Questions from the Opposition and other Non-Cabinet Members
For questions to be put to members of the Cabinet in accordance with Standing Order 35.
Details of the four questions received have been attached along with the written responses provided.
Members are asked to note that this session will also include an opportunity at the meeting (within the time available) for non-Cabinet members to ask questions of Cabinet.
1. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Cabinet Member for Housing and Welfare Reform in relation to a question submitted by Councillor Nerva on Blue Badge Fraud. As part of the response the Cabinet Member advised they would be willing to look at what further measures were in place or could be developed at a strategic level with other local authorities to co-ordinate action in relation to blue badge fraud and on which she would provide an update after the meeting.
2. The written response provided by the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning in relation to a question submitted by Councillor Colacicco on the Cricklewood Waste Depot. No supplementary question was asked.
3. The written response provided by the Cabinet Member for Housing and Welfare Reform to a question submitted by Councillor Donnelly-Jackson on the prevalence of out-of-borough placements within Brent. No supplementary question was asked.
4. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Cabinet Member for Environment to a question submitted by Councillor Maurice regarding the policy on introduction of Pay & Display as opposed to free parking and how this had been applied to parking schemes in Preston Road & Bridge Road compared to Wembley Park Drive.
Responses were also provided by the relevant Cabinet Members on the following additional questions raised during the open session of this part of the meeting:
· Councillor Shahzad on the action being taken to deal with the current backlog and delays in processing blue badge applications.
· Councillor Gill on the Council’s investment strategy in relation to fossil fuel companies given the increasing concerns relating to climate change.
· Councillor Choudhary on the measures in place to address concerns around cyber security and ensure the Council’s IT systems and data were secure.
· Councillor Long on the potential to offer the sale of individual visitor parking permits.
· Councillor Ahmed on the approach towards clearing of fly-tipping by the Council’s contractors with the Cabinet Member for Environment advising that she would provide the member with an update on the outcome of a recent related trial undertaken in Willesden, once the results had been analysised.
· Councillor Kansagra expressing concern about the proposed introduction of a diesel surcharge for car owners in the borough and what measures were being considered to mitigate the impact on those residents on low income likely to be affected.
· Councillor Kelcher on potential ways in which the Council may be able to open up and improve how residents are able to influence decisions regarding the provision of street furniture, which the Cabinet Member for Environment advised she would be willing to take back and consider in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning.
· Councillor Long on the billing for and use of allotments, which the Cabinet Member for Environment advised she would follow up with the Parks Service.
· Councillor Choudhary seeking details on the safeguards in place to ensure the Council avoided working with rogue bailiffs in pursing debts.
· Councillor Chan on action that it would be possible for the Council to take in ensuring that delays in repairs to utility company equipment on the highway were addressed by the companies concerned.
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 to deal with this item which would begin with consideration of the written questions submitted in advance of the meeting along with any supplementary question. Once these had been dealt with, the remaining time available would then be opened up for any other non-Cabinet members to question Cabinet 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 Cabinet Member. The written responses supplied had been circulated with the Council agenda. The Mayor then invited supplementary questions from the Members who had submitted the written questions.
13.1 Cllr Nerva thanked Councillor McLennan for the update provided on the action being taken to tackle Blue Badge fraud and as a supplementary asked:
· what consideration had been given about the further measures, if any, that could help to remind those applying that blue badges were for personal use; and
· what further action could be taken at a strategic level, working with other local authorities, to better co-ordinate enforcement activity and address concerns regarding improper use.
The supplementary question was responded to by Councillor Southwood (Cabinet Member for Housing & Welfare Reform) who, recognised the importance of the scheme, and advised she was therefore keen to ensure that all necessary action was taken to prevent and tackle fraudulent and improper use. This would include looking to ensure as clear a message as possible was provided to those applying regarding permitted use of the permits and also at what further measures were in place or could be developed at a strategic level with other local authorities to co-ordinate action in relation to blue badge fraud and on which she would provide an update after the meeting.
13.2 No supplementary question was asked by Councillor Colacicco in relation to the response provided by Councillor Tatler (as Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning) on the Cricklewood Waste Depot.
13.3 No supplementary question was asked by Councillor Donnelly-Jackson in relation to the response provided by Councillor Southwood (Cabinet Member for Housing & Welfare Reform) on out-of-borough placements within Brent.
13.4 Councillor Maurice, as a supplementary question to Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) queried the consistency of the approach taken towards the introduction of 2 hour free parking provision along Wembley Park Drive when compared to the Pay and Display scheme which had been introduced in Preston Road and Bridge Road. On the basis of the response provided to the original question, he asked the Cabinet Member if she would be willing to consider removing the Pay & Display scheme in Preston Road and Bridge Road should residents (as part of a subsequent consultation or ballot) indicate they were not supportive.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) felt it was important to recognise that the decision not to proceed with the introduction Pay & Display parking in Wembley Park Drive had been based on a recent consultation in Wembley Park Drive. The decision in relation to Preston Road and Bridge Road had been taken at a much earlier date based on a consultation undertaken at that time. Whilst not aware of any significant requests for changes to parking management on Preston Road or Bridge Road she would be willing to reconsider the need for a further consultation in relation to these locations should any significant interest be expressed by local residents.
