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


Enviroenergy Shutdown


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Energy and Sustainability:


Could the Portfolio Holder comment on extent to which the extended shut-down of Enviroenergy over the summer months will affect its ability to meet its loan repayments to the City Council?


Councillor Dave Liversidge replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and thanks to Councillor Andrew Rule for his question. Enviroenergy is a separate legal entity. The Council is aware of the extended shutdown of the district heating station as a result of complex engineering works on the system. The turbine is now fully operational and was brought back into service on 18 October. It is likely that this extended shutdown will impact upon the company’s profit and loss account. Any potential impact upon the Council’s 2017/8 budget is not yet known.


Station Street Regeneration


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Leader:


Could the Leader confirm the total cost to the City Council of the following:

·  the initial slabbing works on Station Street;

·  the cost of the recent tarmacking work;

·  any supplementary work to be completed once the Broadmarsh Car Park is completed?


Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor. The total cost of pedestrianising and improving Station Street was £1,640,000. This cost was not met from Council Tax, but from a variety of external sources including LTP, European and LEP funding.


Recent tarmac work to replace paving slabs on Trent Street cost £35,000 and was made necessary by the decision to temporarily accommodate National Express coaches displaced from Broadmarsh bus station.


It is likely that granite paving in keeping with the rest of the Station Street scheme will be reinstated once the Broadmarsh car park is complete. The cost of this and the temporary tarmac will be met from the current budget for public realm improvements associated with the wider Broadmarsh scheme.


Parking Permit Policy


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhood Services and Local Transport:


Could the Portfolio Holder explain the apparent inconsistency in the City Council’s chargeable parking permit policy whereby residents included in the proposed parking permit scheme in St Leonards Drive and surrounding streets in Wollaton will not be charged for parking permits, despite more than 50% of the properties in those areas having private driveways, and residents of Clifton Grove are being advised should a parking permit scheme come into operation in that area residents will have to pay for each permit issued because more than 50% of the properties in the scheme have private driveways?


Councillor Sally Longford replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor. The area close to Wollaton Park is affected by parking for a number of Council events on Wollaton Park, attended by thousands of people. The Council is sympathetic to residents’ parking needs, and has to implement temporary event parking schemes which come at a cost to the Council. This scheme will cut expenditure in managing events, and if residents are in favour of the schemes implementation, it will be a free scheme.


Broadmarsh Car Parking Provision


Councillor Georgina Culley asked the following question of the Leader:


Could the Leader tell us, apart from the auxiliary car parks that do not represent a like for like replacement of the number of car parking spaces lost to the demolition of Broadmarsh car park, what provision have been made to accommodate shoppers who will be driving into Nottingham to do their Christmas shopping?


Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Councillor Culley’s question is based on 2 false assumptions. The first is that Broadmarsh car park was predominantly used by shoppers and the second is that we need a similar sized car park to accommodate them. Before demolition, analysis showed that of the 1170 places in the Broadmarsh, most were used by commuters, with just 280 of the spaces used by shoppers, leisure or retail customers.


With INTU’s agreement, those 280 spaces have been provided at temporary car parks on the Broadmarsh East and Sheriff’s Lodge sites, with a charging regime designed to encourage shoppers and discourage commuters. So far that capacity has proved more than sufficient for shoppers wishing to park close to the Broadmarsh shopping centre.


Further capacity will be provided by a new 700 space temporary car park on the Island site, which should be open by the end of the month. This car park will be serviced by the free Ecolink bus, offering a quick and easy way for people to access shopping, leisure and office destinations around the city centre.


Public Sector Pay Cap


Councillor Steve Battlemuch asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Community and Customer Services:


Given that since 2010, council workers basic pay has fallen by 21% as a result of government cuts, does the Portfolio Holder for Community and Customer Services agree that the public sector pay cap should be lifted and government should provide the funding to give a decent pay rise for Nottingham’s public sector employees?


Councillor Toby Neal replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and thank you Councillor Steve Battlemuch for your question. Local government employs over 2,300,000 people in the UK, that’s more than twice the size of the NHS and substantially larger than the civil service. In Nottingham, it’s nearly 6,500 people that work for the City Council. Local government provides services that most people have daily contact with, from ensuring the streets are clean, that bins are emptied, keeping the public safe, educating their children, and working to help and protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged. So let’s think about what the pay cap means in practice for Nottingham City Council employees. Let’s look at refuse, street scene and adult care workers, who make up the majority in the bands that are currently most affected by this. In 2010 the hourly rate was £7.80, or £8.72. In 2017, that increased to £8.64 or £9.21. As an increase, that sounds great. Except if you work out the CPI inflation index those figures should now be £9.15 and £10.23. So you can see where the differential starts to come in.


