Venue: Council Chambers - Civic Centre
Contact: Anne Jenkins Governance Team Leader
i. To receive any apologies for absence.
ii. To receive any declarations of interest.
iii. To receive any announcements by the Presiding Member.
The Presiding Member will report any apologies.
1.ii Declarations of Interest
1.iii Presiding Member’s Announcements
Councillor Cockeram led a minute’s silence for former councillors David Hando and Paul Hannon.
Councillors Morris, Davies, Evans, Whitehead and Harvey took the opportunity to say a few words of condolence for the former Councillors.
Councillor Harvey had promised David Hando that he would be invited to cut the first sod for the new visitor centre at the Newport Transporter Bridge. With this in mind, and as Cabinet Member for Community and Wellbeing it would be fitting to put a plaque in the visitor centre to commemorate David Hando’s contribution and hard work.
To confirm and sign the minutes of the last meeting.
The Minutes of 22 November 2022 were accepted as a true record.
To consider any proposed appointments.
To consider the proposed appointments set out in the report
Councillor Clarke moved the appointments set out in the Report, as agreed by the Business managers, subject to the additional appointments set out below.
Councillor Fouweather seconded the report.
Resolved: That the following appointments be agreed.
Governing Body Appointments
30 minutes is allocated for questions to the Gwent Police representative.
The Presiding Member welcomed Superintendent Vicki Townsend, who provided council members with an update on Police issues within East, West and Central Newport.
The Presiding Member invited the Deputy Leader to address Superintendent Townsend.
The Deputy Leader thanked Supt Townsend for attending full council and specifically wanted to thank the Police on behalf of all council colleagues, in particular Chief Inspector John Davies for the information he shared with councillors at the beginning of the New Year. The newsletter that he provided outlined the geographical priorities within wards which was informative and helpful. What was especially welcomed was his staged intent to meet with all councillors in person in February and a key opportunity for councillors to raise residents’ concerns and to work with police to reduce crime in the local areas. It was good to know that these meetings would be held quarterly going forward and would strengthen relationships with elected members and their local police team.
The report also referred to the sterling work of the Council’s Trading Standards Team who worked closely with the police and received some positive outcomes which needed applauding and noting.
Questions to the Police raised by Councillors:
§ Councillor M Evans referred to the 20mph enforcement across the city and asked would police resources be affected by maintaining this. The Superintendent assured Councillor Evans that front line officers would not redirected from other duties to dealing with new speed enforcement issues.
§ Councillor Al Nuaimi also passed on thanks to city centre inspectors who engaged in regular meetings and also expressed his best wishes to Sean Conway who left the role and welcome Hannah Welty. Councillor Al-Nuaimi asked the Superintendent about the Knife Angel project and for feedback onto the effectiveness of the instalment in the city centre. The Superintendent outlined the positive feedback on the Knife Angel and how well it was received from a community perspective. The overarching work was being manged by Matt Edwards, a police officer who worked in the police head quarters who was looking at the wider impacts, however it was still early to report at this stage but an update on the findings of the report could be provided at the next meeting.
§ Councillor M Howells, as a member of the Planning Committee noted the lack of feedback from the police in relation to planning applications. In addition to this, when speaking to local police officers, they are often not aware of these applications and felt that they could make a contribution. Cllr Howells questioned how the council and police could therefore work together to ensure better communication for the future, in particular, applications relating to Housing in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). The Superintendent agreed that the police would like to be part of the consultation for planning applications; unfortunately opportunities had been missed and suggested that she and Councillor Howells arrange a separate meeting to discuss a way forward.
§ Councillor Whitehead referred to antisocial behaviour in Bettws which he considered was usually the ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
The Deputy Leader presented the report, which highlighted, as at 30 September 2022, that borrowing was £140.6m, a decrease of £1.5m in comparison to 2021-22 outturn levels.
This decrease was predominantly caused by the Equal Instalments of Principal (EIP) loans, which paid back principal over the life of the loan (and so incurred less interest costs), as an alternative to the Council’s maturity loans where the principal was repaid on the final day of the loan.
Officers have indicated that as interest rates increased, the likelihood that our Lender Offer Borrower Offer (LOBO) loans would be called in also increased. This meant that the lenders asked to amend the rates of these facilities upwards; in response, the borrower (the Council) either accepted that increased rate or redeemed the debt.
