Agenda item

Members' questions

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


Question A – Councillor Doe asked thePortfolio Holder for Housing and Property, Councillor Khan, the following:


“Several local residents have called me to express their concern about the sudden invasion of the Wigmore Coach Park by a large group of travellers, without any prior consultation with the local Councillors.


I have since been informed that this occupation will last no more than three months while the Council deals with necessary legal duties.


I am deeply concerned that the travellers were moved there without any consultation with residents or local Members.


Accordingly, can the Portfolio Holder, Councillor Khan, assure me that this site will not be used for this purpose in the future and in doing so, that no permanent traveller site will be permitted at this location?”


Councillor Khan thanked Councillor Doe for the question. She said that when the current administration had taken office, there had been no agreed policy in place with reference to traveller and gypsy communities. The site had been agreed for a period of three months, this had now expired and officers would be pursuing a process to take back possession of the site.


The Council was reviewing its approach to Gypsies and Travellers utilising guidance, best practice and specialist advice. A briefing meeting for Members had taken place in the last month, which outlined these options in more detail. This revised approach may seek to strike a balance between enforcement and a more tolerated approach in locations that were appropriate. Details of this would be brought forwards as and when more information was developed.


Identifying suitable permanent traveller provision was an important part of delivering the Local Plan. Consideration would need to be given to how this would be achieved across a range of sites. No decision had been taken in respect of the site in Wigmore.


Question B – Councillor Spring asked the Portfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, Councillor Curry, the following:


“"Red routes are nothing more than money making schemes", a comment made by a constituent during a surgery. The route proposed in Rainham North has been plagued by street-works which are causing utter chaos across our town. As was highlighted by multiple comments on the issue, a serious review of the roads should be undertaken by your administration, not imposing anti-motorist measures which will make no impact on air quality. It is idling and poor road layouts that cause delays and poor air quality, not people stopping on the A2.


What is very interesting is the apparent lack of comprehension of the view set out by the Labour Party in their publication 'A New Britain'. It is stated quite proudly that:


"Our starting point is a modern system of decision making that does not start from the top – but starts from the people and is grounded in new ways of consulting, participating, and deciding."


You consulted. 

The public participated.

You decided. You decided to ignore the objections and views of 64% of the respondents and intend to roll this out.  You are punishing unnecessarily hard-working people – in the same way your disastrous Mayor of London has punished hard working people in Greater London and the Home Counties.


Will the Portfolio Holder do the democratic thing (and do as you have already shown your party is capable of doing with the multiple U-turns in your first 100 days, such as on the visitor’s parking permits), and reverse the decision to have an unwanted Labour red route in Rainham?”


Councillor Curry thanked Councillor Spring for the question. He said that the Council had engaged the publicon a proposal to convert five existing double yellow line routes into double red line routes. Various comments had been received and these had been used to inform amended designs. The proposed red routes had also been discussed at a scrutiny Committee meeting on 18 October. There would be a statutory consultation regarding the revised designs that would illustrate the changes that were made following the initial engagement with the public.


There were serious congestion and pollution problems in the centre of Rainham, which was an AQMA (Air Quality Management Area) with 24,000 cars passing through every day. This had led to impacts on the environment, the health of residents and on Medway’s economy. Consultation had been undertaken since May on matters including Red Routes, the Local Plan, Chatham Intra, the Chatham Centre Design Code, Deangate Country Park and school streets and it was therefore not correct to suggest that consultations were not undertaken.


Councillor Curry said that the Government was making U-turns on environmental issues and suggested that there needed to be a focus on the real needs of Rainham residents. Red routes were about promoting sustainable communities; the environment, local communities and people’s health and wellbeing and the local economy.


Question C – Councillor Perfect asked the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, Councillor Price, the following:


“The Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holders have made clear that the administration’s “sixth pledge” is the reduction in the use of non-permanent (locum/agency) staff. This is not a new objective and has been a priority of the Council for some time, but the renewed focus is very much welcome. This is something that can support further improvement towards outstanding, following the recent ‘Good’ ILACs report.


Assuming that there will be a new strategy or plan to underpin this renewed focus and a new target for the number of non-permanent staff within the service, can the Portfolio Holder please update the Council on this matter in relation to Children’s Services, with particular focus on the current number of non-permanent staff?”


