Questions to be asked by Members of the County Council of the Leader of the Council, a Cabinet Member, or a Chairman of a Committee. The question will be answered by the relevant Member and the Member asking the question may then ask a follow up question which will also be answered
Mrs Atkins asked the following question of the Cabinet Member for Communities whose reply is set out below the question:-
What actions has the County Council taken to tackle climate change since it declared a Climate Emergency a year ago?
Since the County Council declared a Climate Emergency in July 2020 the authority held an all member workshop to consider potential suitable actions which could form part of a future climate change action plan. All suggestions were considered by the newly formed All Party Climate Change Working Group with the aim of creating a prioritised list. Whilst this work has been temporarily paused due to Covid-19 activities I can confirm that we are looking to approve and publish the plan in the autumn. This will provide a framework to spend the £2.43m of resources that were approved in the current MTFS last February.
Whilst some elements of the climate change work have had to be temporarily paused as the Council responds to the Covid-19 pandemic, I am pleased to report that since declaring a Climate Change emergency a number of activities have still progressed:
· the local authority has switched to green electricity for buildings, street lighting and traffic signals;
· undertaken a full review of the authority’s carbon baseline so we can track progress made since our carbon reduction strategy, Green Shoots, was published;
· supporting Engie to ensure the Rugeley site is as sustainable as possible and unlocking innovation;
· jointly commissioned a climate change study to support the refresh of local plans;
· started a review of possible locations for solar farms on county land;
· launched the Waste Savvy Staffordshire campaign;
· worked with SCVYS to capture the views of younger people for our Action Plan;
· ensured climate change is a golden thread of our Economic Recovery and Renewal Strategy; and
· Restarted the Climate Change Working Group with its next meeting on 29th July to consider a comprehensive action plan of deliverable items which will be taken through Cabinet.
Work, of course, has continued on many fronts on the numerous activities that support a sustainable Staffordshire such as sustainable transport planning, active travel, building energy management and smart working to name a few.
When will real progress be made by the County Council in meeting its climate change obligations, particularly incorporating a green recovery? We have never been in a better time to pursue green initiatives as there is currently public support for directing and shaping the economy towards zero emissions. I hope that the County Council will seize the moment.
You will see from the list of Cabinet Member Portfolios that the commitment we have to climate change is now set out in a full Cabinet role. Councillor Jessel will be taking on a cabinet portfolio called Environment, Infrastructure and Climate Change. I hope that Councillor Atkins recognises that new commitment to the climate change agenda and reshaping our economy and infrastructure in a way that supports those objectives.
Mrs Atkins asked the following question of the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Health, Care and Wellbeing whose reply is set out below the question:-
Given the expected surge in mental health distress following the challenges of Covid-19, will the County Council ensure that the Occupational Therapy Department working at the Kniveden Partnership operating from a County Council owned site at The Mount, Leek has a sustainable future caring for over sixty clients?
The Kniveden Partnership relates to Growthpoint, an horticulturally based mental health service that was established and is run by North Staffordshire Combined Mental Health Services Trust, (NSCHMST). This service is currently provided by NSCHMST from SCC’s Kniveden/Springhill site, at The Mount Leek. This is not a service delivered or commissioned by SCC.
The three individual council owned sites at the Mount are allocated in the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council Local Plan for much needed housing development. Sale of these sites will also release money locked into surplus or underused and inefficient properties to invest in our key services.
We will respond to the many challenges that Covid-19 presents and will try to support NSCMHST in their valuable work. When a decision is taken to release the Mount Road sites, SCC will offer advice and guidance to support, if required by NSCMST, in seeking alternative community options for its 47 service users.
This project has done excellent work and I hope that the Partnership will get more support from the County Council and that the Council will work with Combined Health to make sure that this project survives and grows, whether it be on this site or another?
I meet with the Chairmen and Chief Executives of the Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust and also Combined Healthcare on a monthly basis and we have been talking about mental health challenges. I can’t give a specific solution to this particular case but I will certainly look into it with officers and Councillor McMahon can pick this up with Dr Harding in due course.
