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


Chargeable Parking Permits


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


Is the Portfolio Holder able to provide the results of the Traffic and Safety Departments review into the criteria for chargeable parking permits and to confirm what criteria is now in place?


Councillor Sally Longford replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, congratulations on your appointment, and to Cat as well. Unfortunately, Councillor Rule, I have to tell you that the review has not yet been completed. As soon as it is it will be discussed within the Executive, with a view to going public on any amendments to the current policy in due course.


Increased Allotment Rents


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture:


Will the Portfolio Holder comment on whether the proposals to increase allotment rents by 300% over the next 5 years will be replicated across other leisure activities provided by the Council?


Councillor Dave Trimble replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and can I thank Councillor Rule for his question. The current consultation is proposing to increase rents over the next five years to bring them into line with other comparable authorities at this current time. If the consultation was carried out, and it was implemented, it would allow much needed re-investment into a service that really needs investment in it. Benchmarking has been carried out on this, and given the Council budgets, it is highly likely that those other authorities will be increasing their rents yet again even further over the next five years.


Discounts of 25% and 50% are available to allotment holders of pensionable age, and those eligible to claim low income or disability benefits. Lord Mayor, there are no current plans to replicate other leisure activities by the same figures currently being consulted on for the allotment service.


Councillor Rule’s question doesn’t take into account the historic low rents in the City for allotments. It doesn’t take into account that allotment rents have not increased by a single penny for a whole ten years in the not very distant past. There was no question asked in Council when those rents didn’t go up for ten years, whilst other leisure activities provided by the Council endured year on year increased prices during those ten years. Councillor Rule’s question also doesn’t take into account that allotment sites run by associations get a 75% rebate paid back directly to the associations. I’m not sure that Councillor Rule understands the finances of the allotment service, but 75% of that goes to the association, not the Council.


If, after consultation, the process is complete, and the proposed rent becomes 22 pence this year on the current system, then the Council would receive a net rent of 5.5 pence per square metre, and the association would get 16.5 pence per square metre in rebate; three times the amount. For the last full year, the total association allotment rent amounted to £40,297.00. Of that, the associations received £32,885.00 and the Council received only £7,412.00 for the entire year.


Councillor Rule, other leisure activities provided by the Council do not receive the percentage level of support that the allotments already and historically received. On top of this we have offered new leases to all of the associations, which would allow the associations themselves to set their own rents by negotiation with the Council, which means rents could be even lower than they are now, and I would urge further associations to come forward who wish to do that. Thank you.


Tram Construction Snagging Works


Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Leader:


Could the Leader provide a progress update on the snagging works associated with the tram construction and confirm when he believes any outstanding issues will be resolved?


Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor. As with any infrastructure project of this scale, there will always be a few snags which will need attention after the works have completed, and the contractor has made progress in resolving most of these issues in relation to the tram.


Councillor Rule is right to point out that there remain a small number of tram related snags, and I met with him earlier this year to discuss outstanding works, particularly in that part of Clifton that he represents. I understand that of the nine areas of work that are outstanding when we met, five have now been completed. Of the remaining repairs broken slabs outside the Varney Road shops are due to be replaced in June this year, improved lighting will be installed on Wilford footway and Coronation Avenue in June of this year, a variety of minor highway works snags in Clifton and Wilford are fundamentally complete, albeit with one or two minor additions to the work being completed later in the summer, and we’re continuing to work with the contractor and Tramlink to find the solution to issues  around Fairham Brook. I will be happy to meet with Councillor Rule to provide more detailed information on any of these outstanding works, should he wish to.


Enviroenergy Health and Safety


Councillor Jim Armstrong asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Energy and Sustainability:


Could the Portfolio Holder confirm how many staff are employed by Enviroenergy and how many of those employees are responsible for overseeing Health and Safety at the site?


Councillor Dave Liversidge replied as follows:


Including Customer Services there are 43 staff at Enviroenergy. The people responsible for overseeing Health and Safety on the site are Phil - the General Manager, Mohammed Mustafa – the Health, Safety and Environmental Officer, Amarpreet Lakha-Dunkel – the Compliance Engineer, Clive Williams – the Project Manager, Steve Garbett – the District Heating Network Manager, and the six Plant Operation Technicians.


That means that there are people overseeing Health and Safety right down the organisation, in all the different parts of its performance. Thank you.


