Agenda item

Members' questions

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


Question A – Councillor Van Dyke asked the Portfolio Holder for Adults’ Services, Councillor Brake, the following:


“The Department for Health and Social Care has instructed hospital trusts to reintroduce parking charges for hospital staff after withdrawing the subsidy paid to Trusts during the pandemic when charges for staff were waived. Medway Maritime Hospital faces a recruitment crisis and the threat of industrial action because staff salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living.


Will the Portfolio Holder show his support for our local NHS staff by joining me in writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care demanding that car parking charges for hospital staff are abolished with immediate effect?”


Councillor Brake thanked Councillor Van Dyke for the question. He said that the issue had been raised at the annual meeting of Medway Foundation Trust and had been discussed at length. Councillor Brake understood that the issue was a big concern for NHS staff, hospital patients and visitors, particularly in view of the current train and bus strikes, which left many no alternative option to driving or using taxis, which were both more expensive.


Councillor Brake advised that parking charges had been dropped during the Covid lockdowns to encourage people to use their cars so that they could socially distance and protect themselves by not using public transport. Doing so could have meant potential exposure to Covid which could then be brought to vulnerable hospital patients. As the situation had now eased, previous arrangements had returned.


Parking charges made to Medway hospital staff, patient and visitors were used to help cover the cost of the running and maintenance of these facilities, in turn allowing other NHS resources to be used directly to the benefit of patients and hospital staff.


Given these circumstances, Councillor Brake did not consider it appropriate to raise the matter with the Secretary of State.However, it would be appropriate for hospital staff members to write and raise their concerns with their local Member of Parliament.


Question B – Councillor Hubbard asked the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – Lead Member (statutory responsibility), Councillor Mrs Josie Iles, the following:


“It is the view of many that the new Maritime Academy should have been located on Strood Riverside, a town centre site with great access for those walking, cycling, or using public transport. The Secondary School’s proposed site on Frindsbury Hill will just add to the local levels of traffic congestion and pollution.


Maritime Academy opened its temporary, Twydall Primary School located, doors this September. The bussing arrangements, delivering and collecting students living in Strood and Frindsbury area in place. I am confident that the Academy’s staff are doing their very best. However, the Government is continuing its poor record on delivery of new schools in Medway. The other current example is the delayed Rochester Primary School.


There is no sign of any building work on the Academy’s Frindsbury site. This is simply not good enough. There are only pre-works that are related to reptile translocation and additional archaeological investigations.


Can the Portfolio Holder give any guarantee to Maritime Academy students, their parents, and staff that the school will finally open its Frindsbury doors by September 2024?”


Councillor Iles thanked Councillor Hubbard for the question. She said that the Department for Education (DfE) was leading on this project as it was part of the Government’s Free School Programme. Medway Council officers were in regular contact with the DfE on this matter to keep abreast of progress and developments.


Whilst work was yet to commence on the site, due to continuing additional archaeological investigations, the Council had been advised that a full start on site was anticipated in early 2023, which would enable the completion of the new school provision in readiness for the September 2024 academic year.


In common with any building project, there were circumstances which could cause the delay of a project once started, but the Council would continue to work closely with the Trust and the DfE to assist in mitigating and resolving any issues that may arise.


Councillor Iles thanked the Thinking Schools Trust, The Maritime Academy, its members of staff and pupils, who had settled extremely well into the temporary premises, which provided all the specialist areas a secondary school required. She also thanked Twydall Primary School and the Rainham Mark Education Trust for making the buildings available for this purpose.


Question C – Councillor Edwards asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“The majority of businesses in Medway are small businesses. They underpin our local economy, serve the community, and provide jobs for local people. But they are facing eye-watering energy price bills from April next year when the Energy Bill Relief Scheme is due to end. The Federation of Small Business’s recent report, Out in the Cold, found that two thirds of small firms say their energy costs have increased compared to last year, with 96 per cent of small businesses concerned about rising energy bills.


Will the Council write to the Government to urge it to either extend the Energy Bill Relief Scheme beyond 31 March 2023 or develop a follow-up scheme to continue financial support for small businesses during this energy cost crisis?


All signs point to steep energy prices providing challenging circumstances for small businesses beyond the immediate winter period, and particularly so for energy-intensive businesses like hospitality. Without ongoing support many of Medway’s small businesses may struggle to survive so we need Medway Council to be a strong voice urging central government to give them more support.”