No such recall requests were made in the first half of 2022-23, but should they be made in the second half of the year, officers were anticipating they would be replaced with more traditional borrowing in due course, unless there was a sufficient incentive to accept the change in interest rate,
The current capital expenditure forecast involved a degree of slippage, so it was not expected that there would be a need to undertake further long-term borrowing this financial year. However, this did not exclude external borrowing being considered if the situation was advantageous in acting as a hedge to manage interest rate risks, recognising that the Council still had a longer-term borrowing necessity. Any such decision to do this would be made in line with advice from the Council’s treasury advisors and only where there was a clear financial benefit in doing so.
The level of investments at 30 September 2022 was £50m, which decreased by £8.2m since outturn 2021-22, as the Council uses up such resourcing as a more cost effective alternate to arranging new external borrowing.
It was anticipated that investment levels would continue to reduce during 2022/23 as an alternative to borrowing until a minimum balance of £10m was ultimately reached, which would remain invested for compliance with Markets in Financial Instruments and Derivatives Directive (MiFIDII).
Market expectations were for interest rates to start to revert to more traditional levels in the last quarter of 2022-23, and so it was prudent to avoid making any long-term borrowing decisions in the short term whilst rates were perceived to be higher than they are likely to be in the following year.
This approach is a cornerstone of effective internal borrowing; even in an environment of increasing interest rates, the cost of new borrowing was still more expensive than any increasing returns on investments. Therefore, it continues to make sense to use the Council’s existing surplus cash balances as an alternative to arranging new borrowing.
The final aspect considered was the Prudential Indicators. The Authority measured and managed its exposures to treasury management risks using various indicators which could be found in Appendix B. The report confirmed that the Council continued to comply with the Prudential Indicators set ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
The Deputy Leader presented the Council Tax Reduction Scheme report to Council.
Unlike in England, there was one all-Wales scheme that provided a framework for assessing applications and removed the postcode lottery that could result from individual schemes.
The all-Wales scheme, along with some discretionary areas had to be approved annually by Council for the scheme to operate.
The report today sought Council’s approval for the scheme to be adopted for 2023-24. The report also laid out some technical amendments to the scheme.
The technical amendments were relatively minor in nature and covered the annual uprating of personal allowances and non-dependant deductions, as well as some technical regulation changes as detailed in the report.
There were areas where the Council had discretion in the operation of the scheme, namely:
1. Discretion to extend council tax reduction for those starting work.
2. Discretion to increase the amount of War Disablement Pensions and War Widows Pensions which was to be disregarded when calculating income of the claimant.
3. Discretion to enhance the process for notification of decisions above the minimum requirements.
4. Discretion to backdate the application of council tax reduction beyond the standard period of three months.
If the scheme in the report was not formally adopted, the discretionary areas would be lost and the default standard all-Wales scheme would apply instead.
Councillor Harvey seconded the report.
Council approved the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2023/24 in accordance with the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Schemes) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 ("the Prescribed Requirements Regulations") exercising its local discretions as indicated in the report.
The Deputy Leader introduced the report, informing colleagues that the Strategic Director, as the designated Director for Social Services, had a statutory duty under the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 and as amended by the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016 to produce an annual report to the Council.
The report set out the Council’s Director of Social Services personal assessment of performance of delivering its social care functions during the preceding 12 months. The report also covered the period 2021/22 and was laid out in the format prescribed in the guidance.
During this period the Council had seen a restructuring of its Senior Management team and the appointment of a permanent Director of Social Services. The delivery of social care during 2021 and 2022 was profoundly impacted firstly by covid and the restrictions of the pandemic closely followed by the beginning of the emerging cost of living issues.
In light of the particular strictures of 2021-22 the report reflected the challenges and changes of the period. Despite the significant issues faced, the Director of Social Services was satisfied that the Council continued to comply with its statutory duties.
Staff across all Social Services continued to deliver the majority of provisions face to face while embracing the benefits of hybrid working in certain key areas. The benefits of this way of working continued to improve and enhance practice.
The Deputy Leader was pleased to note that despite the difficulties of 2021-2022 social services staff were able to look beyond the relentless demands and also delivered innovative and continued development of services.
Councillor Marshall seconded the report.