The government issues many justifications for the pay cap – controlling public spending, bringing down debt, sorting out the difference between public and private sector pay. However, the government’s arguments on this are pretty much in shreds. The IFS has pointed out that the government cap is creating greater differentials between the public and private sector, the ONS figures for April 2017 when inflation was 2.7% showed that average weekly earnings were rising by 1.2% for the private sector, and just 0.8% in the public sector, and in fact the Resolution Foundation showed that whilst wage growth was up in 2016, it was up by 1.6% for the private sector and had fallen by 0.3% for the public sector.


And probably the less said about the government’s debt management schemes, is probably the best route really, with them more than doubling the national debt and seeming to be unable to get to grips with that. I know, as do some of our other Councillors here, that we’re facing the pretty shameful position of Council workers going to food banks, and increased reliance on debt to manage their day to day finances. The effects it has on the Council itself are pretty profound, it makes recruiting, retention and even the motivation of staff significantly problematic. There is no doubt that with the cuts themselves, although we’ve managed to maintain a reasonable level for frontline services, workloads are expanding to capacity, and the workforce is really stretched. 


And the argument that this is necessary is pretty fallacious as well. 10 years on from the 2008 banking crisis, all of the countries that instituted public pay freezes and public cuts have stopped doing it. This includes America, Germany, and France. On the pay freeze front, the UK government is the only one that continues doing this. And the OECD recent compound wage growth charts show that of the Western economies that have shown any economic growth, however small that might be, we are the only Western country that has seen wage contraction in that period as well. So this is clearly an unsustainable position, and must be addressed, and the first step in this is for the government to fully fund a decent pay rise for all Council workers.


Funding Formula for Transitional Grant


Councillor Wendy Smith asked the following question of the Deputy Leader:


Could the Deputy Leader give a summary of the response he received from the Department for Communities and Local Government following his latest Freedom of Information request on the funding formula for the Transition Grant?


Councillor Graham Chapman replied as follows:


I very much welcome this question, thank you Lord Mayor. In April 2016 the government handed out an extra £300,000,000 over 2 years in funding through their Transitional Grant scheme. The money went to affluent councils, mainly in the south, which over the years of austerity have escaped serious funding cuts. 80% of the money went to Conservative councils, many of which contained constituencies of Cabinet members. Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and northern cities, got nothing, zilch. The odd thing was that, although the government regularly provides detailed spreadsheets for calculation of our normal grant, the Revenue Support Grant, no such information accompanied the Transition Grant. So I asked, via a Freedom of Information request, for the spreadsheet, on the naïve grounds that perhaps the Department for Communities and Local Government had forgotten to include them. After all, we’re not living in a banana republic, are we? It is the UK, with one of the most professional civil services in the world, and they should provide consistency, shouldn’t they?


My first round of requests and appeals to the Department for Communities and Local Government were blocked. First, on the vague grounds of public interest - they did not consider it in the public interest to know what the basis was. Then they changed their grounds, and the reason they gave me was that the Transition Grant was still an active policy, and as such the requested information could not be released. In short – the goalposts moved. But the implication was that when the policy, which was a 2 year allocation, was finally concluded, I could have the spreadsheets and calculations. So I waited. And on 23 February 2017 I once again submitted a Freedom of Information enquiry asking for details of calculations for the Transition Grant. After all, it was no longer policy, all was finished. Between then and this month, the DCLG has delayed, it has prevaricated, it has broken several deadlines, all to tell me on 1 November that the information would not be made available, on the grounds that I was being vexatious. It had taken 6 months of to-ing and fro-ing, requests for extensions, of hassling, of cajoling, for them to class my request as vexatious. If it was vexatious in November, why was it not vexatious in February when I first asked? It’s taken them 6 months to decide that it was vexatious.


So I’ve had 3 justifications from the DCLG, it has taken 7 months to scroll down their list of excuses to land on vexatious as a reason, and it has become really obvious that they have decided not to provide the spreadsheet, and are then scrabbling around to find reasons to justify it. It’s all back to front, which makes me smell a rat. And if you think I’m being flippant about lists of excuses, I’ll quote from Private Eye the reason they were not given information about land ownership in tax havens: “the Land Registry has refused our request for information about properties bought by offshore companies since 2014, claiming that the request is vexatious”. So when you run out of excuses, when it all gets embarrassing, then it seems what you do in government in 2017 is cite vexatiousness.


