This report sets out Members’ questions received for this meeting.
Question A – Councillor Paterson asked Leader of the Council, Councillor Maple, the following:
“Our region is as varied as it is distinctive, with residents proud to say that they come from very specific places. Some people from Borstal might take issue with the suggestion they hail from Rochester, while a Frindsbury resident definitely does not live in Strood.
But just at the moment where such distinctiveness has been rightly recognised in the names of the new wards we have been elected to represent on this unitary authority, it seems bean-counters at the BBC are moving in precisely the opposite direction.
Proposed cuts to BBC local radio will mean a loss of BBC Radio Kent’s distinctive identity. The station – home to journalists and presenters of the highest calibre including Anna Cookson, Julia George and Pat Marsh – will be forced to share an increased part of its schedule with other parts of the south and south east which we have little or nothing in common with, beyond a county boundary or relative proximity on a map.
I am proud of the BBC, not only for its international reputation for the finest journalism which lives up to its motto “Let Nation Speak Peace Unto Nation”, but for the way it reflects the places it serves at a very local level. I am also proud of the unique way it is funded, which puts it at arm’s length from politicians who might seek to influence its editorial policy and out of reach of the sort of rapacious, tax-dodging media moguls who covet and resent it in equal measure.
Last year the Leader joined forces with senior local government figures from around the country, signing an open letter to the Director-General pointing out that these changes are ill-considered, highly damaging to regional identity and bad news for the communities local radio gives a voice to.
Will he join with me in paying tribute to the National Union of Journalists members at BBC Radio Kent who have taken industrial action as they campaign to reverse the cuts and #KeepBBCLocalRadioLocal to Kent?””
Councillor Maple thanked Councillor Paterson for the question. He said that he was proud of the BBC and the job it did in holding elected representatives to account and asking the tough questions. The suggested proposals put forward by senior managers at the BBC were disappointing, particularly in the context of the excellent job the BBC had done, particularly during COVID.
The Make a Difference scheme was now in its fourth year, with a local organisation, the Rochester eco-hub, having been highlighted by Radio Kent for the great work they did here in Medway. This scheme was now at risk.
Councillor Maple said he supported the National Union of Journalists in their efforts to defend local radio in Kent and nationally. Without local radio, a unique voice would be lost that was so important to residents, many of whom got in touch with these stations to give their views and participate in democracy, which was welcome. Councillor Maple had previously coordinated a letter of over 100 leaders in local government, including the new LGA chair, to clearly send that message. Following the Council elections in May, he had also coordinated a letter with other Labour Group and Council leaders, specifically on the issue of Radio Kent.
Councillors of all parties valued the role of the BBC in holding to account and giving the local community a voice. This must be defended as the alternative was bland and irrelevant radio and the local community deserved more.
Question B - Councillor Spring asked thePortfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, Councillor Curry, the following:
“Recent weeks have seen chaos caused by the ongoing substantial number of roadworks across Rainham, causing significant inconvenience to our residents. Can the Portfolio Holder please explain how officers are ensuring proper coordination around street works, and if any consideration is taken to the impact on air quality, given the challenges faced in this area, particularly around the A2?”
Councillor Curry thanked Councillor Spring for the question. He said that the intention when planning street works was to minimise the impact of the proposed works on the network. The type of traffic management suggested and locations were reviewed to avoid unnecessary traffic delays to ensure disruptions would be kept to a minimum. By reducing disruption, the impact on air quality would be minimised.
When emergency works were required, a review would still be undertaken and where necessary and possible, other works would be suspended. In the case of the Lower Rainham Road, the A2 had been kept clear of all other works for the duration and to ensure efficiency was maximised, engagement took place with traffic signal engineers.
Close work took place with the Council’s Environmental Protection team, including on the development of some local initiatives, which included new signage at temporary traffic signals stating, “When stationary please switch off engines”.
