeks to ensure that we’re able to reassure our tenants and residents that we’re doing all we can to make sure their homes are as safe as they can be.


With specific reference to Nottingham City Homes stock, Nottingham City Homes have, within days of the tragedy, on Friday 16 June had hand delivered letters to all tenants and leaseholders in the 13 high rise blocks City Homes manage on behalf of Nottingham City Council.


Nottingham City Homes have confirmed that they do not have any cladding similar to that used at Grenfell Tower.


Nottingham City Homes organised drop in meetings for tower block residents in order that they could meet with City Homes staff and fire officers and discuss any issues they face, and my thanks again go to those councillors who came along to those meetings too, and those Council officers and to Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service who attended as well. Following those meetings residents in our high rises were again written to with block specific fire safety information for all of them. We’ve also provided emergency contact details for people who have any urgent concerns, and we have offered fire safety advice to all Nottingham City Homes tenants and leaseholders, and have provided details of how to access home safety visits which are provided by Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service. 


Nottingham City Homes have also checked all the current Fire Risk Assessments to ensure that they are current and that any actions that arose from them have been progressed.


Nottingham City Homes have also written to all leaseholders who have non-compliant fire doors giving them 14 days to make sure their doors do comply with regulations, and to state that Nottingham City Homes will be replacing their doors if they do not respond in time.


Nottingham City Homes has also complied with the urgent requests from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Because we do not have any cladding similar to Grenfell we have not been required to submit any samples for testing, and we have also, through Nottingham City Homes, communicated through the BBC East Midlands Today, ITV Central news, Notts TV, BBC Radio Nottingham and the Nottingham Post, as well as the websites both of the Council and Nottingham City Homes.


The intention is also that Nottingham City Homes will install sprinklers in common areas and corridors of our high rise blocks, and feasibility work for this has commenced already. We will also install intercom systems, similar to the one being installed currently at the Vic Centre flats, in all our blocks.


Nottingham City Homes will also rewrite all Fire Risk Assessments with support from Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue, and have tenant involvement and independent appraisal of those Fire Risk Assessments.


Along with Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, we will also be reviewing the stay put policy, although because our tower blocks are designed to compartmentalise in the event of a fire, the current national Fire and Rescue Service advice to stay put remains the very strong message that we have been conveying to our tenants at the drop in sessions we have run. 


For added reassurance Nottingham City Homes is also carrying testing of the cladding we have used, even though we are not in one of the identified risk categories, and we do not believe that the cladding is the type of cladding that would produce fire risk, we think it’s important that we do undertake testing of it and we are currently working up how that testing is best conducted because, as people who have read the media on this may know, there are some concerns about the way testing is being done currently.


Nottingham City Homes will also be making compliance with fire safety measures a requirement of our Responsible Tenant Reward Scheme, for example to help ensure residents don’t block corridors with items or with rubbish, and we will, of course, continue to stay abreast of any national developments and apply any relevant learning.

More widely across the city, the City Council have now also written to the owners of private high rise blocks in the city. The tallest residential blocks were prioritised first, but now letters have gone to many hundreds of high rise blocks across our city to ask them to urgently look at their building and safety standards in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, and we have requested of them the same information that government requested of us in respect of our social housing stock. Responses are coming through by the day, over 50 having been received so far, and reminder letters will be issued to prompt owners to take action as a matter of priority. We will be publishing the details of those who have not responded on our website and we will pass those details to Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, who have agreed to carry out risk-based inspections in those cases, so that where we have not received responses from landlords, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service will be asked to undertake urgent fire inspections of those blocks. We will continue to demand that owners and landlords of private blocks comply with the same expectations that are rightly placed upon council housing because it is reasonable that, whatever form of tenure you have, your home should meet fire safety standards.


The actions that we have taken, and are committed to take, are going to be costly. We have also written to government to ask that they, having said in the days after the fire that they would meet any costs, make good that promise, and don’t leave the city of Nottingham picking up the tab for the lack of regulation that they have encouraged. We have also asked that the government gives us power to take action to force leaseholders to install the appropriate features in their homes when they are part of a communal block, that government lifts the borrowing cap imposed on council housing providers, and that the government takes action to reverse some of the welfare reforms that are making it harder for us to be paid the rent that is due.


