Agenda item

Members' questions

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


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

“Vibrant High Streets are key to Medway’s economic success. Yet even our more successful High Streets are plagued by empty buildings that sit idle and do not contribute to the local economy.

Can the Portfolio Holder tell me how many empty retail properties there are on High Streets in Medway, including how many of those are owned by Medway Council?”

Councillor Chitty thanked Councillor Edwards for the question. She said that Medway’s high streets were important for economic growth and that was why hard work had taken place to secure significant external funding to invest in high streets and why millions were being invested in Chatham as the city centre. Vacancy rates for Medway’s town centres were all below the national average, as set out in table below [the table was displayed onscreen to those present at the Full Council meeting or watching online].


Total Occupied

Total Unoccupied

Total No of Units

Occupancy Rate %

Vacancy Rate %











































National (Q3 22)







Councillor Chitty said that Chatham’s vacancy rate was skewed due to the preparatory work underway to accommodate the Healthy Living Centre and Innovation Hub on the first floor of the Pentagon Shopping Centre. The Council had also acquired the former Debenhams building and had commercial agents marketing the site.

Apart from the Pentagon Centre, the Council also owned 20-26 High Street, Gillingham and 1-19 Twydall Green, Gillingham, all of which were currently occupied.

Medway continued to be proactive in the regeneration of its high streets, continually seeking funding opportunities and directly intervening where possible. Councillor Chitty concluded that Medway’s high streets were performing above the national average and acknowledged the businesses that worked hard to establish thriving town centres.

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

“Given the financial and other pressures on the Early Years Sector in Medway, driven by a dysfunctional market, ‘free’ places that are not fully funded, ownership and governance structures that sometimes do not support effective provision, and staffing challenges caused by the government’s poor record on workforce planning, what measures has the Portfolio Holder taken personally to support this sector which is so vital for families in Medway?”

Councillor Mrs Iles thanked Councillor Johnson for the question. She said that the Council’s Early Years Sufficiency Team supported early years providers and ensured the Council fulfilled its statutory duties and commitment to high quality Early Years provision.

The service worked to secure sufficient childcare for working parents and secure Early Years provision according to eligibility criteria. They also provided information, advice and assistance to parents and prospective parents and information, advice and training to childcare providers.


Medway currently had over 235 childcare providers. The team worked with all settings, monitoring the quality and sufficiency of childcare places available to local families. Through a quality early education, children were supported to have the best start in life. Early Years forums and briefing sessions were provided throughout the year to support Early Years providers.


The number of childcare and education providers that had engaged with the Council had increased, with 29% of providers taking up the offer of free advice and support.


The Early Years Sufficiency Team allocated the Government’s child care funding to Early Years providers and in total allocated approximately £20m of government funding to providers locally. In March 2023, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced funding for childcare for children from 9 months and for two year olds, outlining that from April 2024 parents would be able to access 15 hours of funded childcare and from September 2024, this could be accessed for children from 9 months of age. The Early Years Forum was in communication with providers, some of whom had expressed concern regarding the financial implications of this change. Further advice and guidance would be given to providers as the Department for Education issued more detailed guidance.


Councillor Mrs Iles said that as Portfolio Holder, she continued to push the big issues that were affecting most councils nationally and ensured that she maintained awareness of everything happening within children’s services.


Councillor Mrs Iles had been a significant advocate of children and family hubs, which provided outstanding services, such as drop-in sessions for parents and children, activities such as baby groups, self-weigh and stay and play sessions. They also provided ante-natal classes, baby clinics, links with local schools and voluntary agencies, information and advice about breastfeeding, speech and language and parenting health issues.


Question C – Councillor Curry asked the Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships, Councillor Rodney Chambers OBE, the following:

“It is my understanding that the current deadline for the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) to be spent is spring 2025.

Can the Portfolio Holder confirm that this is the case, that the Council will meet this deadline, explaining what the consequences are for Medway if not?”

Councillor Chambers said that Medway, together with a number of the larger HIF schemes across the country, was in discussions with Homes England regarding its various schemes. This was a result of the global recession and high inflation rates impacting on construction costs and constraining public expenditure.

As had been widely trailed, and in the light of consultation, the Council was proposing to pause its plans for rail and was exploring the potential for alternative transport options to improve access for residents travelling on and off the Peninsula.

Councillor Chambers said that the reframing of the programme and Homes England’s deliberations, would inevitably impact on the current timelines for delivery and that formed part of the discussions.

A report would be brought to Cabinet when the Government had provided a clear view on Medway’s proposals.

Question D – Councillor Van Dyke asked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe, the following:

“During the pandemic the use of our greenspaces across Medway increased significantly, and this pressure on these areas’ invaluable spaces has continued.

