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 Council meeting (Sections 3 and 4).
(a) Centre Square Update
A Member asked the Deputy Mayor/Executive Member for City Centre Strategy when an announcement would be made in relation to the occupants of the new office block in Centre Square. The Deputy Mayor/Executive Member stated he would make an announcement as soon as he could. Confidentiality had to be respected and currently there were more applicants for offices than there was space available.
(b) City Centre Strategy
A Member commented on the high street plans for Middlesbrough and the regeneration of the Linthorpe Road area and highlighted how hard officers had worked on these projects and added value to Central Ward. Briefings had been held on a regular basis so that residents and Councillors concerns could be raised and addressed. The Deputy Mayor/Executive Member agreed that it was vital to work closely with residents and echoed the comments made about officers input.
(c) Centre Square Update
A Member asked whether a tenant had been secured for the new Centre Square offices and the Deputy Mayor/Executive Member referred him to his previous response.
(d) Childrens Care
A Member queried what arrangements were being put in place to replace the Middlesbrough Safeguarding Childrens Board which was to be disbanded. The Executive Member confirmed that the Government had made it optional for local authorities to provide alternative arrangements and Middlesbrough Council was working towards a Joint South Tees Childrens Safeguarding Board which it was anticipated would be implemented within the next six months.
(e) Newport/Newport Community Hub
A Member commented on the extensive, effective and successful work going on in Newport Ward dealing with anti-social behaviour and commended all joint services who had an input. Providing education and guidance to people dealing with issues on a face-to-face basis was particularly helpful. The Member also referred to celebrations in the town and at the Newport Community Hub for International Womens Day to celebrate womens achievements past and present. The Executive Member for Culture and Communities echoed the comments made and also highlighted the Landlord Licensing Scheme which would supplement other support.
(f) Stronger Communities
A Member queried why more asylum seekers had been assigned to Middlesbrough rather than other areas with more capacity, particularly in light of the lack of secondary school places available. The Executive Member confirmed that he was Chair of the North East Migration Partnership and concurred that pressure from international asylum seekers was only part of the secondary school places issue. The work of dispersal into areas of the UK for people who were seeking asylum, as was their right under international law, was undertaken by the Home Office, and was privatised. The contract in Middlesbrough had been held by G4S and was sub-contracted to Jomast. The Home Office had circumvented the North East Migration Partnership and the Local Authority in the dispersal process. However, a new contractor, Mears, had been successful for the new asylum dispersal contract for the north east and was keen to work with the Partnership and the Council. The Executive Member stated that he welcomed refugees and asylum seekers and wanted to ensure they got good accommodation and all the support they required.
(g) Hearts for the Arts Awards
A Member highlighted Middlesbroughs recent successes in the Hearts for the Arts Awards, being successful in two categories: Best Local Authority Arts Initiative - Community Cohesion, with Erimus, and Best Local Authority Champion - Councillor, for The Mayor. The Member also commented on creative joint work taking place throughout the town with Tees Valley Arts, MIMA, Middlesbrough Football Club and Teesside University, promoting the arts, as well as opportunities for young musicians. The Member was also delighted that the Radio 1 Big Weekend was coming to Middlesbrough. The Executive Member agreed with the sentiments expressed and added that The Mayor had ensured that culture was not only at the heart of Middlesbrough, but also the Tees Valley.
A Member asked whether the Cleveland Show would be held in Stewarts Park this year and how much the Council would contribute to this event. The Executive Member stated that he would get back to the Member with a response as he did not have that information to hand.
(i) Middlesbrough Branding
A Member asked whether a tendering exercise was undertaken for the work on the new Brand in accordance with Middlesbrough Councils new policy. The Executive Member stated that details had previously been provided at the Members Briefing and a Call-In meeting on that subject. The Executive Member stated that he was happy to reinforce this by forwarding the information to the Member if required.
(j) M Homes/Gresham Neighbourhood Forum
A Member commended the work of the Council in developing M Homes, which was a project to build 100 homes over two years at three sites in Gresham, Beechwood and Hemlington. The Member also praised the success of the Gresham Neighbourhood Forum and the Gresham Neighbourhood Plan. The Executive Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure responded that this was a bold and radical labour policy which would provide different tenures of housing on the three sites. Two of the areas: Gresham and Beechwood, had already been launched and the Council was working with residents and local businesses in Gresham to ensure the development fitted into the wider regeneration of the town centre.
(k) Annual Early Help Report - Plans for the next 12 months
A Member raised his concern in relation to development in the south of the town, with over 500 new homes and 1400 more planned, and the current situation with regard to the lack of secondary school places. The Member sought assurance that there would be sufficient secondary school places in future. The Executive Member for Education and Skills referred the Member to her earlier comments and commented that it was the Government that provided schools, not the Local Authority.
In relation to children with special educational needs, a Member asked for confirmation that secondary school places would be found. The Executive Member for Education and Skills referred again to her earlier comments and confirmed that all children who wanted a place for September would have one.
(m) Annual Designated Teachers Conference for Looked After Children
Reference was made to the Annual Designated Teachers Conference for Looked After Children held recently which was aimed at designated teachers who supported and championed Middlesbrough looked after children. The Executive Member for Education and Skills agreed that it was a successful event and Middlesbrough was working hard to improve outcomes for all looked after children.
(n) Middlesbrough Bus Station - Red Box Project
A Member referred to progress in Middlesbrough on period poverty and the Red Box Project which had been launched recently at Middlesbrough Bus Station. The Government had announced this week that free sanitary products would be provided at schools and colleges in England which was a huge step for all those who had campaigned. The Executive Member for Environment and Commercial Services commented that she was delighted to work with the Red Box Project and hoped it could be extended to all public buildings and also provide products for primary school children and low paid workers.
(o) Capital Works at Teesside Crematorium
A Member congratulated all involved in the recent capital works to renovate St Hildas Chapel at the Crematorium. The Executive Member for Environment and Commercial Services agreed that the Chapel was now light and welcoming following the upgrade. The renovations were not yet complete and the next phase would be to look at the landscaping.
(p) 4 Year Performance
Attention was drawn to the 4 year performance in Finance and Governance, including the unqualified external auditors opinion on value for money, work on financial inclusion and support with universal credit. The Executive Member for Finance and Governance thanked the Member for his comments and agreed that officers had undertaken a lot of work which sometimes went un-noticed.
(q) Social Regeneration
A Member referred to the launch of the eMpower initiative which she had recently attended. Many people from different organisations across the community had attended. The Executive Member for Culture and Communities stated that it had been an excellent event and all those involved had been very positive about Middlesbrough.
Council Question from Member of the Public
The Chair invited the member of public who had submitted Question 27/2018, which was deferred from earlier in the meeting, to now put his question to the Executive Member for Finance and Governance.
The Executive Member for Finance and Governance apologised to the member of the public if he had not always received a reply within the 20 day period. The Council endeavoured to provide the public with accurate information. The simple reason for any delay was the huge increase in the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests that had depleted the resources provided by the Government for officers to deal with such requests. In 2015, Transport, Planning, Highways and Road Infrastructure received 67 requests, and in 2018 this had risen to 525. Over the last two years there had been 237 officer hours spent on FOI requests for the Dixons Bank Scheme alone. Public information was available on the Council website and Officers, Elected Members and the Mayor had attended Parish and Community Councils meetings to talk with residents. Middlesbrough Council as a whole responded to 89% FOI requests within the time limits, compared to the Government Department that deal with FOIs, whose rate was 74%.