The events in London are an appalling tragedy, a loss of life that should not have happened. In Nottingham we are working hard to ensure that our residents, whether they live in a City Homes property or a private flat, can be reassured that fire safety measures in their accommodation are as good as they can be.


Children’s Services Ofsted inspection


Councillor Gul Khan asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years:


Would the Portfolio Holder for Early Intervention and Early Years please update the council on the latest Ofsted inspection of Nottingham’s children’s services?


Councillor David Mellen replied as follows:


Thank you, Lord Mayor, and can I thank Councillor Khan for his question.


Inspectors visited Nottingham during January and February this year to spend time in our Children’s Services carrying out a rigorous and robust evaluation of our work with vulnerable children and their families. Four Ofsted inspectors were on site for two weeks, focussed on front line practice and the experience of children and young people and their families. They reviewed our audit work, spent time with practitioners, and looked at over 270 cases. Inspectors gave some judgements on the quality of what they’d seen on a four point scale, from inadequate (the lowest grade), through to outstanding (the highest grade), inspectors said that in Nottingham the impact of leaders on practice with children and families was judged to be good, experiences and progress of children who need help and protection was judged to be good, that the experience and progress of children looked after and care leavers in achieving permanence was judged as requiring improvement to be good, and I’m very pleased to report to Council that the judgement for overall effectiveness of Children’s Services in Nottingham was good, and that inspectors noted considerable improvement since our 2014 inspection.


Looking at the detail in the report, inspectors found that there was strong political and officer leadership with services, and that the diverse community of the city was well understood. They thought that the decision to bring together two directorates (Vulnerable Children and Families and Children’s Social Care) in 2015 had been a catalyst for change. Inspectors recognised that the City Council has invested  in an integrated model for effective partnership working and commented positively on the measures taken to recruit permanent workforce, which they said had led to the City Council becoming an employer of choice. They described Nottingham City Council as an environment where good and outstanding social work practice can flourish.

The way in which the Council recognises, promotes and records the voice of the child was found to be a real strength across all services, and inspectors concluded that Social Workers knew their children well. Although no formal judgement was given in relation to Early Help services, such as Youth, Play, Children’s Centres and Family Support, these services were described as outstanding by inspectors, and access to Early Help services was found to result in risks being minimised and children’s welfare improving. Children’s assessments were judged to be consistently good leading to meaningful plans for them.


Inspectors were impressed with our Integrated Locality Hubs, such as Mary Potter, Clifton Cornerstone and Bulwell Riverside, amongst others, which ensure services work together effectively by being located together. They said that they offer accessible, responsive and effective forum to support multi-agency services. They were also impressed with our creative use of programmes such as Multi-systemic Therapy and our Edge of Care Hub. They found that children’s emotional needs are considered, and that children were supported by wrap-around services like Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (known as CAMHS) and our Targeted Support. They found that children in care live with carers who are ambitious and proud for them.


In addition to these positive comments, of course, inspectors suggested some areas for improvement. They encouraged us to be more tenacious in order to sustain contact and support for care leavers who aren’t currently engaged with us, they encouraged us to give a more robust response for 16-17 year olds who present as homeless, they encouraged us to increase the capacity of our Independent Reviewing Officer team, and to set clear expectations for responses from partners concerning children for whom there is a safeguarding concern, and partners, particularly the Police and schools, should contribute to initial fact finding, assessments and plans.


Lord Mayor work has already been undertaken, or is in progress, to address these recommendations. We’re not complacent. 


The positive findings of this inspection, which was a pilot for a new framework for inspecting local authorities and their partners, reflects similar positive findings with regard to other services in the Children’s Integrated Services directorate. Our residential care homes for children are all graded as good or outstanding, and our Youth Offending Team was judged to be high performing in the last inspection in June last year.


