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


Victoria Embankment Paddling Pool

Councillor Kevin Clarke asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Highways, Transport and Parks:

Can the Portfolio Holder address why, despite this being the hottest summer on record, the residents of our City had no paddling pool on Victoria Embankment to take their children to?


As Councillor Clarke was not in attendance at the meeting, the question received a written response after the meeting from Councillor Audra Wynter.  That written response is attached to these minutes.


Residential Parking Charges

Councillor Maria Watson asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods, Safety and Inclusion:

We asked the question at the March Full Council meeting why this Council was intending to charge residents of the City to park outside their own homes.  We ask again why should residents pay for this Council’s financing mistakes?


Councillor Neghat Khan replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor and can I also thank Councillor Watson for her question. This Council has subsidised the cost of administering, managing and enforcing resident parking permits for a number of years. Many councils cover the cost of these schemes through a fee for example, all neighbouring councils including Nottinghamshire County Council, Rushcliffe Borough Council and Gedling Borough Council charge for first and all permits and have been doing so for many years. So does Councillor Watson think they do this because they made financial mistakes or because they too are managing the costs associated with parking schemes. Here in Nottingham, as part of the consultation, we have been consulting all affected residents on the first parking permit being free and charging £35 for the second and £50 for the third permit. This is in comparison to Sheffield City Council, which charges £46 for the first and £93 for the second permit. The charges will be required to enable the Council to recoup the ongoing cost of operating and enforcing the schemes. Any negative impacts on charging residents for parking permits will be mitigated by the increased availability of spaces across the schemes, which is anticipated will occur following the proposed charges. Residents still have localised difficulties in finding a parking space - there is an unwritten rule that people would generally tend to park outside their own home but it is important to note that no one has an automatic right to park on the road outside their own home, sometimes it is not possible and, in most instances, if you can park there without contravening the Highway Code, so can others. The positive impact is a possible reduction in private vehicles owned by residents which could result in improved access to residents parking schemes and help towards our ambition of becoming the first city to be carbon neutral by 2028. Central Government reducing our grants year on year means we have £101m less a year than we did in 2013 and 70% of our budget is being spent on statutory services like Adults and Children’s Social Care so we will have to make tough decisions to achieve a balanced budget. Having said that though, no decision to introduce a parking scheme has yet to be made and the Council will be considering that decision at the Executive Board meeting in November. Finally, whilst I always appreciate the opportunity to stand here and respond to questions from all sides of the Council, I want to make clear our commitment to delivering the best services we can right across the city. So, whilst it is convenient for the Nottingham Independents to stand here once every two months and make cheap political points, let me tell them and the residents of Clifton what this Council, under our leadership, has delivered for them: whether retrofitting energy efficient provision in housing stock or delivering obvious benefits of having the tram serving the area, providing another vital link to the city centre, the QMC, the North and West of the City, attracting fresh investment into Clifton; continuation of our commitment to improve and maintain the housing stock in Clifton with approximately £5m spent on maintenance since 2019, which includes £1.4m spent on 25,000 repairs, £1m on boiler instillations, £208,000 on housing adaptions and £200,000 on sprinkler system at South Church Court; through the Decent Neighbourhood Programme throughout Clifton we have repaired footpaths on Homewell Walk, Bonford Avenue, Richmond Walk and Wilkin Gardens,with additional car parking refurbishments on Barkla Close and Flemming Gardens; the Council is also investing £4.3m in the development of 36 new homes in Keiron Hill Court. So, Lord Mayor, I am sure Members in this Chamber will forgive me for not taking any lectures from the Nottingham Independents on how best to deliver for residents of this city. They might think the odd cheap political point lodged in Full Council questions is best for the people of Clifton, whereas we know that Nottingham Labour has a track record of delivering affordable housing, energy efficient measures and investment right into the heart of Clifton and that means so much more than mere words on paper. Thank you.


The Place, Sherwood

Councillor Kevin Clarke asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Strategic Regeneration and Communications:

As the Council claims it supports community activity, does it consider that increasing the rent of the Place Community Centre in Sherwood by 120,000% will achieve this?


As Councillor Clarke was not in attendance at the meeting, the question received a written response after the meeting from Councillor David Mellen.  That written response is attached to these minutes.


Housing Revenue Account

Councillor Maria Watson asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Finance:

Can the Portfolio Holder confirm whether the £40m misspent ring-fenced money has now been paid back in full?


