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.
It was noted that the unemployment claimant count had increased to 4.4%, with a slight increase for 18-24 year olds to 5.6%. A Member commented that in fact jobs were being created and asked whether Middlesbrough could obtain more accurate employment figures from the Department for Work and Pensions. The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Regeneration agreed that it was difficult to get accurate statistics but that Councils had to work with the information provided. The Deputy Mayor highlighted that statistical information issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in relation to zero hours contracts also appeared to be incomplete. The Deputy Mayor also commented that the Trade Unions had voiced concern that many people were being employed on contracts of 18 hours per week or less, potentially because national insurance contributions were not due on less than 18 hours employment.
(b) Planning and Development
A Member referred to the poor state of the section of Albert Road from the train station up to Corporation Road and the impression of the town given to people arriving in Middlesbrough. Whilst this issue had recently been reviewed by the Economic Development and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel the Member asked for assurance that the required improvements could be progressed. The Deputy Mayor stated that whilst all the properties on Albert Road were privately owned, the Council was trying to have an influence where it could. Efforts were being made to improve the station and car park and the local MP was campaigning for a London rail link. Funding applications had been made and there had already been improvements to Queens Square.
(c) School Standards Monitoring Group
It was noted that a recent OFSTED report had contained some negative comments with regard to Middlesbrough schools. The Member highlighted the excellent work that was going on in schools and asked whether, where improvements were being made, this could be better publicised. The Executive Member for Education and Skills stated that the vision for schools and the Local Authority was that every Middlesbrough school would be outstanding within five years. Since the last OFSTED inspection, many improvements had been made and 87.1% of pupils attended a good or better primary school, with 87.8% of primary schools being rated good or better. In relation to secondary schools, 72.6% of pupils attended a good or better school and five out of the seven secondary schools were good or better. The Executive Member added that the Head of Achievement and several Consultants, funded by the schools, were working closely together to raise achievement and hopefully this years examination results would show improvement. The Executive Member added that Middlesbrough had some excellent schools and teachers.
(d) Resource Hub Event
Reference was made to an initiative being rolled out across the Tees Valley to help people find work after the closure of SSI. The Member asked what provision had been made for those employed as apprentices at SSI.
The Executive Member for Communities and Public Health commended the work of the Local Authorities on this initiative and confirmed that all apprentices affected by the closure of SSI had found alternative employment. The Executive Member stated that he would let the Member have the exact figures.