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.

 

Process:

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.

Minutes:

Leader’s announcements:

 

·        White Ribbon Day 2021

This year’s White Ribbon Day takes place on Thursday 25 November.

 

It is an annual event that marks the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

 

This year we are asking residents, businesses, schools and community groups to sign up to the #30Challenge.

 

Its aim is to raise awareness of the 30 children every day in Gwent that are affected by incidents of domestic abuse at home where the police are called.

 

The #30Challenge could be something you do alone, with a few people from your household, or as part of a group. People, families, schools, organisations, sports teams and community groups can set their own challenges focusing on the number 30 and are urged to post their actions of support online.

 

Educational workshops and lesson plans are being rolled out in schools across Gwent to raise awareness of the importance of healthy relationships with children and young people.

 

Domestic abuse can take many forms including physical, coercive control, psychological abuse and financial abuse.

 

Together with our partners it is essential that we not only take a stand against such destructive behaviour but that we also encourage those experiencing it to seek help.

 

·        Climate change plan

Climate change is one of the defining global challenges of our generation.

 

The Leader stated that we will all be aware of the outcomes of COP26 recently held in Glasgow, and the urgent need for us all to come together to limit global temperature rises and build a sustainable world for future generations.

 

As a council, we have already made a good start, reducing our direct and energy generating emissions by 29 per cent over the last three years.

 

However, we know that we have much more work to do, and I’m pleased that we have now presented our draft climate change plan for consultation.

 

The ambitious climate change plan sets out how the Council  will work towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and how we will use our services to support climate change action across the city.

 

It is centered around six key delivery themes:

 

- organisational culture and leadership

- our buildings

- our land

- transport and mobility

- the goods and services we procure, and

- our wider role

 

The Council is seeking the views of residents, businesses and stakeholders to help ensure we are taking the right actions, before we finalise the plan in early 2022.

 

·        Environmental award

To continue in the same vein, the leader announced that she was incredibly proud to have accepted the Outstanding Organisation award on behalf of Newport City Council at the recent inaugural National Environmental Awards. 

 

The award recognised the commitment and passion of our staff to deliver real change for our organisation and for Newport.

 

The Leader expressed her to those who work tirelessly and with passion to improve our environment and lower our carbon emissions, and to those who dedicate their spare time to supporting countless initiatives as volunteers in the city and beyond. This win was a reflection of their efforts and dedication.

 

·        Social worker national fostering award

The Leader congratulated one of the Council’s social workers who has been recognised for her outstanding work within fostering.

 

Lorraine Bird, a supervising social worker with our Foster Wales Newport team, has been awarded an excellence award for outstanding contribution by a social worker by the Fostering Network.

 

Her nomination was based on a letter of appreciation from one of the foster carers she works with, highlighting how she always goes above and beyond.

 

The Leader expressed her congratulations to Lorraine and the whole fostering team who do an amazing job for young people in Newport.

 

·        Levelling up/Community renewal fund

It was recently announced that Newport has been awarded over £2.8milllion from the UK Community Renewal Fund (UK CRF).

 

Bids to the UK CRF were invited earlier in the year with the aim of supporting people into employment and investment in skills, local business, communities and place.

 

As a council we were pleased to be able to support partners in their applications and that we can now push ahead with several projects that will really make a difference in our local areas.

 

We will continue to bid for money from such initiatives to ensure Newport can benefit as much as possible.

 

·        Leisure centre

Planning permission was granted earlier this month paving the way for the Council’s vision of a new leisure centre for the residents of Newport to become a reality.

 

Work will now begin early next year to create a 21st century building that will house state-of-the-art facilities.

 

As well as a fantastic leisure offer, we are determined that the new centre should be built to the highest possible environmental standards.

 

We want it to be inclusive and to be used by people of all ages from across the city, so accessibility is also a key factor in its design and location.

 

We asked the public for their views on the development earlier this year and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  The Leader was sure that, like  her , they will watch the progress of the development with great interest and cannot wait for the day the doors open.