Windrush Scandal


Councillor Leslie Ayoola asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Community and Customer Services:


Does the Portfolio Holder for Community and Customer Services share my concern about the Government’s handling of the Windrush scandal? And will he condemn the actions of the Home Office in pursuing my one of constituents for documentation, despite his both living in, and contributing to, this country since 1963?


Does he share my view that Nottingham is a city that values all of its citizens and strives to be a place where our many different communities can all live together?


Will he give a commitment that the council will support all British and Commonwealth citizens who are being unfairly targeted by this government’s incompetence?


Councillor Toby Neal replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and again congratulations to both of you. Thank you for your question Councillor Ayoola. This is a story that, as it unfolds, you come to the realisation of the government’s actions in bad faith, and the absolute disrespect for our diverse communities. It’s not as if they haven’t got form on this; the British Nationality Act of 1981 started us on a route down removing the rights of individuals from the Commonwealth countries.


I think the only reasonable response is to condemn the actions of the government and of the Home Office over this work. Like you, I’ve got casework of individuals who have come forward. Now from a Council perspective there is a limited amount that we can do on this, but we can support them, and what is clear from the casework that I have got, and I’m sure is represented in yours, is the untenable position it has put people in, in terms of building up significant levels of debt. They’re not being able to work, losing jobs because they can’t produce various bits of paper that are now being demanded, the debt levels that they are running up with rents and with just staying alive because they can’t work. I mean, it is a contemptible position with this government that they actually tried to conflate the issue with that of illegal immigration, and actually this issue was about removing the rights of British citizens to live and work in this country.


In respect of the last part of your question, we don’t hold the information fully in understanding this situation, but I will give a commitment that we will try and understand what is going on through the casework, through our Community Cohesion Team; they are going to work with various community groups that are helping support individuals, and we are working with a variety of organisations that includes Kemet FM in terms of their information service that they provide on-air, through ACNA; who are going to be providing legal advice to individuals, the Pilgrims Church down in the Meadows; who are providing drop-in services, we are seeing what we can do about providing financial support through the Law Centre and other advice services, and our Cohesion Team and the Nottingham Together Team will be working together with various community groups as I’ve said to help different individuals who are coming forward with problems. So, that is the commitment that we can give, but yes it’s just a shocking story really.


BBC Two ‘Hospital’ Documentary


Councillor Anne Peach asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Adults and Health:


Will the Portfolio Holder for Adults and Health join me in praising the work of the dedicated Nottingham University Hospital staff and our social care staff that were shown in the recent BBC Two ‘Hospital’ documentary? Does the Portfolio Holder also agree that more funding for social care is essential to ease the demand on our NHS?


In the absence of Councillor Nick McDonald, Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and thanks to Councillor Peach for giving me the opportunity to thank Nottingham’s NHS staff for the work they do year round, not just when the cameras are there. Over the past few weeks, the BBC Two ‘Hospital’ documentary has documented the extraordinary hard work of the NHS in our city’s hospitals. The series was filmed during the winter crisis, when NUH hospitals were under extreme pressure, owing to increased demand for their services. The programme showed the very best of our city, and the NHS staff featured in the programme deserve our gratitude for the work they do, day in, day out, for those who need them most. The series also featured some of our Adult Social Care staff, who are continually working with the NHS and other partners to secure safe discharge for some of our most vulnerable elderly citizens.


Social Care services are facing increasingly difficult decisions, with more people needing their support, but less money to go round. I’ve  already written to our Director of Adult Social Care, Helen Jones, to thank her and her team for the excellent work they do in challenging circumstances, I am pleased to repeat my thanks to Helen and her staff again today in Council.


Aside from showing the excellent work that the NHS and our Social Care staff, the programme highlighted the significant and systemic underfunding of these services. There were a number of patients who were shown to be medically fit to leave hospital, but unable to do so because of a lack of provisions to move them on to. This is in spite of the tireless work of City Council staff.


In the last year alone, the cost of funding Adult Social Care in Nottingham has increased by some £12,000,000. At the same time, the government’s Adult Social Care precept has raised just £3,125,000, leaving a gap of some £9,000.000. This is in addition to a £91,000,000 reduction in government grants since 2013. Helen was right when she said in the documentary that if this was a business, you would fund Social Care. It costs significantly less to care for someone in their home than it does to do so in hospital, and so it is in the government’s interest to provide councils with adequate funding for Social Care services. The public's response to the series has been overwhelmingly positive, and cannot have gone un-noticed by government ministers. I hope that they will show that they are serious about improving NHS care, and freeing up vital hospital beds by providing essential funding for Social Care services.