Councillor Curry said that air quality was taken extremely seriously and that one of the aims of Medway’s climate action was to have no air quality management areas in Medway. There were currently four, one of which was in Rainham. While work had to be undertaken in Rainham to maintain the road infrastructure and avoid problems in the future, it was acknowledged that this was highly disruptive. The potholes on the road network were the result of a lack of investment by the government in road infrastructure and Councillor Curry gave assurance that the work was being done as quickly as possible.
Question C - Councillor Sands asked theDeputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Murray, the following:
Councillors will be aware of the Boys Need Bins and Dispose with Dignity national campaigns to bring awareness to the lack of public toilets and importantly the lack of facilities in male toilets.
1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer, and some of those men experience urinary and bowel problems as a direct effect of their treatment. 1 in 3 men over the age of 65 will suffer urinary incontinence problem and 1 in 25 men over the age of 40 will experience some form of urinary leakage. A lack of public understanding of these conditions and the stigma surrounding incontinence and the lack of facilities for men are damaging men’s physical and mental health.
More and more men are having to use incontinence products. It’s something men can become very embarrassed about. And of course, for councils this can cause extra expense and maintenance problems if incontinence products are flushed rather than properly disposed of in a discreet way. But there is a relatively cheap and easy solution, putting sanitary bins in our men’s toilets, a small but important difference for those who need it.
All sufferers know that embarrassing leaks can happen from time to time and so a “Just can’t wait” card to enable access a toilet quickly and explain to someone discreetly that you need to use a toilet urgently. The ‘Just Can’t Wait’ card is now available as a digital card for your smartphone to ensure you always have your toilet card at easy reach.
Will the Deputy Leader commit the Council to the following:
· To encourage businesses across Medway to put incontinence bins in their male toilets.
· To encourage the acceptance of “Just can’t wait” cards throughout Medway.
· To help Medway become a place where men’s lives are not limited by incontinence, by ensuring every men’s public toilet has an incontinence bin so men can dispose of incontinence pads and stoma products easily, safely and with dignity?”
Councillor Murray thanked Councillor Sands for the question and for the additional information which had helped everyone to understand the important health challenges and causes of male incontinence. She hoped that the question and resulting actions that would be put into place would help to give sufferers confidence that the Council supported their needs and did not want anyone to feel embarrassed about asking for help to be able to manage their health condition.
Councillor Murray thanked Council officers in Public Health who had agreed to help with promotion, signage and information cards. A small amount of extra funding had been agreed for the provision and maintenance of disposal bins in Medway’s male public toilets. These would be installed by 28 July 2023. Further progress would be needed to ensure the same facilities were available to the public in the Council’s other buildings. The Public Health team’s additional promotion would reach out to businesses to encourage them to also recognise these health needs.
Question D - Councillor Perfect asked thePortfolio Holder for Children’s Services (including statutory responsibility), Councillor Price, the following:
“Providing an outstanding Children's Services provision should not be seen as an aspirational target but be the standard for all upper-tier local authorities. Over the past four years, the previous administration worked tirelessly on this goal, and now, as an opposition, we remain committed to supporting the improvement journey. Can the Portfolio Holder please update me on the action he has undertaken since his appointment at Annual Council to support the improvement journey and preparations for the Ofsted Inspecting Local Authority Children's Services (ILACS) inspection?”
Councillor Price thanked Councillor Perfect for the question. He said that he was fully committed to continuing to support the improvement work underway in Children’s Services. He had engaged with the service at pace and had visited staff at Broadside and the Elaine Centre, which had given valuable understanding of their responsibilities and the challenges faced. Councillor Price had also visited Parklands to meet some of the children and families and had seen the benefits of the valuable short break services provided there for disabled children.
Councillor Price said he felt privileged to take on his new role as Lead Member for Children’s Services and would take forward the work undertaken by the previous Lead Member. The Portfolio Holder also sat on the multi-agency Improvement Board which oversaw the Improvement Plan and would Chair the Corporate Parenting Board, which championed the interest of children in care and care leavers. He looked forward to working directly with the young people who were part of this Board and ensuring their views and aspirations were supported.
