Contact: Emma James/ Jo Weston Overview and Scrutiny Officers
Apologies and Welcome
Apologies had been received from Cllr Rebecca Vale.
Declarations of Interest and of any Party Whip
Members of the public wishing to take part should notify the Assistant Director for Legal and Governance in writing or by email indicating the nature and content of their proposed participation no later than 9.00am on the working day before the meeting (in this case 11 March 2021). Enquiries can be made through the telephone number/email address below.
The Chairman reported that five members of the public had asked to speak. A summary of the key points from the participants was as follows:
· The lack of reference to cycling in the agenda item ‘Highways Operations Update’ was striking given that the Council had secured funding for active travel, and Councillor Amos’s statements in the Worcester News about Sabrina bridge being part of plans to enhance walking and cycling routes throughout the county.
· Cycling was a mode of transport and not just a leisure pursuit, therefore should be considered alongside the other areas set out in the report
· Good provision for cycling would relieve congestion, reduce pollution and improve the population’s health
The Chairman referred to the Panel’s regular consideration of cycling, including the meeting of November 2020, which included several pages about new schemes, which demonstrated the Council’s commitment although he acknowledged the importance of taking a holistic view. A scheme in his own area had enabled children to cycle to school.
Dr Siani Morris
· The Agenda included information on how the Council supported businesses including the programme Clean Growth Worcestershire, however on the Council’s website the projects listed received funding from a European Growth Programme which had finished – clarification was sought on current measures to support businesses in Worcestershire to reduce their carbon footprint and support the Government’s target for reduction in carbon emissions this decade – the Chairman agreed this was a good question, which the Panel would ask during the meeting.
· The Agenda included consideration of amendments to the work programme and the omission of climate change was astounding
· Considering the target for the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the recent announcement by Boris Johnson of the Government’s target to reduce UK carbon emissions by 68% by 2030, and the likelihood of further extreme weather events, why was climate change not a standing item and given the priority it deserved?
The Chairman advised that the Panel’s Agenda in August 2020 had included the Council’s work and role in tackling climate change, and explained that the future work programme would be at the discretion of the new Panel after the county council elections in May 2021.
· During a previous Panel update, Cllr Kent had referred to a farmer being unable to install solar panels due to unsurmountable costs
· The Panel’s attention was drawn to the Local Electricity Bill, currently supported by 254 MPs (cross-party) and 65 County Councils and Local Authorities, which was now making its way through Parliament. The Bill enabled the local supply of electricity by empowering communities to sell local renewable energy directly to local households and businesses - County councillors were urged to support the bill and to lobby local MPs
The Chairman spoke in support of the Bill and asked for the web-link to be circulated to the Panel.
Dr Johnny Birks
· The Agenda included consideration of amendments to the work programme, and it was queried why dates of further ... view the full minutes text for item 409.
Confirmation of the Minutes of the previous meeting
The Minutes of the meeting on 1 February 2021 were agreed as a correct record and would be signed by the Chairman.
Sue Crow, the Council’s Economic Growth and Investment Manager provided an overview of the Council’s support to Worcestershire businesses during Covid-19, referring to the presentation included in the Agenda.
Her team had had a very busy 12 months and from the outset of the pandemic, a partnership group had been formed to maximise support. The Worcestershire Covid-19 Economic Response Recovery and Resilience Group (WCERG) had developed an economic recovery framework to rapidly identify local interventions and the most effective ways to deploy resources, with five key areas of focus:
· delivering co-ordinated information about national programmes and guidance to the business community – to clarify confusion
· focusing and enhancing current support programmes available across the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas region to support recovery
· accelerating investment in major schemes, once this was possible
· using direct resources to support specific demands and opportunities
· ensuring the best information possible – national analysis and local data.