 

Leader’s Questions

 

Councillor M Evans:

In February 2021, Councillor Fouweather asked if the Leader or Cabinet Members were in negotiation with Friars Walk regarding the soon to be vacant Debenhams, the Leader answered this question with a no.  The Leader was then quoted in a BBC News article suggesting that the Council would work with the WG and the Newport Now BID  to find a solution.  Eight months later, a Freedom of Information request (FOI) revealed that no meeting with Friars Walk, Talisker Corporation had taken place.  In addition, was the Leader also aware in advance that Admiral was closing in the City Centre.

 

Response:

The Leader advised that she could not control what the journalists had reported. There had been a number of meetings and the Leader the met with Chair of the Debenhams Group.  There had also been ongoing discussions  between senior officers and Talisker.  These were technical discussions regarding commercially sensitive legal and financial issues and, therefore, were matters for senior officers not the Leader.. 

 

The Leader went on to say that she was very disappointed about the news that Admiral was closing their offices and only knew about this on the day when they issued the press release.  Admiral contacted the Council at 9am that day to advise that a press release was being issued.  Officers were continuing dialogue with Admiral and they remained tenants responsible for paying rent on the building. Officers would also continue to work closely with Admiral to identify a new tenant to take over the Admiral building.  Fortnightly meetings were in place to discuss the outcomes as they progressed.

 

Supplementary:

Councillor Evans referred to the advice that officers were dealing this these matters and felt that it was a recurring theme with a lack of joined up thinking.  Councillor Evans mentioned the former Deputy Leader Councillor Ed Townsend worked tirelessly to get Admiral in the city.  The Council had paid Talisker £375K alone this year, until September in subsidy payments in relation to empty shop units and £2M since January 2017.  Did the Leader feel that there was an urgency to meet regularly with Debenhams as a matter of priority, it was also up to the Leader of the Council to  progress these negotiations. 

 

Response:

The Leader advised that the Talisker financial arrangements were a matter of public record  through open and transparent Cabinet meetings  and the investment subsidy agreement was also widely publicized and well documented.  In relation to Admiral, Newport City Council found out the news in the same way as its neighbours regarding the other office locations and did not know in advance about the measures they were taking.  This only involved however, the relocation of staff and not job losses.  The council was working closely with businesses at a range of levels across authority.  The Council was in constant communication with the Business Improvement District (BID), to encourage new businesses in Newport and the Council was also supporting start-up businesses. 

 

At this point Councillor M Evans repeated his question and The Leader reminded him that officers were dealing with these issues.

 

A point of order was raised by Councillor M Spencer regarding the repeating of a question.  The Mayor advised that the line of questioning was not going anywhere and invited the next question to the Leader.

 

Councillor K Whitehead:

Regarding the amount of Newport residents attending Cardiff and their Winter Wonderland and was the mindful that Newport could emulate this. The land opposite Friars Walk would be an ideal location for this.  Could Newport City Council also set this up during the festive period.

 

Response:

The Leader welcomed the question and considered that it was the perfect opportunity to bring people to the City Centre. The Leader also mentioned the switching on of the Christmas lights and stalls and fair ground rides that would be located within the area by the Riverfront and the City Centre.  The Leader welcomed any ideas that people may have for seasonal attractions throughout the year.  However, the Council was limited for a site because of the development of new the leisure building, which was in the space that Cllr Whitehead mentioned.  The Leader was keen to keep the footfall within the City Centre and was confident that in collaboration with the BID and other stake holders the Council would be able to provide these events.

 

Councillor Hussain:

Could the Leader provide colleagues with an update on the support available for businesses.

 

Response:

The Leader highlighted the excellent work the Business Support Team carried out within the Council.  They had put together a short film on social media to advertise the support provided for small businesses and grants that was available, which was up to £250K.  There was also significant support through this area.

 

Supplementary:

Had the WG made additional support available, if so, how much.

 

Response:

An announcement was made on the same day as Council that a £45M package for small businesses across Wales would be available as well as support training for sectors that were under supported, this was good news for those thinking of setting up small businesses within Newport.  It was hoped that £1.5M might be made available to Newport and £10M across Wales for personal learning accounts to help people change careers.  There was a real opportunity to support businesses and individuals.