To provide an opportunity for Councillors to ask questions to the Leader of the Council in accordance with the Council’s Standing Orders.
No more than 15 minutes will be allocated at the Council meeting for questions to the Leader of the Council.
The question must be addressed through the Mayor or the person presiding at the meeting and not directly to the person being questioned.
The Leader announced the following before proceeding with Questions.
§ Business grants
The Leader stressed that supporting businesses during these challenging times was a priority for the council and shared some of the latest figures with colleagues:
A number of grants were administered by the council through the Council’s Business Services, Rates and Childcare teams. Almost 4,000 grants were awarded, to a value of £34.5m. In addition, financial support and information was provided to over 5,500 Newport businesses.
The traditional Christmas lights switch on looked very different this year with an online event coordinated by Newport Now. The Leader was very pleased, as part of that event, to announce free weekend parking in council car parks during December and January.
This would support local businesses during a key period and would be complemented by the Council and Newport Now’s campaigns encouraging people to shop locally.
§ Healthy Travel Charter
At the start of this month, the Council and 21 partners from across Gwent launched the Healthy Travel Charter.
Through 15 ambitious commitments, the charter promoted walking, cycling, agile working and the use of public transport and ultra-low emission vehicles, supporting and encouraging staff to travel in a sustainable way to and from work.
The Council was already making very positive advances in Newport with electric buses, more electric charging points, improvement in active travel routes, to name a few and this was another demonstration of our commitment to creating a healthier city.
§ White Ribbon Day
25 November was White Ribbon Day. An annual event that marked the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
In 2018, 149 women were killed by men in the UK. More than half were killed by a former spouse or partner, and almost all of them were committed by a man known to the victim.
Normally there was a community walk of one mile in Gwent to mark White Ribbon Day; however, due to Covid-19, this will not be possible this year. Instead, it was being replaced with the #149Challenge
The Leader urged members to get involved, by setting a personal challenge focusing on the number 149 and sharing achievements online. This could be seconds, minutes or whatever you liked, such as baking 149 cakes, climbing 149 stairs or writing a 149-word poem.
The important part was that this message was shared to support others to take a stand against violence against women, and encourage anyone experiencing abuse to speak out – not to suffer in silence because help was available.
§ Terrence Higgins Trust
1 December marked the anniversary of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the victims that suffered from the stigma of Aids. One of the founders of Terrence Higgins Trust was Martin Butler, from Newport and Cllr C Evans was also a member of the Trust.
§ Compliments, comments and complaints
Earlier this month we published our annual Compliments, Comments and Complaints report which examined the positive and negative feedback received from residents during the last financial year.
Improvements made to the ‘My Newport’ platform made it easier for residents to submit feedback to us this was a positive step in two-way communication.
This and the implementation of a number of major changes to service delivery such as civil parking enforcement and waste collection resulted in an increase in the overall number of comments received. There was an eight per cent reduction in the number of complaints progressing from stage one to stage two, and an 11% reduction in the number of complaints being referred to the public services ombudsman for Wales.
The complaints model was also revised, and the complaints standards authority cited our model to other local authorities as an example of best practice.
The Council also worked to implement a number of changes following feedback from residents. This included amending our self-service platform to help us process requests for bin and recycling containers more quickly, and consulting residents for their views on how we make decisions regarding parking permits following requests for more consistency.
§ Dogs home award
Finally, the Leader congratulated Newport City Dogs Home for achieving the gold award at the 2020 RSPCA Cymru PawPrint awards for their work with stray dogs.
PawPrints was an annual award scheme that recognised good practice from public bodies in relation to animal welfare.
Well done to all the team.
Councillor M Evans thanked the Leader for her updates and also supported the Terrence Higgins Trust and wore his White Ribbon in support of those victims, both male and female of domestic violence.
§ Councillor Evans walked into Friars City Centre after the Sunday Parade and was disappointed to see that after the end of a local lockdown the city centre was quiet. A Tweet he received also mentioned that Spytty Retail Park was busy and the Bridgend Outlet was completely full with traffic queuing to enter the shops. It was therefore felt that free parking for the first two hours should be introduced. Councillor Evans also asked why did a spokesperson defend the decision and not the Leader or Cabinet Member.
The Leader replied that she had also walked through the city centre that Sunday and was pleased that there was a significant number of shoppers and that the previously empty units were put in use. Free parking had a cost and the Council could not support this as a permanent fixture however we could try to do whatever we could to support families and business. It was therefore hoped that the limited period of free parking during December and January to help with this.
Councillor M Evans referred to his second question and asked whether the Leader should be responsible for delivering both good and bad news rather than a Council spokesperson.
The Leader agreed that all individuals should take responsibility for their actions as well as every elected member. In relation to free parking this matter had been debated many times and with the previous Leader it was decided that the Council could not as a continuous gesture, provide free parking.
Councillor K Whitehead took the opportunity to thank the Leader for responding to his request regarding a domestic violence portal adding that she had listened, reacted and acted on the request.
§ Councillor Whitehead referred to the ongoing issues with the SDR which had seen many dangerous incidents and more recently a tragic incident involving a young man. Social media had been active regarding crashes and incidents. Councillor Whitehead therefore asked if the Leader had any plans to prevent such serious incidents happening in the future.
The Leader expressed her heartfelt sympathy to family at this time and stressed that there was an investigation ongoing. The Council was actively working Capita in undertaking a review but would have to await findings from Police and Coroner before making any long term adjustments to the speed limit. The Leader wanted to reiterate that the Council was listening and responding.
§ Councillor C Townsend referred to a recent question on homelessness and rough sleepers in Newport. The current figure of 180 people that were homeless seemed a lot higher than at previous council meeting therefore the Leader was asked to clarify these figures.
The Leader advised that the number of homeless people increased during pandemic and presented a challenge to the Council. Some of those 180 people were repeat presentations this was often due to problems at home, relationship break downs, mental health or substance issues or other complex reasons. This meant that they would need to present themselves again and go through the process of being re homes. The Council had seen however, a high number of homeless people and were able to help them during this time.
§ Councillor Y Forsey congratulated the Leader on her first year anniversary and proceeded to ask for further information on the Gwent Sustainable Travel Charter.
The Leader was pleased to share with members some background information on the Charter. As members knew, the Council was part of the One Newport PSB that worked alongside other public sector groups as well as attendees that were invited to as external members to this board. The PSB also linked into the work of G10 group, who were a collective of five Local Authorities, Police, Fire Service and the Regional Partnership Board. One in three people were collectively employed in the Gwent area and had the G10 had a responsibility to provide sustainable travel for these employees which was why a Charter was developed. There were 15 commitments outlined in the Charter to enable to try and ensure meeting attendees could attend in a sustainable manner. This was a serious issue because the levels of emissions in Gwent was high and it was a priority to ensure we reduced the carbon foot print to contribute to saving the planet.