Questions from the Opposition and other Non-Cabinet Members
For questions to be put to members of the Cabinet by opposition and non-Cabinet Members in accordance with Standing Order 35.
Details of the four questions submitted in advance have been attached along with the written responses provided.
Members are asked to note that this session will also include an opportunity (within the time available) for other non-Cabinet members to ask questions of Cabinet.
1. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Lead Member for Schools, Employment and Skills to a question submitted by Councillor Kennelly regarding the approach being taken to the teaching of relationship education within schools.
2. The written response provided by the Lead Member for Environment to a question submitted by Councillor Hassan regarding the scale of carbon reduction being delivered through the roll-out of borough wide LED street lighting. No supplementary question was asked
3. The written response and supplementary verbal response provided by the Deputy Leader in relation to a question submitted by Councillor Saqib Butt regarding Council Tax and non-recoverable arrears and measures being taken to support residents struggling with payments and charges, including progress with the Anti-Poverty policy and Council Tax Protocol developed in consultation with Citizens Advice.
4. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Lead Member for Regeneration, Property and Planning to a question submitted by Councillor Maurice regarding the support available and rates charged for local traders renting space within the Civic Centre.
Responses were also provided by the relevant Lead Members on the following additional questions raised during the open session of this part of the meeting:
· Councillor Johnson seeking further details on the criteria and support for the possible extension of the Streets for School initiative across Brent.
· Councillor Kelcher regarding the management and scheduling of the road works at the junction of Furness Road and Harrow Road in Kensal Green and ways in which the process, communication and scheduling of combined works with utilities companies could be improved in future.
· Councillor Nerva regarding what action it would be possible to take in highlighting concerns about performance and in securing improvements to operation of the Euston to Watford Junction train line with TfL and Network Rail. The Lead Member for Environment advised that she would be willing to raise the issue with TfL and Network Rail in order for an update to be provided.
· Councillor Long requesting an update on progress with adoption and implementation of the British Sign Language Charter by the Council.
· Councillor Kennelly seeking an assurance regarding the continued involvement of local ward councillors as part of the formal consultation process now being undertaken regarding the future of Roe Green Strathcona School.
· Councillor S.Choudhary and Thakkar regarding the approach towards the teaching of relationship education within schools.
· Councillor Dar regarding the removal of litter bins across the borough and ways in which the impact could be mitigated around schools.
· Councillor Kennelly seeking further details on the support available for those within the Armed Forces looking to gain access back into employment, with reference to the Armed Forces Covenant.
Before moving on to consider the questions submitted by non-Cabinet members, the Mayor reminded Members that a total of 30 minutes had been set aside for this item, which would begin with consideration of the written questions submitted in advance of the meeting along with any supplementary questions. Once these had been dealt with, the remaining time available would then be opened up for any other non-Cabinet members to question Lead Members (without the need for advance notice) on matters relating to their portfolio.
The Mayor advised that four written questions had been submitted in advance for response by the relevant Lead Member. The written responses supplied had been circulated with the Council agenda. The following supplementary questions were then received:
12.1 Councillor Kennelly thanked Councillor Agha (Lead Member for Schools, Employment and Skills) for his response in relation to the Department for Education (DfE) guidance on the teaching of Relationship Education. Before moving on to his supplementary question he took the opportunity, following on from the Mayor’s Announcements, to also pay tribute to Pride and the LGBTQ+ community and to express his support for the Armed Forces community in recognition of Armed Forces Day. In terms of a supplementary question, whilst recognising that the Lead Member had acknowledged the challenges faced in addressing the myths surrounding the DfE guidance, Councillor Kennelly asked what further assurance could be provided in terms of the support being made available for schools in order to address any concerns or difficulties experienced.
In response, Councillor Agha advised that the Council was using a number of different strategies and methods such as the Brent School Partnership, the Schools Forum and the Annual School Governors Conference to disseminate advice and guidance and provide support to schools and their governors to assist them in complying with the statutory guidance. He felt it was important to remember, however, that the way in which the curriculum was taught would be a matter for individual schools and their Governing Bodies. Whilst expected to consult with parents prior to its introduction, schools and their Governing Bodies would have the ability to amend their final approach, if felt necessary, in order to support pupils and families at the school. He therefore reminded members of the importance of Governing Bodies and encouraged any members not already involved to consider becoming school governors in order to be able to individually offer their help and support.
12.2 Councillor Hassan confirmed that she had no supplementary question for Councillor Krupa Sheth in relation to the response provided on the scale of carbon reductions relating to the roll-out of the borough wide LED street lighting programme.