§ Councillor Cockeram was cabinet member when the report for 2021/22 was completed. The team was led by Sally-Ann Jenkins and Chris Humphries before. Social Services had been going from strength to strength. There were however some issues being faced, such as the short fall in finances that was also seen in domiciliary care pay. The Presiding Member was disappointed that there were only four compliments that social services received in the whole year by comparison with other councils. There was a need to record compliments in the authority, and said that the lack of compliments was not a reflection on staff.
§ Councillor Hughes agreed with Presiding Member’s views and joined the Director of Social Services for thanking Councillor Cockeram and the former Directors of Social Services, Chris Humphries who was hopefully enjoying her retirement. It was a difficult role to undertake, especially during the pandemic. Staff went above and beyond to provide care in the city. Staff had adapted quickly and continued to remain innovative in their responses and they continued to be under immense pressure. The Cabinet Member for Social Services thanked the Director of Social Services and officers for bringing the report to council.
§ Councillor Marshall reiterated the thanks for officers and their continued help, particularly coming out of covid. Staff maintained an excellent service on behalf of the council. The Cabinet ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
The Deputy Leader presented the interim Annual Report for Safeguarding. This report was the evaluation of 2021/22 performance for the Local Authority by the Head of Corporate Safeguarding.
This was an interim report because of changes in Welsh Government guidance. A full report would be presented to Cabinet early next year in line with the new guidance.
Safeguarding and protecting children and vulnerable adults was of the highest priority for Newport City Council.
The Corporate Safeguarding Policy set out the Council’s duty and commitment to safeguard and promote the health, wellbeing and human rights of adults and children at risk.
This report assessed the Council’s proactive actions and responses to safeguarding,it was presented to Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee on 30 September 2022. There was a constructive and helpful discussion of the content.
The report noted the challenges across the Council in respect of safeguarding due to the pressures brought about by Covid and the restrictions of the pandemic.
The Safeguarding Hub for Children’s Services saw a 13.9% increase in referrals during 2021/22. This reflected the issues arising in schools, early years and youth settings and for partner agencies. For children and their families an effective and robust safeguarding approach was vital and could be life changing.
Despite the pressures the outcome of the safeguarding self-assessment for all areas of the Council demonstrated a very high level of compliance with statutory requirements and a determination to continue to place the highest priority on safeguarding for all our citizens.
It was pleasing to note that the new Welsh Government Guidance for Corporate Safeguarding (March 2022) included Newport’s Safeguarding Self-Assessment tool as a model of good practice. The guidance was published was based on similar themes coming from external audit and encouraged standardising some of the performance data to enable better measuring distance travelled as to benchmark with other Local Authorities.
The challenges of ensuring all staff, volunteers and Members were accessing and engaged with training for all areas of safeguarding were noted in the report. This was an area which would continue to require a focus and keen prioritisation over the coming year.
The Council was working to ensure safeguarding is maintained in all areas of service and would in the coming year work with the revised Guidance for Corporate Safeguarding to ensure continued compliance.
Councillor Marshall seconded the report.
§ Councillor Cockeram considered that it was important for colleagues to note that Newport City Council’s Annual Safeguarding Report was considered as a matter of good practice throughout Wales and thanked the officers involved for all their work.
§ Councillor Marshall reiterated that this was an issue that was considered to be one of the highest priorities for Newport. The report highlighted the efforts that the Council was undertaking as part of a duty to protect children and responsibility for their health and wellbeing. It was also positive that the Welsh Government was also using Newport City Council’s self-referral tool. Moving forward, there were challenges to address. ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
The proposed schedule of meetings aimed to facilitate the decision-making process through regular Council, Executive and Regulatory Committees. The schedule of meetings also set a pattern of meetings for Scrutiny Committees and other bodies.
The diary did not include dates for meetings of individual Cabinet Members as Cabinet Members would take a view on when they needed to meet to make decisions, rather than be bound by a diary of meetings. This would of course, not affect members' rights of consultation on proposed decisions or to request to meet the Cabinet Member before decisions were taken.
It was suggested that the dates, times and locations of all meetings other than the Council meeting were to be left to each individual committee. It was suggested that the needs of Councillors who had work or other commitments at any time during the day were taken into account by the various committees and groups.
The schedule would remain a guide, was subject to change and amended to meet the needs of the work programmes of each committee or other group.
The Deputy Leader seconded the report.
Council adopted the schedule of meetings as the basis for arrangements for May 2023 to May 2024, recognising it was subject to change and amendment to meet the needs of the work programmes of each committee or other group.
