Members' question time will last up to 30 minutes, with questions being taken in the order of receipt and in rotation from each political group on the Council. The deadline for submission of questions is Friday 19 February at 12 noon.
Questions should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions can be asked of the following:
a) The Mayor
b) A Member of the Executive
c) The Chairman of any Committee
d) The Council’s representative on any outside body
Questions cannot be asked in relation to the following:
a) A specific planning or licensing application
b) A specific staffing appointment, appeal or Standards determination
The Mayor announced that the Proper Officer had received 18 questions from Members in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 12. He advised that one supplementary question could be asked which must arise out of the original question, or, the reply.
Questions would be asked in rotation of the Groups represented in the Chamber and there were 30 minutes allowed for questions with 11 rotations of speakers possible. At the end of 30 minutes the Mayor explained that he would extend the time to conclude the current rotation of questions.
The Mayor announced that the following Councillors had submitted questions:
Councillors Bickers, Chowdhury, Deen, Howard, James, Murphy, Nowak, D Smith, S Smith, Walker, T Wills and Withers.
Question from Councillor Henna Chowdhury to the Executive Member for Customer Services
What are the council doing to encourage landlords to bring empty properties back into use and how many of those they know about?
The Executive Member for Customer Services replied that owners or landlords could make use of the Landlord’s Repair Grant Assistance or the Opening Doors scheme to obtain funding to bring properties (including empties) up to standard and give the Council nomination rights.
The latest figures showed that in October 2020 there were 398 properties in Worthing that had been empty for longer than 6 months (Long-Term Empty (LTE)). This compared with 402 in October 2018 and 336 in October 2019 and equated to 0.95% of the total housing stock in Worthing. The range for local authorities (according to Action on Empty Homes figures) ranged between 3.66% and 0%.
LTE as defined did not include properties under probate and so the reported figures were the nationally accepted number of LTE.
Question from Councillor Mark Withers to the Executive Member for Digital & Environmental Services
My Ward Northbrook has been known as one of the poorer or more deprived areas of the Borough. It has come to my attention from a constituent in the past a perception that in wealthier areas of the Borough such as around Grand Ave and its surrounds for instance there is constant sweeping of pavements and gutters whereas less affluent areas like the Tyne area south of Columbia Drive have not seen any cleaning for many years. This leads to a perception that residents of such areas are being treated as second class citizens although subject to the same taxes payable to the borough. What answer or reassurance would the council give to any constituents with such perceptions?
The Executive Member for Digital & Environmental Services replied that Adur & Worthing Environmental Services carried out street sweeping to clean up rubbish and debris on Worthing’s streets. The sweeping regime was based on level of need by taking account of pedestrian traffic, proximity to shops and fast food outlets etc.
The Council did not sweep areas based on the affluence of an area, or indeed the differing expectations of residents. Each area was additionally inspected by officers with the work being allocated accordingly. The Council sometimes found it difficult to sweep areas where cars were parked long-term, but in those instances the Council was happy to work with residents to leaflet drop vehicles to ask them to move on a designated date to facilitate sweeping.
Councillor Withers asked a supplementary question regarding the coordination of street sweeping with areas that were the responsibility of Worthing Homes.
The Executive Member for Digital & Environmental Services replied that he was not aware of joint arrangements between Worthing Homes and the Council’s Cleansing Teams. However, if Councillor Withers emailed examples he was happy to take them forward.
Question from Councillor Tim Wills to the Executive Member for Regeneration
We have all agreed that our town centre is the beating heart of the borough of Worthing. The council's plans to regenerate and rejuvenate the town late last year were well known and the progress reported over the year, not least the planning permission for Union Place, was very welcome. But the pandemic had exacerbated a crisis for high streets all over the country and the town centre businesses needed urgent support to ensure that people were able to access the town as safely as possible. Could the Executive Member for Regeneration advise us what the council did, to support the opening up again of the town centre, ahead of last Christmas to support local businesses and attract people into the town?
The Executive Member for Regeneration replied that as well as the continuation of the business support grants, the Council had added greater resources to inform local businesses of the guidance associated with ‘opening up’ through direct mail and information on the Council’s website. The Council was recruiting Information & Support Officers to provide face to face support.
The Council’s Public Health and Regulation Team were working with businesses to ensure they had good access to information and help and support with Covid-safe practices.
With regard to the work the Council under took over the Christmas period, the #WinterWelcome campaign promoted independent retailers and encouraged residents (and visitors) to shop safely in the local area. The approach included creating Festive Thursdays (a shop and dine offer), the Laser Light City spectacle to drive footfall into the town centre where over 6,000 experienced this event. The Council also invested in three Christmas trees in South Street (thanks to Empire Construction for sponsoring this tree), Montague Place and the Town Hall which, again, supported the overall Christmas lighting provided by the TCI. The Council also provided free parking in the Town Hall car park for all Saturdays in the run up to Christmas.
