Agenda item


Questions to be asked by Members of the County Council of the Leader of the Council, a Cabinet Member, or a Chairman of a non-Scrutiny Committee.  The question will be answered by the relevant Member and the Member asking the question may then ask a follow up question which will also be answered.


Mr. David Nixon asked the following question of the Deputy Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People




I see in last week’s daily paper the headline ‘Academy plan for all Surrey schools.’   Quote - “The (Surrey) council said that a wholesale conversion to academy status was preferable to a small number of schools opting out of local authority control”. Seeing that Surrey County Council will be able to reduce drastically its L.E.A. bill with regard to pension provision, maintenance and heating of buildings etc. etc. are Staffordshire County Council thinking of going down this route as it is Conservative flag ship policy?




Staffordshire County Council has no plans to adopt a model of wholesale ‘conversion’ to Academy status for our schools.  We believe that the current diversity of educational provision, including various governance arrangements serve the Staffordshire population well.  We work with all our ‘family’ of Staffordshire schools, regardless of their status or governance arrangements and will support those schools which choose to become academies or Free schools in the future.


In terms of school funding, Staffordshire’s position for 2010-11 is as follows:-


·              Almost 91% of funding for schools goes, via the local council, directly to schools


·              The remainder is used to:-


support pupils educated out of school and in alternative provision (1%);


purchase services on behalf of schools, for example, building insurances, software and other licences and annual maintenance contracts (2%);

support costs met centrally on behalf of schools, including maternity pay (1%);


payments to third parties for educational provision, including payments to private, voluntary and independent providers of nursery education (3%); and


pay for a number of central support services, mainly related to meeting the needs of pupils with more complex needs (2%).


It is possible that some savings would be made, however, the level of savings would depend on what statutory duties or powers were retained by the authority, which we are expecting to be included in the next education bill and whether the authority continued to provide services to academies. It is therefore unlikely that the council would see any significant financial benefit.


Supplementary Question


A lot of this year’s Education Budget is spent on bureaucracy.  As schools opt out of local authority control will the Cabinet Member look to see if savings can be made?




Many of the grants we get from Central Government are ring fenced and we therefore have little control over how this funding is utilised.  I believe that this is a quite bureaucratic and wasteful way of doing business and I am hoping that the Government, in its comprehensive spending review, will do away with these ring fences so that we can utilise the resources to much greater effect.  The County Council is a very lean organisation with most of the education funding going directly to schools.  What we need to do is to tackle Whitehall red tape.


Mr. Ray Easton asked the following question of the Cabinet Member for Highways and Environment




How much salt and grit has been ordered for the County's roads for this coming winter and how does this compare with last winter?




In light of the problems of last year’s most severe winter for 30 years a review of the winter service operations took place over the summer and as part of that we have increased our opening salt stocks from 13,500t to 30,000t. This is now sitting in our depots.


This week there will be a general communication to all Members, District Councils and Parish Councils regarding our Winter Service preparations


Supplementary Question


When I asked this question last year you said that there were adequate stocks which proved not to be the case.  May I therefore ask the Cabinet Member that, in the light of the increased stock levels this year, all grit bins will be refilled and that “B” roads will be gritted throughout the winter?




Grit bins are being re-filled at the moment and there are approximately 1,200 such bins across the County.  The level of salt and grit stocks we held in 2009/10 winter season had been sufficient for the last 28 years and it was the fact that we had an exceptionally bad winter last year which resulted in the supply of salt and grit running low.  For this coming winter, if we begin to run low on salt and grit we have a contract in place with other Authorities in the region to obtain more supplies.


Mr. Ray Easton asked the following question of the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Infrastructure.




What effect will the abolition of Regional Strategies have on the Council’s Mineral and Waste Planning responsibilities?




The County Council has in place policies on which to make decisions about regularising, permitting or refusing minerals and waste proposals.


In the case of future waste policy, we have just consulted on an Emerging Waste Core Strategy which is not dependent on a Regional Strategy being in place. We have reviewed regional waste projections, reassessed the need for additional waste management facilities/capacity in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent and identified broad locations for new waste facilities which expand on regional policy and criteria set out in national waste planning policy.


Despite the abolition of regional policy, the Coalition Government advises that local planning authorities should continue to use the background technical documentation supporting the draft Regional Strategy in the process of preparing their waste core strategies, provided that there is a reasonable justification for doing so.  The information on which the draft regional strategy on waste was based is up to date, robust and credible having gone through an Examination in Public and provides a basis for our waste policy work.


For minerals policy, the Coalition Government has advised that “Planning Authorities can choose to use alternative figures for their planning purposes if they have new or different information and a robust evidence base.”  The County Council will be working on setting local targets for the provision of sand and gravel and crushed rock. The starting point will be using the evidence gathered in support of the March 2010 exercise completed by the former Regional Assembly, which resulted in reduced targets for the provision of aggregates in Staffordshire. The effect of abolishing the Regional Strategy remains unclear in terms of setting targets for the provision of sand and gravel and crushed rock


Supplementary Question


What are you going to do about this uncertainty?




It will be for us to determine our own targets both for waste and for mineral extraction rather than having the regional assembly or other regional bodies telling us what to do.  The Coalition Government’s decision to make such decisions more locally based has got to be a step forward and is in Staffordshire’s interests.



Mrs. Christina Jebb asked the following question of the Cabinet Member for Highways and Environment




(a) Which Safer Routes to Schools schemes, specifically, have been cut and which remain in operation?


(b) What is the estimated cost saving for each of the abandoned schemes?




Over recent years a number of Safer Routes to School schemes have been successfully completed and the programme has largely achieved its original purpose in that all priority schools with significant safety issues have been addressed. As a result of the Coalition Government’s intention to reduce the national debt and the reductions to this year Government grants announced in July, some of the current Safer Routes schemes have been deferred. Whether or not they can continue next year will depend on the amount of grant allocated by Government for next years programme. However, we will continue to consider any specific safety issues for inclusion in forward programmes regardless of the position with the Safer Routes programme. Members will no doubt wish to raise any such issues in their discussion with officers over their Divisional Highway Programmes.


At the same time we are pressing ahead with our targeted 20 mph plans and the deployment of speed indication devices to reduce speeds around schools and our road safety teams who continue to deliver tailor made programmes in schools.     


Six Safer Routes to School schemes with works planned for the current year have had the works deferred in whole or in part and will be reviewed when the grant funding for next year is known. The value of the deferred schemes is £300k.The schemes are listed below. The first two have had some works carried out.


  • Rawlett High School Tamworth
  • Leek High School
  • The Friary High School Lichfield
  • Endon SRS
  • Madeley High School
  • Sir Thomas Boughey High School Halmer End.


Supplementary Question


Officers have told me that at least the Endon Safer Routes to Schools scheme has not been “deferred” but “cut” completely.  How much has been saved by cutting these schemes and by cutting the Endon scheme in particular?  In addition, are you quite comfortable in justifying the £300,000.00 savings when the cost to the taxpayer of a serious road traffic collision can be up to £1m?




The first thing I need to clear up is that I said “deferred” because of the reductions in government grants and I do mean “deferred” not “cut”.  I do not have to hand the details of the cost of each of the schemes and I will therefore respond to you in writing.  With regard to whether I feel comfortable with the issue of reducing expenditure on such schemes when taking account of the cost of a road traffic accident, I am not comfortable with anything that endangers road safety.  However, we need to take a balanced view particularly in the light of reductions in public sector spending.  The road safety we have in this county is second to none and we will endeavour to maintain these high standards.


Mrs. Christina Jebb asked the following question of the Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture




Staffordshire Police Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) willingly agreed to help out as Appropriate Adults while Staffordshire County Council developed their own policy and training programme to meet their responsibilities in providing Appropriate Adults for the county. There appears to have been an unfortunate disregard for the valuable service carried out by ICVs in this respect and poor communication about the county council’s subsequent change of policy in using ICVs. The refusal to honour a claim form for an ICV carrying out an Appropriate Adult duty in late August was the first indication given of the county’s change of policy.


Would you write to each of the ICVs involved to thank them for stepping into the breach and explain the county council’s changed policy which means you no longer require their help?


Would you also honour the expenses claim which was refused for an ICV carrying out an Appropriate Adult duty on behalf of the county council?




The County Council’s social work services have always provided the appropriate adult service, both inside and outside of normal office hours.  Tamworth custody (Police) entered into their own local agreement with their independent custody visitors, using them as appropriate adults rather than utilising the services available via the Local Authority.


Following a multi agency review of the Appropriate Adult service, in 2008, the Emergency Duty Service (out of hours Social Work services) secured further funding from the Youth Offending Service in order to provide a more robust and responsive service to young people in custody. A protocol was signed by Superintendent Juliet Prince of Staffordshire Police on 26 June 2009. We would expect that this would have been disseminated to relevant staff within the Police Service.


In 2009, Youth Offending Service and the Emergency Duty Service completed a recruitment and training process to secure / train further staff to provide a more robust Appropriate Adult service.  This was open to anyone who wished to apply. Following recent discussion with Chief Inspector Ricki Fields, he advised that Tamworth Custody unit had wrongly continued to use an Independent Custody Visitor in the role of Appropriate Adult and requested that, as a gesture of good will, the Local Authority should pay the expenses incurred by the said Independent Custody Visitor. He stated that he would ensure that this would not occur again and that all of his custody suites would be advised accordingly.


I can confirm that 3 claims were submitted to the Youth Offending Service and that these claims were paid on the 14 September 2010.


Whilst we greatly appreciate the work that the ICVs have undertaken on behalf of Staffordshire Police, we need to be clear that this has been at the request of Staffordshire Police, rather than the Local Authority. The Local Authority has always maintained its own Appropriate Adult Service.


Supplementary Question


The County Council used ICVs from across the whole of the County, not just Tamworth.  You do not appear to be aware of the discussions that took place prior to the new protocol being put in place.  Would you therefore write to the ICVs that were used as appropriate adults to thank them for their services?




You are quite correct in that I am not aware of the discussions that have previously taken place regarding the use of ICVs as appropriate adults.  I am, however, comfortable with regard to where we are now.  The issues you have raised today would have best been dealt with outside of this Chamber and could have been dealt with more speedily.  If similar issues arise in the future I would suggest that you contact me directly in order that I can deal with the matter in the most appropriate way.