Councillor Chitty thanked Councillor Edwards for the question. She said that the issue had been discussed with small businesses earlier in the week and that there had been concern in relation to the challenges faced. A decision had been made to make representations to the three local MPs. Although the Energy Prices Guarantee offered some relief, the full facts of the matter would not be known until the Chancellor’s Budget and assessments could be better made after this.


Question D – Councillor Maple asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“As Medway’s population faces the cost-of-living crisis caused by steeply rising energy costs, inflation at over 10%, with food and fuel inflation well above that figure and other financial pressures caused by government mismanagement, would the Leader of the Council update Council on the lessons learnt regarding the incredibly disappointing returning of £350,000 of unspent Household Support Funding earlier this year, while clarifying what measures are in place to ensure this never happens again?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Maple for the question. He said that the Government had announced the Household Support Fund on 30 September 2021 and set Medway Council’s allocation, for the period 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022, at £2,262,463.


Using urgency provisions, Councillor Jarrett had agreed, on behalf of the Cabinet, that this allocation would be used as follows:


  • Provide vouchers at £15 per week for the then estimated 10,000 Free School Meals eligible children for the school holidays in October and December 2021, and February 2022, at the time estimated to cost £670,000;
  • Provide grants to charities providing food of £150,000;
  • An allowance to cover reasonable administrative costs at £70,000; and
  • For the balance of the fund (estimated at £1,372,463) to be provided to individuals making claims for support via a new online form and officer referral process.


Councillor Jarrett said that Council officers had worked hard to implement the scheme as quickly as possible, while following the proper procurement processes to select the company through which vouchers would be provided, to set up the partnership with the Fuel Bank Foundation and to advertise the scheme to residents and partner organisations.


The scheme had been very successful and through it, the Council had provided £1,367,455 of support with food costs, £62,589 to support with energy and water costs and £374,306 to support with wider essentials through more than 73,000 awards.


Later tranches of the scheme had benefitted from the work already done to set up contracts and administrative arrangements. The Council had received the same allocation (£2,262,463) for the period 1 April to 30 September 2022 and Councillor Jarrett was pleased to confirm that the full allocation had been distributed to Medway’s residents, with the exception of eleven pence.


Question E – Councillor Andy Stamp asked the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer,the following:


“The large retaining wall on the A289 Pier Road in Gillingham has been structurally unsound for well over a decade and is in desperate need of repair.


Whilst Department for Transport funding has been secured so that permanent repairs can finally be carried out next year, the 'temporary' blue hoardings have been in place since 2009. Residents and Ward Councillors have long complained that the hoardings are not only an eyesore, but they also restrict visibility and cause road safety issues for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians using this busy dual carriageway.


To my dismay, it recently came to light that the Council do not actually own the temporary blue hoardings (including the structural steel propping behind) and Council taxpayers have been paying to hire them for the past 13 years. Can the Portfolio Holder therefore provide a breakdown of the total hire costs for these hoardings (including the structural steel props) since they were installed in 2009?”


Responding on behalf of Councillor Filmer, the Portfolio Holder for Business Management, Councillor Hackwell, thanked Councillor Stamp for the question. He confirmed that the hoarding had been installed in 2009 after the wall had been identified as a serious health and safety risk. This structure had not been originally identified as a Council asset.


The Council had a duty of care to safeguard its residents, even though there was uncertainty as to who the landowner was. While it was acknowledged that the hoarding might have been perceived as unsightly, its installation was necessary and was the safest course of action to safeguard against injury.


Councillor Hackwell said that in similar situations, particularly where there was uncertainty around the land ownership, hiring in hoarding and props was the most prudent option, given potential maintenance costs and liability risks associated with outright ownership. The time taken to carry out the full construction works had unfortunately been protracted due to the difficulties in defining the land ownership of the wall. The Council had only very recently received the permission from the landowner of the area above the wall to progress with the works, which it was anticipated would commence in the first quarter of 2023.


The weekly cost for this hoarding was £75, which when considered against the risks of injury, it was felt that the safety benefits of the hoarding far outweighed the costs.