Finally, the Council continued to work flexibly with businesses that wished to trade outside, whether this be through granting pavement (table and chair) licences and having the ability to construct outside spaces.
Councillor Wills asked a supplementary question regarding plans for reopening in the Spring.
The Executive Member for Regeneration stated that the Roadmap had been very welcome and that a cautious approach was required. Although it was very much early days, the Council’s approach would need to benefit the town and guarantee the safety of residents.
Question from Councillor Dawn Smith to the Executive Member for Customer Services
In light of the published decision being made on 17/2/21 regarding the Housing Related Support Service could you please tell us what the funding shortfall will be to the service once the Borough and District Councils have made their contributions? Also, how will the service users' needs be met with demands for the service increasing, but funding being reduced? Are there specific identified service users who will no longer be eligible for support?
The Executive Member for Customer Services replied that the West Sussex County Council (WSCC) housing related support budget decision created an opportunity for a wide variety of stakeholders, including Councils, to review how they delivered housing related support to residents and ensure that available funding was used effectively.
The previous service for those living independently was tied to specific accommodation and continued even after the resident no longer needed it, was unscalable and was restricted to working age adults. The new service was age and tenure neutral, which meant it was available to people regardless of their type of accommodation, including owner occupiers. It was also designed to be responsive and flexible, and build the confidence and resilience among vulnerable people. Delivering housing related support to those living independently in this way ensured that more people could get the support they need, when they need it and for as long as they need it, regardless of where they lived.
This service was fully funded by WSCC and boroughs and districts in West Sussex for the length of the contract. This service was targeted at those living independently and it was separate from other accommodation based and specialist housing related support services funded by WSCC.
Question from Councillor Louise Murphy to the Executive Member for Customer Services
Recent weeks have brought us some very cold and hard weather conditions that we’re not used to in sunny Worthing. It will have been especially challenging to those who are most vulnerable in our community. Can the Executive Member for Customer Services confirm that emergency provision was put in place to ensure that there was a warm bed available for anyone in Worthing who needed it?
The Executive Member for Customer Services replied that the Council continued to provide accommodation to anyone who found themselves rough sleeping using MHCLG Winter and Next Steps Accommodation Funding. The Council was currently housing 43 individuals under this provision. During the recent cold weather periods the Council activated SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocols) making further offers of accommodation to five individuals who had been rough sleeping, two of these accepted the accommodation and remained accommodated. The Councils had two rough sleepers in Worthing and one in Adur, the outreach team continued to engage with them and an offer of accommodation remained open to them. For those who did not accept the accommodation offered, the Council’s Outreach Teams along with the Worthing Soup Kitchen carried out welfare checks every day and night which included provision of hot food and drinks and army grade winter ‘kit’.
As well as the Single Homeless Team, Outreach Team and Rough Sleeper Initiative funded specialist support staff (complex need and mental health) with Turning Tides the Council had recruited 3 additional members of staff with funding to provide inreach and outreach support. The Council was part of a Public HE funded pilot providing a housing advisor in Worthing A&E and a CGL (Change Grow Live substance misuse) nurse in the community who outreach/in-reaches with the team and attends the drop in for homeless and rough sleepers that the Outreach Team run 7 days a week with support of St Mary of the Angels and Salvation Army. The Council was also delivering a pilot with WSCC funding providing specialist support for those with dual diagnosis with support of United Response and Turning Tides. The provision of this support had been critical in helping those with complex needs maintain their accommodation and not return to rough sleeping.
Question from Councillor Margaret Howard to the Executive Member for Customer Services
Regarding Customer Services portfolio page 62
£2,329,230 is listed against Culture Client, which I assume is the Worthing Theatres and Museums Trust.
The Council outsourced the Theatres and Museum to the Trust in Nov 2019 and the Fixed Service Fee set out in the contract for 20/21 was for £1,460,010 excluding VAT. Yet in February 2020 the estimated cost for the Cultural offer overall for 2020/21 was £2,329,230 an extra £869,220. Presumably there are ongoing costs to the Council even though the service is outsourced. This year the estimate for 21/22 has increased by a further £135,790.
One reason for the increase appears to be for employees at £37,460. These were not on last year's budget so it is not clear why we are employing staff for an outsourced service. On further inspection the Support element has increased by £83,270 and the Supplies and Services element has increased by £26,410.
The government has given grants for businesses affected by Covid so what are these increases for and why are their staff costs for the Cultural client on the Council budget?
The Executive Member for Customer Services replied that the budget for culture included both the contract payment to the Trust and the Council’s costs associated with cultural services. The Council’s budgets included the cost of maintaining the buildings (£163,000), depreciation (£336,000) and the cost of officer time spent on cultural related activities including managing the facilities, contract management costs, insurances and support to general cultural activities.
The contract payment budget itself had increased by a small margin for inflation from £1,460,010 to £1,477,900. This contract sum was included in the agreed contract between the Council and WTM.
Under the terms of the contract, the Council was liable for the costs associated with any increases to the pension contribution rate requested by the Pension Fund actuary over the rate specified within the contract. This had been included in the budget for 2021/22 at a cost of £37,460.
As part of the 2021/22 budget there had been a fundamental review of the allocation of costs. Whilst the overall cost of the services to be allocated had not significantly changed beyond inflationary pressures, it had resulted in swings in the allocations throughout the Councils accounts.
Question from Councillor Tim Wills to the Executive Member for Regeneration
"In recent years the Worthing Observation Wheel has been a welcome sight on our seafront. Can the executive member confirm that the wheel will be returning this year and if so when please?
Supplementary: Are there plans for any other Covid compliant attractions or events to support our town centre?"
The Executive Member for Regeneration replied that officers were currently in dialogue with De Koning Leisure, the owner and operator of the Worthing Observation Wheel, to confirm attendance for the 2021 season. Whilst the pandemic had had a significant impact the Council was confident the Wheel would return to Worthing seafront for the summer.
Councillor Tim Wills asked a supplementary question regarding plans for other Covid compliant attractions / events.
The Executive Member for Regeneration replied that with regard to events in 2021, the Council was in communication with a number of event organisers, including those events that had been regular fixtures for Worthing. Officers were actively engaging with organisers and adding events to the diary in the anticipation that these covid compliant attractions would go ahead. Any events would need to align with the new national Covid-19 guidance associated with managing outdoor events.
Question from Councillor Sally Smith to the Executive Member for Health & Wellbeing
In October 2019, this Council pledged support for the campaign group WASPI in calling for fair transitional state pension arrangements for women born in the 1950s, which recognised financial hardship among this group. There has been recent shocking confirmation by the Office of National Statistics that the pandemic has caused an 11 per cent rise in unemployment in older women, many of whom are dependent on the gig economy, temporary and zero hours contracts.
What measures are being taken to alleviate hardship and poverty in this group?
The Executive Member for Health & Wellbeing replied that the Council recognised that many local communities would need support with work and finance. The Council knew from the data that there were some local communities that had been hit hardest, which also included young people, and women and ethnic minority communities of working age.
The Council had established employment support information and a platform for communities to access for help and support.
The Council was also undertaking work to alleviate financial hardship for local communities, recently reported to the Joint Strategic Committee. The Council continued to have in place information and advice and access to services for support.
Councillor Smith asked a supplementary question regarding the steps to alleviate poverty in this group.
The Executive Member for Health & Wellbeing replied they would be considered alongside all age groups as lots of people had been severely affected and that residents could also self refer to the Going Local service.
Question from Councillor Keith Bickers to the Executive Member for Digital & Environmental Services
“The pandemic has demonstrated how important it is for residents, businesses and public services to have the best, fastest and most reliable internet services. The action taken by this council to work with CityFibre to provide ultrafast broadband now looks inspired.
Can the Executive Member please give the council an update on how the scheme is progressing and what benefits it is bringing to the town?”
The Executive Member for Digital & Environmental Services replied that by the end of January 2021, CityFibre had laid 146Km of fibre, passing more than 20,000 properties, at which point CityFibre announced the first two Internet Service Providers (ISP); ZEN Internet and No One, who were now actively selling, delivering, and supporting full fibre services for residents in areas that had received the new CityFibre infrastructure.
CityFibre had indicated several more ISPs were expected to mobilise during 2021, and the Council expected business broadband deals would launch early summer at the latest.
In parallel with the commercial rollout of full fibre, CityFibre were actively delivering fibre to 83 Council-owned sites, which would be used as the underpinning infrastructure for public services such as Citizen Wi-Fi; free-to-use public Wi-Fi services in key open spaces with interfaces that promoted activities, services, and public information.
The Councils’ fibre sites would also be used as the future underlying infrastructure for Sussex Police Community Safety Cameras in Worthing, Lancing, Southwick, and Shoreham, and as the foundation for an Internet of Things (IoT) network that presented significant potential to support public service delivery, community initiatives, and potentially commercially-led innovation.
At the end of January 2021, the scheme had also created 66 full-time employment jobs.