Agenda item

Questions from members of the public

To receive any questions from members of the public, of which due notice has been given in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 8, to be submitted and answered.

Minutes:

The Mayor advised that eleven questions from Members of the Public had been received under Council Procedure Rule 8, full details of which were set out in the supplement to the agenda.

 

1. Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

As Members were in receipt of the question submitted, Dr Chris summarised the main points as follows:

·         Had the Council learnt anything from the Calverley Square experience?

·         After seven months the cross-party working group had yet to recognise its role to assemble expert advice and public opinion to inform the recommendations as to the way forward.

·         The only recommendations it should be making were about process and nothing else.

           

Answer from Councillor Scott (summarised)

 

·         This was an extensive list of questions, that if answered in full would take most if not all the allotted time of 30 minutes.  Whilst I believe strongly that the public have the right to ask questions, I feel the process here has been stretched beyond breaking point and we need to come up with a better way to deal with multiple questions such as this. 

·         I will aim to do what I can in the time permitted, but it should be noted that I do not agree with much that has been written. 

·         The Committee was originally set up, under my authority as a non-official group which I asked to provide direct assistance to review the situation.  It is akin to a non-executive director of a company consulting with a group to help explore the questions and assumptions and alternatives.  Its primary focus is to determine if any consensus was possible across parties in the Council.

·         It was important for the group to have a wide variety of views. I can confirm that all parties provided their best endeavours to the process, for which I congratulate them.

·         The cross-party group was formed in June 2019, and I asked Adrian Berendt to form a non-political group to summarise the views of the public.

·         A Council conference was also set up to bring forward the Five-Year Plan by one year. 

·         Each of these three initiatives have brought positive engagement to the process and have identified that consensus over a wide range of issues is possible. These are the cornerstones for investigating possible alternatives that could then be put forward to councillors and the general public.

·         My own view and that of the non-political group was that the project had become too large and complex – making it impossible to obtain agreement. The project was designed as a single large project which could not at the final stage be sub divided into smaller projects.

·         Disaggregation of the project was now needed that would allow each part to be reviewed.

 

Supplementary Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

“Can you confirm that the cross-party groups remit is restricted to making recommendations about how the post Calverley Square decisions should be made and not what those decisions might be.”

 

Answer from Councillor Scott

 

“Yes.”

 

2. Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“What was the authorised budget for work on RIBA stages 1-4 for the Calverley Square project and what is the Council’s current estimate of the final costs of this work?”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“RIBA Stages 1-3 were budgeted as part of the revenue budget and expenditure incurred was reported in the usual way. RIBA Stage 4 fees were part of the capital budget of £90m approved by Full Council in December 2017. All expenditure was reported in the close down report submitted to the Cabinet in February.”

 

Supplementary Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“I would be interested to know why the expenditure for RIBA Stage 4 was included in the capital budget when before a final decision is taken on the project such expenditure is considered preparatory and should have been considered within the operational budget of the Council.”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate to take fees for capital projects as part of the capital budget and that is what the Council approved back in December 2017.”

 

3. Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

As Members were in receipt of the question submitted, Dr Chris summarised the main points as follows:

·         If Calverley Square is really dead as it appears to be, why won’t the Council give public effect to this decision by giving it a respectful burial, and when people do make searches they don’t find either the CPO or the planning consent being active?

·         Why has the public register not been updated to effectively remove CPO and the planning consent from the register?

 

Answer from Councillor Scott

 

“I believe the Council’s legal position is set out pretty clearly in the Cabinet papers to which we are referred here and there is no need for any further comment.”

 

4. Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“What is the current value of The Lodge in Calverley Grounds and Numbers 10, 13 and 18 in Grove Hill House.”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“These properties are in the process of being valued for the purposes of the annual accounts.”

 

Supplementary Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“The four properties were purchased solely to advance the Calverley Square project.  Given that this is not going ahead, would it not make more sense to sell them to pay for the costs of £1.65m this year for the essential works to the Civic site.”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“The properties were actually bought because they fulfil the Council’s property investment criteria and I don’t think there is any question of selling them because they are generating the return that was forecast.”