Regarding the impact on the local economy, overall the number of people claiming job seekers allowance plus universal credit (the claimant count) had more than doubled since the same time the previous year, rising by 9,885 and taking the number of claimants within Worcestershire to 17,855 (5.1% of the working population, compared to 6.3% nationally and 7.1% across the West Midlands). The claimant count for 18-24 year olds had risen to 8.3%, compared to the 8.8% national average, although both figures had declined slightly over recent months. There had been a greater increase in claimant count for men than for women.
39,700 employments had been furloughed as at 31 January 2021, a take-up rate of 14.7% which was similar to regional and national rates, with the highest proportion was in the Wyre Forest area. The WCERG continued to monitor figures and input from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the WCERG was very important as it gave first-hand information.
In terms of support for businesses, the Council, in partnership with Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, Worcestershire Business Central and Worcestershire LEP, had undertaken two surveys in April and June to inform them and to understand the local impact. Key messages from respondents were:
· almost 50% were either in survival mode with the majority of staff furloughed or ticking over with staff furloughed but still operating. Weekly surveys by the Office for National Statistics revealed that in certain sectors, around 20% of businesses worried whether they would still be in business in the next few months.
· 76% expected a decrease in revenue; almost 30% of these expected this to decrease by 50% or above
· encouragingly, 70% had taken up Government support, with very high experience ratings
· there was an ongoing need for support, in particular information on compliance with Covid rules, support for diversification, business development and marketing.
In response, the Council repurposed business support projects. Much of the Council’s support was euro funded, and so some changes had been needed in terms of delivery, for example online, but all schemes had still operated successfully during ... view the full minutes text for item 411.
In attendance for this item were:
Paul Smith, Assistant Director for Highways and Transport Operations
Elliot Pritchard, Highway Maintenance Operations Manager
The Assistant Director for Highways and Transport Operations introduced the presentation and clarified that highways operations included a vast number of functions and the report and slides addressed specific aspects (carriageways, footways and public rights of way, plus an update on drainage system cyclical technology to improve reporting) which had been requested by the Panel.
The Chairman referred to one of the public participant’s questions about sustainability measures in highway maintenance and the Officers agreed that it would be important to include sustainability work in future updates to the Panel, which were numerous, for example the Council’s contract with Ringway for highway maintenance included a key performance indicator for recycling with very good performance attained.
The Panel was aware that as part of the Council’s 2021/22 budget, agreed in February 2021, there was additional expenditure available for carriageways (£6m), footways (£4m) and public rights of way (£500,000), and an initial update on plans had there been requested.
The Highway Maintenance Operations Manager explained that the additional £12m funding had been split equally over two years (2020/21 and 2021/22), which with the addition of Department for Transport (DfT) funding for 2020/21 of £14.4m, meant the combined funds for improvements was £20.4m.
The Panel was shown how this funding compared with previous years, and the Directorate’s current Strategy and Annual Programme. The Council strived for its road condition to be in the upper quartile of condition A, B, C and U roads measured with the national average of road condition. In order to get the best value from structural maintenance funding, schemes were prioritised using factors including road condition and defect data, engineer site assessments and cost/benefit analysis. It was clarified that the additional funding was for maintaining existing roads, not new schemes.
· The point was made that the additional funding was a fabulous investment which would further enhance the condition of the county’s roads and footways and would encourage walking and cycling which had greatly increased during the past year.
· There were 4,112 km of roads in Worcestershire - the Officer agreed to provide the number of carriageways in each of the categories A, B, C and U roads and the spend required to keep them in the upper quartile.
· It was explained that the Directorate had carried out an approximation as to where the condition of the county’s roads needed to be in order to reach a higher quartile, based on the previous year’s results.
£8m additional funding had been made available to improve Worcestershire’s footways asset, split equally over 2020/21 and 2021/22. DfT funding for 2020/21 was £2.4m. £1.8m of this fund would be utilised for structural renewals, and the remainder utilised for other footway treatments. There had been no addition to the New Members Highways Fund, and to date around £1.5m of the £2.5m fund had been spent on renewal schemes. ... view the full minutes text for item 412.
No further items were added to the work programme.