Agenda item

Questions to the Leader of the Council

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.


Leader’s announcements


·        Fflecsi bus service

Over the summer we were delighted to see the expansion of the Fflecsi bus scheme across the city.


Following the success of the first fflecsi pilot in Wales which launched in Rogerstone and St Julian’s, a partnership between the council, Transport for Wales and Newport Bus meant a fleet of nine brand new buses were now serving the whole of Newport.


The fflecsi buses were improving access to public transport and enable residents to make a much wider range of journeys from early morning until late in the evening. Another step forward in our commitment to be a greener city.


·        Face to face services

Following a very challenging year for delivering key services, the Leader was very pleased that a number of face-to-face services had now resumed.


Newport City Council's contact centre staff were now working from a temporary home at the Riverfront with appointments for residents with queries relating to housing, housing benefits, council tax and appointees available.


However, in line with Welsh Government guidance, council staff would continue to work from home wherever possible and we urge the use on our online and telephone services for the majority of queries.


Our longer-term plan was for these services to move to Central Library and Museum, right in the heart of our city centre.


·        Freedom Parade

At the last council meeting, we were proud to award the Freedom of the City to the Royal British Legion in recognition of the role it played for the armed forces community for 100 years.


On Thursday 28th October we would formally mark this with as Freedom Parade through the city. The Leader wanted as many people as possible to get involved to help show our appreciation of this amazing organization.  The Leader asked those present to add the date in in their diary and look out for further details close to the time.


·        HMS Severn

And continuing the military theme, we were also honoured to have HMS Severn, formerly re-affiliated with the city.


The ship last berthed at Alexandra Docks and exercised its Freedom of the City in late 2017 prior to its planned decommission.


However, due to Brexit, the Royal Navy did not sell HMS Severn, but decided to keep and re-commission her – she’s even had a new coat of paint!


She would be returning to the city in November and representatives would be joining us for the Remembrance Parade and service. We look forward to welcoming the ship, her Captain and crew back to the city.


·        Leisure centre planning

The Leader also reminded those present that the planning application for the proposed city centre leisure centre was now open for consultation and can be viewed on our online planning portal.


There had been an excellent and positive response to the original consultation – and the comments of our residents and partners are so important in this process.


It was expected to go before a full planning committee later this year when a decision would be made.


If given the go ahead it would be built to the highest possible environmental and sustainable standards and would be a purpose-built centre, with modern facilities, located on a key riverfront site.


Questions to Leader


Councillor M Evans:

Why did the Leader announce the Newport’s Bid for City of Culture with a press release, without taking a formal decision through Cabinet, without consulting with residents or the opposition of political parties?



The Leader advised that at this stage, it was only an expression of interest in the competition and that 19 other cities had also expressed an interest in the competition and therefore there was no requirement for a formal decision to apply for an expression of interest in a competition.  The Leader was however delighted with the feedback from the creative community in Newport as well as elected members across the regions and our partners in neighbouring councils who also shared in our support of an expression of interest.



Councillor Evans repeated his question as above and mentioned the Conservative group had always consulted with the present Administration on all its decision making.  Councillor M Evans said that the present administration acted as a one-party state rather than a democracy.   The Conservative group would put their weight behind this expression of interest but felt it was a shame that the conservative group were not considered as part of the democratic process.



The Leader suggested that if Councillor M Evans and any other interested parties wanted to gauge the level of interest in the competition, they should look at the supporting letters that were made available on council website which representative a range of groups and individuals across Newport.


Councillor Whitehead:

With regard to the unfortunate trend of speeding on the SDR bridge, did the Leader engage with Capita to run a health and safety review and if so, could the Leader update the council.



Leader advised that Capita was commissioned to undertake a review but did not have information to hand however would provide a written response.


Councillor Carmel Townsend:

Did the Leader believe that the 10% HMO threshold in more densely built inner city areas compared to 15% elsewhere was fair, or should Newport be looking at a far lower threshold for such areas where parking demands and other concerns were much higher.



Limits on HMO densities are part of our Planning guidance and are an indicator of what may be acceptable.  The thresholds are in fact 15% within the inner core built up area, and 10% elsewhere but I would remind you that all applications are determined on their own merits and subject to assessment in their individual contexts.  Well managed HMOs can provide accessible and affordable accommodation for a range of different residents and can integrate well into our communities.  Our planning guidance is there to ensure that concentrations of such uses do not result in adverse impacts on our communities and as a former member of Planning Committee you are aware that applications were carefully considered and detailed justification provided for the decisions made.  Many of the decisions to refuse permission are challenged at appeal for the reasons you mention, but evidence to support these concerns has not been available and we have been unsuccessful in defending such challenges.  The Chief Planning Inspector also provided Planning Committee with some training on HMOs and this was useful for Committee Members when considering what would be when it came to the actual impacts of proposals.


Councillor Hourahine:

Could the Leader inform Council on how much the rise in National Insurance would cost the Local Authority and taxpayers in employment contributions.



The Leader mentioned that the question referred to the UK Government announcement regarding the increase in NI contributions to fund health and social care.  A discussion took place the previous week at the WLGA meeting with Leaders.  From April 2022 there would a contribution increase of 1.25% on employees and employers.  This in effect meant a 2.5% increase on employment earnings.  This would affect people in work and over employment age.   Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) commented on this and advised that the combination of these factors made this unnecessarily complicated and that a simple increase in income tax would have been preferable.  From April 2023 this contribution will no longer be NI based but would be part of a newly named tax called the health and social care levy.  What it meant for NCC as an employer and for the residents of Newport was that because it was NI based the majority of payment would be met by those of working age.  This meant that the increase created an annual £47M annual funding pressure for Local Authorities in Wales. This would place a significant cost on Newport taxpayers which was estimated at around £825 per year or Council tax rise of 1.5% to make up for the shortfall.



Could the Leader break this down to individual households in Newport. 



The Leader mentioned that the WG had put aside £40M to support social care which was welcomed. However, additional funding from central government was not available and there were no plans to reform social care. This would impact 16,000 households with the additional withdrawal of universal credit, leaving households £1K worse off per year.