Councillor Price had undertaken a safeguarding visit alongside a practitioner. These visits were undertaken on a six weekly basis, along with the Director of People and the Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care. They provided Councillor Price an opportunity to meet families and see at first hand the valuable work of Medway’s social care practitioners.
Councillor Price continued to meet and work with senior officers in the People Directorate and so had line of sight to front line practice across Children’s Social Care and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. This enabled him to discharge statutory responsibilities as Lead Member for children. In view of the Ofsted inspection now underway, the Portfolio Holder wanted to be supportive of all staff and was keen to ensure the transition to the new administration would be managed smoothly to reassure inspectors that the Council’s commitment to improvement would be sustained.
Question E - Councillor Tejan asked thePortfolio Holder for Business Management, Councillor Van Dyke, the following:
“Care providers play a vital role in providing essential support and care to their loved ones, often sacrificing lucrative employment and promising careers to ensure the well-being and quality of life of those they care for. Care providers typically receive a daily allowance of £9.40 from the state for their caregiving responsibilities, which does not adequately compensate for the financial burdens they face; and the Adult Social Care charge element of Council Tax can impose an additional financial strain on care providers, creating an unfair burden that hinders their ability to meet their own financial obligations.
I hope the Portfolio Holder will acknowledge the significant contributions and sacrifices made by care providers in our community, the financial challenges they often face due to limited financial support, and whether she agrees with me that care providers should be exempt from the Adult Social care charge element of Council Tax, when they are directly responsible for providing care for their loved ones at huge savings to the local authority?”
Councillor Van Dyke thanked Councillor Tejan for the question. She recognised the valuable contribution made by carers across Medway and was committed to ensuring residents received all support available to them. The Carer’s Allowance was administered by the Department for Work and Pensions, and for 2023/24 was paid at the rate of £76.75 per week, or £10.96 per day.
The Adult Social Care precept formed part of the overall Council Tax liability for each property, so it could not be excluded from the amount payable by any individual or group. However, for both types of carers, the professional care worker, and the unpaid carer or relative, support was available to them to pay their Council Tax.
Professional care workers who lived in the same property as the person they cared for, worked for at least 24 hours a week and were paid no more than £44 per week were not counted for Council Tax. This meant a 25% discount could be applied to their bill if they were the only adult in their household.
For unpaid carers who lived with the person they cared for and provided at least 35 hours of care each week for someone, excluding their partner, who was in receipt of certain benefits, they were also disregarded for Council Tax purposes. This meant that a property occupied solely by a carer and the person receiving care would receive a 25% discount. Should a carer move to provide care and leave their home unoccupied, they would not have to pay Council Tax in respect of the unoccupied property.
Medway’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme disregarded any income from Carer’s Allowance, Personal Independence Payments, Disability Living Allowance or the support component of Employment and Support Allowance and provided additional income disregards of £40 per week if someone in the household was disabled. This meant that carers and those they were caring for benefitted from being assessed as having lower income, increasing their entitlement to help within the scheme.
A page dedicated to support for Carers was available on the Council’s website and Councillor Van Dyke encouraged anyone in Medway suffering financial hardship to visit the website, and search ‘household help’ to find out what support was available.
Question F - Councillor Lawrence asked theDeputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Murray, the following:
“Can the Cabinet Spokesman for Health give her view on the effectiveness of the Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board (ICB) with particular reference to its delivery of services needed by the residents of Medway?”
Councillor Murray thanked Councillor Lawrence for the question. She said that the Kent and Medway Integrated Care partnership (ICP) had been established to develop a partnership working approach and it was important that all councillors recognised that developing an honest, open and supportive relationship with the ICP was the best way to ensure that Medway received its fair share of health resources.
