Agenda item

Councillors' Questions Time

There will be a maximum of 30 minutes for Councillors’ Question Time (CQT). Councillors may ask questions relating to either a portfolio issue or with regard to the functions delegated to a Committee.


There are two methods for Councillors asking questions:


1.     Councillors can submit written questions in advance of the meeting and written answers will be provided on the evening of the Full Council.


2.     Councillors can also verbally ask questions during the CQT.


Councillors have the opportunity to ask oral supplementary questions in relation to either of the methods above.





Councillor Crow to the Leader of the Council –


We are all well aware of what is happening with Omicron, the new Covid-19 variant, and the ambition of the government to rapidly ramp up the booster programme.  We know we are in a race against time to save lives, reduce hospital admissions, and not put the NHS in crisis over the winter period.  Is there anything we can do as a council to help with the vaccination programme?  I’ve seen lots of things going on nationally so perhaps we could, if council staff are available, suggest they volunteer to help with the vaccination programme and the council give time off in lieu as long as their jobs are not impacted.  I would be supportive of anything we could do to support the booster vaccination programme.











Thank you for your answer.  We all recognise that vaccination is the best thing we can do.  I am pleased to hear that the council is having conversations with partners.  I’m contactable over the Christmas period if the Leader or the Chief Executive wants to contact me for any kind of support.  We’re all in this together and we hope the vaccination programme will be successful, and anything we can do to help my group will be supportive of that.


Councillor Lamb (Leader of the Council) –


We stand ready to do anything necessary to help the vaccination programme.  Clearly we have facilities we can make available, we also have a workforce that can be made available though it would depend upon the jobs that need doing.  We are in conversation with the local NHS about this but the problem is there is a lack of people who have the medical qualifications to give the vaccinations.  That’s where the major shortage is in the system – and ultimately we don’t have the trained staff.  But if there is a need for volunteers in non-active vaccination roles then we can certainly provide that.  We also need to send a very clear message about the importance of vaccination.  It’s the safest thing you can do for your own health, for the people you love, and for your community.  If there’s one thing to take from this evening’s meeting it’s that this is the first time in the town’s history we’ve had to do a meeting like this – strip attendance down to the quorum in order to do it safely – if we’re taking it this seriously it shows the need for local people to do the same.  Ultimately people should get out there and get their vaccine and their booster, it’s the only way life will get back to normal.


Councillor Jaggard to the Leader of the Council –


The council purchased Kingsgate car park around three years ago.  As it’s going to take approximately four months to bring it up to a safe standard, with hindsight was it value for money and was there enough oversight and scrutiny given to the pre-purchase survey that was undertaken? I’m confused as to how this rather dangerous building slipped through that survey.



















Supplementary question –


The refurbishments that we’re going to be doing are good for the safety of customers, particularly upgrades to the security and lighting to bring it up to the standard of Orchard Street car park.  Obviously it’s unfortunate timing for the NCP to abandon its contract just before Christmas. What were we doing as landlord before this to ensure the building wasn’t deteriorating?  Do we, on buildings we own, undertake regular inspections to make sure they’re not deteriorating?  And if not, why not?


Councillor Lamb (Leader of the Council) –


Some of that I can’t answer for legal reasons but I can assure you there are things being investigated.  In terms of the building itself, it was a really good purchase.  One of the biggest concerns we’ve had around the leasing of floors in the new town hall building – which is essential if we are going to manage to afford the climate change plan, to maintain services and get them back to normal – was the lack of parking space.  By having the most immediately adjacent car park to the building in the council’s possession, and the changes we’re making to it, we’re effectively integrating that into that site.  The long term plan was always to take it back from NCP, but better cooperation from the NCP would have been useful.  The asset itself is good but the circumstances in which we took it back have not been great.  But long-term we are effectively going to control most of the town’s car parking supply moving forward which is not a bad position to be in.  There may be other buildings that we can identify that might not have been great purchases, but the car park itself feeds into our wider strategies on a number of levels.



Response to supplementary question –


Each one of these buildings has been purchased by the council with an existing lease, and the terms of that lease will be the basis on which we’d be operating with that particular tenant.  We’d be undertaking checks in line with the leases, but unfortunately not having drafted those leases we are not in a position to have a uniform policy across all sites.  There will be a lot fewer of those previous tenants moving forward and we’re going to have a lot more control over setting the terms and conditions in line with what we have elsewhere.  Certainly when you look at the council’s property elsewhere there is a very thorough regime in terms of inspecting them, such as on the shopping parades.


Councillor Ali to the Leader of the Council –


In regard to the rent overcharge situation – how far along are we in the process of contacting residents and issuing refunds or account credit?





























Supplementary question –


Thank you.  I understand that legally, as was mentioned earlier, we could have kept that money but I’m very pleased the officers and the council as a whole agreed to do the right thing and refund the money back to our residents.  It was mentioned to me that we have identified at least one resident who was evicted due to the error of this rent overcharge.  Have we managed to contact or re-house this family?  And have we come across any other similar cases?



Councillor Lamb (Leader of the Council) –



We have contacted everyone affected – at this time they have been written to twice.  Of those, 61% have engaged with us.  We’re still waiting for the other 39% to engage but will continue to reach out to them.  A lot of people are choosing to leave money on their rent account – they can take it back or leave it in their account – presumably because it’s nice to have a bit of cash in there in case something happens down the road.  But wherever they’ve asked for it back, we have been paying it back.  There is one group which we haven’t been able to refund yet, and that’s because, after a certain date the Department for Work and Pensions doesn’t have data on what their level of benefit was and how that related to their overall amount of money received. The DWP will be subtracting a certain amount from that, but it’s all on their end at the moment.  We had hoped to get it all done before Christmas, but due, to that there are some that won’t be able to be paid until afterward.  If you get contacted, email Ian Duke who can get back to residents to let them know what’s happening.  We’ve been successful in reaching out to everyone we have contact details for, which unfortunately in most cases is only an address and not a telephone number.


Response to supplementary question –


It’s only one case at the moment, and we are offering them a Crawley Homes property.  I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to go into more detail about the case of a specific family but certainly we are working to try and ensure that anyone who has lost out is put back to where they should have been had the overcharge not happened.  And for those who are in receipt of universal credit where the DWP hasn’t been able to work out the figures, which is the vast majority of them, they’ll actually be financially better off than if this had never happened.



Supporting documents: