To consider questions from Members, in accordance with Council Procedure Rule No 11.2 to 11.5 to the Leader, a Member of the Executive or the Chair of any Committee.
Mr C Whiteside asked the Cabinet Member for Public Health and Community Services if she could provide an update to members on the current state of proposals before Durham County Council to begin fluoridating water supplies and which would if adopted affect a number of residents of this county in the Alston area. What was the current state of this council’s plans to ensure residents were appropriately consulted.
The Cabinet Member for Public Health and Community Services thanked Mr Whiteside for notifying her in advance of the questions. She said the process for establishing a new fluoridation scheme was complex and strictly laid out in legislation. Following approval by Durham’s Cabinet, Durham County Council had been required to write to the Secretary of State for Health requesting his permission to proceed with the consultation. This stage had been delayed by the general election, however Cumbria County Council had now been informed that this request was made in mid-December. Durham County Council hoped to have a response from the Secretary of State this month.
Once the Secretary of State approved this Durham would then formally approach Cumbria County Council, along with six other local authorities also affected, to seek views and to request participation in a joint committee that would formally consult with the public and reach a decision on the matter.
The County Council would have up to three months to respond to this request, however, this would be a decision for Cabinet whether or not to participate in this joint Committee.
Regardless of the Council’s response, and whether or not the council decide to participate in the joint committee, a public consultation would take place. It was the responsibility of Durham County Council to lead on the processes for this consultation, which must be for a minimum of 12 weeks.
The affected Cumbrian residents would be part of this consultation exercise, which would then inform the decision taken by the joint committee, currently expected in September 2020.
The Cabinet Member asked members to note that the processes for running the joint committee was strictly laid out in legislation, and that within that, the votes on the committee were weighted by affected population. The very small number of Cumbrian residents affected in comparison to the scheme as a whole would therefore translate into very limited impact on the decision.
The Cabinet Member agreed to continue to work with both Councillor Whiteside and Councillor Driver to ensure that they were kept fully informed and engaged appropriately in the consultation.
Mr Whiteside thanked the Cabinet Member for her detailed response.
Mr Airey asked whether given there was now a majority Government solidly behind devolution, strong investment in the North and Local Government reorganisation, the Leader and Deputy Leader would join with him in asking Government to move forward swiftly with a much slimmed down model of local Government in Cumbria headed up by an elected Mayor.
The Leader responded to say that he had recently met with Jake Berry, the Cabinet Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, who had agreed to meet with all Cumbria County Council party leaders in January to discuss this in detail. However, the details were still awaited.
Mr Hawkins informed members that he had tried to skype in to a recent scrutiny workshop to save him having to travel to the venue. However the skype system had failed and he had been unable to take part in the workshop, which had been frustrating. He asked the Cabinet Member for Economic Development whether there were any plans coming forward to make skype more reliable.
The Cabinet Member for Economic Development responded to say that the County Council had a programme of continual improvement and roll out of IT equipment, however, he was not aware whether improvements to the skype system were included in this. The Cabinet Member had used it a number of times without incident. He asked Mr Hawkins to send him the details and he would speak to colleagues in IT about it.
Mr Lamb asked the Cabinet Member for Health and Care Services for an update on extra care housing development in Cleator Moor.
The Cabinet Member for Health and Care Services agreed to provide a written response to Mr Lamb.
Mr Hughes asked the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport whether the newly established officer working group Lake District National Park Sustainable Transport Group would consider issues from the whole of Cumbria and not just the south.
The Cabinet Member reassured Mr Hughes that this group would consider items across the whole of Cumbria.
Mr Shirley asked the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport a question about the traffic light sequencing at the Blue Light Hub development in Ulverston, which appeared to have been changed without any prior notification.
The Cabinet Member replied to say he would investigate this and respond to Mr Shirley.
Mrs Mallinson asked the Cabinet Member for Economic Development for an update on the issue of password related problems encountered for some Cumbria County Council mobile phones. She had a problem recently with her mobile phone password, which had resulted in her mobile phone having to be rebuilt. This was the second County Council mobile handset she had been provided with, as she has a similar problem with her previous phone. She asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware of the issues with password related problems on some of the ICT handsets.
The Cabinet Member for Economic Development had experienced a similar problem in the past with his mobile phone. He agreed to speak to ICT about this.
Mr Dew stated that he felt the Feedback Report published following the Corporate Peer Challenge carried out by the LGA made interesting reading. The report highlighted several strengths but it also exposed a number of key weaknesses which he asked the leader of the Council to comment on, specifically sickness absence and industrial relations.
The Leader replied to say that the issue of sickness absence was a long and intractable issue. It had been ongoing for a number of years and remained challenging. Due to budget pressures staff numbers had been reduced but demand for these services had remained the same, and in some cases increased. He reassured members of the opposition that the County Council was not being complacent about this, and were looking at ways to resolve this.
With reference to the concerns about industrial relations the Leader said since the report was published a considerable amount of work had been done to try to improve these relationships. The Chief Executive had met recently with all of the trade unions and the response to this had been positive. He asked members to note that the comments made in the published report were not the views of all of the trade unions, and that some of them had commented that they felt the relationships between the Council and the trade unions was strong.
Mr Betton was aware that at the end of last year in Cumbria the total number of people in receipt of adult social care services was 7,393. Furthermore, there were 2,235 permanent residents in residential care in Cumbria, including 395 permanent residents in Cumbria Care, and 1,840 in independent residential care. He asked what the Cabinet Member for Health and Care Services does to ensure residents get the best care and asked for reassurances that Cumbria County Council was doing the best it could for the people of Cumbria and that they were getting the care they deserved.
The Cabinet Member thanked Mr Betton for his question. She agreed that all residents of Cumbria deserved the best care and Cumbria County Council always endeavoured to provide the best possible services within the budgets available, however, demand for these services was ever increasing . The care services were impacted on by the levels of funding provided from Government.
The Cabinet Member would be happy to talk to Mr Betton outside of the meeting to discuss what she does to ensure residents get the best care.
Mr Turner asked the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport why school transport arrangements were left to the last two weeks of August. Many parents and children find this stressful, and he asked whether this process could be started during June or earlier as pupil numbers were known before school broke for summer holidays, thereby easing the stress on parents and children and also the pressure on Council staff.
The Cabinet Member detailed the process for the allocation of Cumbria County Council places in school buses. He was not aware of any issues being raised about this, but would investigate this.