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.
· Funding awarded for leisure centre
Last month the leader updated Council on the proposed new leisure and well-being centre located in the heart of our city.
The Leader was pleased to confirm that the council had successfully secured £7 million of Welsh Government Transforming Towns funding towards the project.
The purpose-built centre would provide state-of-the-art facilities for residents and would also pave the way for the redevelopment of the existing Newport Centre site to provide a brand new further education facility for Coleg Gwent.
Final proposals and designs were being worked on ahead of the submission of a full planning application, expected later this year.
· Transporter Bridge funding
Another of the Council’s flagship projects was boosted by positive news with confirmation of a £1.5m grant from Welsh Government for the Transporter Bridge transformation project.
The funds would complement the £8.75m awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the £1m capital funding that the council also committed to the project.
The Leader would very much look forward to opening the new and improved facilities in 2023.
· 20mph speed limits
Our teams had been working hard to introduce 20mph speed limits across a number of residential streets in six of our city’s wards.
The measures were being introduced to help improve safety within residential streets to support people to felt confident choosing sustainable travel options such as walking and cycling – something the council was actively promoting through its active travel schemes.
· Active travel
The Leader was pleased to confirm that Newport was set to benefit from almost £10m of Welsh Government funding to improve a number of active travel routes across the city.
The funding sees over £8m allocated to the construction of a new footbridge at Devon Place, linking it across the main railway line to Queensway.
A further £100k was allocated to improve the canal link path between Bettws and Malpas. £61k would help develop active travel paths at Lliswerry Pond, providing an off-road option linking with the surrounding area and Newport International Sports Village.
The council would also receive £751k in core grants, which would go towards developing new schemes identified as part of the 2017/18 active travel network map review. The Leader thanked everyone who had taken part in that public consultation. A further consultation with proposed new routes based on the suggestions received would begin very soon.
· Electric refuse vehicle
Last month we were incredibly proud to launch Wales’ first electric-powered refuse collection vehicle.
It was being used on collection rounds across the city, and would service areas such as Caerleon, which was designated as a priority in terms of reducing emissions to help improve air quality levels.
The vehicle would reduce carbon emissions by approximately 25-35 tonnes per year compared to a standard, non-electric vehicle.
It formed part of a wider project to replace the council’s existing vehicles with eco-friendly alternatives to become a carbon neutral organisation by 2030
· Homelessness scheme
In another innovative new scheme, the Leader was working with partners to provide affordable homes for people at risk of homelessness.
Working with Linc Cymru,it was agreed to lease part of Hill Street car park for a supported housing project that would feature twelve self-contained flats.
These flats would provide "move-on" accommodation for people in temporary accommodation, in a location close to essential services.
LincCymru would manage the tenancies and support residents, enabling them to have a more stable and secure life. The aim was to help them obtain longer-term accommodation where they could live independently.
Initial work was being progressed using permitted development rights, and consultation with neighbours has begun ahead of the submission of a full planning application.
· UK Community Renewal Fund
Applications to the UK Community Renewal Fund were being invited for projects in Newport.
The fund aimed to support people and communities most in need across the UK, creating opportunities to trial new approaches and innovative ideas at a local level.
As a council, we would co-ordinate the submission for projects in Newport, the Leader therefore encouraged residents to support local applications. Full details about the scheme was available on the Council’s website and the closing date was Friday 21 May.
Finally, the Leader gave personal thanks to the Head Teacher of St Andrew’s School, Jo Giles, her senior leadership team and all colleagues. This was in relation to the support given to the school during time of major works being carried out to the main building and the juniors had to be relocated to a temporary classroom.
The Leader extended her thanks to Newport Live and Newport Norse for transforming the connect centre into an excellent school facility.
The Leader delighted to be invited to visit the school along with the Deputy Leader who was the Chair of Governors at the School.
§ Councillor M Evans:
The Conservative Group had submitted a number of Questions At Any Time (QAAT) to Cabinet Members and Questions to Council and an increasing number had been ruled as operational which meant they were not published for public to see and that Cabinet Members were not held accountable for the question. An example of this was when Councillor Routley asked the Cabinet Member for Community and Resources what happened to councillor’s used electronic devices, such as laptops and iPads and whether they could be refurbished and sent out to the community, this was dealt with as operational. Councillor M Evans also observed that with regard to press releases, only good news stories were issued on behalf of the Leader or Cabinet Member but not when anything embarrassing, a statement would be released by the Council’s spokesperson. When therefore would the Leader and Cabinet take responsibility for their own actions.