Councillor Adele Williams replied as follows:

Thank you Councillor Watson for your question. As referenced in a previous citizen question and Councillor Neal’s answer, the £40m refers to an estimated figure in the review of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) which is broken down into two parts. The first part payable by the Council of about £28m and then the £17m payable by Nottingham City Homes. The final amount due from the Council’s General Fund was calculated using this base figure of £22.87m to which was added the opportunity cost to HRA of not having the funds available to it together with other smaller differences between the estimated and final amounts. The result was a total figure of £27.703m, this has been paid back to the HRA under the credit direction granted by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on the 8 August. It has been accounted for in our final accounts as Councillor Neal described. There is a further £17m payable by Nottingham City Homes and work is ongoing to conclude this item. 


Firework Display

Councillor Kirsty Jones asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture and Planning:

Does the Portfolio Holder agree with me that it is very sad that the annual firework and bonfire display has been cancelled?  In a time when many are struggling, this public event, that has been a wonderful free event for families to attend and enjoy in the past, will now not be going ahead this year.


Councillor Pavlos Kotsonis replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you Councillor for your question. The cancellation of the annual bonfire night event was done with a very heavy heart, particularly after the previous two events were cancelled due to the pandemic. The much-loved event is one of the events commissioned by Nottingham City Council and regularly attracts around 40,000 people. The Council’s Event Team usually delivers this event with costs of around £30,000 to stage, which includes around £10,000 of income which is from the fairground and food and beverages. Raising prises meant that the cost of the event would have significantly increased this year, whilst income would have also reduced. Like most councils around the country, the City Council is facing huge budget difficulties at the moment, exacerbated by rising inflation, energy costs and other associated pressures. This growing budget gap did not allow us to have this event this year. Other local authorities, particularly Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, to mention a few, have also taken the decision to cancel the same event. Whilst I am very disappointed that it was not possible to stage this event this year, I am pleased to report that the much anticipated seasonal Christmas events will be going ahead, including the Christmas Market which will be at no cost to the local tax payer.


Pay Award

Councillor Nick Raine asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Housing and HR:

Does the Portfolio Holder agree with me that the local government pay offer should be both fully funded by central government and adequate to the scale of financial crisis hitting the household budgets of our hardworking keyworkers - and that no one should work all week serving our city to go home to empty cupboards?


Councillor Toby Neal replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you for the question. I could keep it short and say ‘yes’ but I am not going to because I think there are some really relevant points. I mean, I think it is a disgrace, as to be fair I think most people in this room do too, that people have to go to food banks to support themselves. In 2009, there was a total national visit to food banks of 45,000. That is a lot but we look at today’s numbers: 2.1million across the entire country just for the Trussel Trust and in the East Midlands use has gone from 45,000 in 2014 to nearly 130,000 this year. So, there is an exponential growth on this, and it is pretty disgraceful. In terms of what it means for local authorities: local authorities are facing unprecedented budgetary pressures with inflation currently running at 10.1% which is a 40-year high and we expect it to go higher. These are exceptional times and pay inflation is only one of the financial pressures that the Council is facing as a result of the cost of living crisis. Consequently, we believe, I believe, and I am sure you believe that Central Government needs to develop a package of measures to support local authorities in these unprecedented times, and funding to support the pay offer is just one of those. As it stands, the cost to implement the pay offer will be in the region of £10.9m. We allocated, in last year’s budget, £3.9m, so we are looking at a £7m pressure on our budget to meet the requirements of the pay rise, which frankly people deserve, nobody is going to quibble about that. To understand what the pay offer is, it is worth noting it is a flat £1900 to all employees of local authorities. What that means is, those on the lowest pay grades will have a significant increase of 10% or higher, so it will benefit those who are on the lowest wages most. Given that the rate of inflation it is likely that the pay awards will be significantly higher over the coming years as well. The Medium Term Financial Plan that we approved in March assumed a pay award of 2% so if we say the next year is 4%, we are going to see an extra £4m on top of the £7m that we have to find here as it is raked into the bottom line. We are, though, very conscious of the impact of the cost of living crisis on staff and we have put in place a number of actions that should hopefully alleviate some of the immediate pressures. We have changed the payment process for employee expenses from monthly to weekly.  This came from feedback from employees and trade unions that some colleagues were experiencing hardship as they were having to wait until the following month to receive out of pocket expenses. We have a proposal to pay mileage for the first and last journey home for home-care workers and this has been agreed with payments to be backdated to April 2022. We are actively promoting the Council’s employee benefits scheme which includes a whole range of different things including public transport, bicycles and shopping vouchers that gives cost cutting to colleagues at various different retailers. In the longer term there is a significant issue with pay within local government, we are experienced both in terms of recruitment as well as retention and we are working up a new strategy in terms of pay structure.  This is a longer term piece of work that will not address the immediate concerns, but it is something we are heavily engaged with, with the trade unions and we are currently working with the key stakeholders on this. We are looking at various other options and discussing these with the trade unions in addition to any other options they feel may benefit their members.  So yes, people shouldn’t have to rely on food banks and we are trying to do something around that.  I want to finish by saying that over the last couple of years we have seen some of the best out of our colleagues in the City Council in terms of their engagement with communities, supporting communities.  They have earned, and they deserve a decent pay rise.