Question F – Councillor Cooper asked the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – Lead Member (statutory responsibility), Councillor Mrs Josie Iles,the following:


“Following the administration’s callous decision to refuse to fund support for children eligible for free school meals over the summer break and its subsequent U-Turn, would the Portfolio Holder agree that Auto-Enrolment for free school meals in Medway would support struggling Medway families and would boost school budgets?”


Councillor Mrs Josie Iles thanked Councillor Cooper for the question. She said that all children attending school in reception year, year 1 and year 2 were entitled to a school meal free of charge. The Education Act 1996 required maintained schools and academies (including free schools) to provide free school meals to disadvantaged pupils aged between 5 and 16 years old. The Government set the eligibility criteria for free school meals, which were listed on the website and on the Council’s website. This could be summarised as entitlement to means-tested benefits equating to entitlement to free school meals.


Data on which school children were eligible was held by the Government. The current national Free School Meals system had been set up so that local authorities and / or individual schools must administer claims and assess eligibility locally.


Councillor Iles said that schools were primarily funded via the Government allocations of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). This was in addition to the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), which was paid to schools separately as a grant to improve the attainment of pupils from deprived backgrounds. PPG allocations to schools were made based on the number of pupils eligible for a free school meal, ‘Looked After Children’ (LAC), and children with a parent in the armed forces.


Government estimates of claim rates indicated that automatic enrolment could capture the 11% of eligible school children (estimated 215,000 nationally) who had not yet taken up the offer. If the Government were to facilitate auto-enrolment by providing local authorities and/or schools with information on eligible children and this resulted in more eligible children accessing Free School Meals in Medway, then Medway schools PPG allocations would increase.


Question G – Councillor Murray asked the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – Lead Member (statutory responsibility), Councillor Mrs Josie Iles, the following:


“The Local Government Association has determined that 28% of Healthy Start Vouchers remain unclaimed in Medway, constituting over 800 families who are potentially missing out on healthy food. What has the Portfolio Holder done in the past year to increase take-up of Healthy Start Vouchers for families facing the cost-of-living crisis?”


Councillor Mrs Josie Iles thanked Councillor Murray for the question. She said that the Healthy Start Scheme was an NHS scheme rather than one that was led by the Council. Medway had promoted the scheme through several different pathways to build on the 72% uptake rate of March 2022.


The scheme helped eligible pregnant women or those with a child aged under 4 on low incomes to obtain food, milk and vitamins. Vouchers were issued to families directly by the NHS, with local authorities helping to promote uptake.


Through the multi-agency Food Partnership, the voucher scheme had been promoted across a wide range of partners to increase awareness. Council officers shared information with pregnant women and with families through Family Solutions and promoted awareness through a website for the Heathy Early Years Award.


Councillor Iles said that the importance of health professionals signposting to such schemes was recognised. Health visitors across Medway promoted the availability of Healthy Start Vouchers. They worked with the families to assess eligibility and to signpost them to how to apply. This would be followed up during subsequent contact with the family to ensure that they were aware of the scheme benefits and what they were entitled to.


Question H – Councillor Osborne submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools, Councillor Potter:


“Given the steeply rising costs of energy and unfunded pay rises, leading Medway schools to fear running out of money in the next nine months, can the Portfolio Holder clarify the per head funding per student in an annualised table in Medway since 2010/11, until today, while assessing whether these reductions are sustainable for school improvement?”


Question I – Councillor Browne submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools, Councillor Potter:


“Medway’s School Place Planning Strategy describes Medway Council’s presumption in favour of school academisation. When did Cabinet and Council make that decision?”


Question J – Councillor Howcroft-Scott submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Gulvin:


“Taking care of the workplace environment improves productivity, helps retain talent, and most important of all: it is good for the Council’s overall mental health. To this end I am troubled and concerned with the working environment our Council employees are subjected to at Gun Wharf, greatly highlighted by the refurbishment taking place in the old mayoral chambers. Please can our Council employees have a working environment they can feel proud of and is fit for the 21st century?”


Question K – Councillor Mahil submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – Lead Member (statutory responsibility), Councillor Mrs Josie Iles:


“It is encouraging that four schools in Medway have signed up to the national Lets Go Zero campaign, supporting schools reach net carbon zero by 2030. What encouragement is the Council giving to schools across Medway to participate in such schemes and how are they monitoring engagement levels?”