Councillor Murray considered that tackling the legacy of health inequality in Medway was a top priority and said that she had utilised every available opportunity so far to emphasise to the ICP that for Medway to achieve health outcomes set out by the partnership, its need for a share of funding was greater than that of more affluent areas, whose residents enjoyed better health and longer lives than many of the residents of Medway.
The ward profiles on Medway’s website set out how far Medway still had to travel compared to the rest of the Southeast to ensure that all residents had fair access to health care and the support they needed to make lifestyle changes, which would enable them to live well and achieve their full potential.
The Kent and Medway ICP was just over a year old and was making reasonable progress. However, their instruction from central Government was to make 30% cuts in addition to previous years of cuts.
Councillor Murray was optimistic about the Kent and Medway ICP as there was professional consensus about what needed to be done and agreement that the wider determinants of health, such as bad housing, poverty and poor education all contributed to poor health. In support of the ICP’s aims, there was determination to ensure that Medway Council played its part in tackling those issues and by doing so, achieving a healthier Medway.
Question G - Councillor Gilbourne asked theLeader of the Council, Councillor Maple, the following:
“Will the Leader of the Council confirm that the new Labour Administration has no plans to sell any land that it owns and/or controls in Capstone Valley, opening the way to large scale house building on an important green space, which is vital to the environment and to the wellbeing of the surrounding communities?”
Councillor Maple thanked Councillor Gilbourne for the question. He said that there had been no formal request to sell land at Capstone. Should any request be received, a decision would be one for the Cabinet based on a careful consideration of all the facts and issues.
There had been previous Cabinet reports on this issue and Councillor Maple noted, with interest, the recent comment of the former Leader of the Council, who had stated “We’re going to get a load of houses in Capstone anyway.” Councillor Maple suggested that this comment was a result of multiple appeals previously lost by the Council due to its failure to deliver a Local Plan for more than 20 years.
Note: The Mayor stated that since the time allocation for Member questions
had been exhausted, written responses would be provided to questions 10H to 10O.
Question H - Councillor Spalding submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Maple:
“At the end of your first Cabinet meeting you stated categorically, on behalf of the Labour Group “We want ultimate transparency”. During that meeting, Councillor Curry when telling the cabinet about the HIF situation reminded the Cabinet that as part of your election promises you made a “Commitment to deliver a more transparent and inclusive Medway Authority”.
During a subsequent meeting with Councillor Curry I asked for copies of the letter from Homes England with the recommendation to withdraw HIF monies and a copy of the detailed plan which allegedly would achieve the HIF objectives.
Nothing has been provided and despite further requests these documents are still being kept secret.
Barely two months into this administration and you have already broken an election promise. Can you please explain why?”
Question I - Councillor Mrs Turpin submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, Councillor Curry:
“At Business Support Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 30 March 2023, Councillor Curry, in regard to the Housing Infrastructure Fund asked, “Conversations were being had with Homes England, why weren’t we aware of these conversation, why haven’t we been told?”
Later in the same meeting Councillor Murray said, “I’m uncomfortable about all these discussions going on and nobody knowing about it. This Committee needs to send a message to Cabinet to ask them to pause the discussions that everyone is having with Homes England and decide what scheme exactly we are committed to.”
On 13 June at the Cabinet meeting it was announced that the Council had received a letter on 9 June from Homes England advising that they were no longer recommending the funding for Medway’s HIF project, with a final decision being made by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It was made clear at this meeting that all efforts would be made to persuade Homes England and the Department not to withdraw the funding and that the Leader would be requesting an urgent meeting.
However, except one cancelled meeting, there has been no discussion or updates to Members representing the communities on the Peninsula.
Can the Portfolio Holder provide an update on the current position of discussions with Homes England, including any proposals and plans to communicate this to local members?”
Question J – Councillor Joy submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Children's Services (including statutory responsibility), Councillor Price:
“Schools across Medway are facing extreme delays from Medway Council in;
Firstly, getting an agreement to additional funding needs for children with Special Educational Needs, with schools in some instances waiting for over 6 months incurring additional costs (that they can ill afford) to ensure that they meet their requirements under statutory duties from current legislation.
