The Council received eight questions from the Members to Committee Chairs/Portfolio Holders. The responses to the eight questions had been published in the supplementary agenda for the meeting.
(A) Question from Councillor Doug Bainbridge
Supplementary question – “What evidence can you provide to me and what has been published to demonstrate both value for money and exactly what these consultants have achieved for the people of Stevenage?”
In reply, the Portfolio Holder for Resources asked Councillor Bainbridge to send her an e-mail with some further detail in order that she could provide a written reply to the supplementary question.
(B) Question from Councillor Andy McGuinness
Supplementary question – “Can Councillor Henry elucidate a little more on the Sport England funding and can he give a date when Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre might be reopening?”
The Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People, Leisure & Culture replied that there were many calls on Sport England funding. SBC was trying to arrange a meeting with the Regional Director in order to discuss in detail both the way that the Council works with Stevenage Leisure Limited and also the Council’s ambitions for looking at sport, leisure and health and wellbeing in the future. It was confirmed that Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre was planning to reopen on 25 July 2020.
(C) Question from Councillor Robin Parker CC
Supplementary question – “Could the Council’s telephone service’s opening message be shortened to avoid the need to listen to over a minute of introductory remarks?”
The Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Co-operative Working replied that he would discuss the matter with officers and report back. He commented that the Council was committed to move away from telephony to online services, but accepted that the telephone service would for the foreseeable future continue to be a first point of contact for some residents.
(D) Question from Councillor Graham Snell
Supplementary question – “Can you tell me the accumulated estimated cost of developing the Council’s new website, and would there be training on it for Members?”
The Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Co-operative Working replied that it was intended that assistance for members on the public on the new website would be provided by the Customer Service Centre. As well as member training on the new website, he was keen that there was further consultation with Members on its style and content. The Council aimed to deliver the website (with a soft launch) in September 2020. He undertook to provide Councillor Snell with the estimated cost information requested.
(E) Question from Councillor Tom Wren
Supplementary question (asked by Councillor Robin Parker CC on behalf of Councillor Wren) – “What steps are being taken to ensure that the removal of trees without planning permission does not happen again?”
The Portfolio Holder for Environment & Regeneration replied that approval was given for the removal of the trees on the Eliot Road site prior to the bird nesting season. The site was allocated for housing, and the trees were assessed as not being of major importance. It was expected that, should it be the Council’s view in any negotiations on planning applications, then the removal of any trees could be offset by the planting of new trees elsewhere. He and officers would look into the processes to ensure that, when any premature agreement was given on land that the Council was about to dispose of or build on, a notice would be placed on the site explaining what was going to be removed and that approval had been given. Ward councillors would also be notified so that they could explain the position to residents.
(F) Question from Councillor Adam Mitchell CC
Supplementary question – “Would you agree that, whilst SBC Refuse Collection staff did a fantastic job through lockdown, they were to some extent undermined by and residents frustrated by the lack of ability to get the information on collection days off the Council’s website? What is being done to ensure that such outages are reduced, both before and after the new website is introduced?”
The Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Co-operative Working replied that he agreed that it was unfortunate that the refuse Collection information had not been available to the community for a number of days. However, he hoped that overall in terms of IT the Council had received a fairly good response from residents during lockdown. He had participated in discussions with officers to ensure that the new website would be robust and kept up to date.
(G) Question from Councillor Stephen Booth
Supplementary question – “Can you advise me whether there has been any indications from Government, or through Hertfordshire County Council, that track and tracing would be carried out by the SBC Environmental Health Team?”
The Portfolio Holder for Communities, Community Safety & Equalities replied that the SBC Environmental health Team was in the process of interpreting the latest Government guidance on track and tracing. This was a complex task, and she undertook to inform Councillor Booth as soon as the position became clearer.
(H) Question from Councillor Alex Farquharson
Supplementary question – “Despite SBC being one of the least populated Districts in Hertfordshire, its senior officers were amongst the most well-paid. What did SBC do differently that necessitated the payment of higher salaries?”
The Portfolio Holder for Resources asked Councillor Farquharson to provide her with the statistics he had quoted in his preamble to the supplementary question so that she could provide him with a written reply.
The Leader of the Council commented that it was difficult to make direct comparisons between local authorities as they delivered different services in different ways. SBC provided a significant proportion of direct services and was delivering regeneration and housing development amongst other FTFC activities, which were reflected in senior officers’ salaries, whilst many other local authorities contracted out a number of their services.