This report sets out activities and progress on work areas within the Portfolio of the Leader of the Council, which all fall within the remit of this Committee. This information is provided in relation to the Leader of the Council being held to account.
Members received an overview of progress on the areas within the terms of
reference of this Committee covered by Councillor Alan Jarrett, Leader of the
· Strategic leadership of the Council
· Communications and marketing
Given the large number of items on the agenda, the Chairman requested that Members ask one question at a time and stated that 30 minutes would be allowed for questions to the Leader, with the same timescale for the Portfolio Holder for Resources. Some Members expressed concern that this was insufficient time for scrutiny to effectively carry out its role of holding the Executive to account.
Councillor Jarrett responded to Members’ questions and comments as follows:
· HMS Medway – in response to a question about when Medway would welcome the crew of HMS Medway after commissioning had been completed, the Leader commented he was optimistic HMS Medway would be commissioned in Medway. The Council had previously agreed to confer freedom of the borough on the crew of HMS Chatham.
· Improvements in Chatham town centre and railway station –
A Member welcomed the new engraved kerbstones commemorating the people of Chatham and asked for the Leader’s views on how this sat with recent contentious decisions by the Cabinet, which, in the Member’s view, showed a disregard for the views of the public. The Leader acknowledged the importance of the people in a town in shaping its identity and added he was focused on improving Chatham and turning it into a vibrant and coherent town centre by bringing in more investment, businesses and jobs.
In response to a comment that the installation of lifts at Chatham railway station was more important than the planned improvements to the appearance of the exterior of the station, the Leader acknowledged lifts were important and would look into whether these were part of the planned improvement works.
· Vision for Medway – a Member asked how all the plans for Medway joined together and what the Leader’s vision was for how Medway would be in the future and how that would be different from the present. The Leader replied his vision was for Medway to be a vibrant 21st century city which would be welcoming and a place of opportunity. This would be achieved by building on the many positives and the Growth for All regeneration programme was key to this. There had been significant changes in the first 20 years of Medway’s life and the 2035 local plan was just a starting point in creating a better, more vibrant Medway.
· Exit interviews – a Member referred to recent discussions he had had with staff leaving the Council who had expressed concerns about stress levels and workloads. He asked when the Leader had last looked at the results of staff exit interviews in order to identify any trends. The Leader commented that it was not the role of a Leader of a council to engage with HR on that level. He acknowledged workloads were heavy but that was now the norm across local government. He believed there was sufficient capacity for the day job to be done and where capacity issues were identified for particular programmes then these were addressed. Against the backdrop of the financial constraints facing the Council, measures were in place to reward staff - such as performance related pay, a rewards scheme and awarding the highest pay rise possible.
· Regeneration in the east of Medway - a Member asked for an update on progress with plans to regenerate the towns in the east of the borough and address what was seen as a geographical imbalance in regeneration. The Leader acknowledged there had been significant investment in the west of Medway. The linear nature of Gillingham town centre and the fact that the Council was not a major landowner were obstacles to regeneration. Negotiations were ongoing to bid for approximately £1m for improvements in Gillingham and Rainham, which would hopefully be successful and allow additional money to be drawn in.
· Housing Infrastructure Fund – in the context of developments in Hoo and the need to improve its infrastructure, a Member asked if residents of Hoo would be able to see the business case outlining plans for potential development. The Leader replied that he was hopeful the Council’s bid would be successful. If the Government were in agreement then in due course the residents would be able to see the business case.
· Corporate Peer Challenge – in response to when the action plan would be available to Members, the Leader commented this would not be a particular challenge to draw up. It should be available by the end of the month and he saw no reason why it could not be shared with Members.
· Comments about housing numbers – a Member queried the manner in which the Leader had recently described the government’s housing targets. The Leader clarified his comments were critical of the methodology behind the numbers of houses needed. He considered the methodology flawed given the significant spending on infrastructure but lower housing targets in the midlands and north while the opposite applied in the south east.
The Committee thanked the Leader of the Council for his attendance.