The Chair invited Members to raise items for general discussion arising from the Information Booklet of Executive Member reports (previously circulated) which detailed activities carried out within the respective Executive Member portfolios (Section 1), Executive decisions taken (Section 2), or to be taken where known, prior to and following the meeting (Sections 3 and 4).
Members commented and posed questions in relation to the following matters and Executive Members responded where appropriate:-
(a) Living Wage
The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Resources referred to comments raised by a Member at the meeting of the Council held on 27 November 2013 regarding serious allegations made concerning the Council's employment policies and practices. A letter from the Mayor sent to the Member concerned which sought clarification as to the statements made and availability of supporting evidence was read out at the meeting. Members were advised that the matter had been investigated and there was no substance to the allegations.
(b) 2014/2015 Settlement
Members expressed concern at the disproportionate reductions across the region and Middlesbrough as demonstrated in the statistical information provided by the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Resources. The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Resources also referred to recent Government announcements regarding the allocations for The New Homes Bonus which was at a reduced level in respect of Middlesbrough.
(c) Autumn Statement
Members concurred with the sentiments expressed in the report of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Resources with particular regard to the effect of the rate of inflation exceeding that of pay increases and to the costs of living which continued to rise impacting on the most vulnerable. Reference was made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's 2013 Autumn Statement which indicated that the long-term economic plans had started to provide the foundation for recovery. It was considered that this was not evident in the North East and with particular regard to Middlesbrough. The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Resources reiterated his concerns and referred to comments made from various voluntary sector groups as to the impact on the most vulnerable and rising poverty.
(d) Middlesbrough Manager
The Executive Member for The Change Programme acknowledged various Members' comments regarding the importance of the Middlesbrough Manager in developing a competency framework of behaviours and business skills that applied to all managers to deliver services. The Executive Member emphasised how such a framework would support a changed culture and the way in which services were delivered to ensure the Council was fit for purpose both now and in the future.
(e) Strategic Economic Plan - Draft EU Investment Strategy
The Executive Member for Regeneration and Economic Development concurred with Members' comments that the need for an improved local transport system was a key issue to support and attract business development and made reference to ongoing national, regional and local negotiations and to the Tees Valley Metro scheme.
Specific reference was made to transport costs which were supported in the South East to approximately £2,000 per head of population but in the North East such a figure was £5 per person.
(f) Extreme Weather
The Executive Member for Environment acknowledged Members' positive comments regarding the way in which staff had coped and dealt with various incidents during the period of extreme weather between 5 and 6 December 2013.