Councillor Price thanked Councillor Perfect for the question. He said that the Council would continue to strive for a permanent workforce across Children’s Services, despite the national and regional shortage of social workers. In 2022, the number of children’s social workers directly employed by local authorities nationally had decreased for the first time in 5 years by 2.7% (or 900 social workers).


Medway was fully committed to reducing the percentage of agency staff (currently 31% for social work qualified roles) and over the next twelve months, a range of activities were planned to build on the positive outcome of the recent Ofsted inspection, which had included Medway Children’s Services being determined as being a ‘Good’ authority to work for. The activities included a recruitment open day, several events to encourage agency staff to apply for permanent roles and an international recruitment campaign. Recruitment campaigns across Jobs Go Public, the Guardian and social media would continue throughout the year.


Children’s Services also planned to increase ‘grow our own’ initiatives through creating a rolling programme of social worker apprentices and increasing the intake of newly qualified social workers during the next year.


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


“On October 8th 2020, the Labour Party supported my motion to campaign for the Hoo Peninsula to become an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and part of the North Downs AONB, the motion was not supported by the then administration and so defeated.


Now your party is in power here in Medway, will you resolve to start a vigorous campaign to have the Hoo Peninsula recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty?”


Councillor Maple thanked Councillor Sands for the question. He said that he had previously spoken in favour of the proposal. An AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) did not prevent housing.


Councillor Maple questioned what a vigorous campaign would entail and highlighted the current financial pressures facing the Council. Recognising those issues, that the Labour and Co-operative Group would be voting in favour of the motion due to be considered later in the meeting in relation to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and that there would be some work that might be able to be used for both applications, campaigning for the Hoo Peninsula to become an AONB was something that could be considered. This could be discussed further with the leaders of the other political groups of the Council.


Question E – Councillor Spalding asked thePortfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, Councillor Curry, the following:


“Roadworks and Streetworks projects seem to always over run time and are planned such that they cause maximum inconvenience to residents and businesses.


Given current contracts do not apparently contain penalty clauses, what is the Portfolio Holder doing to ensure future works are delivered on time, on budget, with the least amount of disruption?”


Councillor Curry thanked Councillor Spalding for the question. The adopted highway network in Medway covered 827 kilometres spread over 2,500 individual roads and streets. Roadworks in Medway were co-ordinated by the Streetworks team, using a permit scheme, which was self-funded by permit fees charged by utilities companies.


The permit scheme gave the Council legal powers to dictate when all roadworks could be carried out in order to keep disruption to a minimum. However, in certain circumstances, due to the nature or location of the work, some disruption would be inevitable. Penalty charges for overrunning roadworks were charged to the utility companies in line with current legislation. For Medway Council highway works, there were no penalty charges that could be levied under the contract in place.


Consideration was being given to contacting the government, in partnership with other authorities, with regards to enhancing the current regulations and giving the Council greater control to address problems in Medway.


Councillor Curry said that the previous administration had left Medway with a seriously degraded road infrastructure, due to underfunding by the government. Addressing the condition of the infrastructure would take time.


Question F – Councillor Lawrence asked theLeader of the Council, Councillor Maple, the following:


“At the Council meeting of the 20th July 2023, in the Leader’s Report, the Leader of the Council made the following very bold statement:


“We have got to grip with GP services…”


Can he tell the Council exactly how he got to grip with GP Services, including setting out what is the net increase in GPs operating in Medway based surgeries serving the people of Medway?”


Councillor Maple thanked Councillor Lawrence for the question. He said his comments at Full Council in July, reflected his view that the new Administration would work constructively and in partnership with GPs and other NHS colleagues. The recommendations of the GP Access Task Group were proactively being taken forward with NHS partners. This Task Group had a number of actions that would assist in addressing the issues local residents faced in terms of GP access.


The Task Group had looked at:


(i)       Access

(ii)      Primary Care Networks

(iii)     Workforce Training & Development

(iv)    Quality & Safety

(v)      Technology and

(vi)    Finance and Investment in partnership with the NHS Kent and Medway ICB


The Council was also using its strategic role in the Kent and Medway Integrated Care Partnership to work closely with those responsible for commissioning GP services and to build upon previous work to deliver a new Healthy Living Centre in the Pentagon Centre. The work with ICB partners would mean the ICB would take account of the Medway Joint Local Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which informed target setting and local priorities. Whilst GP numbers were not at the desired level, they were increasing in Medway and it would take time to reach the required level. Baseline data on GP numbers and trends in Medway was currently:

  1. Total GP Head Count - 162
  2. GP Head Count excluding Trainees and Locums - 123
  3. Full time equivalent Total GPs - 109.68

This data was updated monthly. In terms of a net increase, this would depend on the baseline date used to calculate increases. Further information on historic baselines and trends in recruitment and retention could be found in the Medway GP workforce data.