Local Government Funding

Councillor Graham Chapman asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:

Would the Leader of the Council comment on the prospect of further net reductions in local government funding as a result of the ex-Prime Minister’s botched budget? 


Councillor David Mellen replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor and I thank Councillor Chapman for his question. The mini budget at the beginning of this month was an unmitigated disaster. It caused the economy to crash, the pound to plummet and saw the last Prime Minister have a shorter shelf life than a lettuce. It would be funny if it wasn’t scary and dangerous. The consequence for councils like Nottingham is that it is made an already difficult budget situation, starved of resources for the last 12 years, much worse with little prospect of the needs of the services we deliver to the people of this city being properly funded. This was a mini budget for the rich, which trampled on everybody else in the country. It ignored people who are not currently working as well as those with jobs, people with mortgages to pay, people working in public services, charities and the voluntary sector, those who are teaching or learning in our schools, it came at the cost of our environmental ambitions, our goals for a more equal society and we are losing our respect in the world because of the short-sighted and factional financial plans of the Conservative Government. What will last longer than the Prime Minister’s disastrous 50 days in office is the ongoing impact on the rest of the country. In fact, inflation continues to rise, the cost of food and drink is increasing, and the cost of energy bills remains out of control with no solution in sight. Although the new Chancellor has announced many of the new decisions made by his predecessor will be reversed, the budget promised to happen today, will, in common with so many promises of this Government, be subject to delay with it now being pushed back to later in November. Months were wasted whilst the Government dithered over who should be the Prime Minister, more time spent bickering than on budgets. A decision made after a summer concentrating on not on the needs of the country but on the needs of the Conservative Party. So, councils around the country are wrestling with budgets with no real hope that the inflationary pressures on our budget from the high rises in energy costs, will be reflected in the local government settlement expected in December. This is not just a Nottingham problem, in Brighton the Council Leader, Phelim Mac Cafferty has said the Council cannot take any more cuts to funding amid fears of billions of pounds of public spending cuts. He was commenting after the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said that cuts to public spending cannot be ruled out as the Government tries to reassure financial markets after the disruption caused by the mini budget last month. Mr Hunt said that all Departments will need to redouble their efforts to find savings, failing to rule out cuts to welfare and cuts to local government. You may say: Opposition council leaders would say that, but what about council leaders from the same party as the Government? ‘Further budget cuts from Central Government to already stretched services supporting Kent’s residents are going to be extremely challenging and hit hard’ says Kent County Council as Members try to secure services whilst clawing back a significant budget deficit. The Conservative led County Councils’ Network, of which Kent County Council is a member, has this week written to the Treasury to say the prospect of funding reductions on top of soaring inflation would be unthinkable and devastating for services across the country and be worse than austerity. Peter Oakford, Kent County Council Deputy Leader, said ‘we cannot doubt the gravity of this financial situation, there is a clear picture of the causes, above all the surge of inflation, coupled with the demand for services, especially social care.’ Just down the road in Leicestershire, Tory Council Leader Nick Rushton said this before the mini budget, goodness knows what he thinks now: ‘our financial situation is frightening, worse than the years of austerity, we have lost £230m a year in spending power since 2010, we pride ourselves on doing the best we can but the money we have will not be enough and we will have to make tough decisions and nothing is off the table. As the lowest funded county council under the Government’s funding scheme, Leicestershire has been sensitive to financial shocks, the challenge currently being faced will put even the best funded local authorities under pressure’. So Councillor Chapman, in a situation where net increases in Local Government settlements are desperately needed all across the country, I fear that net decreases are a real threat to councils and the people that they serve.