Question L – Councillor Johnson submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett:


“What is the projected total cost of the current Judicial Review of the National Transfer Scheme for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children?”


Question M - Councillor Curry submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer:


“The Council has recently signed off contracts for subsidised bus routes across Medway and accepted into service operators not capable of meeting the preferred tender requirement for EURO V buses. What assessment was made of the environmental air quality impact of accepting such buses into operation on routes traversing Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)?


Our local bus operators are working hard to ensure their fleets minimise impacts on air quality in Medway. All 57 buses within ASD’s fleet are Euro V or VI standard. Of Arriva’s fleet of 109 buses at Gillingham Depot, 72 are Euro V or VI (66%), with plans to retire a number of the older double deck buses in favour of newer Euro VI upgrades over the next few months. Other bus operators in Medway are also upgrading their fleets.


When we procure our subsidised bus contracts, we must carefully balance environmental factors with other considerations, including budget availability and the social need for the service. We will continue to look to our operators for further improvements to fleet emissions over time, whether that be retrofitting to Euro VI standard or using new low or zero-emission vehicles, and we will work with them to pursue any funding opportunities presented by Central Government.”


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


“What is the total cost, including advertising, the traffic order and physical works, of the recently installed 40 mph zone on Deanwood Drive, Rainham?”


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


“Medway has an ambition to be child friendly. For this to be a reality it needs to have good quality, affordable public transport for our young people. Do you think Medway’s children get a fair deal compared to those either in London or Kent?”


Question P – Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Turpin submitted the following to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe:


“Following the closure of Deangate Ridge Golf Course, Cabinet in March 2018 instructed officers to begin detailed planning for consultation and development of a new sports centre for the Hoo Peninsula. 


In July 2019, Full Council approved the provision of up to £150,000 to complete initial investigation surveys (ecology, topographical, contamination, utilities, UXO and tree) as well as a high-level capacity study to establish approach and quantum of sustainable development.


None of the above work has been completed, or even started. 


As these decisions were taken over 3 years ago and would have been very helpful for the Hoo Development Framework consultation (and the draft Local Plan that was proposed last October).


Also considering the work that has been completed to redevelop Splashes during this time, please can you advise why this work has not been carried out?”


Question Q – Councillor Etheridge submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty:


“At the Regeneration Culture and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee, held on the 13th of October this year, the Committee, requested that you supplied the answer to the following questions, prior to this Full Council meeting.


The questions were as follows:


Since you were last here before this Committee in October 2021, it has been identified that from 2014, you have spent over a million and a quarter on consultants to assist in developing a draft Local Plan.


1.   Who were these consultants and what was their expertise? 


2.   In what year were they hired, was the work put out to tender and exactly what areas of the local plan they were directed to? 


3.   From their services, how was the draft local plan enhanced, ensuring compliance, with government regulations?


You have stated on numerous occasions, that consecutive governments have made changes to the local plan process.


4.   Can you tell us in which years, those changes were made to the Local Plan process?


  1. Can you tell us the overall effect specifically and on what part of our Local Plan process?


  1. Finally, considering the amount of time that has passed since 2014 to-date, the number of man hours by both Council staff and consultants, why wasn’t the draft Local Plan robust enough to weather a few minor changes in its production?


Councillor Chitty, not a single question has been answered, can you tell us why, considering that by not doing so, you have denied Members the opportunity and the right to seek further information.”


Question R – Councillor Rupert Turpin submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett:


“On page 99 of the Hoo Development Framework consultation pack the very first principle of the indivisible and interlocking framework for the delivery of garden cities is land value capture for the benefit of the community.


With this in mind, will the Council commit to ring fence the land value capture of any Council owned land on the peninsula which may be developed into housing or captured in any land equalisation process with the Hoo consortium or other developers, as a result of the development framework?


If so, then community infrastructure in Hoo and the surrounding villages, such as, for example, the much needed new sports centre and swimming pool, can be funded and provided in a timely manner and to the high quality the area deserves, rather than any land capture being redistributed on projects across the rest of Medway or lost in the general fund and reserves.”


Question S – Councillor McDonald submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty:


“Could the Portfolio Holder inform Council when the last time Transport for London carried out compliance checks on TfL licensed vehicles in Medway.”


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

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