Question G – Councillor Pearce asked the Portfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, Councillor Curry, the following:


“Lordswood and Walderslade Community Litter Group is apparently set to cease operating because Medway Council is making it more difficult for these volunteers to continue litter-picking - with regards to the collection of their sacks of litter. 


Myself and former Peninsula Ward Councillor, Tony Watson, founded the Hoo Clean Up litter-picking group in January 2012 and this is one of the longest running groups in the local authority area. If Medway Council refuses to collect the black sacks from this litter-picking group - the volunteers have already told me that they will have no problem in dropping off those sacks to the front door of Gun Wharf. 


Although collecting litter is a key priority for litter-picking groups - many of those who take part, who are of all ages and different backgrounds, regard the sessions as really important for their physical and mental health and they value the time they spend mixing with other residents and positively contributing to where they live. 


Will the Portfolio Holder reverse the Council's regressive decision and join me in showing solidarity to all of our much-loved community litter-picking groups by guaranteeing that bags of litter from different volunteer groups will continue to be collected in the same way as previously agreed?”


Councillor Curry thanked Councillor Pearce for the question. He said that the Council celebrated the important work that community litter picking groups did in Medway. It was recognised that the benefits of these groups extended beyond the collection of litter, such as the wellbeing and community enhancement aspects. The Council continued to collect the gathered materials in the black bags used by the groups. It was important for wider service delivery that this was undertaken in a sustainable way and officers always worked with volunteer groups to develop reasonable local collection arrangements.


Where individual litter picking groups had ongoing concerns about their litter picking arrangements they could contact Ian Gilmore, Head of Regulatory and Environmental services, who would work with them to support their activities.


Councillor Curry said he had been an active litter picker for many years in Medway and that the Council had always worked closely with groups across Medway. He had met with the Lordswood and Walderslade group and the Council’s environment engagement team had also reached out to them. This collective work to keep Medway clean and tidy, and to help volunteers would continue.


Question H – Councillor Anang asked thePortfolio Holder for Economic and Social Regeneration and Inward Investment, Councillor Edwards, the following:


“Did the Portfolio Holder consult the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), before revoking the Monday free parking in Medway?”


Councillor Edwards thanked Councillor Anang for the question. She said that quick and decisive action was needed to address the Council’s £17million budget deficit that had been inherited from the previous administration. Some difficult decisions would have to be taken which least impacted the Council’s most critical services.


The Council continued to engage with the FSB on a number of initiatives to support the Local Leadership Pledge, such as extensive business support programmes, workshops, grants with further support being implemented to help Medway Businesses with their net zero ambitions, funded via the UK Shared Prosperity Programme. Councillor Edwards looked forward to continuing the Council’s good working relationship with the FSB.


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


Question I – Councillor Tejan submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Economic and Social Regeneration and Inward Investment, Councillor Edwards:


“We are becoming more and more concerned about decisions made by Medway Council since Labour took charge in May 2023. It seems that they are spending on unnecessary projects like the Red Routes that nobody wants or needs and have even made the decision to extinguish the beloved Christmas lights across the Medway towns.


This Labour administration is turning Medway into Halloween Towns for Christmas, and we do not know if they prefer a more traditional festive look or the spookier version.


Explaining why, if they have not, has the portfolio holder considered engaging with businesses and communities across our towns to seek sponsorship for the Christmas lights and considered the reversal of this disastrous decision?”


Question J – Councillor Barrett submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Maple:


“At the Council meeting of the 20th July 2023 in the Leader’s Report, the Leader of the Council made the following very bold statement:


“We have started to tackle the excessive use of consultants and locums in many Council Departments…”


Can he tell the Council exactly how many consultants and locums have been dismissed or transferred to Council employment contracts, setting out the annualised net saving to the Council taxpayer?”

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