 

5. Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

As Members were in receipt of the question submitted, Dr Chris summarised the main points as follows:

·         Although the questions are numbered a to j, they can all be answered with a simple yes or a no.

 

Answer by Councillor Scott (summarised)

 

a)    The auditors are experts in undertaking this type of review and will follow the process that is appropriate to that.

b)    Yes.

c)    The Auditors are independent of the Borough Council.

d)    The appointment is a delegated authority and will actually be done under that process, but it will also go through Audit and Governance Committee.

e)    This is standard practice for all audits within the Council as I understand it and this should not be any different. In fact the position of the Council is that we have had many years of clean audits and right through the Calverley Square process, when we had audits reviewing different aspects, or even the judicial review, they all found that they had complete access to information and found the Council in a very strong position on all those aspects.

f)     Again, this is quite standard practice within the Council which, in fact, has a very open policy of all the information. There are exceedingly few unpublished papers but the auditors still have access to all these things.

g)    There will be a standard process in the Council, the papers will not be changed by anybody other than the auditors themselves. It will then come through to the appropriate committees in the Council in the standard way and they will be reviewed there.

h)    All reports from the auditors will go through the standard procedure, and through the appropriate committees and will conform to the norm.

i)      I am not anticipating other reports, but they would go to the various committees. Normally those committees are scheduled on particular dates and papers would be made public for those committees as appropriate.

j)      The processes that we go through with audit, having independent auditors, having the various committees, are scrupulous about the process to ensure that they are independent. The process will achieve very high standards.

 

6. Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“How much does each member of the Council cost per year in total, i.e. allowances, support and other services including the cost of elections?”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“An annual report is published on the Council’s website on all allowances and expenses of Borough Councillors. The Borough Council does not cover any expenses for elections.”

 

7. Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

As Members were in receipt of the question submitted, Dr Chris summarised the main points as follows:

·         The Council now has a Climate Emergency Advisory Panel – the questions asked request further details of how this work will be taken forward.

 

Answer from Councillor Bailey

 

“A motion was passed at the Full Council meeting last July recognising the climate emergency and agreeing an ambition to make the Council’s operations carbon neutral by 2030. The motion agreed other measures including setting up a cross-party panel to start a report within the current fiscal year to include a plan to conduct a green audit of the Council’s current carbon footprint.

 

The panel drafted the terms of reference last year once the membership of the panel was agreed by the four parties. The terms of reference are currently going through the Council’s committee process and was recently recommended for Cabinet approval by the Communities Advisory Board. However, the panel has already met several times and is pushing ahead with its remit.

 

I can confirm that the Council has already agreed a specification for the green audit and has appointed a consultant to undertake this work. The panel had also begun the process of collecting evidence, including on the environmental measures in the draft Local Plan and on Citizens Assemblies. It will continue to collect this evidence and the findings will feed into the report.

 

There is currently no budget for the panel as the budget for the current fiscal year was set several months before the Motion was passed. The funds for the Green Audit have been found from existing budgets.

 

The panel will continue to follow its remit and will start the report during the current fiscal year. No date has been set as yet for the completion, although I hope it will be finished before the end of this calendar year.

 

No discussions have taken place on the other areas mentioned in the question, such as air quality, as the panel recognises that its remit relates to carbon emissions.”

 

Supplementary Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

“Would it not greatly enhance the effectiveness of this advisory panel, given that it does not have amongst the councillors experts in this very technical area, if it had at least one permanent member who was an expert in this field. Not necessarily a Councillor?”

 

Answer from Councillor Bailey

 

“There was nothing in the Motion that was agreed at Full Council about appointing outside experts, and nothing in the terms of reference that was agreed by the panel.  The panel itself does take one person each from the four political parties and that is a political balance that we are happy with. We are supported by officers who are knowledgeable in this area and we can also refer to outside experts as well.”