Secondly, when funding levels are agreed, actually getting the money paid, with schools being owed thousands by Medway Council, with the majority from the last few months.
Please can the Portfolio Holder explain what is being done to speed up the process, including confirmation when all funding currently agreed is paid and the procedures being put in place to ensure that all monies are paid promptly?”
Question K – Councillor Crozer submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Maple:
“I note that the Cabinet Local Plan Advisory Group is allocated 7 Members using the ration of 4:3 Labour: Conservative, as such it excludes our Independent Group.
You will, I’m sure, be acutely aware of the implications of the Hoo Peninsula being excluded from this advisory capacity.
The Local Plan has been the subject of some difficulty since 2007 when the previous administration began to bring forward its update to include 5000 houses at Lodge Hill on the Peninsula and of course the various failures of Medway to bring forward a successful Local Plan of late, predicated on the back of the Hoo Development Framework and the Housing Infrastructure Fund Project.
After almost 3 years of development of the HIF project, following the grant determination agreement and some circa £18m spent, Homes England recommended its withdrawal citing some 42 points of failure. Deloitte, one of the experts, concluded there are a "considerable number of planning risks that remain outstanding since the original HIF submission. A key risk which underpins the entire planning strategy is the delay to the adoption of the Local Plan and risk of legal challenge".
Given that the HIF project has been cancelled it is essential that we, Medway, quickly adopt a sound evidence based Local Plan that we might, once and for all, move forward together.
You have remarked recently that the residents have given Independents a clear mandate that over developing the Peninsula is not acceptable.
We have asked time and time again for transparency and to be part of the process to develop a fair and evidenced based Local Plan. We want to be part of that transparent process. Representation on a Cabinet ‘Advisory’ Group of the Hoo Peninsula would a step in the right direction together.
I therefore respectfully ask you to carefully consider changing the allocation for the Local Plan Cabinet Advisory Group to that similar to the Climate Change advisory group of 9 in the ratio of 5:3:1.”
Question L – Councillor Field submitted the following to thePortfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, Councillor Curry:
“Residents in Cliffe Road in Strood have raised the issue of high vehicular speeds presenting a danger to property and residents. They would like the Council to review speed limits, with a preference for a 20 miles per hour restriction. What measures is the Portfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration taking to ensure that our streets are safe for all?”
Question M – Councillor Williams submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Maple:
“Despite the recommendation of the Business Support Overview and Scrutiny Committee from 30 March being a “Refreshed governance structure for the (HIF) project going forward to include relevant community groups such as councillors, parish councillors and other community groups”, the Cabinet Report of 11 July advises that the Future Hoo Delivery Board will not be re-established and that where this is the case Cabinet Members will continue to have the necessary dialogue with relevant Members, officers and partners, as applicable, to inform the work of the Cabinet.
Assuming that over the past 4 weeks, discussions have been held with Homes England and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, there has been no such dialogue between Cabinet Members and local ward Councillors.
Despite criticism of the previous administration’s governance of this project, it would appear from the withdrawal of the Future Hoo Board and many other Cabinet Advisory Groups, that Governance is going to get increasingly worse with this administration. How can the Leader give us reassurance that this is not going to be the case?”
Question N – Councillor Pearce submitted the following to thePortfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, Councillor Curry:
“Will the Council, as a matter of policy, condition all new houses built to include beneficial wildlife measures, such as bat boxes, bee hotels, swift boxes and other wildlife items, to ensure that ecological benefits are realised quickly for local wildlife?”
Question O – Councillor Jones submitted the following to thePortfolio Holder for Children’s Services (including statutory responsibility),Councillor Price:
“Please can the Portfolio Holder outline what steps are being taken by Medway Council, to ensure that all Children in Care are treated as if they have a protected characteristic, under the Equalities Act 2010?”