The Mayor thanked Members for their supplementary questions and Cabinet 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) Councillor Shahzad expressed concern and requested a further update on action being taken to deal with the current backlog and delays in processing blue badge applications.
In response, Councillor Southwood (Cabinet Member for Housing & Welfare Reform) recognised the concerns highlighted and apologised for the current delays in processing applications. She assured Members about the work being undertaken to clear the backlog given the critical importance to those affected.
(ii) Councillor Gill, in highlighting increasing levels of concern relating to climate change, sought details on whether the Council had given any consideration to its investment strategy in relation to fossil fuel companies.
In response Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) took the opportunity to advise of the work being undertaken as part of the Labour Energy Forum on this issue. As part of their current manifesto commitment she confirmed that she was looking, as part of the Council’s Investment Strategy, towards divestment away from fossil fuel companies in recognition of the desire to improve air quality across the borough and provide a clean and safe environment for local residents.
(iii) In view of recent concerns expressed by Internal Audit chiefs from across the private and public sector regarding the organisational risks posed by cyber security, Councillor Choudhary sought details on the approach within Brent to ensuring the Council’s IT and data systems were protected and secure.
Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) advised, in response, that the protection of systems and data formed one of the key priorities within the Council’s Digital Strategy. Measures were in place to ensure the necessary safeguards were maintained not only for Brent’s systems but also the other two local authorities and Local Government Association for whom Brent provided IT systems and support and on which she would be willing to provide further details, if required, outside of the meeting.
(iv) Councillor Long highlighted what she felt where current difficulties being caused for residents on low income in having to purchase books of visitor parking permits (in areas where controlled parking schemes applied) and asked whether it would be possible to offer the ability to purchase single visitor permits.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) advised that whilst willing to consider the proposal in more detail this would need to be balanced against maintaining the overall cost effectiveness of the scheme and ease of operation for residents.
(v) Councillor Ahmed queried the approach being taken towards clearing of fly-tipping by the Council’s contractors, questioning whether a more outcome based system could be introduced allowing rubbish to be cleared in an area the contractors were working in when spotted without the need for tasking through a specific report.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) felt it was important to highlight the ongoing impact of Government funding reductions in terms of how the service was now having to be prioritised and delivered. Notwithstanding these restrictions she was, however, pleased to advise that this had not prevented the Council still looking for alternative innovative solutions with reference made to a recent trial in Willesden involving the targeting of resources based on and without use of the Cleaner Brent App. Whilst the outcome of the trail was still being analysed she advised that she would be happy to provide Councillor Ahmed with a further update on the results once available.
(vi) Councillor Kansagra highlighted concerns about the proposed introduction of a diesel surcharge for car owners in the borough, which he felt was unfair given that the majority of pollution was caused by larger vehicles such as lorries and buses. In view of these concern he asked the Cabinet Member what measures were being considered to mitigate the impact of these charges on residents, particularly those on low incomes who were likely to be affected.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) highlighted the Administration’s commitment towards improving air quality across the borough but at the same time took the opportunity to remind Councillor Kansagra that no final decision had yet been taken as consultation on the proposals was still ongoing.
(vii) Having received a number of requests from local residents for the provision or removal of street furniture, Councillor Kelcher asked whether consideration had been given to ways in which the Council may be able to open up and improve how residents were able to control and influence decisions regarding the provision of street furniture.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) advised that this was an issue she would be willing to take back for consideration in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning.
(viii) Councillor Long highlighted that she had received a number of complaints relating to the use and billing for allotments and sought details on the measure in place to address these issues.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) advised that she was keen to ensure use of allotment plots was maximised and confirmed she would take back the concerns raised regarding billing to make sure appropriate action was taken.
(ix) Making reference to a recent Citizens Advice study regarding the extent of problems being experienced across the UK with the use of bailiffs, Councillor Choudhary asked what safeguards were in place within Brent, as part of the recent award of contracts for bailiff services, to ensure the Council avoided working with rogue bailiffs in pursing debts.
In response Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) thanked Councillor Choudhary for highlighting these concerns and outlined the approach being taken within Brent to protect vulnerable residents through introduction of a Council Tax Protocol, which the Council had worked hard to achieve. Under this protocol, efforts were being made to work with residents experiencing difficulties in meeting payments with enforcement action reserved for those cases where residents were refusing to pay.
(x) Given frustrations highlighted by local residents in his ward, Councillor Chan sought details on what action it would be possible for the Council to take in order to ensure that delays in repairs to utility company equipment on the highway were addressed by the companies concerned.
In response Councillor Tatler (Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning) advised that she shared the frustrations expressed regarding the difficulties in communication and being able to ensure these types of repairs were undertaken by utilities companies when reported. As a result, Councillor Tatler advised that she was currently looking at how communication with utilities companies could be improved to ensure that these type of issues were picked up and actioned as quickly as possible.
At this stage in proceedings the Mayor advised that the time available for the open session had now expired and ended by thanking all Members for their contributions.