To deal with questions from the public within the open forum question and answer session of fifteen minutes in total. Questions from each member of the public should be no longer than two minutes each and relate to issues under the Council’s or Committee’s remit. Any member of the public wishing to ask a public question is requested to contact Democratic Services by no later than 5.00pm the working day before the meeting.
Cirencester Rugby Club Car Park Response
QUESTION from Mr Slater, to the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance:
Mr Slater stated that the Whiteway car park at the Rugby Club appeared to be under-utilised. It had been developed at a cost of around £400k and the published accounts also showed that a rental cost of £1,000 per month was being paid, which was contracted for 10 years. The total cost to the taxpayer would therefore be over £600k with little revenue being generated.
What is the strategy to utilise this ‘white elephant’ which is costing the taxpayers significantly on a daily basis?
RESPONSE from the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance
The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for finance stated that the car park at the Rugby Club had been converted as part of a legacy project from the previous administration to provide decant parking whilst a new multi-storey car park was built in Cirencester. The construction of the multi-story car-park had been delayed due to changes in car usage and a reduced need for car parking. Increasing usage of the Whiteway car park was being considered within a new strategy looking at car parking provision and utilisation across the district.
1st QUESTION from Mr Fowles, to the Leader of the Council
Mr Fowles stated that since being elected in May 2019 the current administration had regularly appointed external consultants and allocated budgets to explore initiatives and projects, many of which appeared to have been still-born. One of these was the now shelved £75m Recovery Investment Strategy which had been allocated a consultancy budget of £350k.
Would the Leader confirm how much of the £350k has been used, and supply a breakdown of all consultants that have been appointed along with a breakdown of the costs since May 2019?
1st RESPONSE from the Leader of the Council.
The Leader of the Council stated that the amount of the £350k consultancy budget for the Recovery Investment Strategy that had been used, had been the subject of a similar Member Question and referred Mr Fowles to that response for details. The Leader of the Council also agreed to arrange for a written response, providing a breakdown of all consultants and their project costs, to be prepared and sent to Mr Fowles.
Officers Leaving The Council
2nd QUESTION from Mr Fowles, to the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance:
In December 2021 Mr Fowles had asked a question about staffing levels and the number of staff that had left the Council since May 2019, and how many of these had been terminated and at what cost to the taxpayer. Mr Fowles confirmed he had received a response from the Publica Managing Director Jan Brittan confirming that 99 members of staff had left. Mr Fowles stated that this was 37% of the workforce, and had been at a cost to the taxpayer of £880k.
Could you please give me an update on the number of employees that have left the Council over the past 12 months, a breakdown of those who resigned and those whose roles were terminated and an update on the cost to council tax payers?
2nd RESPONSE from the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance:
The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance recalled the previous question and stated that the factual information that Mr Fowles had requested would be sent to him as a written response and challenged the accuracy of the figure of 37% of staff that had been stated. It was also stated that employees left the organisation for a number of reasons and there was nothing untoward in the way the Chief Executive of the Council or the Managing Director of Publica were running the organisation in conjunction with the administration.
SLM Leisure Centre
QUESTION from Mr Gibson, to the Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, or the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance:
During Covid Cotswold District Council arranged a series of grants for SLM which was a ‘for profits’ organisation. After the first grant was organised, it was agreed that subsequent grants would be repaid using future profits from the leisure centres.
Please can you confirm what profits and repayments have been generated and why this has not been accounted for in the 2023 budget even though the tender renewal is in January 2023?
RESPONSE The Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing stated that the figures were not currently available, but a written response including these would be sent to Mr Gibson
SUPPLEMENTARY WRITTEN RESPONSE from the Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing
The grant figure you quoted is correct, and is the total received under the furlough scheme, all of which was passed on to the 15,000 SLM employees that were on furlough while the sites were closed. No dividends were paid during that year, and after accounting for the support SLM received from central government and local authorities the company suffered a loss of over £11m.
The figure of £12m refers to an intra group dividend paid the previous year (2019/20) to SLM’s parent company Castle View International Holdings Ltd, as part of a restructure of the Castle View Group. The actual dividend paid by the group to its shareholders in that year was £1.5m, no dividends were paid by the group in 20/21.
I hope the above clears up any confusion, but if you need any further information please let me know.
QUESTION from Mr McEwan to the Leader of the Council
Kemble Gardens are an important asset for the community in Kemble. Cotswold District Council had been social rented homes on the site, but no update has been made for some time.
Could you please provide residents with an update on plans for the site?
RESPONSE from the Leader of the Council
The Leader of the Council stated that it had proved difficult to develop the site due to its enclosed location, however plans were still ongoing and a public announcement on the future of the site will be made in the next few months. Councillor Berry, the Ward Member for Kemble, asked to be involved in discussions about the site.
QUESTION from Mr Wilkinson to the Leader of the Council
The LGA had stated that even significant Council Tax rises would not bridge the funding gaps being faced by local authorities.
What tough choices will you be making over the coming months and what reductions in services should Cotswold residents expect?
RESPONSE from the Leader of the Council
The Leader of the Council stated that local authorities have faced austerity over the past 12 years and CDC core funding had been cut by 60%. With this context a
budget consultation was underway that includes potential increases in council fees
and charges alongside savings to be made by the Council, Publica and Ubico, although no final decisions have be made.
Cirencester Transport and Town Plans
QUESTION from the Chair of the Park Community Group to the Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Forward Planning
The Chair of the Community group stated that at a meeting of the Community Group, the number and variety of infrastructure and transport plans affecting Cirencester (e.g. Cirencester Neighbourhood Plan, Cirencester Town Master Plan etc.) and the new Steadings Development, had been discussed.
Could CDC please elaborate how the various planning exercises are aligned, coordinated and prioritised particularly in the light of the Climate Emergency Strategy 2030?
RESPONSE from the Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Forward Planning
The Cabinet Member provided context for the many strategies and plans covering Cirencester and confirmed that the Council had taken the unusual step of appointing a Sustainable Transport Officer to engage and raise the profile of this import work.
The Steadings development had passed through the planning process during the Council’s previous administration when active transport and infrastructure details had been agreed. Renegotiation of these details was not now possible, although the Sustainable Transport Officer has continued to work with developers to see if any improvements can be incorporated.
Cotswold News Response
QUESTION from Ms Heaven to the Leader of the Council
I have received the October edition of Cotswold News and have discovered that the Council has 18, Liberal Democrats, 14 Conservatives, 1 Green Party and 1 Independent Councillors, there are only articles promoting the Liberal Democrat or Independent Councillors.
Could you explain why all 16 pages contain photographs and articles promoting Liberal Democrats or the Independent Councillor and none of which include Conservative Councillors?
RESPONSE from the Leader of the Council.
The Leader of the Council stated that Cotswold News was an important way of communicating important information to Cotswold residents and, although opportunities for Councillors not in the current administration had been given the opportunity to provide articles.