To answer questions received under Council Procedure Rule 6.2.
NB In accordance with the provisions of Council Procedure Rule 6.2.9 there will be a maximum of 30 minutes allowed for questions and answers. Any question not answered within the 30 minute time limit will receive a written reply within 5 working days.
The following questions were asked under Council Procedure Rule 6.2.2:-
(a) Councillor C R Turley asked the following question of Councillor S Davies, Leader of the Council:
I am delighted that Telford and Wrekin Council continues to support its service men and women and takes its Armed Forces Covenant role seriously and welcome the Calm Café recently set up for veterans.
I understand that Telford and Wrekin Council Leader Shaun Davies, together with other Council leaders recently joined the call by Dan Jarvis and Johnny Mercer MP to lobby Government to scrap visa fees for service personnel and their families, which could run to nearly £10,000 for a family of four. I understand also that the Cllr Shaun Davies wrote to both Telford and The Wrekin MPs asking them to support this amendment to the Nationality & Borders Bill which came before Parliament in December. Our country has long benefited from the sacrifices made by soldiers, sailors and airmen who travel across the globe to protect us and it was therefore extremely disappointing to hear that the Government defeated the amendment put by Dan Jarvis MP and Johnny Mercer MP. In view of this I would be grateful if Cllr Davies could please inform Council if our MPs heeded The Leader’s call and supported this amendment.
Councillor S Davies thanked Councillor Turley for his work supporting veterans and service people. The Council was proud to be among the few councils to have gold accreditation for its work on the Armed Forces Covenant. Commonwealth veterans’ visa fees had been subject to cross party condemnation and the amendment moved by Dan Jarvis and Johnny Mercer meant that Commonwealth soldiers who had served around the world would not have had to pay to remain in the United Kingdom. The Leader was horrified that the government had opposed the amendment and was disappointed Telford and Wrekin’s MPs had not supported it. If you served your country, you should not have to pay to stay.
(b) Councillor B Wennington asked the following question of Councillor S A W Reynolds, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People, and Families, on behalf of Councillor A D McClements:
Covid-19 has already caused enormous impact on our children’s education and the Government must act urgently to ensure our schools across Telford and Wrekin are as Covid-secure as possible. I am disappointed therefore to hear that only 7,000 much needed air filtration devices have been made available by the Government in England, with 300,000 classrooms in England alone, this is just a drop in the ocean. I welcome the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People, Education & Lifelong Learning’s strong and robust representation to the Secretary of State for Education on behalf of all schools across Telford and Wrekin and wonder if she could give an update on any progress that has been made on this issue.
Councillor S A W responded that the Department of Education’s offer of 7,000 units was woeful. The Cabinet Member was not aware of any schools or educational settings, in Telford and Wrekin, that had benefitted from the scheme and that none of the schools believed they were likely to qualify for the scheme because of the strict rules. To qualify, schools were required to monitor Co2 levels and demonstrate prolonged heightened levels of Co2; they would then be required to demonstrate plans to remedy this through building works at a later date. Schools did not have time to carry out this work as they were trying to remain open to provide learning for young people. The government’s advice to open windows, coupled with rising electricity and gas prices, meant that schools would have to balance opening windows in the winter for air circulation with the increased price pressures of heating classrooms. Schools were taking matters into their own hands and purchasing their own filtration systems but this further strained budgets and distracted from providing education to children.
Councillor Wennington asked a supplementary question:
Have Telford and Wrekin’s MPs lobbied the government on behalf of our schools?
Councillor Reynolds stated that she had written to the government to ask them to reconsider their plans but had received no acknowledgement. The Cabinet Member had also met with the Shadow Minister to discuss the challenges of Covid-19 for the Borough’s schools. It was saddening that neither of Telford and Wrekin’s MPs had been seen to take any actions on the issue and had not lobbied for Telford’s schools.
(c) Councillor N A Dugmore asked the following question of Councillor L D Carter, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services, Regeneration and the High Street:
Will the Council consider switching off selected traffic signals overnight?
Councillor Carter responded to state that the Council already did this in select areas where it was safe to do so. The Authority was open to suggestions for new schemes and would assess them on a case-by-case basis.
Councillor Dugmore asked a supplementary question:
Wouldn’t this fit with the Council’s climate change agenda?
Councillor Carter restated that the Council already had such a policy as queried and that suggestions would be considered on a case-by-case basis, safety was the primary concern.
(d) Councillor N A Dugmore asked the following question of Councillor R C Evans, Cabinet Member for Finance, Governance and Customer Services:
Can the cabinet member confirm that the recommended Council Tax increase ring fenced for social care provision of 1% for the year 2022/23 is discretionary?
Councillor Evans responded that the adult social care precept had been introduced in 2015 when the government decided not to make funding for social care available to councils. Instead, residents were burdened with the tax without a reduction to their general taxation. The comprehensive spending review and provisional local government finance settlement from the government both assumed that councils would increase the precept by 1% for next year. Due to the long-term failure of government with regard to adult social care, alongside spiralling costs, the Council had no choice but to apply the 1% increase.
Councillor Dugmore posed a supplementary question:
Would this be made clear to residents in communications?
Councillor Evans responded that she believed the Council already did this.