Agenda item

Members' questions

 This report sets out Members’ questions received for this meeting. 


Question A - Councillor Murray asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“Following Russia’s declaration of war against Ukraine there has been a commendable and sincere outpouring of support from our community in Medway, with many generous donations for victims displaced by the war and volunteer groups working hard to coordinate collections, packing and transport.


Now that the government has put local councils at the centre of the scheme to offer sanctuary to Ukrainian refugees, can the Leader of the Council tell me what steps he has taken to ensure that any refugees who may come to Medway will get the services and support they need?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Murray for her question. He said that Medway was proud that 59 Medway households had so far come forward to open up their homes to people who were fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. Whilst some guidance was awaited from the Government, the Council stood ready to support Ukrainians and sponsors through the process.


Over 30 households had either completed or booked for the required checks to take place. Sponsors were being informed of the process and provided support where necessary.


Regular meetings were held with senior officers to understand the issues and  Councillor Jarrett had assembled a small group of Councillor colleagues and senior officers to meet on a fortnightly basis in order to review the issues and ensure good progress of the work.


The first priority had been to ensure that safeguarding issues were addressed. Work was being undertaken to ensure arrivals received the health and social care they needed and that children had access to schooling. Work was also taking place with community groups and Councillor Jarrett considered that the Council was doing as much as it could.


It was a vote of confidence from the Government that they had asked local authorities to help and Councillor Jarrett felt that central government would not have been able to deal with the pandemic in the way it had without having being able to call on the support of local authorities. He was, therefore, pleased to have been asked to take up this new challenge.


Question B - Councillor Maple asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“Like many people I was shocked and appalled at the totally unacceptable treatment of 800 hard working women and men dismissed by a pre-recorded Microsoft Teams message. With our long-standing nautical history Medway stands in solidarity with the workers of P&O, who have been treated in such a manner.


The parent company, DP World, who have been happy to receive millions of pounds of government contracts, have treated those workers, who come from across Kent and Medway with utter contempt, whilst being happy to spend millions of pounds on sponsorship for golf and Formula One.


Will the Leader agree that until those workers are reinstated, that Medway Council will not deal with DP World in any way and in doing so will he and his Cabinet Member who represents Medway make representations through the SELEP to ensure that DP World are not given a penny more of public money, through schemes like Thames Port, until those workers are reinstated?


It is the right thing to do and absolutely what the Medway residents would expect their elected representatives to do.”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Maple for his question. He said that to his knowledge, the Council had not provided any funding to DP World and that the Council had always operated to high ethical standards.


Councillor Jarrett agreed that the treatment of these workers had been completely inappropriate, and he understood it had been illegal. It was therefore up to the relevant authorities to take action rather than Medway Council. Future procurement activities would take into account what was best for Medway to ensure that contracts awarded were legal and took into account appropriacy and ethical standards.


Question C - Councillor Van Dyke asked the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Gulvin, the following:


“The most recent Kent PCC crime survey saw issues around women’s safety selected as the most important problem to the public (see pages 8-9 of the report). At a recent Full Council meeting, when the subject of women’s safety was brought up by myself, when I seconded our motion to try and secure new police offers for Medway, CouncillorGulvin tried to argue that the public’s perception of what the most pressing crime issues were in Medway was not in line with what Labour Group Councillors had said in the Council chamber.


In light of the new evidence from this survey, would CouncillorGulvin like to change his conclusions regarding how strong the feelings of the local public are on this subject?”


Councillor Gulvin thanked Councillor Van Dyke for her question. He said that women’s safety was an issue of deep concern to all, which was why the Community Safety Partnership, which Councillor Gulvin chaired, and the Medway Task Force, had successfully bid for a grant from the Home Office to help tackle this issue. This was as part of wider efforts to ensure Medway remained a safe place to live, work, learn and visit.


The previous Medway Community Safety Partnership survey had received nearly 600 responses, of which 72% were from women. The top five issues identified as problems in Medway had been drug dealing, driving carelessly or too fast, fly-tipping, dog-fouling and people being drunk or rowdy. Sexual offences and violence against women and girls had ranked 13th and 14th out of 22 issues identified.


Notwithstanding the survey results, Councillor Gulvin said that both he and the Community Safety Partnership took the issue of female safety in Medway very seriously. Funding received from the Home Office Safer Streets initiative had been used for a number of initiatives in Medway. These had included the Hollie Guard app for the victims of stalking behaviour and the Safe Spaces Scheme.


