This is an opportunity for Members of Council to ask the Mayor, Members of the Executive or the Chairs of any Committee or Sub-Committee a question on notice under Procedure Rule 10.2.
The Mayor reported that 5 questions had been received under Procedure Rule 10.2.
(a) Councillor Zhi asked the following question, the first of two questions for which he had given notice:
“Can the Executive Member for Environmental Services please provide me with an update on the current position with recruitment and temporary backfilling of roles for the bin crews?”
In response, Councillor Adshead, the Executive Member reported that the waste service required between 106 and 111 staff depending on seasonal requirements, levels of holidays and other absences. The service currently employed 99 full-time equivalent staff and in addition had 13 regular temporary staff supplied by a recruitment agency. The service, therefore, had 7 full-time vacancies and intended to move suitable staff from temporary to permanent contracts 12 weeks employment.
As a supplementary question Councillor Zhi asked what additional actions were planned to get services to a level that his constituents and all Trafford residents expect and deserve. Councillor Adshead advised that performance penalties for the Council’s delivery partner Amey were being implemented for any poor service. An issue had been identified in respect of Monday waste collections and an action plan had been formulated with a report on implementation expected to the Executive in the near future.
(b) Councillor Zhi asked the following question, the second of two questions for which he had given notice:
““The government has delivered over £37 billion in a package of support, including £1,200 for the lowest-income families to support families in the UK with the cost of living this year.
Can the Executive Member for Finance and Governance outline what further plans the Council has to support Trafford residents with the cost of living?"
In response, Councillor Ross, the Executive Member confirmed that a written response had been provided to Councillor Zhi which is set out as follows:
“Thank you for your question. Councillors have been voicing concern about the cost of living crisis for many months and the Executive have been working closely with officers on Trafford Council’s response.
Since the summer we have been collaborating with housing providers, our community hubs, our local Citizens Advice Service and other partners to co-ordinate a joined-up response at a neighbourhood level.
We are opening up community living rooms- providing a place that is warm and an alternative to heating your own home. The projected impact of this initiative will be approximately 13,000 hours of access to warm, safe, welcoming living rooms. This initiative will also provide a social space and access to advice and information regarding local support and services. This initiative will run from October 2022 until March 2023.
We have been working with our partners to explore extra capacity for welfare rights advice- helping people navigate social security and providing help with maximising income. This partnership work has included our in-house Welfare Rights Service, equivalent services provided by our local housing associations and our local Citizens Advice Service.
We are launching a cost of living awareness campaign- including a leaflet and money advice referral tool available via the Trafford Council website. We want to ensure access to help is as simple as possible.
In the meantime, a range of financial support connected to the cost of living crisis includes the Household Support Fund split between £1m to cover free school meals, £350k towards Trafford Assist, £60k to support our Community Hubs and a £70k in-year extension to the CAB and our Welfare Rights Service.
Partnership work is a key part of our response and we will continue to engage with local housing providers, the VCSFE and other local partners in response to the cost of living crisis.”
Acknowledging the written response Councillor Zhi proceeded to his supplementary question and asked whether the proposed Council Tax increase, set out in the Medium-Term Financial Strategy 2023/24 – 2024/25, was fair to residents when many were already struggling with their bills. Councillor Ross noted that due to austerity over the past 12 years the situation for local authorities had become chronic when it came to funding and that the proposal would bring in much needed revenue to promote frontline services. Ideally a government would provide more grant funding and reverse the spending cuts, whereas, in reality the country faced another bout of austerity. The Council did not take lightly what was done with Council Tax increases and the Executive Member encouraged Councillor Zhi to lobby his own Ministers for more local government funding to enable the Council to provide the frontline services people held dear.
(c) Councillor Frass asked the following question for which he had given notice:
“In February this year, Trafford Council provided a reply to a Freedom of Information Request about the number of Hikvision CCTV units in Trafford. Page 13 of the report attached to that reply lists more than 90 Hikvision units in use across the Borough.
Hikvision was blacklisted by the US Government in 2019 over concerns about their role in human rights violations, targeting Uighurs in Xinjiang Province of China. The House of Commons has since said the human rights violation in Xinjiang amount to genocide.
Hikvision have Chinese Communist Party government tenders to establish facial recognition cameras at the entrances of mosques and to install surveillance systems in re-education camps where Uighurs are detained.