12.3 Having thanked Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) for her response in relation to council tax arrears, Councillor S.Butt asked the Deputy Leader if further details could be provided about the measures being taken to support residents struggling with payments and charges, including progress with the Anti-Poverty policy and Council Tax Protocol developed in consultation with Citizens Advice (which he commended the Council for having in place since 2017). He felt this was particularly relevant given the fact that queries relating to council tax arrears were one of the most common member enquiries.
Councillor McLennan advised that she was delighted to respond by highlighting that Brent had been the first Council to adopt such a Protocol. This had been designed to ensure that the Council could work with those identified as in genuine financial hardship to help them in dealing with and managing their arrears. As a result, Councillor McLennan was pleased to note that despite the diverse nature of the borough and challenges given the levels of deprivation in some areas, Brent had been able to achieve one of the highest levels of Council Tax collection working in conjunction with its residents. In overall terms she advised members that whilst the Council would look to deal robustly with wilful non payers, the Protocol would ensure that those willing to pay but experiencing financial difficulties were dealt with sensitively and fairly and supported in managing their arrears and was proud that Brent had once again led the way in adopting the Protocol.
12.4 Having noted the written response provided to his question, Councillor Maurice did not feel this had addressed the issue raised and therefore asked Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Property and Planning) whether she would be willing to consider reducing the rate of £120 per day charged to traders seeking to use space at the Civic Centre in order to demonstrate her support for small business within the borough.
In response, Councillor Tatler felt it was important to recognise that traders making use of the space within the Civic Centre were not trading there on a full time basis, meaning they would not be subject to the full cost outlined within the question. In terms of support for small businesses she was proud to be able to highlight many examples of the type of assistance being provided, which included the development of enterprise space across the Borough for small and medium sized enterprises; the introduction of policies around affordable workspaces alongside the investment in Town Centres and Town Centre Mangers. As a result, she was also pleased to highlight that Brent had been shortlisted by the Association of Town Centre Managers for partnership working and had been shortlisted by the Federation of Small Businesses for its overall support of small businesses, which she felt made it difficult to criticise the Council’s overall record in this respect.
The Mayor thanked Members for their supplementary questions and Lead Members for the responses provided and then advised that the remainder of time available would be used for an open question time session to the Leader and Cabinet. The following issues were raised and responses provided:
(i) Taking the opportunity to highlight his support for the introduction of the Streets for School initiative currently in operation at two schools within the borough, Councillor Johnson sought further details on any plans being developed for its wider roll-out and the criteria that would be applied to determine the areas for any extension.
In response, Councillor Tatler (as Lead Member for Regeneration, Property and Planning) recognised the success of the Streets for School initiative which, having been introduced on a London wide basis by The Mayor for London and Transport for London (TfL), had now been rolled out at Wykeham and Harlesden Primary Schools. The schools in Brent had been selected on the basis of safety and air quality issues in those areas with the initiative having made a huge difference to the health and wellbeing of the children. Given its success, the Council was keen to continue supporting the initiative and were in the process of identifying other schools that may benefit by joining the programme. These would be prioritised according to air quality, safety records and the distance children would have to travel as well as the feasibility and costs of installing the necessary cameras. Councillor Tatler advised that she would be happy to work with ward councillors on identifying priority areas and also in seeking to generate the necessary funding to support expansion of the scheme, given the associated benefits.
(ii) Councillor Kelcher, highlighting concerns regarding the management and scheduling of road works at the junction of Furness Road and Harrow Road in Kensal Green and communication undertaken with local residents, felt there was a need to ensure lessons were learned in terms of the planning and management of similar schemes in the future. He therefore asked the Lead Member if she would be willing to consider how the process, communication and scheduling of combined works with utilities companies could be improved in future in order to address and mitigate the issues identified.
In response Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Property & Planning) acknowledged the concerns raised and communication issues experienced, recognising the need for local residents to be able to report concerns and faults as easily as possible. In terms of the specific location highlighted, she felt there was a need to recognise the unusual complexity of the works undertaken. In normal circumstances a Notice of Works would be issued to partner organisations three months in advance of the work commencing with consultation taking place in order to defer other non-emergency works in the area and minimise disruption as far as possible. Recognising the concerns raised, however, Councillor Tatler advised that she would be willing to review the lessons learned and, if necessary, produce further guidance in order to improve the process and minimise disruption for residents arising from these types of works in future.
(iii) Councillor Nerva sought further details regarding action the Council could take in highlighting concerns about performance and repeated service disruption and also in seeking secure an upgrade and improvements to operation of the Euston to Watford Junction train line with Transport for London (TfL) and Network Rail, recognising the number of local residents using the service.