But I’m not letting this one go. I believe there will be a further request from the county councils for an extension of this bung, and I will be appealing to the Freedom of Information Commission, and I will also be contacting my MP, in fact I’ve done it already, one of our MPs Mr Norris – you may know him, and he will be meeting the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee this Wednesday to raise the matter. But more important still is the substance of all of this. I repeat – 80% of this money went to Conservative councils. The real litmus test was that it also went to London councils, but the only London councils that got it were the outer boroughs, none of the inner boroughs got it. So Richmond got it, but Hackney did not get it. And if you’re telling me that isn’t political, then I don’t know what is.


As I said, the county councils are on the move again, they are looking for an extension of the scheme. And I know this, because I know county council leaders, and I knew in the first place that they were asking for a bung, because I remember talking to the leader of Suffolk who was going down there to lobby, and was full of expectation. I wish we could go down there lobbying, full of expectation. And so my view is that the government will accede, there will be another round. Moreover, they won’t tell me where the money is coming from either. And I am fairly sure, because I have asked, I am fairly sure it is unallocated business rate retention, which should be spent fairly and equitably across all councils, not just Tory southern councils where ministers have their seats.


So this is not just a technical issue, it is a matter of fairness, it is a matter of probity, this is a political bung. This is verging on the corrupt, and it is dragging the civil service into areas it should not be going. And our citizens, the citizens we represent, are losing out, and that’s why I am going to continue to be vexatious, and probably quite proud of it. Thank you very much.


Properties Owned by Those Registered in Tax Havens


Councillor Nick Raine asked the following question of the Deputy Leader:


Would the Deputy Leader comment about the number of private lets in the City owned by individuals and multinationals registered in tax havens?


Councillor Graham Chapman replied as follows:


In a week’s time, Philip Hammond will be delivering yet another austerity budget, and expecting further sacrifice from public services. All of this at a time when the NHS is struggling as it has not done since the 1990s, when the Police and prison services in Nottingham and elsewhere are under resourced, when there are increasing levels of child poverty in this city, when adult care funding is in crisis, at a time when homelessness is rising to levels not seen since the era of John Major, and when public sector staff are increasingly finding their wages eroded below inflation increases.


And we will be told by Mr Hammond that there is no alternative. But there are indeed alternatives. This week the Paradise papers were released, showing billions of pounds of tax evasion by thousands of UK offshore companies. And now today we have a manifestation of that in Nottingham. In these papers, and I have them here, in these papers there are records of over 700 cases up to 2014 of properties in Nottingham registered to companies abroad, mainly in tax havens. And I’ll give you a few of them – not all of them, there’s 700 odd and I think I’d run out of time!


But let’s just talk about National Car Parks in St James’ Street, which is registered in Jersey, owned by BNP Paribas. I can talk about Pictureworks, we all know where Pictureworks is don’t we? We overlook it from Loxley House. There are a large number of flats in there that are owned abroad in the Virgin Islands and Panama. The Ford building in Lower Parliament Street is owned abroad, I think it’s in Guernsey - I don’t want to be quoted on that, I’m doing that from memory. The Horse and Groom where some of us go now and again, registered in the Isle of Man. 10-12 Lister Gate – Virgin Islands. The car park on Bromley Place – owned by Kathmandu Ltd, I bet they’re a decent firm that I’d put my pension into, Virgin islands. And it goes on and on, the Litmus building, we all know where that is, I think it’s on Huntingdon Street – owned by a Guernsey registered company. And then we talk about the Lenton triangle, where loads and loads of students live. Street after street after street you have houses owned by Ship2SAR, based in Luxembourg. And then you get another lot by Luxury Student Properties of Jersey. Huge chunks of this city are owned by people registered abroad.


Not only is this money lost to the city, it is lost to the UK. And one of the reasons why many people in this city are being hit by reductions in public services, because these people are not paying their taxes. Whilst the worst off in this city, many of whom are paying their taxes, some more than the individuals owning these millions of pounds worth of property, are paying for the austerity. These people are exploiting that austerity. Income tax, Corporation tax, Inheritance tax via artificial trusts, Capital Gains tax, is all being avoided.


Meanwhile, not only are frontline public services deteriorating, the worst off punished, but the rest of us are having to pay for the NHS, the roads, the education system, policing, all of which helps these owners maintain the infrastructure to both lease and sell their property, and to make profits. Whilst they benefit from the gains, we have to pay for the services which support their gains. Indeed, some of these properties, over 100 or so, are student houses, where not only is there no national tax being collected because of offshore ownership, no local taxes are being collected. Yet they are costing the public sector in this city, this Council in particular, hundreds of thousands of pounds. They are parasitic. They are taking money out of the city and contributing absolutely nothing back.