As a result, a report from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last year, recommended the Government forbids Hikvision equipment from operating in the United Kingdom.
Can the Executive tell us whether any Hikvision units were installed in Trafford after this report was issued and what plans are in place to remove any Council-owned units of Hikvision equipment?”
Councillor Wright, Executive Member for Housing and Neighbourhoods confirmed that no cameras had been installed after that particular date and advised that a substantial review of the Council’s CCTV policy had been undertaken and a revised policy will be published shortly. As part of that review a substantial audit of the Council’s CCTV systems was being undertaken. The Executive Member also confirmed that the Council did not possess any form of biometric recognition software which was the issue that caused particular concern around the cameras. There would be a considerable capital expense of removing and replacing the existing cameras without significant benefit at the present and as an illustration the cost of a new camera of similar specification was circa £600, plus the cost of removal, installation, reconnection hire of cherry pickers and road closures for which there was currently no funding.
As a supplementary question Councillor Frass asked whether the Executive Member might agree with him that the report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee recommending that they be banned in the UK provided evidence that the Council could demonstrate misconduct, therefore, the Council could amend the procurement policy to remove Hikvision from the list. Councillor Wright advised that the Council was contracted until 2024 at which time it would look to tender in accordance with the procurement laws at that time, however, he provided an assurance that going forward, the Council would not be purchasing such equipment.
(d) Councillor Coggins asked the following question for which she had given notice:
“Can the meeting have an update on the council's plans for a Citizens' Assembly on the climate crisis?”
Councillor Williams, Executive Member for Climate Change and Transport Strategy advised that the concept of holding a citizens’ assembly on the subject of climate change was developed at a time when public awareness of the topic was still evolving and risked being overtaken by other concerns.
Since then, the extreme weather events, notably the record temperatures experienced that summer and the appalling floods recently observed in Pakistan had placed the climate crisis once again at the centre of the public agenda. Similarly, the growing cost of living crisis and unprecedented rise in energy costs, sparked by domestic and global events had made energy efficiency and consumption a daily topic of conversation. We all think differently about where our energy comes from and how we use it.
With that in mind, it was clear that time had moved on and in the context of ongoing austerity and demands on Council finances it was right to review the intention to hold a citizens’ assembly. The Council’s finite resources need to be directed to activities that could most effectively contribute towards tackling the climate crisis. For those reasons, the Executive had determined not to proceed with a citizens’ assembly at the present time but to devote more effort into tangible measures towards combating the climate crisis.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Coggins enquired about plans to update the website to indicate that the assembly will not now be happening and to announce alternative ways to continue to encourage the public to engage on the topic. Councillor Williams indicated that he had requested that the website be amended to provide more up to date material. In terms of engaging the public, the Executive Member agreed that it was a key aspect of the work and hoped to continue pursuing that through the multi-agency/partnership Climate Commission. Councillor Williams acknowledged that Councillor Coggins was an active member of the Commission and welcomed her continued participation through that process.
(e) Councillor Miss Blackburn had given notice of the following question and in her absence, it was put to the meeting by the Mayor:
“Will the Executive Member let me know how much Section 106 monies has been used over the last 2 years to provide disabled appropriate equipment in our Borough’s parks?”
Councillor Adshead, the Executive Member for Environmental Services confirmed that Section 106 monies were currently being reviewed to identify were play equipment was identified as part of the agreement. This particular funding stream often had specific requirements and was linked to specific areas set out in the Section 106 agreement but also some agreements allowed flexibility in the use of the funds. These particular funds had not been utilised for any play equipment during the previous 2 years, however, replacement of play equipment had been identified as an area that needed funding, hence the Council’s capital programme was being used for that purpose.
When carrying out play equipment refurbishment, the Council’s own Green Space Capital Programme for play areas had been allocated for this type of works and had been focused on replacing older equipment with more inclusive play equipment.
In 2021-22, the Green Space Capital Programme allocation was £127,000 to play areas and in 2022-23 the allocation was £126,000. From the allocations three multi-play units at Moor Nook Park, Newton Park and Kelsall street play areas were in the process of being replaced with inclusive play units with an estimated cost of £70,000. The Council was also installing other inclusive equipment, including communication boards and signage to assist users with other disabilities such as autism.