The Council had been working with Medway Sport to run fitness programmes exclusively for women and girls with the aim of promoting self-confidence. The Medway Task Force had engaged with female sex workers to assist with the  safety issues they faced. Active Bystander training had been promoted in secondary schools and local businesses. This aimed to teach people how to intervene safely and in an appropriate way to challenge negative behaviours and to help those who had been a victim of these behaviours. Personal safety items had been distributed at community events and outside pubs and clubs at night-time.


Councillor Gulvin said that the Safer Medway Partnership, through funding from the Community Safety Partnership, had distributed 20 radios to police, hotels, taxi, bus companies, shops and bars, so that they could communicate with each other and CCTV operators to make Medway residents feel safer.


Question D - Councillor Khan asked the Portfolio Holder for Children's Services – Lead Member, Councillor Mrs Josie Iles, the following:


“What action has the Portfolio Holder taken to ensure that term-time-only school staff in Medway have a fair and just solution to their dispute by receiving a settlement that is as good as settlements by other local authorities?”


Responding on behalf of Councillor Mrs Josie Iles, the Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools, Councillor Potter, thanked Councillor Khan for her question. He said that Medway Council had taken advice from the Local Government Association, which had stated that it was a matter for “each employer to determine, whether that be a local authority, a school governing body or an academy trust” and that each employer had local factors that had affected their situation.


Councillor Potter said that Medway Council officers had considered legislative frameworks, fairness and affordability when negotiating with trade unions. They had also worked closely with educational leaders to establish a collective approach across the area. To enhance this fairness, the services of ACAS had been secured and an ACAS mediator and conciliator had facilitated a number of meetings. This had led to the Council submitting a final employer offer, which would be presented as individual offers to affected Council employees in May.


ACAS would provide independent advice to employees as part of the process through webinars and 1:1 meetings. Schools and academies who were part of the Medway collective had decided to mirror the Council’s offer and processes, which were to ensure equitable offers across the educational sector in Medway. Councillor Potter concluded that the Medway offer was still more generous than national legislative frameworks relating to holiday pay compensation.


Question E - Councillor Howcroft-Scott asked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe, the following:


“The number of households experiencing fuel poverty in Medway is rising. The cost of energy keeps increasing, which means our constituents need to spend more of their income on paying these bills. Many, especially people living in private rented accommodation, live in draughty homes, from which lots of heat escapes, and rely on heating systems that are old and inefficient. And because there is not much money to spare, it is difficult to make our homes more energy efficient, which would reduce our bills.


The general, cost of living is rising and this is also putting pressure on our communities finances so we have less money to go around. What is the Cabinet currently doing to support our communities struggling to make ends meet?”


Responding on behalf of Councillor Doe, the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Gulvin,thanked Councillor Howcroft-Scott for her question. He said that the pressures that households were under in terms of increases to the cost of living were understood. The Council continued to provide a range of direct and indirect support, which included supporting people to access funding such as the Household Support Grant, discretionary housing payments and homelessness prevention funding. Specific support was provided through the Floating Support Service and Tenancy Sustainment team, which assisted people in accessing welfare support on a case-by-case basis. Additional support was commissioned from the Voluntary and Community Sector.


Council Gulvin said that any residents who were concerned should contact the Council or the Department for Work and Pensions to find out what help was available.


Question F - Councillor Mahil asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“When it comes to pay negotiations for Medway Council workers, it is vital to have the contributions of HR staff, trade unions, the workers themselves and the Employment Matters Committee taken into account. Many from the above groups will have felt that the past years’ pay negotiations were not constructive, and that serious discussion was forsaken for the sake of a political stunt to ensure a last minute announcement. Will the Council be adjusting its approach in the future rather than rely on last minute grace and favour?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Mahil for his question. He said that the Council had agreed the Medpay scheme in 2013 and that this had been  supported by a formal process of negotiation with trade unions. The procedure for pay negotiations had been agreed by the trade unions and the Employment Matters Committee in 2013 and was detailed in the Protocol for Annual Pay and Conditions.


The Council had followed this procedure in its discussions with trade unions annually. The latest negotiations had followed the Protocol. Contributions had been considered and appropriately costed. Councillor Jarrett said that this had not been a political stunt or a last-minute deal and reflected that the final budget build had been completed at 5pm on the day of the Council’s budget meeting. He noted that Councillor Mahil and his colleagues had voted against the proposed pay rise and said that they might like to consider this next time they asked a member of staff to do something.


Question G - Councillor Johnson asked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe, the following:


“In view of the Council’s plan to tackle catastrophic climate change by implementing its Climate Change Action Plan, how has the Council reviewed its investments and those of the Local Government Pension Scheme to ensure that they are not contributing to fossil fuel companies or industrial agriculture?”