Mrs Woodward asked the following question of the Leader of the Council whose reply is set out below the question:-
I am sure that the Leader will have been pleased to hear the comments made in Parliament by Wes Streeting MP, Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, citing the County Council’s Covid19 Support Fund as an example of “the creativity and ingenuity” of local authorities during this crisis.
Can he tell me please whether all Members have fully spent their first tranche of this fund and publish a list of Members’ allocations - by Member and by organisation - as has always been the case with previous Community Fund allocations?
I am very pleased by the efforts of Members to spend their allocations of the Covid-19 Support Fund, to support the most vulnerable in our communities and help our key community groups to survive throughout the crisis period.
Members who had not fully spent their first tranche of the Covid-19 Support Fund by the end of June are now able to use any underspend in the current tranche as addition to their extra £2000. This closes for applications on 30 October 2020.
As has been the case previously, it is important to show transparency on how Members have used this public money, and the county council’s website has an area devoted to this. From the area where groups can make their applications, there is a link to a page called “Covid-19 Support Fund Projects supported in 2020”. This provides information, by Member, showing allocation amounts, organisation name and a brief summary of the project, using information provided in the original applications. The page is constantly being updated – as soon as a project is paid and is closed in the processing system, the information will appear on this page.
I have tried to find the information about individual Councillor spend and the organisations supported from the link provided but it is very difficult. Therefore, will the Leader let us have a list detailing spend per Member on the first tranche of the Covid-19 Support Fund?
I will speak with the lead officer but spend per Member is a pretty crude indicator of the activities of Members in their communities and I do not consider that is the right way to go.
Mr Robinson asked the following question of Cabinet Member for Communities whose reply is set out below the question:-
Can the Cabinet Member for Communities please set out what Strategy the County Council has in place to help tackle the plague of misuse of Nitrous Oxide in communities across Staffordshire? Specifically, what strategy and action has been taken by the County Council’s Trading Standards department in relation to this issue and will the Cabinet Member and Leader of the Council commit to writing to all Staffordshire MPs to press the Government for tougher action on dealing with this problem?
Firstly, I thought it would be useful to provide Council members with some background information on Nitrous Oxide.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a colourless sweet-tasting gas often referred to as ‘laughing gas’ and it has several legitimate uses in medicine and dentistry. It is also used as a fuel additive and as a component of rocket fuel, and is sold as an aerosol spray propellant within whipped cream canisters.
Products include small canisters in large packs, each enough for a recreational dose, and paraphernalia such as ‘creamers’ or ‘crackers’. These dispense the gas from canisters into balloons, which are used to inhale the gas. Nitrous Oxide is covered under Psychoactive Substances Act 2016,
The act bans psychoactive substances, known as ‘legal highs’, in the UK and prevents the supply of previously unregulated and frequently harmful substances for human consumption.
This Act also includes controls on a number of other products including solvent-based glues, any kind of aerosols and nail varnish/nail varnish remover. Retailers need to pay particular attention to the potential for abuse of nitrous oxide, especially where customers seek to buy in bulk or large volumes involving nitrous oxide.
Trading Standards work closely with the Police and following the implementation of the new act in 2016 did a lot of work removing “Legal Highs” and providing advice and guidance to retailers to ensure they took the necessary precautions. Initially when the act was introduced trading standards committed a large amount of resource to education and advice to retailers over a period of several months. However more recently we have received no intelligence regarding matters relating to Nitrous oxide and, as with any enforcement, trading standards act on intelligence received to base any response accordingly.
Our Police partners also inform us that they also have no intelligence of any specific problems currently regarding nitrous oxide, advising that empty canisters have been seen discarded on the side of the road, but that there is no impact on crime reports. Should intelligence or complaints be received into trading standards this will be investigated, in conjunction with the police, as each partner has specific powers within the Act and enforcement is most effective with joint working.
The Staffordshire Safer & Stronger Communities Strategy Group acts as the countywide strategy group for community safety and is responsible for producing a Community Safety Agreement based on the priority areas highlighted in the County Community Safety Strategic Assessment. The latest strategic assessment was produced earlier this year and the SSSCSG is currently updating its Community Safety Agreement with the current priority areas highlighted in the strategic assessment. This recent strategic assessment has not highlighted Nitrous Oxide as an area of concern and therefore no specific actions are currently identified for the partnership. Districts and Boroughs may have this area highlighted as an issue within the Strategic assessment for their own Local Authority area and may have developed plans to address at local level.
