Agenda item


In accordance the Council Procedure Rules, opportunity is provided for Members of the Council to ask the Mayor or the Chair of a Committee any question about a matter which the Council, or the Committee has powers, duties or responsibilities.


At Council meeting, there will be a maximum question time period of 30 minutes. A period of two minutes will be allowed for each Councillor wishing to ask a question.  The Mayor will have the discretion to vary this requirement where they consider it appropriate.


1          Cllr R Kain referred to the cancellation of HS2 and stated that the Council had already committed £11.2m to the cancelled project, of which, he was led to believe £8m had already been spent on remedial works. It was his opinion that the Council had no true understanding of its budget or deficit until compensation claims had been presented to central government. He asked if the Council would now suspend what he described as the discriminatory green bin and car parking charges to communities across the Borough where car parking is currently free, and which would have a devastating economic effect on towns that did not have the retail offer or facilities, such as permanently staffed police stations; ambulance stations or fire stations found in larger towns where charges were currently in force. He felt that these should be halted until an accurate assessment of the Council's projected finances could be ascertained.


In response Cllr S Corcoran, Leader of the Council, stated that he had spoken in his announcements about the challenging financial situation the Council faced which was largely due to circumstances out of its control, including additional demands on its services due to the cost-of-living crisis and higher than forecast inflation and interest rates. The announcement about HS2 had certainly not helped and therefore it seemed perverse to stop taking the actions that were known as necessary just because it was not known what further problems the Government was going to cause. The Council would be arguing very strongly for compensation for all the costs that the Council had incurred in preparing for HS2 coming to Crewe, mainly development and design work. It was not remedial work. Cllr Corcoran noted that several councils had issued section 114 notices with government commissioners appointed who then closed libraries, increased charges and Council Tax. He did not want to see that happen at Cheshire East Council. The Council was going to be taking difficult decisions that were necessary and sadly, given that the national economy had been crushed and the ongoing uncertainty around government decisions, he feared that the Council may need to do even more to achieve a balanced budget next year.


Cllr C Browne, Deputy Leader of the Council, responded that it was clear that the Council needed to do everything it could to cut costs and to find innovative non-council tax ways of raising revenue, and this was simply not the time to stand still, close our eyes and hope for the best. Cllr Kain had described the proposals to introduce charging to areas where parking was currently free as discriminatory. Cllr Browne thought that those parts of the borough that have had to pay to park for many years, whilst others have had a free parking, could say that the current charging regime was discriminatory. The proposals did not advocate a ‘one size fits all’ approach and the proposals for most towns, including Alsager, included a mixture of lower, medium, and high tariff spaces reflecting existing customers levels in different car parks in each town. To suspend these proposals, particularly at a point midway through a public consultation would be irresponsible and incredibly confusing to both residents and businesses.


2          Cllr L Anderson congratulated the Council and councillors for moving away from paper agendas, as it was not only good for the environment but saved Cheshire East Council money. She reported that Wilmslow Town Council had also moved to no longer issuing paper agendas. She asked how much paper and trees had been saved and what savings had been made by not buying paper, printing the agendas, and posting the agenda papers out.


In response, Cllr S Corcoran, Chair of Corporate Policy Committee, reported that the Council had planted over 50,000 trees in the last few years on its land to try and tackle climate change. Last year the Council had felled approximately 168 trees of varying sizes and species. Often the trees felled were diseased or hollow, which made the wood unusable for high quality use and would not be commercially attractive to timber merchants. Often it was difficult to access felled trees in parks and open spaces, and these needed to be dismantled in small sections so as not to damage nearby property, paths etc. and this meant that the wood was often not large enough to be processed into products of any value. When work was carried out by a contractor, the wood became theirs to dispose of. Cllr Corcoran undertook to provide a written answer on the number of trees saved by not using paper agendas and reported that in 2021/22 the Council spent approximately £33,500 on printing and posting agendas and approximately £32,000 in 22/23. All the paper used was PFC certified, recyclable, and sourced from sustainably managed forests and controlled sources. Cllr Corcoran thanked all Members who have gone digital.


3          Cllr C Naismith referred to the announcement at the Conservative Party conference last week that the Government was to perform a U-turn on the delivery of the northern leg of HS2 decision. He believed this represented a serious betrayal of the potential for Crewe and the wider area by the Government. Cllr Naismith requested a full debate about HS2 at the full Council meeting in December to include discussion of how the Council mitigated any impacts of the decision on jobs, investment and growth in Crewe and the wider local economy.


The Mayor confirmed that there would be an item on the agenda for the December meeting.


Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, responded that the cancellation of HS2 was devastating for the town of Crewe and the estimated cost to the wider Cheshire and Warrington sub region was £2 billion of GBA annually, as well as 27,000 jobs. The HS2 Member Reference Group would be meeting to consider several key options at the Council’s disposal. Cllr Brown suggested that the Member Reference Group, having originally been delegated authority by the Council, makes a series of recommendations back to full Council, which could be debated.


4          Cllr G Smith referred to the error made by the Department for Education officials in the school funding allocation for next year, leaving shortfalls in the school budgets of potentially tens of thousands of pounds. He asked how the Council could support heads, governors, teachers, support staff and parents in dealing with this gross incompetence and its potential impact on our schools.


In response Cllr S Corcoran, Leader of the Council, stated that he would write to the Education Secretary to ask that the Cheshire East schools have their budgets restored. He commented that Cheshire East schools were already some of the lowest funded in the country and this announcement would cause real difficulties, not just to school finance services, but also to children and teachers who would have to deal with the consequences.


Cllr C Bulman, Chair of Children and Families Committee, responded that the shortfall may not be restored and that there would be consequences to the schools. She stated that it was £59 per secondary school pupil and £45 per primary school pupil less than schools had budgeting for and this would have consequences on things like staffing.


5          Cllr K Parkinson stated that she was finding the approach on how Members were committed to spending their member ward budgets inconsistent and, despite following the correct routes of inquiry, including MES, had not yet received a conclusive reply to how much of her budget she still had available. She had submitted her last inquiry on 11 August and asked if she had enough budget left to fund an assessment of double yellow lines in Pickmere following severe parking issues and related antisocial behaviour that the village had endured over three years. She stated that it had taken over a year for a fellow Member, in the south of the Borough, to achieve the same at a cost of £3500 - over half the budget available to a single member ward. She asked the Highways that provide an update of

a)    what works are deemed permissible for a ward member to commission.

b)    The current prices of such works and

c)    provide Members with an up-to-date account of their individual budgets spent together with the balance of monies available for future works.


Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, responded that he also found himself in a similar position with a ward member budget request in his own ward. He undertook to ensure that a written response was provided to address the specific concerns.


6          Cllr H Moss referred to the £1.2m given by Government to improve bus services and asked for the David Lewis Centre on Mill Lane in Great Warford to be incorporated into a bus service route. This would enable hundreds of staff, who worked at one of the biggest employers within Cheshire East, to use public transport as an option to get to work.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, stated that he was aware of the David Lewis requests having visited only a few months ago with the former Chief Executive and the Leader. Given the funding available there were likely to be quite limited opportunities to introduce new services as part of the re-tendering exercise about to be launched. If, however, there was a willingness to provide, or an ability to identify some private sector match funding, this would significantly assist in helping to find a solution. He referred to the inaugural meeting of the Enhanced Bus Partnership Forum taking place at Alderley Park Conference Centre next Thursday and stated that this would be an excellent opportunity to raise this issue directly with the bus operators.


7          Cllr M Beanland referred to the no-assurance judgement given by the section 106 report done by Cheshire East Internal Audit team and asked if the Chairs of Environment and Communities Committee and the Finance Sub Committee would provide the  Council with assurance that the timetable of deadlines to rectify the issues of the section 106 procedures were understood and would be met.


Cllr M Warren, Chair of the Environment and Communities Sub Committee, responded that there was a meeting scheduled for the coming Friday morning for the Chairs of the various committees to discuss this matter and a written response would be provided following this meeting.