Why does the Portfolio Holder feel that by not increasing the greenspaces budget, it is appropriate to cut the funding in real terms to one of our most important community resources?”

Councillor Doe thanked Councillor Van Dyke for the question. He said that he completely agreed the importance of Medway’s greenspaces and that they provided an invaluable resource for the community. Greenspaces were very popular; it was a testament to the quality and nature of the sites available in Medway. Medway had eight green flags for excellence and it was hoped that figure could be improved in the in the future.

In 2021, Medway had spent £4.6million on greenspaces, in 2022, the figure was £4.9million and for 2023, £5.1million. However, it was not possible to judge performance purely on the amount of money spent as how funding was spent and invested was also important. 


Councillor Doe said that steps had been taken to overhaul the way in which greenspaces work was delivered, including making it more ecologically sound. There was reasonable public satisfaction with the condition of greenspaces which compared favourably to other areas.

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

“The state of Medway’s roads has now become a standing joke, with them being described as Swiss Cheese and suitable for plastic ducks! This has an impact not just on the condition of people’s vehicles but on the overall economy and reputation of Medway. 

Can the Portfolio Holder please tell us what are the plans to rectify this very serious infrastructure problem, not just for the immediate future, but for the long term?”

Note: As Councillor Mahil was not present at the meeting, the Mayor announced that he would receive a written response to his question in accordance with Council Rule 8.6.

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

“We have seen many areas coming forward across the UK with enhanced free school meals provision above the current statutory minimum. 

Could you explain why Medway doesn’t have such provision in place?”

Councillor Mrs Iles thanked Councillor Howcroft-Scott for the question. She said that approximately 11,000 children in Medway currently received Free School Meals (FSM) during the school term.

Councillor Mrs Iles noted that the Mayor of London had announced that all London primary school children would receive FSMs as a one-off for the 2023/24 academic year. Enhancing FSM provision for all children and young people in Medway, in a similar way to the extended provision in London primary schools, would require significant additional funding, which the Council was unable to accommodate within its current budget position.

Medway Council continued to work with the school catering contractors to ensure that children and young people were receiving and would continue to receive, healthy nutritious meals and were working within the Food Plan and government guidelines.

Medway also spent approximately £2.5million on provision for FSM-eligible children during the school holidays through the Household Support Grant.

Question G – Councillor Murray asked the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer, the following:

“Why did the Portfolio Holder wait until the election period to order a pothole blitz and leave residents all over Medway struggling with unsightly and dangerous potholes for the last 4 years?”

Councillor Filmer thanked Councillor Murray for the question. He said that Medway had repaired over 39,000 carriageway defects and undertaken resurfacing schemes on 74 carriageways and 38 footways during the previous four years.

The ‘Pothole Blitz’ had been introduced to tackle the volume of new defects appearing on the public highway following the previous winter, in order to ensure that the network remained safe and accessible.


Around £4million would be invested in Medway’s roads in 2023, utilising both capital and revenue budgets and Department for Transport incentive funding. The Council’s robust regime of highway inspections would continue to ensure the network remained as safe and accessible as possible.

Question H – Councillor Maple asked the Portfolio Holder for Adults’ Services, Councillor Brake, the following:

“As the Local Government Association rightfully said it was disappointing that the 2023/24 Public Health Grant was only published on 15th March, long after this Council set its budget. Across the country there has been £770 million real terms reduction in funding between 2015/16 and 2022/23.

With inflation currently running at around 10%, does the Portfolio Holder agree with me that the below inflation 3.2% increase will mean even greater pressure on our already under-resourced Public Health team in Medway, whose role is crucial to trying to reduce the persistent health inequalities in Medway?”

Councillor Brake thanked Councillor Maple for the question. He said that there had been a significant delay in the Government announcing the Public Health Grant for 2023/24 and the figure announced in March 2023 had been a lower than anticipated uplift of 3.2%. The Public Health Grant also needed to offset pay pressures resulting from NHS pay awards for staff working in a range of NHS services commissioned by Public Health.

The saying ‘prevention is better than the cure’, reinforced the value of having well resourced public health services to support Medway’s population.  Investing in Public Health approaches that would enable people to live longer and healthier lives, had been shown to reduce the costs of providing NHS, social care and other services.


Although constraints had been placed on public health budgets at a national level, additional funding had been provided to councils for drug and alcohol treatment, start for life programmes and through the new Integrated Care Board arrangements. These were focussed on addressing health inequalities.


Councillor Brake, said that as Portfolio Holder, he would work with the Director of Public Health to ensure the Medway Public Health Team continued to work in partnership across all sectors to implement policies and initiatives that improved the health and wellbeing of all those who lived worked and visited Medway.


Councillor Brake thanked the Director of Public Health and his team for their hard work and the Public Health programmes they delivered.

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