To answer questions asked under Standing Order 8 by Councillors (30 Minutes)
Cllr Dr Sexton to Councillor Dicicco Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care and Health
In a recent LGA survey, 98% of councils that responded did not have confidence that the funding earmarked for the Government’s adult social care reforms is sufficient to deliver them. This is also listed as a red risk 9 on the council’s risk register (alongside pressures in Children’s services), and the mitigating actions for this item include “regular lobbying of Government for further funding”.
Can you tell me, specifically, what actions this administration has taken to lobby Government for further funding for adult social care?
The Cabinet Member advised that the LGA survey sought responses from senior Councillors responsible for adult social care services. The LGA website reports that 80 Councillors replied, a response rate of 54% of Councils. A response was not sent from SMBC.
The Cabinet Member commented that the Council works with several bodies who have raised concerns about the adequacy of funding for social care reforms for example the afore mentioned LGA, as well as the County Councils’ network and the recent Newton report. As national details come out with respect to implementation of the reform’s officers will continue to estimate the local impact and highlight issues and concerns through available routes such as the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and through stakeholder sessions such as those set up by the Department of Health and Social Care. The Cabinet Member confirmed that the Leader of the Council has regular meetings with government ministers and senior civil servants where requests for funding are discussed. As to the risk you raise this is an overall corporate risk for the medium term financial strategy with the Deputy Chief Executive and Director Resource as the risk owner. It takes account of all the Council pressures including those in children services. With respect to adult social care pressures specifically a number of mitigating actions are outlined in the corporate risk register with the Director of Adult Social Care as the risk owner.
Cllr Dr Sexton was concerned about the vagueness of the answer and wanted to know when the Cabinet Member would have more detailed plans. The Cabinet Member advised that the Council continued to work with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Department of Health and Social Care. The Leader and senior Council officers have regular meetings with senior civil servants and ministers to discuss these issues and we will continue to lobby them for extra funding when and where it's required. At the moment we are happy that we can meet our requirements.
Cllr Dr Sexton inquired how can residents or their families who depend on our adult social care services be reassured that any shortfall in funding will not have to be borne by them. The Cabinet Member advised that the Council had an excellent record in providing very effective and good quality adult social care and we will continue to do that in the future.
Cllr Thomas to Cllr Hawkins Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Infrastructure
Wildlife Ways Route J was the creation of a cycle route along Keswick Road and Wells Green Road to link up with the purpose built cycle path through the Wagon Lane playing fields. No works have yet taken place and the signage planned on the signed off drawings has not yet been installed. What is the timing plan for the creation of this wildlife ways cycling route?
The Cabinet Member advised that an order has been raised with our contractor to address recommendations from the recent Stage 3 Road Safety Audit. These works have been prioritised as they are to address safety related issues and will take place over the summer period. These works have been prioritised and would be completed before the end of the year.
Cllr Thomas sought clarification on the nature of audit work being undertaken. The Cabinet Member advised that any work on roads was subject to an audit to ensure safety.
to Cllr Courts Leader of the Council
I have received a request from a resident to ask the Council for its position, as Shareholder, on the performance of Birmingham Airport. The resident's experience when he travelled through the airport before the half term holiday, was that the management of security and check in were terrible and information on the website was wrong and misleading. He would like to know if the Council's shareholding is providing good value for residents, and does it consider a 49 percent pay rise for the Chief Executive appropriate at a time when so many families are in such dire financial straits?
The Leader of the Council advised he was sorry to hear of your residence experience as no one wants to wait in queues at airports especially for a holiday. I think predominately this is an airport matter. We have spoken to the airport about your resident’s experience, and they've given us this response:
‘Immediately following the ending of severe Covid travel restrictions in March 2022 the aviation industry was challenged in its recovery. This was evident at airports across the UK (and in Europe) during spring and early summer.
In June, the airport served more than a million passengers on outbound and inbound flights. Most had a perfectly acceptable, safe and enjoyable experience. Of course, there are moments, notably during peak travel periods, when queues build for check-in and pre-flight security screening, but in such circumstances, there is very limited risk of passengers missing flights. At the peak times, if a passenger’s departure time gets close, we call them forward to ensure they arrive in good time at the departure gate.