Finally, Lord Mayor, inspection is an exacting process. It requires additional commitment on behalf of our staff and I would like to thank them for the long hours and commitment that they showed, and the preparation needed for the inspection period. I hope that, like me, they’re proud of the report that we’ve been given.


Additional funding for Northern Ireland


Councillor Jackie Morris asked the following question of the Deputy Leader:


Would the Deputy Leader comment on the £1 billion in additional funding that has now been granted to Northern Ireland and how this compares to Nottingham and the East Midlands?


Councillor Graham Chapman replied as follows:


Thank you, Councillor Morris, for the question.


As we all know Teresa May has concluded a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to keep her minority government in power. This deal involves a substantial increase in public spending in Northern Ireland. So what exactly have the DUP been promised? The DUP have extracted, and I use the word extracted, a series of financial pledges for additional financial support for Northern Ireland. This includes £400 million for infrastructure development, £150 million for ultra-fast broadband rollout, £200 million for health. There is also money to tackle deprivation and mental health. The total package of additional spending adds up to £1 billion. Is this a lot of money? Now, if you are the People’s Republic of China with 1.4 billion inhabitants it isn’t a lot money but, if you are Northern Ireland with 1.86 million people, it is. According to the Office of National Statistics the size of the Northern Irish economy in 2015 was £34 billion. This represents a non-negligible boost of 3% GDP. This £1 billion equates to £550 per head, that is per person in Northern Ireland, when people on Nottingham have lost over £240 per head per year just in council services alone, not to mention policing, regional grants and, soon, education. But there is more. Doesn’t Northern Ireland already get more public spending than the rest of the UK you might ask, and it may need some it, I’m not disputing that, but it already gets £26 billion worth of public spending, and that is £14,000 per head of the population in the province. This is more than a fifth higher than the UK wide average of £11,579, and it is far higher, 31% higher, than the average in the East Midlands which is £10,744 per head. 31% difference already. So the additional spending announced on Monday is going to increase that discrepancy further still. Moreover, the cost to each UK citizen is £15 per head. The cost in the East Midlands is £68 million on average.


There is more still. I suspect there will also be reductions in business costs, business rates, airport taxes, corporation tax incentives, which will not be money paid out, but will be money not collected, which will also cost the rest of the UK economy. So, in short, our region, the East Midlands, will not only be losing money, will not only be paying money effectively over to Northern Ireland, it will be paying to create an unlevel playing field in which to compete.


Finally, this might not be the end of demands. I suspect £1 billion for Ulster is just a downpayment, and former permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Nick McPherson, someone apparently with experience of overseeing Northern Irish spending requirements, has said the DUP will be back for more and more again and again. They have previous in such matters.


So, what you have is the use of public money solely for Party interest. It compels 97% of the population of the UK that does not live in Northern Ireland to pay additional subsidy to the province in return for no advantage at all, in fact quite the opposite, in order to create an uneven playing field against which the rest of the UK economy has to compete. So, on this basis, I would call on our Tory MPs to get together to threaten to vote against the government unless the East Midlands is given additional regional aid of £2.5 billion, which is our quota, to be spent on infrastructure, the NHS, and broadband rollout, because the DUP have got the government over a barrel, and it’s a pork barrel, and it seems to be the only way you can get regional development these days, is on the basis of delivering votes, rather than on need or economic criteria. This reminds me, and my PhD was in Southern Italy, and it was to do with incentives and grants to a deprived area, and it reminds me more and more of Italy in the 1980s when regional aid in the south of Italy was used to buy out a lot of very dodgy people in exchange for delivering votes for the Christian Democrat Party. I never thought it would happen here, but it is.


School funding budget cuts


Councillor Marcia Watson asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Business, Education and Skills:


Given that school funding was such a controversial issue in the general election, does the Portfolio Holder agree that the £22 million cut proposed by government should now be scrapped?


Councillor Sam Webster replied as follows:


Thank you, Lord Mayor, and thank you, Councillor Watson for the question.