The Leader responded by advising that in terms of taking responsibility and as a previous Leader of the Council the current Leader was sure that Councillor M Evans was aware that the QAAT responses from Cabinet Members were in relation to policies and strategies, a strategic approach was taken. Other questions that were operational in manner were delegated to Heads of Services and officers within the Council to provide a response. Nothing was therefore hidden and all questions were subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as Councillor M Evans’ colleagues were aware. The Leader was therefore happy to conclude by saying that that she and her colleagues were accountable for all of their actions and were open and transparent.
Councillor M Evans had listened to Cabinet meetings, which in his terms sounded like a glorified love fest. The councillor could not remember when Cabinet last took responsibility for their actions and any mistakes were considered somebody else’s fault. Councillor J Watkins sent a Question for Council in relation to the training budget and how it was spent. The answer again was that this was operational and would be answered by an officer, who would decide who attends what in relation to training courses. Councillor M Evans considered that this should be answered by Cabinet part of their responsibility and therefore asked who was running the council, the Cabinet Members or officers.
The Leader reiterated her initial response that herself and her Cabinet Member colleagues took strategic decisions in line with policies and that officers took operational decisions.
§ Councillor Whitehead:
In the recent budget, the Council voted to invest £500,000 in a Covid community recovery fund to support community groups in playing their part to support responsible recovery. Councillor Whitehead therefore asked how much of this money had been distributed and to whom.
The Leader advised that none of the money had been distributed as yet, as the process would be for community groups to apply for the funding and to decide on how and where it would be spent. Cabinet took part in a participatory budget process, which was funded by the health sector for community groups to submit bids, which were assessed and voted on, which was also envisaged for the Covid community fund, where community groups would decide who received funding.
Councillor Whitehead asked if the Leader would provide the information discussed above on the website, clearly marked for members of the public to find out how to apply for the money, backed up by press and social media coverage. Funding was also for all groups across the spectrum.
The Leader agreed that this was about grass roots recovery and for those groups that could not function during lockdown. The Leader recognised the impact on small income that groups may receive and also impacted on the individual in terms of their wellbeing. The Leader wanted to support their wellbeing by enabling these groups. There might also be new groups applying for this money. Officers were still working on the distribution formula to check it was possible to engage using the model mentioned above, officers had been outstanding in their work on this. The Leader would of course ensure that this funding would be well publicised and was looking to all of her councillor colleagues to help with this.
§ Councillor C Townsend:
With appointment of Chief Executive in July last year, would the Leader provide update on the recruitment of the Strategic Director vacancies for Place and People.
The Leader thanked Councillor Townsend for her question and for her participation in last year’s recruitment process last July. The Chief Executive was looking at council’s organisation structure and would bring a report to the Council on this matter in due course.
§ Councillor J Hughes:
After receiving summary of business on line bulletin, could the Leader provide an update on the work of the Public Service Board (PSB).
The Leader mentioned that this was a statutory requirement, which was established by Wellbeing and Future Generations Legislation introduced in 2015. Newport was unique in its membership and had established a wellbeing plan, which aligned to the objectives of the corporate plan.
There were a number of priorities were put in place with delegated leads from the board membership work in order to progress these for Newport citizens. As well as having statutory partners, the PSB had non statutory partners that were invited around the table these were from Public Health Wales, the Probation Service, registered social landlords, Newport Live, Newport Youth Council as well as representatives from GAVO and CAB. They came together with partners on projects that would help to benefit Newport, the participatory budget was also part of this scheme, seeing positive results.
The Leader mentioned that it would be remiss of her to mention the work of PSB and share some of the priorities, such as skills themes, sustainability themes and importantly work of the safer Newport aspect and the Newport Offer, which looked at broader aspects of living in Newport. All this work was ongoing and was pleased to report back the work that was being undertaken. The Leader also mentioned that the new format was tremendously accessible, giving everyone an overview of the PSB.
Councillor Hughes asked how did the greener spaces and sustainable travel align with the local authority.
The Leader advised that one of the priorities was sustainable development and the council was working hard on this and was keen to take forward. On this subject the Leader was delighted to share with colleagues that both Cabinet and the Corporate Management Team had undertaken carbon literacy training which enabled us to be accredited as an authority. The Leader wanted to ensure that everyone informed about this. One of the key things arising from this was to sign up to sustainable travel charter, with the PSB. The Council was a significant employer across the whole of Gwent and therefore wanted to help employees and incentivise them to focus on different ways of accessing the work place. The council was also working closely with its partners such as Natural Resources Wales on infrastructure projects. Cabinet identified a significant amount of money to support sustainability activities to establish a green recovery part of this was looking into project work such as sustainable drainage and cleaning the City Centre as well as the canal. This was all being achieved with the help of the PSB.