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:-
Members referred to national politicians recent suggestions that a future government would devolve power to the regions to assist in tackling the cost of living crisis through better balance, sustainable growth and a higher skilled, higher waged economy. The creation of a National Investment Bank would assist businesses and ensure investment came to the north east and areas with high unemployment. In addition, the creation of not-for-profit lending organisations would tackle the issue of pay day lenders. The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Finance and Governance agreed with the comments made and added that through devolution, £30 million that was current spent centrally could be spent in local areas.
(b) Children Looked After
Reference was made to the number of Looked After Children in Middlesbrough which, as of June 2014, was 364. The Executive Member for Childrens Social Care agreed that austerity measures could be having an impact on the increasing number of Looked After Children and this was likely to continue. The Forum For Looked After Children co-ordinated corporate responsibility for the welfare of Middlesbrough children. Attention was also drawn to the reductions in under 18 conception rates in Middlesbrough which were the lowest since records began. The reductions were attributed to the change in approach to risk taking behaviour and a large amount of work by a number of different agencies. The Executive Member confirmed that she was also looking at the development of sexual relationship education in schools. It was also highlighted that the Government had provided additional funding for the recruitment of more adopters.
(c) Stewart Park - Grow Wild Project
The Friends of Stewart Park had submitted a bid to the Grow Wild Project and was on a shortlist of eight at the present time. Grow Wild was a project led by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with the winning Park receiving up to £130,000 for education projects for 12 to 25 year olds. A public vote would be held between 1 and 21 October 2014 to determine which Park would become the flagship park for England. The Executive Member for Environment congratulated the Friends of Stewart Park for their hard work and commitment in preparing the bid and urged everyone to take part in the public vote.
(d) The Change Programme
The Executive Member for the Change Programme updated Members on current activity. The re-negotiation of the Councils Partnership with Mouchel was approved by the Executive in June and it was anticipated that the new contract would provide £2.2 million in savings to the Council. A number of services would transfer back to the Council in 2015 including an estimated 280 staff. A new finance and HR system would be implemented in April 2014 as well as a new ICT contract. Additional reviews had been agreed within the Council to look at areas not previously covered with the intention to find as many savings as possible.
In relation to the transition of MIMA to Teesside University, the Mayor confirmed that he was not aware of any proposals to build on the lake in Centre Square. In discussion with the University it had been agreed that the MIMA brand, which was known world-wide, would not be compromised. It was possible that new building work would take place in Centre Square, and if it did, it would be sympathetic to the environment. The Executive Member for Regeneration and Economic Development clarified that the cost to the Council of maintaining MIMA was approximately £0.5 million per annum.
(f) Middlesbrough Mela
Members paid tribute to the Council, Events Team and other sponsors who supported the Mela. The annual celebration of music, dance, fashion and culture had been very successful with over 30,000 people attending over the weekend. The Executive Member for Regeneration and Economic Development added his thanks to the organisers and all the staff involved in this fantastic community event.
(g) Armed Forces Day
It was reported that the Armed Forces Day on 21 June 2014 had also been a great success and thanks were given to the organisers.
(g) Newport Road Bus Priority Measures/Camera Enforcement of Bus Lanes
Responding to a Members comment that the new measures were not welcome, the Executive Member for Regeneration and Economic Development explained that the improvements were designed to ease traffic flow and improve public transport. With regard to the enforcement camera, it was clarified that for the first two weeks anyone not compliant with the new restrictions would receive a warning letter rather than a fine.
(h) Reducing premature deaths in Middlesbrough
Following Members comments in relation to actions that needed to be taken to reduce the number of premature deaths in Middlesbrough, the Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health agreed that good progress was being made. The Executive Member voiced her concern that as more elements of the health service were privatised there would be a big impact on social care and public health.
(i) LA OFSTED inspection
In response to a question regarding OFSTEDs requirement for better involvement of Elected Members in improving leadership in schools, the Executive Member for Education and Skills suggested that Ward Councillors could volunteer in schools and build relationships with pupils, staff and Headteachers. It was acknowledged that as a result of schools converting to academies, many no longer wished to appoint Local Authority Representatives. A School Effectiveness Strategy had been developed to address a number of areas highlighted by the OFSTED inspection including the quality of teaching and learning and encouraging schools to work together.