The £22 million cut in schools funding that Councillor Watson refers to in the question is the figure that Nottingham schools are projected to lose in real terms under the minority governments proposed National Funding Formula, combined with unfunded inflationary costs in the period up to 2019/20. Whilst it stands, on its own, as a massive sum of money to be taken from school budgets, what it actually means in terms of its impact on the life chances of Nottingham’s children and young people would be even more devastating.


We’ve calculated that this cut in funding is equivalent to the permanent loss of 550 teaching posts across the city. Budget cuts of this magnitude could only result in larger class sizes in all of our schools, or vital subjects in, for example, the sciences, technology and languages being lost to our school curriculum. These are subjects that are vital to improve the skills that our young people require to meet the demands of the technological and digital economy we are growing in the city. Or looking at it another way it is equivalent to the loss of nearly 1,100 teaching assistant posts. These posts, so often undervalued or recognised, are vital to ensure that all children in our schools are properly supported to reach their full potential. Children with special educational needs, disabilities, English as an additional language or those who struggle with behaviour because of their challenging family and social circumstances, would lose the additional support and direct attention that increases their chances of making good educational progress.


It’s clear that even before any imposition of the proposed funding cuts our schools are already beginning to feel the pressure of real term inflationary costs. Vital jobs are already being cut in a number of our schools, as Head Teachers and Governing Bodies are struggling to balance their books. This is why, when in March this year, we launched our citywide consultation with parents and carers on the issue of the proposed cuts we heard back nearly 5,000 parent voices. 98% of who expressed their complete opposition to this misguided proposal. The largest response we’ve ever had to a consultation. Nottingham parents couldn’t have been clearer, they said to Conservatives in government “don’t cut funding to our schools”. I hope our opposition colleagues took note.


Despite the massive rejection of the government’s proposals for school funding cuts, and indeed much opposition has come from its own MP’s and Tory controlled local authorities, the government manifesto contained nothing of substance to address these concerns. Their obsession with grammar schools, promoted with no evidence to prove the claim that they would improve outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, has thankfully been despatched, along with the manifesto author. Their attempt to make savings by removing the opportunity for all of our youngest children to receive a hot and nourishing school meal every day, merely showed the Tories contempt for the “Just about Managing” that the Prime Minister alleged she would govern for. Happily it seems that this foolish plan has followed the grammar schools into the policy bin. Not because the Conservative Party doesn’t want to introduce segregation at 11, because it does, and not because the Conservative Party doesn’t want to scrap universal free school meals for the youngest children, it does. We shouldn’t forget the policies that this government wishes it could enact, however, it cannot enact because of Labour voters, it cannot enact because millions of people said no to segregation, no to scrapping free schools meals and, on election day, the people of Nottingham, just as they did in the consultation responses, said a definite no to these proposed massive cuts to our local schools.


However, despite the welcome news of these proposals being abandoned, we are no closer to knowing how the government intend to address the growing crisis in English schools funding. I’d argue that a government that thinks a top political priority should be to cut billions of pounds from schools and, therefore, billions of pounds from the education of our children, has seriously lost its way, forgotten that for any nation to be successful it must invest in education and skills and is, in fact, damaging the future prospects of the nation and, for us here in Nottingham, our city and our young people.


The evidence of those countries that currently have the highest literacy rates in the world, for example, Finland, Norway and Iceland, is that they spend a far higher proportion of their national expenditure on educating their children than we do in the UK. At a time when it is clear that we need to increase the skills of young people leaving school, it is wholly wrong to be reducing the funding our already underfunded schools receive.


So Councillor Watson is correct, education certainly was a huge election issue and, yes, the proposed cuts should most certainly be scrapped. People clearly want well-funded, well-resourced schools where their children can learn and progress. It’s down to us in the Labour Party to oppose the government’s further cuts to schools budgets. It’s up to us to continue to raise awareness, and it’s up to us to say to the Conservatives in government “you’ve got this wrong. You’ve got your priorities wrong. You need to invest in the next generation for a better society, a growing economy, and a more inclusive country”.


Supporting documents: