Questions to Members of the Cabinet.
Councillor J M Morris outlined a series of questions directed towards Councillor J A Gray, Executive Councillor for Resources, on the sale of the Council’s housing stock in 2000, specifically whether the £8,504 cost per property was good value for money, any unspent capital remaining of the £65m and a list of the top five capital projects and amount spent per project. Whereby Councillor Gray confirmed that the receipt per property was net of government levy and not the market value of the house but based on a prescribed formula to ensure the Registered Social Landlord could trade effectively, but confirmed that the value transferred to the Council represented a fair value. He confirmed that no capital receipts remained and the five main capital projects were Pathfinder House and Eastfield House with a combined cost of £24.3m, £15.5m towards social housing schemes, £5m on town centre improvements, £4.8m towards Disabled Facilities Grants and £3.2m on the set up costs of the garden waste wheeled bin scheme District wide. It was also confirmed that the capital receipts were wisely invested for the benefit of the residents of the District.
In response to a question by Councillor T D Alban on development of the Council’s customer service portal, Councillor D Tysoe, Executive Councillor for Digital and Customers, confirmed that the Council had undertaken a soft launch of the portal, with 500 residents already signed up and on-line and over half had logged on out of hours that clearly demonstrated an unmet demand for the offer of services outside normal office hours.
Arising from a question from Councillor P L R Gaskin on an update following the recent letter in the Hunts Post from a resident on progress with the Old Falcon, St Neots, Councillor R Fuller, Executive Councillor for Housing, Planning and Economic Development explained that there had been a misunderstanding with St Neots Town Council as to what action they believed the District Council was undertaking following a motion discussed by St Neots Town Council as the relevant procedures had not been followed. Councillor Fuller further reported upon correspondence between the Town Clerk and Corporate Director (Delivery), whereby the procedures were explained and it was clarified that the Town Council would be required to fund the entire purchase and legal costs under the legal provisions that the Town Council had relied upon to initiate further action. Having received this clarification the Town Clerk had informed the Corporate Director (Delivery) that no further action was required by the Town Council at this time. Councillor Fuller confirmed that positive discussions between the District Council and the owner of the Old Falcon were ongoing and that planning applications for the site were expected to be forthcoming.
Councillor P Kadewere raised his concerns in relation to the recent spate of racist stickers targeting minority groups in St Ives, whereby Councillor G J Bull, Executive Leader, indicated his disapproval of any such behaviour and the Managing Director encouraged concerns to be raised direct with herself or the Corporate Directors.
In relation to a question from Councillor T D Sanderson on the delay with occupation of the Trinity Place car park in Huntingdon and clarity as to whether agreement had been reached with the Waitrose car parks in St Ives and St Neots, as well as Sainsbury’s in Huntingdon on the new car parking charges, Councillor R Fuller reported that there was no dispute over the ownership but the hold-up had been attributed to a delay in the land transfer back to the Council and was currently being negotiated by both Legal Teams and with regard to the supermarket car parks the operational aspects had been agreed.
Councillor L W McGuire raised a question in relation to whether the Labour Group had accepted their increase in Members’ Allowances following the Labour Group letter in the Hunts Post highlighting concerns to the increase in Members’ Allowances, Councillor Bull confirmed that all members of the Labour Group had accepted the increase in their basic allowance.
Arising from concerns expressed by Councillor J D Ablewhite in relation to a false and misleading statement made during an ITV television interview with Councillor Dr N Johnson suggesting that there were discussions taking place regarding a reduction in the frequency of bin collections. Whereby, Councillor Fuller confirmed that there had been no consideration or proposal to change the frequency of collections. In response, Councillor Dr Johnson confirmed that he had been interviewed following the announcement of the 2019/20 Local Government Financial Settlement, acknowledged that he had spoken without having a clear knowledge of the facts and apologised for the confusion and any offence taken.
In relation to a question from Councillor Ms J Tavener on progress with the Council’s sickness absence levels, Councillor Tysoe confirmed that there had been an overall reduction in staff sickness absences from an average of 11.1 days in 2016 to 9.7 days in 2018/19.
Councillor D A Giles questioned the logic behind the decision to change the car parking charges, whereupon Councillor Fuller explained that the changes would result in an increase in revenue from car parking charges but with the ability to pay on exit may mean that shoppers may stay longer in the town centres. He reminded Members that the concept had been discussed at length through the Car Parking Review Working Group, with further discussion and debate at Overview and Scrutiny (Performance and Growth) and Cabinet.
Councillor Tysoe responded to a question from Councillor S Wakeford on the terms and conditions of employment of staff at the Council and lack of recognition by the authority of staff that who were members of a Trade Union and undertook provide a full response on the issue after the meeting.
Further to comments made earlier in relation to the Old Falcon, Councillor B S Chapman stated that he believed the Town Council’s proposal to initiate Compulsory Purchase proceedings had been undertaken properly at the time. He also indicated that the Town Council may not have been aware of the discussions Councillor Fuller referred to in his previous answer and questioned whether there had been an exchange of correspondence, whereby Councillor Bull refuted his remarks and confirmed that the Council had received written communication from the Clerk of St Neots Town Council.
Following a question from Councillor Ms S Smith on consideration of offering more incentives through reduced price activities and membership of One Leisure to encourage a wider take up of younger people, Councillor J M Palmer, Executive Councillor for Partnership and Well-Being, undertook to investigate this issue further.