In response, Councillor Krupa Sheth (Lead Member for Environment) advised Members that she would be willing to raise the issue with TfL and Network Rail in order to seek an update.
(iv) Councillor Long sought further details on the progress made since the Council had announced in May 2017 that it would be seeking to adopt and sign up to the British Sign Language Charter.
In response, Councillor M.Butt (Leader of the Council) advised that a programme of training had been provided for staff to assist them in supporting residents who were deaf or suffering with hearing difficulties. The Council had also met with Brent and Harrow Deaf Association in order to continue ensuring that the necessary guidance and support was available with the aim, he pointed out, of ensuring that all communities within the borough, regardless of disability, were able to continue accessing services as easily as possible.
(v) Councillor Kennelly, took the opportunity to highlight concerns raised by parents, staff and local residents regarding the proposals currently being consulted on to undertake a phased closure of Roe Green Roe Green Strathcona School. Commenting on the strength of feeling in the local area he asked for an assurance regarding the continued involvement of local ward councillors and residents in discussions as the formal consultation process regarding the future of the site was progressed.
In response, Councillor Agha (as Lead Member for Education, Employment and Skills) felt it important to recognise that local councillors had been involved in all stages of the consultation process to date. In terms of formal consultation on the proposals, he advised that this process had opened on 26 June and would run until 24 July with comments and views welcomed from all parties, including local ward councillors. He assured members that no final decision had yet been taken and that both he and officers would be willing to continue meeting with local ward councillors as required.
(vi) Councillor S.Choudhary sought further details on the teaching of relationship education in schools, particularly given concerns around parents seeking to withdraw their children from relationship and sex education as a result of cultural and religious beliefs. He asked the Lead Member for his views on what more could be done to inform and educate parents on the new guidance in order to dispel the myths identified relating to its introduction and impact.
In response, Councillor Agha (Lead Member for Education, Employment and Skills) advised that it was important to recognise that the Council could not issue any direction in this matter and that it would be up to individual schools and their Governing Bodies to decide how they would teach the curriculum and implement the guidance from the Department of Education. He pointed out that the introduction of the new guidance would need to be undertaken in consultation with parents, taking account of the religious background of all pupils as part of the planning process, with the Council offering support and guidance, as required, in order to ensure schools were complying with the necessary requirements.
(vii) Councillor Dar, highlighting the removal of litter bins across the borough, sought further details on any plans being developed to mitigate the impact around schools including the possible use of bin liners, as an alternative.
In response, Councillor Krupa Sheth (Lead Member for Environment) advised that she would be willing to liaise with the neighbourhood teams and Councillor Agha (as Lead Member for Education, Employment & Skills) in order to review any impact and how this could best be addressed.
(viii) Councillor Kennelly took the opportunity to seek an update on activity being undertaken by the Council in order to support those within the Armed Forces looking to gain access back into employment, with reference to the Armed Forces Covenant and local businesses.
In response, Councillor Agha (Lead Member for Education, Employment & Skills) highlighted the work being undertaken by the Council with partners across Brent in order to promote employment and apprenticeship opportunities as part of this process. Councillor Miller (as Lead Member for Community Safety and Engagement) also advised that he had met with the British Legion in order to review compliance with the Armed Forces Covenant and look at what further measures the Council could take to support veterans in the Borough. Both Lead Members advised they would be happy to continue working with Councillor Kennelly in order to consider any further suggestions or proposals as to how the support available could be enhanced.
(ix) Following on from the question raised by Councillor S.Choudhary in relation to implementation of the new guidance relating to teaching of relationship education within schools, Councillor Thakkar felt it was important to return to the issue in order to explore how it was intended to respond to parents who felt that the teaching of relationship education should be a parental responsibility rather than undertaken through the school.
In response, Councillor Agha (Lead Member for Education, Employment & Skills) reiterated that it would be up to individual schools and their Governing Bodies to decide how they would teach the curriculum and implement the guidance from the Department of Education having consulted with parents. Whilst the Council would support schools in this process, parents would need to be encouraged to feed views into their Governing Bodies who would be expected to take these into account when planning for the introduction of the new curriculum. The role of local councillors as school governors and also the parent governor representatives was therefore highlighted as key in this respect. In addition, Councillor McLennan (as Deputy Leader) reminded Members that the Equalities Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty would also apply in this respect requiring the fostering of good relations and inclusivity for all.
At this stage in proceedings the Mayor advised that the time available for the open question session had now expired and ended by thanking all Members for their contributions.