Local Government Finance

Councillor Sam Webster asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Finance:

The Conservative Chair of the Local Government Association said in a letter to the Chancellor that without additional funding there is “a serious threat to the ability of Council services to function at even the most rudimentary level”.  Can the Portfolio Holder explain how the huge inflationary pressures might affect basic Council services in Nottingham if new money isn’t forthcoming?


Councillor Adele Williams replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you Councillor Webster for your question. So, you’ll all remember the footage we saw in the summer of the now-Prime Minister speaking to the Party Faithful, boasting of how he has been pulling money from places like Nottingham to places like Tunbridge Wells. He said ‘I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure areas like Tunbridge Wells are getting the funding they deserve because we inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of doing that.’ Refreshingly honest, as of course he didn’t start the work did he - it has been happening since the Tories came to power in 2010.  I would also like to take issue with the word ‘deprived’. In Nottingham we have got it, we have absolutely got it but we are held back, held back by Central Government, held back by Conservative Government. So whilst there is heaps of evidence to show less well healed areas have done worse out of austerity in funding for local services we know, as the question reveals, even the currently Tory shires are hurting because local services are just not a priority for Conservatives. The levelling-up promise has never been delivered and Mr Sunak’s comments make clear it was just empty promises to the ‘red wall’ areas that remember Thatcher. No new set of Conservatives is ever very different, is it? From the Towns Fund to the distribution of funding for local services, there was never any intention to level up. So now councils in cities like ours are faced with budget gaps for next year and moving forward of tens of millions of pounds. Liverpool, in the press, need to make £80m of savings, Bristol £31m and over the water I think Nottinghamshire County Council is declaring a budget gap of £24m. We will declare our budget gap in the December Executive Board meeting as part of our proper governance processes, but I can tell you that after setting a balanced Medium Term Financial Plan in March, we are now in a position like every other local authority, our budget plans are blown out of the water by double digit inflation. Like every year we don’t get our settlement from Central Government until just before Christmas but before that we need to be talking to Nottingham, putting our consultation to Nottingham on measures that we will have to face and think about to take us toward the balanced Medium Term Financial Plan. We will have to share an outline of what we might need to do to set a balanced budget in March in the event that the Chancellor provides no better news for places like Nottingham. We have got some strong transformation projects in the city that will deliver better services and improved outcomes for citizens at lower costs, but this cataclysmic budget challenge is way beyond that. Councils all over Britain are having discussions on what they can do within the financial resources that is appears they will have if the Chancellor rigidly sticks to the settlement as laid out and that is in the face of the warnings he has received from his political allies. We are here because we think Nottingham needs, and deserves the best. We will be having the same conversations as councils are having around the country: what can we do after more than a decade of Conservative cuts to local services, with even less.  We will be thinking the absolute unthinkable about our services, thinking about what is a safe and legal level of service, thinking about unthinking measures we will have to consider in order to work towards a balanced budget.  As Councillor Mellen has mentioned, we have no choice on that matter. Yes, there are global head winds that have driven the price of energy but let’s not forget the way Britain has been hit by this is due to home-grown choices and Conservative choices.  We haven’t invested in renewables, we haven’t invested in installation, we haven’t invested in gas storage, so we are horribly vulnerable to an international energy crisis. So it is on us and our families, and in local government to pay for a crisis which has been made and driven by the successive occupants of Downing Street.  This is what is driving the inflationary pressures that are pushing up the costs that we face, whether it be what we buy and contract or the cost of the unfunded pay offer, which as my colleague has already said, is not what our workers deserve.  They deserve more but it is not funded anyway so we have to find that out of council budgets. We have also had a continued disgraceful failure to fund and fix social care, another one of those areas which is still locally funded, despite the impact on council resources being so much higher in the areas that are least able to support it. So, this Government is an unmitigated disaster on every possible level for Britain: for your household finances, for our Council finances, for anyone on an NHS waiting list, for small businesses out there trying to recover from Covid.  In a last chance for our future generations and the planet, isn’t it time that our Opposition joined with us in asking for what we know Nottingham wants - a General Election or at least will you join with us in writing to the Chancellor to demand that Nottingham gets what it needs and deserves? Thank you.


