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) Rail Franchise Update
A Member referred to the unprecedented package of improvements which would be delivered by the new franchise deals recently announced by Government. A list of direct benefits to Middlesbrough was detailed in the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Regenerations report. The Member asked how the entertainment and real-time journey information to smartphones and tablets would work. The Deputy Mayor agreed to consult with the relevant Officers and provide further details.
(b) Community Hubs Update
A Member referred to the excellent community work that was happening in Middlesbroughs Community Hubs and mentioned several events that had taken place during the recent festive period. The Member congratulated all those responsible for delivering activities in the Hubs. The Executive Member for Communities and Public Health agreed to pass on the positive comments to staff and added his thanks to all the volunteers who gave up their time for the benefit of their neighbours and communities.
A Member highlighted that public computers were now free to all users and free wi-fi would be provided in every library facility across the town by April 2016. In addition, all public computers now also had shortcuts to the Universal Job Match and Preparing for Work websites. The Executive Member replied that he was pleased that Middlesbrough was able to provide these services which had been put in place to address the issue of people on low income or benefits who found it difficult to access the internet.
(d) Selective Landlord Licensing
A Member drew attention to the launch of the North Ormesby Selective Landlord Licensing Scheme which was on schedule for delivery in January 2016. There had been a positive response to the scheme from local residents. The Executive Member commented that introducing this regulation would provide consistency for North Ormesby residents.
(e) In Out of The Cold
A Member referred to the event that took place in Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt on 15 December 2015 to help those affected by homelessness and hardship. The Executive Member stated that the event had been extremely well attended and it was heart-warming to see people provided with good quality clothing and shoe boxes filled with essential items. Whilst it was probably the best turn out ever, the Executive Member commented that he would have preferred to see an empty room.
(f) Councillors and Social Media
A Member referred to a recent case where libel damages were awarded against Councillors, following comments made on social media. The Member requested some advice and guidance for Councillors on how to use social media safely to avoid any possible legal action for comments made or views expressed. The Executive Member for Finance and Governance suggested that Councillors should check that all information was factually correct before issuing it. Councillors could use the One Stop system, Council reports or check with Officers to ensure the validity of information about the Council.
(g) OFSTED Inspection
Referring to the recent OFSTED inspection of Childrens Services in Middlesbrough, a Member asked for the Executive Members comments on the Prime Ministers recent statement about the transformation of Childrens Services and the implications for Middlesbrough. The Executive Member for Childrens Social Services confirmed that the formal outcome of the recent OFSTED inspection would not be known until the end of January or early February 2016. The Government had announced a new mechanism whereby childrens social care could be removed from Local Authorities and run by other agencies such as voluntary organisations, charities or groups of experts.
The Government had suggested that initially this policy would apply to Local Authority Departments that were judged by OFSTED to be inadequate and did not make sufficient progress. There had been 74 inspections of Local Authority services in 18 months, of which 19 had been declared inadequate.
The Executive Member commented that the last five years of austerity had created tremendous pressure on families resulting in increased demand on the provision of social care for children and adults. In the current financial year, £0.75 million savings had been made in the childrens social care budget and this figure was likely to increase in future years.
The Executive Member stated that the care of children in particular was a collective responsibility of the public sector and not something that should be transferred to voluntary agencies or charities, although it was acknowledged that those agencies did a good job in their areas of expertise. Whilst decisions would be made at a national level, it was the Councils responsibility to ensure that provision was of the highest quality and to co-operate with neighbouring authorities through devolution and Combined Authority arrangements to support each other with resources, expertise and good practice.
(h) Tour De Yorkshire
A Member congratulated officers and Members who had worked hard to bring the Tour De Yorkshire to Middlesbrough. The Member asked what plans the Council had to involve residents and Elected Members in the event? The Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport agreed that it was a massive coupe for the town and the Tees Valley and was an excellent opportunity to showcase what the town had to offer. A Members briefing would be organised to explore what role Members could play and volunteers would be recruited to work on the event itself.
(i) Gym Memberships
A Member referred to the annual gym memberships and the target of 4,400 live members by the end of the financial year in March 2016. November had been the busiest month for sales that Active Middlesbrough had ever seen.
A Member requested that the current tree policy was reviewed and referred to a recent incident in his Ward where falling branches due to high winds had damaged property. The Executive Member for the Environment confirmed that the Councils Tree Policy would be reviewed.