Voter ID Trials


Councillor Linda Woodings asked the following question of the Leader:


Will the Leader comment on the fact that over 3000 people were unable to vote in the recent local elections as a result of the Government’s voter ID trials?


Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Yes, thank you Lord Mayor, and perhaps in some detail. At this year’s local elections, Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking councils trialled government proposals to introduce a requirement for voters to provide additional forms of identification before being able to vote. Acceptable forms of identification varied but, for example, under the pilot scheme in Bromley, voters were required to produce a passport, a driver’s license, a European ID card, or an Oyster 60+ London pass. If a voter didn’t possess any of those documents specified, they had to produce two forms of non-photographic ID, for example a debit card, a bank statement, or a utility bill.


The Electoral Reform Society estimated 3,981 people were denied a ballot paper across the five pilot areas, with the Society’s Chief Executive Darren Hughes saying “these trials have been shown up to be the chaotic un-democratic mess that many predicted. These findings are exactly what many feared, that this draconian measure would result in blameless individuals being disenfranchised”. Which is, of course, exactly what happened, with many voters denied a vote, many of whom had voted regularly without any problems for decades. For example, one 76 year old man who had lived in Bromley for 40 years was shocked to be turned away because he did not have a bank card or passport. Another regular voter, Cleo Lightfoot, said she was infuriated by the fact that the government was bringing in voter ID checks, as it meant her son was unable to vote. “My son doesn’t have a driver’s license or a passport because he can’t afford it – what will he do? He hasn’t got ID; he won’t be able to vote”. She went on to add “it’s stopping people voting. Is it the Conservatives doing this because they know that people who are wealthy are going to have ID and the poorer people aren’t? I don’t know, but you do wonder if it’s all to do with politics”. And of course, Cleo is correct.


Because while the government argues that this is all about tackling impersonation and voter fraud, the figures don’t justify this claim. For example, there were just 21 cases of this kind of voter fraud in 2014, and while that rose to 44 in 2016, the numbers fell again to 28 in 2017. What’s more, those 28 cases in 2017 were from 45,000,000 votes cast in elections and actually led to just one prosecution. In fact for every case of impersonation investigated last year, 142 people lost their vote this May. So while Ministers claimed the scheme would help combat electoral fraud, most academic and independent observers argue that the real aim is to suppress turnout, particularly among the elderly, migrant communities, asylum seekers and disadvantaged people who have the right to vote but may not have stable residence or the proof required.


That’s why in March, a group of 40 charities and academics wrote to the government demanding the policy be dropped. In their letter they said, and I quote “Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons. Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless”. They went on to observe that “Electoral fraud is a serious matter, but requiring voters to show ID is not the right approach. There has not been a single example of personation – the type of fraud the trials are intended to prevent – in any of the pilot areas in the last decade”.


So what of those international studies that the letter referred to? Many are from the US where 33 mainly Republican controlled states have introduced voter ID requirements. One of the most recent studies undertaken by the University of California in San Diego was one of the first to analyse certified votes across all states after the implementation of voter laws in multiple elections, and found, and I quote “that strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks, and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections”. Researchers went on to quantify the effect and found that strict ID laws doubled the turnout gap between whites and Latinos in general elections, and almost doubled the white-black turnout gap in primary elections. The authors of the study also went on to note that the existing research tends to point to three things, that strict voter ID laws requiring identification to cast a ballot do in fact reduce turnout by some amount; that turnout reduction tended to work in Republicans’ favour; and that differential effects have been observed along class and education lines.


So what might the impact be in Nottingham if additional voter ID became a requirement? When responding to concerns raised about the pilot schemes, the government commented, and I quote “people already need ID to buy a car or to travel abroad so they shouldn’t have a problem finding ID to vote”. So I thought I’d check how many people didn’t have a car or passport in the city. And while the data isn’t perfect, the 2011 census shows that of the 243,300 people aged 18 or over in Nottingham, about 40,500, and that’s between 16% and 17% of the population, don’t have a passport, and 83,100, that’s around 34% of the population, have no access to a car. Furthermore, while those affected come from all age groups, younger people are most likely to be amongst those not to have a passport or a car. So that’s large numbers of people without a passport or driver’s license, which are as the government has made clear, its favoured forms of ID and therefore those people are less likely to vote.