Responding on behalf of Councillor Doe, the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Gulvin, thanked Councillor Johnson for his question. He said that Medway Council had very few treasury investments. As set out in the Council’s Treasury Strategy, it had deposits in banks, a money market fund and some collective property funds. With the exception of the property funds, these were held to provide liquidity to facilitate the day-to-day operations of the Council. There was, therefore, no direct investment in fossil fuel or industrial agriculture.


The Council’s only other investments were those contained within services, including regeneration assets and investment properties, mostly within the boundaries of Medway. It could not be determined what activities banks and money markets funded themselves or whether the properties held within the property funds were tenanted by organisations involved in such activities.


Councillor Gulvin said that Medway’s pensions were part of the Kent Pension Fund, which was administered by Kent County Council. It had been confirmed that the Superannuation Fund Committee appointed external investment managers tasked with getting the best return for the 500 employers and 120,000 individual members of the fund. The Committee had a clear environmental, social and governance policy, but the Fund had advised that it would be breaching its responsibilities if it placed ethical restrictions on the external investment managers. Fossil fuel company shares represented a small proportion of the overall investments, just 2.33% of the Fund’s total value of £7.75billion, and this proportion had already reduced substantially.


Councillor Gulvin said that in the latest review and update of the Medway Council Climate Change Action Plan, a new action had been added to “Explore joint working with Kent Human Resources network to influence investment of funds in pension scheme”. This topic would be an agenda item for discussion at the next meeting of that group. Council Members were reminded that the cost of meeting any pension shortfall would fall to the council taxpayers across Kent and Medway.


Question H - Councillor Curry submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships, Councillor Chambers OBE:


“The Council Plan Performance Report makes it very clear that we have problems achieving key targets such as the delivery of the HIF, our regeneration programme and our climate change action plan. The consequences of this will have major impacts on our community, our economy and our environment.


Can the Portfolio Holder explain what action is being taken to address these issues?”


Question I - Councillor Hubbard submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships, Councillor Rodney Chambers OBE:


“The Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships attended the 22 March 2022 Regeneration, Culture and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee. In his report, Councillor Chambers in Section 5.2 said, “The Rochester Bridge Trust (RBT) has confirmed that the flood defence wall should be moved back, so that the footings sit entirely on Medway Council land. A formal agreement with RBT has been requested.”


This is in relation to the River Wall that has been constructed, at great expense, around Strood Waterfront’s former Civic Centre site. Rochester Bridge Trust own the Rochester road bridges and the Rochester and Strood Esplanades. It seems that the new river wall has been built on part of the Strood Esplanade. I understand that the footings of the former Civic Centre building mark the land ownership boundary.


What is the expected cost to the Council to settle the requested formal agreement, which may include the rebuilding and relocation of the river wall?”


Question J - Councillor Sands submitted the following to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe:


“Whilst many people I’m sure welcome the new look gym, with over 40 new pieces of top of the range fitness equipment and happy to have a spring cleaned Athletics track at Medway Park, this coupled with the multimillion pound new leisure centre at Rainham described by yourself as “having a focus on fun”. However, at the same time Deangate Sports Centre has been and continues to be systematically run down, Weeds growing within the athletics track, neglected pavilion with leaking roof, no public conveniences, fallen trees on the borders of the football pitches, football teams have to use sticky tape to hold football nets up. Fences around the tennis courts with large holes in and again these courts with weeds growing within. 


Can the people of the Hoo Peninsula, who are rate payers of Medway Council, ever expect to be treated in the same way as the rest of Medway when it comes to leisure and health facilities or does this Cabinet just see the unique Hoo Peninsula, which is of national and international importance, an area with rich heritage and historical significance, as a place to be destroyed by unsustainable development?”


Question K – Councillor Paterson submitted the following to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe:


“Forty years ago, many families in Medway – including the families of some serving councillors – were awaiting the safe return of loved ones serving more than 8,000 miles away in the Falklands.


The war to liberate the islands was won and the Argentine fascist junta led by General Galtieri was defeated. But 255 servicemen did not return. Hundreds more came home wounded physically and scarred mentally.


Will the Deputy Leader join me and my Labour and Co-operative Group colleagues in paying tribute to those who worked in Chatham Dockyard at the time and whose war efforts were rewarded with the yard’s closure by Margaret Thatcher less than two years later, to the bravery of our armed forces who served four decades ago, to those who never returned, to those who did return but whose physical or mental burden proved too great to bear and to those veterans who to this day will never forget what they saw?”