What more will the County Council do to assist in educating some of our young people about the dangers of misusing Nitrous Oxide?
I will ask Councillor Price, with officers, to see what we can do in conjunction with the Criminal Justice service and the Staffordshire Constabulary.
Mr Robinson asked the following question of the Leader of the Council whose reply is set out below the question:-
4.2 million children were living in poverty in the UK in 2018/19 and the Government’s Social Mobility Commission recently highlighted the shocking fact that there has been an increase of 600,000 more children living in relative poverty since 2012. In light of this appalling situation will the Leader of the Council now commit to reversing his administration’s decision to cut and close Staffordshire County Council’s Local Welfare Assistance Fund?
Within Staffordshire we have been working for some time with the MHCLG on the Building Resilient Families and Communities programme. This programme is focussed on a range of outcomes one of which is financial exclusion. As such we have a range of support that is available to families in Staffordshire including;
· Access to employment advisors who can support families to maximise their income and support them to access volunteering, training or alternative employment. These employment advisors have mapped out a range of support to assist families which includes the community support groups, access to funding, emergency equipment all of which is accessible and available for families in need.
· The borough and district councils offer support to families facing financial hardship with rent and council tax.
· We fund a range of organisations to support families to manage their finances including Money Smart in Newcastle-under-Lyme which run through aspire for all Newcastle’s families. This service supports with budgeting, reducing bills, maximising income, accessing emergency funds and savings. We hope that this service helps families develop the skills needed to support their ongoing financial security.
During COVID-19 we have been working hard to ensure that families in need are supported and the potential risks are identified. This has included the delivery of a targeted access to a virtual family hub and survival kit which have been delivered to over 3000 children. These survival kits have shared details of the family hubs and connected people to community support. In addition the government have announced additional funding for food and emergency supplies and this will be available to support families over the next 12 months.
The Early Help partnership have agreed that Financial Exclusion is a common theme which may require a countywide focus and funding from the 20 / 21 Earned Autonomy budget. A multi-agency partnership Task Group has been established to map existing provision, identify gaps and demand and scope the potential to commission a service across the county using Earned Autonomy funding.
Mr Hussain asked the following question of Cabinet Member for Economic Growth whose reply is set out below the question:-
How many BAME enterprises have been awarded monies from the £500K business grant scheme and have received additional support within the Staffordshire county area?
The County Council does treat all business equally that request our support. However, we can’t provide any data on ethnicity of businesses for the County Council’s Emergency Business Grant nor the wider support provided through the Growth Hub, as this is data we do not collect from a business when they request support. It is also data that is not required by government when using their funding to support businesses.
We do know the locations of businesses and can make an assumption that some them will be from BAME groups given the diversity of Staffordshire’s communities, but this is not formal confirmation of them being BAME enterprises.
We are completely supportive of all our communities, including BAME, and I am grateful Mr Hussain posed this question. Considering this, we will review our processes to reaffirm equal access to opportunity and indeed if improvements can be made.
Mr Hussain asked the following question of Cabinet Member for Health, Care and Wellbeing whose reply is set out below the question:-
What has been the county’s response to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the BAME community?
The Council recognises that people from BAME communities are at higher risk of complications from Covid-19. Information about Covid-19 has been made available on the Council’s website in a range of the most common languages spoken by BAME communities. The Council’s Covid-19 Local Outbreak Control Plan includes targeted communication for people from BAME communities.
In recent weeks the Council has been working with the BAME communities in parts of Burton-on-Trent in response to an excess of cases in the local area. The Council has been engaging with these communities to promote awareness of Covid-19 prevention and control as well as how to access testing. The Council has deployed a mobile testing unit to the town and established a dedicated service to offer testing to symptomatic people from this area in their own homes. The Council is also exploring innovative ways to extend testing to asymptomatic people from these communities.