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) Specialist Services
A member referred to page 2, paragraph 2 of the Executive Member for Children's Social Services report in respect of Specialist Services, in particular, Adoption and Fostering. The member queried whether the fact that Darlington would be presenting to their Executive committee in December in respect of the Regional Adoption Agency, would delay the implementation date of 1 April 2018.
The Executive Member advised that the process of discussing the Regional Adoption Agency had been ongoing for three years but all five authorities had now formerly agreed the process. Darlington had suggested a minor amendment to improve the governance oversight which had been agreed by all five authorities. The transition process would commence in January 2018 with a view to going live as Adoption Tees Valley on 1 April 2018.
b) Rough Sleepers Count
A member referred to page 7, paragraph 15 of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities report in relation to Rough Sleepers Count. He stated that he wanted to praise the work that was being carried out in Middlesbrough. The Ward Councillors for the Central Ward had been working with officers for some time regarding the new Multi-Agency Team who were supporting people who were homeless in the town. Through the Multi-Agency Team which involved the Police, the University, Thirteen and the Council, lots of people who were previously living on the streets were now in homes and accessing GP surgeries and benefits for the first time. There had been a significant reduction in begging. Businesses in the town had approached the Ward Councillors regarding issues with begging in particular areas, and they had indicated that they were pleased with the work that had been done to reduce begging in the town.
The member stated that he wanted to highlight the good work that was being done in the town to assist with homelessness. The office of the MP for Middlesbrough participated in the shoe box appeal and the member and a colleague had set up a Community Coat Rack in Middlesbrough Bus Station which encouraged people to donate coats that they no longer needed for use by the homeless.
c) Rough Sleepers Count
A member referred to page 7, paragraph 15 of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities report in relation to Rough Sleepers Count and queried why there were six predominant beggars in Middlesbrough with all the assistance that was available.
The Executive Member stated that these beggars had very complex needs and they sometimes returned back to the streets for reasons of because of their chaotic lifestyle they sometimes lost accommodation that they had gained, also for reasons of boredom or they liked the people they met on the streets. The Executive Member stated that he would continue to ensure that the beggars received all the assistance they required.
d) Acklam Library and Community Hub
A member referred to page 10, paragraph 27 of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities report in relation to Acklam Library and Community Hub. He stated that Acklam Library was undergoing a full refurbishment in order to accommodate some of the voluntary sector organisations and he queried whether this concept would continue in the future.
The Executive Member advised that a peer review had been carried out to assess the town's libraries and as a result the Council had protected family literacy. The library staff had been required to change the way in which they worked and were sometimes required to assist with helping people access the internet or complete on line applications. The authority had been invited by the British Library to be part of a network and they were the only north east council to be invited.
e) A member referred to page 8, paragraph 19 of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities report in relation to Welfare Rights, in particular the Middlesbrough Council Welfare Rights Unit - Summary of Activity Quarter 2 - 2017/18.
The member was particularly interested in the representation of appeals and the 90% success rate and he stated that he wished to applaud the Welfare Rights Staff on their success rates and for continuing to represent people at appeals as he understood that Citizen's Advice no longer carried out this service. He also queried why such a high proportion of people who had to appeal were denied the benefit in the first place.
The Executive Member stated that the Welfare Rights Service assessed the case before they took the case forward as if they took on cases that were not viable, they could lose credibility. The Executive Member pointed out that he had previously assisted a person in a Personal Independent Payment case and the case had taken eighteen months and the person had been awarded the maximum award for mobility at a tribunal. The Executive Member advised that he was proud to report successes of the Welfare Rights Team, the Financial Inclusion Group the partnership and other agencies involved in Welfare Rights. He stated that the fact that 90% of cases that were originally turned down were successful and he queried whether people were being deterred from applying in the first place.
f) Hate Crime Week
This question was subsequently withdrawn at the meeting.
g) Remembrance Sunday
A member referred to page 6, paragraph 11 of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities report in relation to Remembrance Sunday. He stated that a representative from the Territorial Army had approached him with a view to visiting mosques/temples with regard to participating in the Remembrance Sunday service and he thanked the Territorial Army, in particular Oz Sadiq and Captain Michael Black for encouraging seven BME groups to take part in the service and lay a wreath.
The Executive Member endorsed the member's comments.
h) Grenfell Towers Task and Finish Group
A member referred to page 2, paragraph 3 of the Executive Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure report in respect of the Grenfell Towers Task and Finish Group. The member stated that many of the victims of the Grenfell Tower Tragedy had been ignored by society. He advised that when he had spoken on the issue at a previous Council meeting, he had muddled his words and he apologised for this. He advised that he was pleased to see that Middlesbrough Council had taken the Grenfell Tower issue very seriously.
The Executive Member stated that he would like to commend the member for stating that his comments at a previous meeting had been unintended and for apologising for any distress the comments might have caused. He stated that the apology could serve as an example to other elected members who might have fallen short of the standards expected of elected officials.
The Executive Member stated that the work of the Task and Finish Group continued, and Council officers were working extremely hard collecting data, contacting high-rise owners, and ensuring that Middlesbrough residents were safe in their homes and place of work. It was anticipated that a further detailed report would be submitted to the Council meeting early in the new year.
h) The Junction Young Carers Project
A member referred to page 2, paragraph 1 of the Executive Member for Education and Skills report in relation to the Junction Young Carers Project and advised that she was pleased to see the reference to the Junction Young Carers Project and the acknowledgement of the work young people were doing in respect of caring.
Members were advised that the project provided support for families by taking the carers on trips or listening to their needs. When asked why the project was important to them, one of the young carers had responded by saying "Because I made new friends and sun fills my heart".
The Executive Member advised that it was very important that young carers were looked after and supported.
i) Withdrawal of Government Funding
A member referred to page 2, paragraph 10, of the Executive Member for Finance and Governance report in respect of Withdrawal of Government Funding and the fact that the Revenue Support Grant would be withdrawn completely from 2022. The promise that Council's would be able to retain 100% of business rates had also been withdrawn and he queried how the authority would be able to fund the gap left by the withdrawal of the Revenue Support Grant.
The Executive Member advised that the Council did have plans in place but the Government had not provided any certainty about the future. New legislation would be required for local authorities to be able to retain 100% of business rates. The two main issues facing the Government were Brexit and the fact that they did not achieve a large majority in the last election. The authority faced a period of uncertainty but it was not only Middlesbrough Council that faced uncertainty, it was a national problem. There was currently a £5.8 billion funding gap, and the Government needed to come up with some plans on how to deal with the gap.
j) Additional Help with Council Tax
A member referred to page 2, paragraph 14, of the Executive Member for Finance and Governance report in respect of Additional Help with Council Tax with regard to assistance available in terms of Council Tax for those in need.
The Executive Member advised that the Prime Minister had referred to helping the Just About Managing (JAM) but the additional help with Council Tax was about assisting the JAM and those who were not managing at all e.g. those residents affected by the bedroom tax or universal credit or those who did not have to pay anything towards their Council Tax previously, but were now being asked to pay 20% towards their Council Tax. The Executive
Member advised that further information with regard to this issue was included in a report at Agenda Item 12.