Lord Mayor, we all know how difficult it can be to motivate people to vote, particularly young people and particularly so in local elections. All the evidence shows that the introduction of additional ID requirements before voting would reduce turnout even further and amongst those groups least likely to vote. So faced with the evidence, it’s difficult to conclude anything other than this is what the conservatives in government actually want – a reduction in the number of people voting and in particular a reduction in the number of people voting in those groups that already are least likely to vote. They’ve seen the evidence from the US; they see how it advantages right-wing Republicans and decided it would advantage conservative candidates in the UK too. That’s why so many experts and organisations in the UK believe the introduction of voter ID is both anti-democratic and politically partisan, and why it must be stopped.


Rise in Violent Crime


Councillor Corall Jenkins asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Community and Customer Services


Is the Portfolio Holder as concerned as me about the recent rise in crime in Nottingham particularly those of violent and knife crime. How is the council responding to the rise and how have the budget cuts to the police and council impacted on this response?


Councillor Toby Neal replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you for the question Councillor Jenkins. Yes, this is a worrying situation. I think that Councillor Jenkins will be aware that one of our priorities has always been about making Nottingham a safer city. We have always seen crime, anti-social behaviour and the fear of these and tackling those issues as fundamental to the wellbeing of the city and to the prosperity of the city as well. So where are we at the moment? Well the level of victim based crime has now risen by 24% against the data recorded in August 2014 to July 2015 as the baseline. There has been an increase in knife crime in the city which, over a rolling period since March 2015, has seen a total of 140 more crimes.


Now, there is a national context in this, which has seen a very significant rise in numbers, up to over 20%. In Nottingham that rise in knife crime hasn’t been as high, but it is still worrying, it’s been around 11%. There have been recent tragic events in the city, and I know that what that has done is to strengthen the resolve of everybody to try and get to grips with the issues that are causing the problems. We have persistently supported the Police and Crime Commissioner in his call for more funding for Police Officers in the city, and we take a leading role in all aspects of community safety activities. We are the lead organisation for the community safety partnership, which includes the police, the fire service, the health service, and other statutory bodies. We continue to look at innovative solution to crime and anti-social behaviour. A recent one is selective licensing, part of the rationale for that is to help with the burglary rates with enhanced security for tenants and a reduction in anti-social behaviour, which has clearly been identified as a problem with poorly managed properties.


We have maintained a focus on protecting the night time economy. Our participation in the Local Alcohol Action Area programme has meant that we have extended CCTV in the city centre, increased the number of pedestrianised areas which have been linked to criminal activity and where vehicles have been used with weapons and stuff like that. We’re working with licensed premises to ensure that their door staff and their door policies are much more appropriate and well-trained. Consequently we have maintained our Purple Flag status and have expanded best practice schemes such as Best Bar None.


Neighbourhoods are an incredibly important part of what we do, and we have maintained a strong emphasis on dealing with crime and community issues, and working with different partners we have looked at different intervention schemes, especially around young people and supporting victims. You’ll have read of the recent introduction of the Red Thread programme at the QMC, and we have expanded the number of projects and activities that are taking place in communities across the city to support young people and act as diversionary activities.


The Youth Offending Team continues to work with our most troubled young people, and it works closely with specialist safeguarding and substance misuse treatment provisions, with a focus on early childhood experiences has been maintained across the Council as best as we can, because we know that the impact of early years has a hugely profound effect on individuals. Despite the very severe cuts that are taking place within the Council’s services, we have maintained and will continue to maintain safe neighbourhoods, and that has involved the establishment of 100 CPOs in those communities who are well trained and highly visible.


The recent Respect for Nottingham survey highlighted some of the citizens’ concerns around issues of crime and anti-social behaviour, and consequently we have been setting up a complete set of plans around ward based responses to those issues, and those plans are going to the Crime and Drugs Partnership Executive Board this afternoon, and will be driven forward with our partners over the next few months, so you’ll see a lot more of that.


I mean there is no getting away from the cuts to the public sector, both here at the Council and to the Police, have seen significant impact on the problems in our communities, however it hasn’t undermined our commitment to working in those areas. So I thank you for the question, I want to reassure everybody that our concerns around crime have not dissolved at all, and we will be working closer and more coherently with our partners like the Police and the Communities Team to ensure that we see improved rates.

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