 

8. Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“At the meeting of Full Council on 25 September 2019, the Portfolio Holder for Finance and Governance undertook to answer whether there had been a breach in the Council’s internal policies and procedures in respect of the salaries of the Council’s Chief Executive and the Director of Finance, Policy and Development in 2018/19, both of which appeared to be in excess of the sums allowed in the Council’s pay policy. I have still to receive a response. Will he provide one now.”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“I did investigate this matter and I am sorry that I did not reply to you Mr Tansley.  But there has been no breach of the Council’s pay policy.”

 

Supplementary Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“Given that the pay policy states explicitly that the range of the salaries for the stated officers runs at 95% to 105% of the median for that grade, under which it is subject to independent review. I note that in 2018/19 the salary, once returning officer fees are removed of the Chief Executive was £128,757.00 which is 107.3% of the median pay for that grade according to the pay policy. Whilst that of the Director of Finance, once returning officer fees are removed, was £109,415.00, which is 113.5% of the market median. In both cases, according to my maths, 107.3% and 113.5% are both in excess of 105%, something which I would like to think the Portfolio Holder for Finance would be aware of. Does he still stand by his statement that there is no breach of the policy?”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“I can only repeat the answer I gave to the question, there has been no breach of the Council’s pay policy.”

 

A written response was provided after the meeting:

 

“The salary totals presented within the statement of accounts also includes non-consolidated payments such as; Contribution Related Pay once the 105 per cent has been reached, retention allowances and untaken leave. When these amounts are excluded the contractual salaries for both posts are £126,000 and £96,600 respectively, which is at the 105 per cent mark referred to in the pay policy.”

 

9. Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

“The draft budget for next year shows no income from Great Hall car park. Please explain why this is.”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“The budget report shows that £850,000 of capital works are required to the Great Hall car park to extend the life of the asset by around 10 years, this is set out in Appendix M.

 

If funding is approved later in this meeting, then the works can be procured and a timetable published along with public consultation. This will involve temporarily closing the car park, so there will be no income coming from it.”

 

Supplementary Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

“Could I ask you to confirm, if this budget is approved later this evening that the works will start on 1 April and will take an entire year, otherwise one assumes that there will be some income.”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“The work will be planned and procured after the matter has been approved and I think it is perfectly prudent to assume that car park income will be zero from that time, but if it isn’t, that is a bonus to the Council.”

 

10. Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“Please provide details of which Council staff receive ‘retention’ allowances and how much these allowances are worth.”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“This information is set out in Appendix Q of the Full Council budget report.”

 

Supplementary Question from Mr James Tansley

 

“Who takes the decision to award retention and allowances and on what grounds?”

 

Answer from Councillor Dawlings

 

“There is an annual review process, I have not been part of it yet. I will respond once I have checked it out.”

 

A written response was provided after the meeting:

 

“In relation to retention allowances the Head of Paid Service is responsible for all staffing matters and seeks professional advice from the Head of Human Resources.”

 

11. Question from Dr Robert Chris

 

As Members were in receipt of the question submitted, Dr Chris summarised the main points as follows:

·         The question refers to the implementation of the new waste collection arrangements, specifically with regards to blocks of flats.

·         If blocks of flats have not been included in the new system, when will this start.

 

Answer from Councillor Bailey

 

“In the run up to the new service, information about the new waste and recycling scheme was made available to all residents in the Borough in a variety of ways.  Informational leaflets were delivered, and details appeared in Local magazine distributed to all households in the Borough. Further information was given on the Council website, on social media and using stickers attached to recycling bins.

 

I can confirm that neither Grove Hill House, nor any other property in the Borough has been singled out or ignored. If there are issues with waste collection at this property, I would urge residents to report the problem via the Council’s website.

 

All properties in the Borough now have containers for the separation of waste and recycling. The exception is food waste for properties with communal bin stores, as it is not practical to provide separate caddies for each individual household. However, the Council will be working with these properties to introduce larger food waste containers, subject to individual circumstances and space available, and we expect to roll this out over the course of this year.

 

No separate charge is made for food waste collection, and the properties without a container can still dispose of food waste using the green residual waste bin so it is not appropriate to consider any refunds.”

Supporting documents:

 

A - Z of council services