The Chair invited Members to raise items for general discussion arising from the Information Booklet of Executive Member reports 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) Gresham Student Village
A member referred to paragraph 5 - page 2 of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy report and stated that she had read about the development of a high level masterplan for Gresham and the potential for the development of a student village and she queried whether there had been any further developments with the student village.
The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy advised that the Council was working closely with the university who was a key partner, to look at the delivery of its long term aspirations which could include a student village, as identified in the Council's Investment Prospectus. There had been ongoing positive discussions with the university and its preferred delivery partner and plans were being developed which the Council anticipated would transform the area. Residents would be fully engaged in the process and Ward Councillors had been invited to a briefing as part of this process. The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy advised that the Council should celebrate its achievements.
A member referred to paragraph 2 - page 1 of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy report and stated that he had intended to ask about progress with the Dock Bridge but an article in the Evening Gazette had provided that information.
The member stated that he was concerned about the increasing cost of the bridge. He stated that he had been part of a Scrutiny Panel that had initially looked at the Dock Bridge project and at that time the original costs had been estimated between £4.5m-£5m. Since that time, the cost had been estimated at £10.4m. The original plan was to have a swing bridge but it was now proposed to have a vascule bridge which was a simpler solution. The member queried how the original estimate had been calculated as it was difficult to build provision into the capital expenditure programme if estimates were inaccurate.
The Executive Member advised that there had been problems with the original quote but it had been though a national process. The £9m had been set aside for the bridge and the road. The original estimates had been arrived at some years earlier and the revised cost of the bridge was £7.4m with contingencies built into the cost.
The Executive Members advised it was sometimes difficult to predict costs because some projects did exceed estimates. He stated that he hoped the scheme would kickstart the investment in the Snow Centre project
c) Centre Square Development
A member referred to paragraph 4 - page 2 of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy report and asked for clarification with regard to whether any tax payers' money (nationally or locally) was to be used towards funding the new developments in Centre Square.
The Executive Member advised that he had a paper from Ashalls listing the developments in detail. He confirmed that the Council were contributing to the original Masterplan but it was all private investors' money that was funding the developments in the area.
d) NPO Status for Tees Valley Museums
The Chair advised that the Executive Member for Culture and Communities had submitted apologies for the meeting and he queried whether the member posing the question would like to receive a written response.
The member stated that he would like to congratulate the Council on the works carried out at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. The works had been carried out to an excellent standard and he hoped that the investment would secure the future of the museum.
e) A1085 Longlands Rd/Ormesby Rd/Kings Rd Junction, North Ormesby - Traffic Signal Update Scheme
A member referred to paragraph 6 - page 5 of the Executive Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure report and queried why the work had taken so long to commence on the A1085 Longlands Rd/Ormesby Rd/Kings Rd Junction, North Ormesby - Traffic Signal Update Scheme.
The member also referred to the major resurfacing works on Ladgate Lane past the Grove up to the top which were due to take place 3 - 13 August 2017. The member stated that the proposed works could lead to a significant gridlock in the town and he queried whether the works could have been scheduled for a different date.
The Executive Member advised that he would get some information about the Longlands link and report back to the member concerned. With regard to the Ladgate Lane works, he stated that the Council usually tried to stagger the works over a period of time however he would take the comments back to the officers concerned.
f) 30 Hours Childcare Entitlement
The Chair advised that a member had submitted a question for the Executive Member for Education and Skills regarding the 30 Hours Childcare Entitlement but had subsequently withdrawn the question.
g) The Queens Speech and effect on Local Government finance
A member referred to paragraph 1 - page 1 of the Executive Member for Finance and Governance report and queried how the gradual reduction in the Revenue Support Grant would impact on the Council in future years, in particular, the removal of the Revenue Support Grant 2020/21.
The Executive Member for Finance and Governance advised that the Revenue Support Grant was £21m for the current year, but it was due to reduce to £16.5m in 2018/19 and in 2019/20 it was due to reduce to just under £12m, prior to removal of the government grant in 2020/21. The Executive Member advised members that the information was contained in the Council's Medium Term Financial Plan.
The assumption was that the Council would be able to retain its business rates. The current situation was that the Council paid half of its business rates back to the government and the government redistributed them. The idea of the Council retaining its business rates however appeared to have been dropped in the recent Queen's Speech.
This issue did not only have concerns for this local authority. Jo Miller, the Chief Executive of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives had stated that she was disappointed that the key legislation absolutely fundamental to ensuring the future sustainability of local government had been dropped. She had stated that local government urgently needed clarity around its future funding as at present local authorities faced a cliff edge from 2020 and this needed to be urgently resolved.
Claire Covert, the Chair of London Councils also stated that she had been deeply concerned about the absence of discussion around the retention of 100% business rates. The Executive Member stated that when members were given the opportunity to have four year funding, they had welcomed the certainty it provided for planning for the future. The removal of that certainty meant that the Council was unable to plan well for the future. The government had indicated that Council's should raise money locally through business rates and raising council tax, following the removal of the Revenue Support Grant.
This would mean putting a cap on the Council Tax. Since the government had introduced the Social Care Levy, the assumption was that Councils would increase the Council Tax up to 3.99% and to 4.99% for the last year however Middlesbrough Council had chosen not to increase the Council Tax by the extra 1% to 4.99%. The Executive Member pointed out that in her view residents should not have to pay the Social Care levy as they were already paying for this through their taxes. The Council had uncertainty as to how they were going to meet that £12.1m cliff edge in 2021
h) Council Tax.
The Chair advised that a member had submitted a question for the Executive Member for Finance and Support regarding Council Tax but had subsequently withdrawn the question.