I will finish on 2 points. That the Tory party is up to its neck in collusion, and many of its donors have their profits made in this way, not least Lord Ashcroft. Governments of both parties have let this go on. Last month there was an opportunity to close one of the loopholes. The Tory party blocked an opportunity last month in a Labour private members’ bill to extend Capital Gains tax to commercial property sales by non doms. It blocked that motion. At the same time the Inland Revenue are going to lose 5,000 staff, and often these are people with a great deal of expertise, particularly about tracking down companies in tax havens. And this is in the latest reorganisation. So they are blocking legislation in parliament to close the loopholes, they are cutting back on the Inland Revenue to chase the money. So despite all the rhetoric from the Chancellor, there seems to be no will to collect this money. Indeed, with the Inland Revenue cuts we are moving in the opposite direction.


I have come to the conclusion that the Tory party, despite all its rhetoric, is constitutionally incapable of dealing with this matter, and the only way we’re going to get justice for the people in this city is to change the government to one that is determined to crack down on what in the end is immoral behaviour. Thank you.


Prospects for Care Leavers


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


Can the Portfolio Holder for Early Years and Early Intervention give an update on the employment and training prospects of care leavers?


Councillor Mellen responded as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and can I thank Councillor Peach for her question. I am pleased to report to Council today that 67% of Nottingham City Council care leavers aged 19-21 are in employment, education or training. This current performance in the city is an improvement on last year’s results of 58.7% of care leavers, and at that point performance in authorities who are similar to ours was 47.7%. The figure of 67% this year is only bettered by 6 other local authorities across the country, so only 6 out of 150. We’re not complacent, but we’re pleased with the progress that has been made in carrying out our responsibility towards those young people who have previously been in our care, and I am grateful to those in the council and at Nottingham Futures who have worked hard to support these young people.


We’re very very proud too of the 16 care leavers who are currently at university, and the many others who continue in their education in some way. But we’re also dedicated to ensure that as many care leavers as possible secure employment. The priority that we have given to this area of our work is reflected in the fact that it forms a council plan target, where we have pledged to offer apprenticeships or permanent jobs to 10% of care leavers within the council, setting an example to other employers with their own practice. To deliver this the Leaving Care Service is working closely with the Nottingham Apprenticeship Scheme.


Prior to each vacancy release, workshops are delivered to encourage applications from care leavers, including support with writing applications, interviews, employability skills and the recruitment process. A working protocol has been agreed that promotes strong communication between the Nottingham Apprenticeship Scheme, Apprentice Managers and Personal Advisors for the Leaving Care team. This ensures that that any issues which might impact on someone completing the scheme are identified early and effective support can be provided


Where needs are identified, care leavers on Nottingham City Council apprenticeships are released during working hours to access counselling, coaching and skill development support.


The Leaving Care Service has an in-house employability programme that supports care leavers who are the furthest away from entering the labour market. The scheme supports young people in making positive, preparatory steps towards training and employment. The programme is formally recognised by the Department for Work and Pensions as a progressive job seeking provision for care leavers. This status has enabled opportunities to access DWP funding to enhance the impact and reach of the programme.


Bespoke programmes are created around the individual young person that aim to build their confidence and develop the habits and skills that are essential in sustaining mainstream training or employment. Opportunities to gain meaningful and supportive experience are facilitated through an ever-increasing network of community partners and internal service areas. Tailored support packages are developed and those who are facing the biggest challenges are linked with intensive mentoring support. Further barriers to engagement that young people may experience such as the cost of travel and work clothing are also resolved.


Opportunities such as those offered last week in the youth takeover week, where some of our care leavers and children got a chance to shadow officers and councillors, as well as to prepare lunch in the Loxley canteen on Thursday, all helped to provide the experience and boost the confidence of our young people.


Detailed transition planning takes place with each young person to ensure they continue their progress towards entering further training or employment. This is delivered by working closely with Nottingham Futures and other providers of Not in Education Employment or Training focused provision e.g. Princes Trust.


Work to ensure that care leavers have appropriate and additional pastoral support from FE providers is taking place through identifying designated contacts and improving communication between partners and Personal Advisors. The impact of this is starting to be seen, with examples of more collaborative and early support being implemented when issues arise, resulting in college places being sustained.


So Lord Mayor, we’re not complacent, and our aim is for every young person to be carrying on in education or to get a job when they leave care. But we are encouraged by the progress that we’ve made, and we’ll continue our efforts in the future to do our best for the young people for whom we have a particular responsibility as their corporate parent.

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