Mayoral Nomination - 2023/24
The Presiding Member invited the Leader to nominate the Mayor for 2023/24.
The Deputy Leader was delighted to formally move Councillor Watkins as the Mayor for 2023/24, which was also seconded by Councillor M Evans.
That Council nominated Councillor Trevor Watkins as Mayor for 2023/24.
The Presiding Member asked councillor colleagues to note the Minutes of the Democratic Services Committee for their information.
Questions to the Leader of the Council
The Presiding Member advised that due to the apologies of the Leader, a written response would be provided should members wish to submit a question.
Councillor M Evans understood that whilst there was no provision in the Standing Orders for the Deputy Leader to speak, his Conservative colleagues were of the view that the Deputy Leader could deputise for this item in the absence of the Leader.
Councillor Morris echoed the comments of Councillor M Evans and believed that questions had been covered by the Deputy Leader in the past.
The Presiding Member reminded colleagues that the former Leader, Councillor D Wilcox had introduced open questions to the Leader in 2016. Officers would refer to the Standing Orders to Democratic Services Committee as part of their remit in considering any proposed amendments to the council’s constitution. Any proposed changes, whether recommended by the Democratic Services Committee or not, would have to be debated by full Council and required a majority vote of those members present and voting to be accepted.
Questions to the Cabinet Members
To provide an opportunity to pose questions to Cabinet Members in line with Standing Orders.
No more than 10 minutes will be allocated at the Council meeting for questions to each Cabinet Member.
Members must submit their proposed questions in writing in advance in accordance with Standing Orders. If members are unable to ask their question orally within the allocated time, remaining questions will be answered in writing. The question and response will be appended to the minutes.
The question must be addressed through the Mayor or the person presiding at the meeting and not directly to the person being questioned.
Questions will be posed to Cabinet Members in the following order:
i. Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Education and Early Years
ii. Cabinet Member for Community and Wellbeing
iii. Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, Regulation and Housing
iv. Cabinet Member for Social Services
v. Cabinet Member for Organisational Transformation
vi. Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Bio-Diversity
vii. Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Assets
There were three written questions to the Cabinet Members:
Question 1: Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, Regulation and Housing
Councillor Mark Howells:
As part of the planning committee since my election this year, it is evident that there is an increase in planning applications around conversion of properties HMOs.
I’m sure the Cabinet Member will agree that these are the most contentious applications that attract the most public criticism and if not carefully considered, can cause significant issues in local communities. Conflict often arises between the views of the public, Members views and considerations, and the views of the Council Officers in line with legislative constraints. Only this month an application came before the committee that was contentious and friction existed between Officers and Members on the right approach to take.
The current supplementary planning guidance on HMOs is not helping. It is dated 2017 and significantly out of date and has not kept pace with housing and planning law changes since that time. It does not represent the views of members generally and this is further supported by cross party support at planning committee on these issues.
I note the Cabinet report of 11 January around the timetables for delivery of the LDP as well as no real commitment to amend the SPG’s due to time constraints. Given the issues around HMO’s and the strong public feeling about them, It is my submission that the SPG for HMOs’ cannot wait until after 2026 to be updated and should be looked at and consulted on urgently to provide a better framework for determining these applications that reflects the listening council we strive to be.
Will the Cabinet Member therefore commit to instructing Officers to update the SPG for how this council deal with conversion to HMOs urgently?
Councillor James Clarke response:
It is acknowledged that planning applications for HMOs can often be contentious. Indeed, poorly managed and high concentrations of HMOs can potentially lead to issues affecting local residents and often the tenants themselves. However, we must also remember that well managed HMOs can integrate well with the local community and will often provide housing opportunities for a variety of people, including young professionals. Therefore, care must be taken not to tarnish all HMOs with the same brush.
In respect of the statement that there is an increase in planning applications for HMO’s, I would like to confirm that this is not the case. Planning records show 30 applications were determined in 2020/21, 21 applications for 2021/22 and 16 applications in the current financial year. I think what Cllr Howells is seeing as a newly elected Member is a high number of referrals to Planning Committee and misconstruing this as an increase in actual applications.
As a former member of Planning Committee and now Cabinet Member responsible for Planning, I am very familiar with member concerns and their worries about the potential issues that HMOs can cause. However, I believe that new or updated Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) is not ... view the full minutes text for item 13.