Council Governance

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

The Improvement and Assurance Board has repeatedly highlighted the Council’s failure to ‘move at pace’ and address their concerns as a ‘matter of urgency’ – does the Leader of the Council agree that one way this could be improved is if decision making by the political hierarchy could be streamlined, by increasing limits to the Scheme of Delegation allowing officers to take minutia away from the political leadership and speed up the decision making, as has been done in other Core Cities?


Councillor David Mellen replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor and can I thank Councillor Rule for his question. Nottingham City Council has an Improvement and Assurance Board as part of the Government’s response to the Non Statutory Review carried out by Max Caller in November 2020. Progress against the Improvement Plan has been significant, but the Improvement and Assurance Board has consistently encouraged the Council to address many of the issues raised more quickly. The improvement of the Council was recognised in a change of heart by the Government to increase the powers of the Improvement Board, rather than the previously suggested imposition of commissioners. The then Secretary of State, Greg Clark, cited Nottingham’s progress as one of the reasons for the change of heart. However, we are not complacent. Sir Tony Redmond, Chair of the Improvement and Assurance Board, set the Council a statement of 67 requirements against which our progress will be judged at the end of November.  Officers are committed to doing what is necessary to bring about the necessary improvement to put all services and finances on a stable footing. I do not, however, accept your description Councillor Rule, that some decisions taken by political leadership involve minutia. Deciding how best to spend £150,000 is not minutia. The public elects councillors to provide scrutiny of how public money is spent and we work closely with officers to ensure these decisions are made in a timely way. The level of delegations of decision making between officers and members is subject to review, taking into account a number of factors. I have increased the delegation limits once since I have been the Leader of the Council and will shortly be reviewing them once more with the Monitoring Officer. Good decision making is vital for an effective Council. Sometimes difficult decisions need full consideration, taking all factors into account. Whilst councillor decision making must be timely and effective, quick decision are not always good decisions. I do not accept that appropriate member involvement in decision making leads to delay rather it gives an appropriate oversight and exercises the mandate that the people of Nottingham give to those trusted enough to sit in this Chamber.


Ofsted Inspection

Councillor Andrew Rule asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People and Schools:

Following the recent inadequate inspection finding by Ofsted, can the Portfolio Holder outline how she plans to lead improvement within the service to ensure the Council improves to a Good, if not Outstanding, rating at its next inspection, which I am sure is her aspiration for the service?


Councillor Cheryl Barnard replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you Councillor Rule for your question. I am clear that the areas of children’s services covered in the inspection represent some of our most important Council statutory responsibilities. I am personally committed, and this Council is fully committed to providing consistently good services to children in Nottingham and to ensure children receive our help at the right time. Firstly, we have not waited for the publication of the report to make some immediate decisions, for example to increase social work and manager capacity in the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub and to bring forward our plans for the service. However, we are committed to delivering sustainable and whole service improvement and that means we will have a robust programme of work over time. We recognise and understand the improvements needed and we are updating our existing improvement plan to reflect the findings of the inspection. We will share this with Ofsted as we are required to do. We will also work closely with the Department for Education to ensure that our plan and the support they are providing will assist us in delivering consistently positive outcomes for children. This work will be overseen by the Children at the Heart Improvement Board and a new smaller executive group, both chaired by an independent chair. This will provide oversight, support and challenge to the improvement programme to ensure that progress is achieved. Progress will be reported to the Executive and reviewed by our Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee. We have a lot to achieve and it will be important to prioritise. This will require a considered and incremental approach to ensure changes made in the Service are systemic, well embedded and result in sustained change. This will be a whole service approach and not just limited to the eight areas highlighted in the report. Our frontline staff and managers are dedicated to their work and are ambitious for the children of our city. The inspection recognised the commitment staff have for children in Nottingham and some of the excellent direct work that they do with children. There was also recognition of commitment to children’s services at all levels of the organisation at both officer and member level. I will personally retain a clear focus on making sure that we provide the right environment for our skilled and valued staff to do their best work. Focussing on the outcomes for children and their families will ensure we are focussed on the right areas to improve our service delivery. Alongside the challenge of the report, I am pleased that within the inspection some of the areas of progress that we have made have been recognised. This provides us with a good platform to build on. The leadership team, as well as the whole work force, are committed and determined as I am to work at pace, to quicken the improvement work across the whole service. The Council will do what is needed to ensure that we have got good services for children and families in Nottingham; they deserve nothing less. Whilst inspection is a vital part of regulation, we do this because it is the right thing to do for children in our city.

Supporting documents: