To consider Members’ general questions to the Civic Mayor, Executive or Committee Chairs in accordance with Standing Orders 10 (2)(b) and 11.
In addition to pre-notified questions to the Executive or Committee Chairs in accordance with Standing Orders 10 (2)(b) and 11, the Civic Mayor also invited questions to Cabinet Members with regard to the content of Cabinet Portfolio Summary Annual Report (Agenda Item 6A).
Questions on the content of the Portfolio Summary Annual Report
Councillor Steve Hayes asked a question of Councillor Tony Jones, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Growth, on the public consultation regarding Birkenhead, when will the results be known, and will councillors be given access to the public consultation.
Councillor Jones responded that the consultation on Birkenhead was launched on an online portal on the 29th of the May and closed on the 30th of June, a resale unit on St Johns pavement was opened on four separate occasions; morning, noon, evenings and weekends. Many people had taken up the offer to go in and make their views known, and the information from this consultation was being collated and would be made available and distributed when this had been completed.
Councillor Chris Blakeley asked a question of Councillor Elizabeth Grey, Cabinet Member Environment and Climate Change stating that the annual report made no reference to the problem of dog fouling and no mention of the proposals for the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), why was that?
Councillor Grey responded that she was surprised to be asked this question as Councillor Blakeley had been involved in the discussions regarding the creation of the new PSPO which was currently under review and being developed right now.
Councillor Steve Foulkes asked a question of Councillor Christine Spriggs, Cabinet Member Culture and Tourism. He congratulated the Cabinet Member on the first six months of the Wirral Borough of Culture and asked if she agreed that all Members should join together tonight to celebrate the fantastic work done so far?
Councillor Spriggs thanked Councillor Foulkes for his question. She informed that throughout the year the Council’s programme was celebrating the themes of exploration and discovery and some of Wirral’s amazing spaces and outdoor locations. She added that she wanted to put on record her thanks to every member of staff for the tremendous effort and work they had put in to make it the undoubted success it was today. The Borough of Culture programme had now reached its midway point and had attracted around 100,000 visitors to the Wirral. There were still major events of scale to come and it was envisioned that up to 1 million visitors would be attracted by the end of the year. Some events to highlight were; The Future Yard Indie Festival coming to Hamilton square on August 23rd to 24th. The Wirral Food and Drinks Festival coming in September to Birkenhead Park. The Liverpool Philharmonic would be performing on the Saturday night and the conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic was very excited about this. The current economic impact of the events has not been determined. However, every pound that the council invests in culture was bringing forward £25 into the local economy, it was important to make sure that every pound of that £25 stayed in the economy. Councillor Spriggs informed that there had been great satisfaction levels on all the events so far, 90% of visitors rating their experience as good or very good. The programme also had the support of over 100 volunteers giving what equated to 300 volunteering hours, and the social value and pride this brought about in the Borough was fantastic. A press release came out today which revealed new figures for the Wirral Visitor Economy, and that it had grown for the 6th consecutive year, with tourism in the borough now estimated at £460 million pounds. That survey had been undertaken by the Visitor Economy Team at Liverpool City Region.
Councillor Les Rowlands asked a question of Councillor Anita Leech, Cabinet Member for The Local Plan (Deputy Leader) remarking that the continued failure to have a local plan was one of the most pressing issues facing the Council and was putting much of Wirral’s Green Belt at risk. Why was there no update or reference to the local plan in the annual report?
Councillor Leech responded that obviously there wasn’t a cabinet position for the Local Plan last year. As a result of this, and with this being such an important matter, a separate cabinet portfolio role had been established for the Local Plan.
Councillor Ian Lewis asked a question of Councillor Pat Hackett, Leader of the Council that in his report 4000 jobs had been created in Wirral this year, and that it boasted that Wirral now had its highest ever record of employment, a situation which was being mirrored across most of the rest of the country. Yet on a motion later this evening, two of his colleagues stated that many of these new jobs were low paid part time posts. If this was true, why didn’t he mention it in his report?
Councillor Hackett responded that the Council wanted to create more jobs to bring prosperity and investment to this borough. The Council was nearing its original target, set in 2015 at 5000 jobs. It was important that there were well paid jobs in this borough regardless of the type of job. With Members from all political groups help, the Council was looking to generate even more jobs.
Councillor Tony Norbury asked a question of Councillor Elizabeth Grey, Cabinet Member Environment and Climate Change on how was Council going to get its message across regarding the climate changes that were needed?
Councillor Grey responded that a number of methods were being used to get this message across e.g. a fantastic eco schools team, one of the most successful in the country, which had been very successful in encouraging behaviour changes. She added that it was vital to get this message across as its urgency should be understood. People needed to know what the Council was doing about it i.e. utilising social media and Wirral View, both the online version and the paper version to get this vital message across.
Councillor Moira McLaughlin asked a question of Councillor Julie McManus, Cabinet Member Community Services stating that in March the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation was asked a number of questions about street lighting in the borough and in particularly Rock Ferry. This included a question on how many street lights were awaiting repair and how many of these were in Rock Ferry, what was the average time it took for a repair to be carried out, and when would the current CRM system actual show progress on repairs so constituents could check. A written response was received to part of the question but not the whole question, and she was still awaiting an answer to the CRM question and the length of time people had to wait.
Councillor McManus responded that she was not the Cabinet Member portfolio holder in March but appreciated that was some time to wait. Councillor McManus stated that she would endeavour to get all of those answers in writing. She added that on average around 340 reports were received each month and around 85% of these streetlights were fixed first time. Council was on target for phase two of the LED streetlights to begin on the 1st of September, but Council must improve how it communicated with residents. Work was being undertaken on the CRM to improve that.
Councillor Paul Stuart asked a question of Councillor Tom Usher, Cabinet Member Children, Families and Education on the subject of foster care recruitment, key to Council’s looked after children, and the authority was crying out for foster carers. Could an update be provided on how the campaign to recruit more foster carers was progressing?
Councillor Usher responded that he had spoken to some foster carers because ultimately they were the best people to tell us what they needed in terms of support. What he had gathered from these foster carers and reports in the national press was that the foster carers wanted to be valued more. Council was about to launch a new training and support package for the foster carers of Wirral, and he had asked the Corporate Parenting Board on how the Council could value foster carers more to be included as an item on the agenda for this year. Last year Council approved 18 new foster families, and this year had approved over 30.
Councillor Michael Collins asked a question of Councillor Elizabeth Grey, Cabinet Member Environment and Climate Change whether the Cabinet Member could confirm that Wirral Council had applied for a share of the government’s £10million fund to plant 130,000 urban trees? And did the council contribute to consultation on proposed measures to give greater protection to the trees?
Councillor Grey responded that Council had bid for that money, and was also looking for others ways to fund its environmental measures and the planting of trees for its new tree strategy.
Councillor Bruce Berry asked a question of Councillor Christine Jones, Cabinet Member Adult Care Health and Wellbeing indicating that the annual report stated that more public resources were being spent on the frontline since the Council had combined resources with the NHS. He asked if the Cabinet Member supported that decision, and could she inform Council how much extra cash had been ‘released’.
Councillor Jones thanked Councillor Berry for his question and informed that a written response to his question would be supplied.
Councillor Tom Anderson asked a question of Councillor Julie McManus, Cabinet Member Community Services that in the annual report it was stated that high standards of street cleanliness had been maintained, did she seriously believe that this had been the case?
Councillor McManus responded that Members were aware that funding had been cut, and that did have an impact on street cleansing. Council had embarked on a new project called Neat Streets, this looked at more deprived communities where fly tipping was common, and this had been really successful. One street in particular which had problematic weeds had now worked with the department for some time and was now entering North West in Bloom as a result of taking ownership of their own street. The department planned to continue with such projects to encourage people to take pride and ‘love where they live’.
Councillor Gill Wood asked a question of Councillor Elizabeth Grey, Cabinet Member Environment and Climate Change seeking assurance on the number of trees being planted.
Councillor Grey responded that the Council was developing a tree strategy right now, and officers were looking into the funding for planting of many more trees. Her ambition was to eventually double the tree cover. She added that her department took the matter of trees seriously and always sought a second opinion before any tree felling - for the safety of residents and visitors.
Councillor Jeff Green asked a question of Councillor Julie McManus, Cabinet Member Community Services stating that three years ago Constituency Committees were allocated schemes for money and for growth. Funding had still not been implemented, including items such as drop curb safety barriers. Could the Cabinet Member please look into this and advise all Members where each of the approved schemes were up to and hopefully when they would be completed?
Councillor McManus responded that she did not have that information at hand but once she had reviewed the budgets and where the money was being spent (or not spent) she would arrange a report to all Members.
Councillor Stuart Kelly asked a question of Councillor Pat Hackett, Leader of the Council that in his covering report the Leader stated that the nature and the style of portfolio holders reports was being changed. Did this mean an end to the ‘click here and read all about it in the Wirral Globe’ style of report? And did it also mean a potential end to rosey eyed reports based on departmental defence, with a move to a more warts and all style of report? Was the nature and style of the reports changing for the better?
Councillor Hackett responded that things were changing in a number of ways, one was actions speak louder than words. He added that Council now had a Cabinet Member for the Local Plan which was very important and with Members help on the Local Plan Advisory Committee, Council would be able to roll out the Local Plan in the next year or so, possibly even earlier. He also reported that Council also had a Cabinet Member for Climate Change which had not existed previously. This would see a change in stance on all environmental issues. The Council aimed to continue how they had started this year, whipping away the cynicism to make sure that in the future it was more consensual.
Councillor Chris Cooke asked a question of Councillor Elizabeth Grey, Cabinet Member Environment and Climate Change if she could explain how the authority was to ensure that Wirral reached its recycling target of 50% when over the past few years its recycling rate had actually declined.
Councillor Grey responded that the issue of recycling was under review, and the Council was working with the Liverpool City Region and the Waste Authority on ways of moving forward in the best possible way. She added that recycling rates had declined across the whole country and was a behavioural issue. Plans were in progress to increase Wirral’s recycling rates as quickly as practicable.
Councillor Geoffrey Watt asked a question of Councillor Stuart Whittingham, Cabinet Member Housing and Planning if the Cabinet Member was satisfied that the planning department was sufficiently resourced to inform development control in Wirral, and if not, what did he propose to do about it, and by when?
Councillor Whittingham responded that there were some issues to tackle in the Council’s planning function, and assistance from the Local Government Association had been requested to take steps to invest the right level and quality of support and quickly deal with the capacity issues currently faced.
Councillor David Burgess-Joyce asked a question of Councillor Christine Spriggs, Cabinet Member Culture and Tourism regarding places like Hay on Wye where a regular book fair festival brought in £18million a year. He questioned if the Cabinet Member had any plans to do something that was a bit more ‘annual’ as opposed to some of the excellent work which had been done that tended to be more ‘one off’ events.
Councillor Spriggs responded that she hoped that the current food and drink festival would become an annual event, based on food and music, but also other areas of the arts as well. She explained that work was being planned with local libraries on this and similar ideas.
Councillor Julie McManus, Cabinet Member Community Services added that with regards to the library service it was important not to think one size fits all. Members needed to look at what different communities wanted from different libraries. Other ideas included the encouraging the use of parks for drama events.
Councillor Paul Stuart asked a question of Councillor Janette Williamson, Cabinet Member Finance & Resources on when the council tax reduction for 9000 households announced last year was going to come into effect, and how could people apply for it?
Councillor Williamson responded that this had come about as a result of continued welfare reform from this Conservative government which had left a large section of the population on Wirral in poverty. The Council was currently out to consultation on the matter and feedback had been really positive. She was hoping to implement the reduction, and come April 2020, 9000 household would benefit as a result. She added that she and her department were really proud of this scheme.
Councillor Les Rowlands asked a question of Councillor Pat Hackett, Leader of the Council on what had been the Leader’s greatest achievement in his 73 days since election?
Councillor Hackett responded ‘getting in office and staying elected’. He also added that cross party work and parties working together to deliver what the residents had asked at the election last May was his key aim.
Councillor Chris Blakeley asked a question of Councillor Christine Spriggs, Cabinet Member Culture and Tourism whether she believed that news releases sent out on her behalf should have a misleading headline. For instance, that day’s news release stating “The one o’clock gun will be fired”, however the body of the story explained that a field gun was to be used to replicate the firing of the one o’clock gun. Did she agree that the Council Media Department was misleading the public of Wirral?
Councillor Spriggs responded that she would provide a written response.
Councillor Geoffrey Watt asked a question of Councillor Christine Spriggs, Cabinet Member Culture and Tourism whether she believed it was appropriate to conduct an event which could be perceived as celebrating witchcraft and the occult, and was she party to that decision?
Councillor Spriggs responded that she hadn’t been in post when the decision to progress that specific project was taken. She understood that some people might have found the name of the event possibly upsetting, but that group were a minority and they were spoken to by the culture project team at the time. Over 7000 people attended the event, 90-95% of whom said it was wonderful. It wasn’t a piece about witchcraft, it was a wonderful piece, a participatory piece of art of world class quality, open performance, by Absolute Culture which came from the Hull 2017 Festival of Culture. It was a superb piece, one of the biggest parts of which was about celebrating people and having the right to go into parks.
Councillor Julie McManus, Cabinet Member Community Services added that there had been some concerns from St Oswald’s Church in Duke Street, and they had met with the Council’s culture team and were able to talk through their concerns, one of the positives was that they spoke directly with people involved with the event who then went along to Christ the King where they had their own prayer meeting.
Questions notified in advance
Councillor Mike Collins asked a question of the Cabinet Member for the Local Plan requesting confirmation that she agreed that the sites in Pensby highlighted for development, and to which the then Cabinet in November 2018 agreed should not be developed, and also whether she could confirm the status of the list of sites that the same Cabinet endorsed.
Councillor Anita Leech responded, stating that no decisions had been taken on any of the sites. The Council was currently preparing the local plan which would set out the vision for strategic priority, the options and the preferred options. This would be considered by cabinet on the 25th of November and Council on the 9th of December, consultation would commence in January 2020. At this point the council would formally respond to limitation comments for regeneration. Although she could not pre-judge the content of the Local Plan, she was able to state that it would be open and collaborative and would include the views of Wirral Green Space Alliance and other such groups who bring a helpful voice to this process and would be invited to play a role in the Local Plan.
Councillor Phil Gilchrist asked a question of the Cabinet Member for Community Services in relation to faulty street lighting, citing an example of a ward constituent and her neighbour who had, whilst following up a request, uncovered difficulties with the transfer of data and requests from one Council system to another. He asked what steps were being taken to improve the systems and end the frustrations faced by the public.
Councillor Julie McManus responded accordingly and agreed that a written response would be circulated.