Question L – Councillor Adeoye submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer:


“In the latest example of levelling-up, how much will Medway receive from the new £1.2 billion national fund for improving bus services?”

We submitted a very comprehensive funding bid for improvements to bus services as part of our Bus Service Improvement Plan. Unfortunately, in keeping with many other authorities up and down the country, on this occasion, the Department for Transport did not award us any funding. Whilst this is very disappointing, we have demonstrated our commitment to improving bus services in Medway. Through our Enhanced Partnership with local bus operators, we will look to implement the parts of our plan that do not require new funding. We will also seek opportunities to bid for further Government funding, should it become available in the future.”


Question M – Councillor Cooper submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – Lead Member, Councillor Mrs Josie Iles:


“Given the disastrous record of this Government in planning the country’s workforce over the past decade, what action has the Portfolio Holder taken to ensure that our three Medway MPs put pressure on the Government to ensure a rapid improvement in this area to ensure a future supply of children’s social workers for the country as a whole and for Medway in particular?”


Question N - Councillor Price submitted the following to theDeputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe:


“Around 80 councils have banned the release of balloons and sky lanterns due to the danger they represent to wildlife as well as fire and other environmental hazards. These bans have been supported by the Marine Conservation Council. What action has the Portfolio Holder taken to consider a ban in Medway?”


Question O – Councillor McDonald submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Gulvin:


“The derelict building at the bottom of Marlborough Road at the junction of Marlborough Road and Brompton Road has been an eyesore for a number of years and creates a poor impression. What action has the Portfolio Holder taken to ensure that this site is swiftly improved?”


Question P – Councillor Browne submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Business Management, Councillor Hackwell:


“Given the number of premises that have closed down in Gillingham, the market is an asset to the High Street. Not only does it provide variety for shoppers and increases footfall in the town centre but brings social benefits too.


How much income does Medway Council derive directly from the market and what percentage of this is being reverted in Gillingham Market and the High Street for the coming year?”


Question Q – Councillor Prenter submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett:


“After the shocking and illegal behaviour of P&O against the seafarers’ work force who operate their ferries in UK, can the Portfolio Holder assure me that the Council will make it clear that Medway will not contract with any organisations who use the discredited Fire and Rehire tactics against their work force?”


Question R – Councillor Edwards submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships, Councillor Rodney Chambers OBE:


“What is the cost of providing free business litter kits to Medway businesses using Welcome Back Funding?”


Question S – Councillor Osborne submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Business Management, Councillor Hackwell:


“In 2013, the administration previously rejected the introduction of equal marriage in a Council motion. Can the administration confirm the number of civil ceremonies conducted between same-sex couples in Medway; and whether this should now be celebrated as a sign of social progress?”


Question T – Councillor Andy Stamp submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer:


“At the Full Council meeting on 20th January 2022, Councillor Filmer revealed that Medway Council has collected more than £244,000 in parking income since parking charges were introduced at the Strand on 9th July 2018. This represents at least £70,000 per year on average, yet the annual budget provided to the Sport, Leisure and Tourism team for improvements at the Strand is just £5,000 per year.


Will the Portfolio Holder agree to ‘ringfence’ the parking income from the Strand to fund much-needed improvements at the Strand?”


Question U – Councillor Chrissy Stamp submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett:


“Numerous councils across the country have raised the Ukrainian flag outside their building in a visual demonstration of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. How many days has the Ukrainian flag been on display outside Gun Wharf?”


Councillor V – Councillor Lloyd submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships, Councillor Rodney Chambers OBE:


“The Council is working on a River Strategy, supported by all Members. Within that strategy there will be policies to promote leisure river traffic, linking up existing piers, some of which will need investment to be brought back into use. Strood Pier, ideally located next to the railway station, is one of those piers that needs to be recommissioned. The Council, when it recently constructed the Canal Road river wall, blocked access to Strood Pier.


The Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships attended the 22 March 2022 Regeneration, Culture and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee. In his report, Councillor Chambers in Section 5.3 said, “Discussions are underway to re-instate the Strood Community Trail, along with the installation of recovered historical Dragon’s teeth and an interpretive panel to detail their historical purpose.”


Reinstating the trail is accurately in the main the re-instatement of the lost pathway that links Canal Road to Strood Pier.


I understand that there are resource issues within the Council’s Regeneration Team and Greenspaces Team that may result in the proposed re-instatement works not being delivered in this financial year. Can assurance be given that works will be carried out in 2022/3 financial year?”


Note: The Mayor stated that since the time allocation for Member questions had been exhausted, written responses would be provided to questions 10H – 10V.

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