As was ever the case, we remain susceptible to certain challenges including those caused by air traffic, industrial action and weather events across Europe. These incidents are always hard to manage and can often result in knock-on impacts for passengers such as baggage delays’.
The Leader commented that the airport has gone through a tough and challenging time in the last few years and it's in no short measure down to the Chief Executive that the airport remains strong. I was with the Chief Executive on several occasions at the time of the Afghan evacuation and watched him take direct and personal charge of operations to help the refugees that came through the airport. The calibre of leadership I saw was exceptional on that occasion.
Pre pandemic we were receiving a good dividend return from our shareholding and when passenger numbers return to pre pandemic levels further dividends will be received. The dividend from the airport has supported our finances and indeed our Council services on several occasions. Apart from the dividend it is important that we retain what influence we can with the airport even though we are a small shareholder, we would not want the influence that we currently have to be passed on to someone else.
In terms of the Chief Executive’s pay, this will be in line with market rates and appropriate benchmarking will have been carried out.
Cllr Allen highlighted that the Chief Executives pay was £595,000 a year 30 times more than the lowest paid airport employee and questioned how this would address the inequality issues that we all maintain are so important?
The Leader advised that as a minor shareholder the Council does not control pay at the airport. The Council do want a vibrant airport. The Leader referenced the lack of support from the Green Party when they voted against support for the airport. The Leader reminded Members that 10,000’s of people rely on the airport for work. We need a vibrant airport we need strong leadership and market forces dictate what people in the private sector are paid. It was worrying that because we are a minor shareholder, we should interfere with the sound management of the airport. I appreciate that inequalities exist in the world but what we need is a strong airport as that would contribute to the economy provide jobs and contribute to the living standards in the whole region.
Cllr Allen asked whether the £200,000 extra payment would be better used to help make lower paid positions at the airport more attractive and do something concrete to address the resource shortages that are affecting peoples travel plans. Even as a minor shareholder you could vote on that.
The Leader stated that the Council did not control the airport. Downgrading the pay of the CEO would make it harder to attract the calibre of management needed.
Cllr Dr Sexton to Cllr K Grinsell Deputy Leader and Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Partnerships and Wellbeing
We know that many of our residents are struggling with increases in the cost of living, including rising energy and food costs; and we also know that this is likely to have a substantial impact on health and wellbeing across the borough. Is the Council developing a strategy to help those most affected by this crisis? If so, how is this strategy being developed, and how can elected members get involved?
The Cabinet Member advised that we were currently going through a national crisis that is driven by international factors and something that affects us all. The Cabinet Member listed a number of strategies which the Council was developing. What was also important was the range of discretionary support that the Council has available and is offering to residents who experience financial hardship, and the Cabinet Member went on to provide a number of examples.
Cllr Dr Sexton looked for confirmation that as the strategy was developed that all Members would be invited to participate in those discussions. The Cabinet Member advised that a number of the strategies previously mentioned would be taken through Scrutiny Boards, and subject to the normal scrutiny process.
Cllr Dr Sexton asked what she could tell residents who were struggling to pay bills and were not eligible for support, what was the Council doing for them. The Cabinet Member referred to discretionary crisis funds.
Cllr Adeyemo to Cllr Karen Grinsell Deputy Leader Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Partnerships and Wellbeing
Where urgent repairs are required to fencing and gates on council-owned residential properties in order to maintain security for residents and third parties, how long would the Cabinet Member say is reasonable to expect such work to be done?
The Cabinet Member advised that SCH deliver a repairs service to Council owned residential properties and this operates to prescribed timescales depending on the level of priority assigned to the repair in question. Detailed information about the categories and timescales for different repairs are available to customers on the SCH website. Emergency works are completed in 24 hours or less and urgent repairs are carried out in three, five or seven days based on nationally prescribed timescales and the level of priority associated with the repair item. Depending on the type of works required, especially for external repairs such as for fences, the need for a repair will have to take into consideration the ownership responsibilities in relation to the boundaries of the property. The priority allocated to a repair is explained to residents but where there is need for further clarity, this will be discussed with the resident. I understand that you have raised a particular enquiry with SCH in relation to fencing at a particular location and I can confirm that Officers will be responding to you separately in relation to this enquiry.