8          Cllr H Whitaker referred to the proposed car parking charges that were imminent, and asked for a change in the way the public could respond to the consultation. She stated that at present members of the public were asked to either write in or e-mail in their comments regarding the consultation. She had received a number of complaints from residents to the effect that this felt quite obstructive and asked whether an online form could be provided by the Council where residents could simply click on a link and then complete the documentation and then click submit, as this would be easier than trying to find an email address and doing a separate e-mail.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, stated that there may be difficulties in trying to change the process of the consultation midway through the consultation itself, and stated he would need to take legal advice on whether it was possible.


9          Cllr P Redstone referred to the green waste bin charge and that both the standard and small bin were proposed to be the same subscription with £56. He stated that the idea of the smaller bin was for small premises or people who are older or less mobile so that they could manoeuvre their bins with ease and asked why the charge was not reflecting of the level of service provided and why was there not a monthly service offered at a lower charge.


In response Cllr M Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, stated that it was the service for which residents were paying. The collection of the green waste, whether a full bin, full large bin or full small bin did not make the service any cheaper, as there was still a requirement to have the vehicles, the staff and the backroom working to provide that service. Cllr Warren undertook to provide a written response to the second part of Cllr Redstone’s question.


10        Cllr A Farrell stated that it had been reported that the Government's promise to halve inflation by the end of the year was off track. He asked what the Council could do, perhaps in conjunction with other neighbouring councils and our MPs, to request appropriate support packages from the Government to plug the financial economic hole.


            In response Cllr S Corcoran stated that the Government had given the Council some grants, which had been referred to earlier in the meeting, but these were ring fenced for specific purposes. He referred to the £46m in a negative reserve for special education needs and that the Council had been allocated £1,000,000 to assist with this negative reserve through the Government's Delivering Better Value programme. He stated that all Councils were under severe financial pressure because of the increasing inflation, increase in interest rates and the increasing demands on services. The Local Government Association and the County Council's Network were to petition Government and to put the case forward for more funding for local authorities. The number of councils issuing Section 114 notices was expected to increase – it was a national problem and the Government needed to address it. The Council would be looking at its own resources and this was why it was taking difficult decision around raising extra income and, in some cases, reducing services.


11          Cllr G Marshall referred to the garden waste recycling scheme and asked if any figures were available on residents’ take up of the scheme so far.


Cllr M Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, responded that so far 11,387 people had subscribed to the scheme, which was encouraging since scheme had only been open a couple of weeks.


Cllr A Moran stated that 9500 people had paid the £56 fee, which accrued to £532,000.


12          Cllr A Gage referred to the Leader’s remark that garden waste scheme was a great service and easy to sign up to and stated that this was not the experience of a resident in Rope who had contacted him to express their difficulty. The resident did not have a computer, and they were hard of hearing and could not sign up via the available means. Cllr Gage reported that he tested the user experience himself and had rung the hotline on the resident’s behalf - 17 minutes later an operator asked if they could ring him back because they would need to speak with a supervisor on the issue. An hour later he had been advised that the resident could visit Delamere House in person to sign up or they could give cash to him in the understanding that he would sign them up. Cllr Gage had met the resident in person and having watched them come down the stairs with great difficulty and reasoned that visiting Delamere House was not viable option. He had told the resident that he would be happy to them sign up, if need be, but this practice was less than ideal in a wider sense. The resident had noted that they could probably find a neighbour to do this for them, but they wished to stay independent. Cllr Gage asked the Chair of the Environment Committee if they would commit to providing further sign-up options, including the consideration of paper options.


In response Cllr M Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, stated that he was happy to find some kind of resolution for those people that might not be able to use the current sign-up options.


13          Cllr J Place asked how widely the Enhanced Bus Partnership Forum event was going to be advertised.


Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, responded that he understood that it was a public event open to members of the Council and members of the public. He anticipated that following his announcement earlier in this meeting that there would be a press release going out this week for the advance notice of the event taking place.

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