Cllr Adeyemo advised that the fence was blown down in February, the children at the property were vulnerable, and the issue needed to be resolved before the summer holidays. SCH were aware of the needs of the children. The Cabinet Member asked Cllr Adeyemo to share the details of the case and she would look into it in further detail.
Cllr Wilson to Howell Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Communities and Leisure
Can the Cabinet Member tell us what is developing to ensure that Ward Meetings with officers are in place for elected members where they are wanted, as these are vital to providing specific services residents need, and getting the good work our officers do back to residents?
The Cabinet Member advised that the following opportunities are available for Members to meet with Officers in support of community casework and problem solving:
· At least three meetings per year, with representatives from Highways, Solihull Community Housing and Stronger Communities. These will be annual meetings with each service area to align and coordinate Ward priorities and activity. The planning of these meetings is in progress and Members can follow up with respective Heads of Service in the meantime if they need bringing forward.
· Members can also request meetings with officers at any time in response to emerging issues where a joint problem-solving approach might be needed. These are available to Members on a rolling basis and can be requested through the relevant service managers and Heads of Services, as set out in the communities and place service guides, which were recently sent out to all Members.
· An offer from West Midlands Police about how Members can more directly raise local issues with them.
Cllr Wilson raised the issue of the timing of meetings which were held during the day, which made it difficult for working Members to attend and represent their residents. The Cabinet Member advised that the timing of meetings needed to factor in the attendance of external partners. The Cabinet Member referenced what ways Members could join such meetings.
Cllr Dr Sexton to Cllr R Sleigh Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Resources
By directorate, how many agency or interim staff are contracted by the council?
The Cabinet Member advised that as of 1 July 2022 the number of agency and interim staff were:
Adult Care and Support
Economy and Infrastructure
Cllr Dr Sexton queried what proportion of the children's social work staff were agency social care workers. The Cabinet Member responded that in Children’s services 53 out of 76 agency workers were engaged as social workers, the headcount was 622 with 528 fte.
Cllr Dr Sexton felt the cost of agency staff was high and questioned whether it was financially sustainable and if not what the plan was to reduce costs. The Cabinet Member advised that the establishment for the Council was 2753 employees the number of agency staff is 10%. The total salary budget for the Council is around £90m. The Cabinet Member confirmed that recruitment in some areas was difficult and to be able to deliver services, agency staff were required. The Council is always keen to reduce the number of agency staff and replace them with full time equivalents.
Cllr Caudwell to Cllr Hawkins Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Infrastructure
I was approached recently by a resident who told me that they had recently taken rigid plastic to our waste facility at Bickenhill, only to be told that currently any plastics being brought to Bickenhill are being sent to landfill. Can the Cabinet Member confirm that we do currently have the facility to recycle all the plastic materials that come to our Bickenhill facility?
The Cabinet Member advised that in conjunction with our new contract partner Veolia, we are continually reviewing what materials are collected for recycling at Bickenhill HWRC and what may be feasible to offer. When reviewing our disposal options, we need to take into consideration the logistics of collection, material markets for different materials and the potential need for additional resources and potential costs to the authority as a result. Please be assured that where we have appropriate disposal routes for recycling material, we will always use them.
Cllr Caudwell queried when the results of the review will be seen in a Scrutiny Board or Cabinet Member decisions session. The Cabinet Member advised that the Council recycle some plastics but not all and provided a breakdown of how the figures are broken down.
Cllr Caudwell noted that the recycling rate was 44%, a target of 50% was set 12 years ago, when do we find out when we get from where we are now, to where we want to be. The Cabinet Member advised that at the Bickenhill centre the amount of recycling was stated at 75% and that did include some element of incineration which was turned into fuel. In some cases, it was difficult to find companies who would recycle some plastics. The position will improve once the mixed rate unit was in operation next year.
Cllr Sheshabhatter to Cllr Hawkins Cabinet Portfolio Holder Environment and Infrastructure
Can the Cabinet member tell us
when Solihull Council will have a dedicated kerbside food
The Cabinet Member advised he could not answer the question, but he confirmed that as an authority we have responded positively to the government’s consultation on the Environment Act 2021. The consultation specifically asked a question with regards to the weekly collection of food waste, and I can confirm we have responded positively supporting this initiative. We await the outcome of the consultation and will be reviewing our waste strategy.