Agenda item

Cabinet Business

To receive a report from the Leader of the Council and other members of the Cabinet on the conduct of Cabinet business since the last Council Meeting.


The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Devolution (Councillor Elise Wilson) reported that over the last four months, the UK had experienced an international health crisis and that 44,602 people had died in the UK so far with over 288,000 cases confirmed nationally.  In Greater Manchester 2,7040 deaths had been confirmed of which 353 were Stockport residents.  Councillor Wilson expressed the Council’s condolences to all those who had lost loved ones during the pandemic.


Councillor Wilson stated that from the outset the cabinet had ensured that the council had responded quickly; supporting our communities, delivering essential services, including setting up a new ones and protecting the people of this borough.  New civil resilience structures had also been set up through Greater Manchester including a GM Covid-19 Committee of which Councillor Wilson was a member and which was chaired by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.  The committee had played a key role in escalating issues to government but also in providing support to the ten boroughs such as through the procurement of PPE.


Councillor Wilson then paid tribute to those working for the council, frontline workers across Stockport and in voluntary and community groups.


The Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Resources, Commissioning & Governance (Councillor Tom McGee) reported on the Medium Term financial Plan and financial landscape from now until the end of the year.   It was stated that the revenue element posed the most challenging aspect.  When the Council Meeting last met on 27 February 2020 a surplus was predicted by year end which was achieved, and a balanced budget was agreed for 2020/21.


However, since that point the landscape had changed significantly.  The original estimate was that for the next two years there would a shortfall of £28 million in addition to this year’s current shortfall of £10 million coupled with an increased population and in particular of over-65s and a rising demand for services before the Covid-19 pandemic emerged.  Councillor McGee stated that the council needed more certainty now to plan over the next couple of years to work through the current recession and into the recovery phase.  While the chancellor had announced an autumn statement and budget, if the council needed to wait until mid-December for the announcement on the local government settlement, as was usually the case, this would not provide sufficient time to plan effectively.


It was further stated that in February it was reported that the council had received some windfall monies and it was intended to make a number of positive investments across the borough to tackle a range of issues, however it remained to be seen whether it would be possible to implement those and that it was unlikely that further such windfalls would be forthcoming in the coming years.


Councillor McGee stated that it was important over the remainder of the year that the council worked out whether its priorities and commitments remained the same.  Councillor McGee referred to the statement from Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies who had said if it turned out that the coronavirus pandemic represented only short term disruption then the planned budgets would remain robust, however if went on for significantly longer than it will lead to a bigger deficit than currently planned and it won't be sufficient to support public services, support the vulnerable and insulate the economy from its  long-term effects.


The council had spent nearly £24 million in additional expenditure and there had been a number of grants from government which came to within £1 million of that expenditure.  However, it was also stated that the council had lost a further £34 million in sales, fees, charges, parking, venue hire, commercial rents, Manchester Airport and Council Tax and Business Rate collections.  It was reported that it was announced at the LGA that the council would get a share of £0.5 billion in grants and that the government would also make a 75% contribution to allowance income losses.  However, this would not include support for commercial losses such as at the airport which for Stockport would represent £15 million in this year alone, and that excludes council tax and business rate losses.


The Cabinet Member for Sustainable Stockport (Councillor Sheila Bailey) reported on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic since the start of lockdown measures which included some public realm works ceasing or being curtailed such as grass cutting, grounds maintenance, tree planting and green bin collections.  Leisure centres has also been subject to closure, although discussions were ongoing with Life Leisure in relation to the safe and phased reopening of facilities after 25 July. 


A number of staff members had had to self-isolate because they or a member of their family had symptoms which had impacted on the council’s ability to respond to the crisis, but with most council staff working from home the emphasis had moved from providing normal council services to organising with great speed, support for vulnerable people in Stockport.


Councillor Bailey then reported that at the start of the lockdown measures, she had taken the decision to remove charges from all council-owned car parks to help key workers.  It was confirmed that now that shops had started to open up, car parking charges were due to be reinstated on 13 July 2020 which had given shops and businesses a further month of free parking from when they were first able to open.


During the lockdown, both council and TLC staff had provide essential crematorium, cemetery and grave digging services for bereaved families in as sensitive a way as was possible under the restrictions.  Play areas and bowling greens had now reopened and it was stated that the last few months had demonstrated the value of Stockport’s parks and green spaces.


With regard to the bin collection service, apart from a short spell, there had been a regular collection of black, brown, blue and green bins which had been a credit to the refuse collection staff.  The collections schedule for brown and black bins had not changed, while blue bins were being collected monthly and green bins fortnightly.  It was confirmed that the situation was reviewed weekly however TLC was not currently at full capacity and it was anticipated that the service would not be at full capacity until the end of August, however it was the aim to reinstate a full service as soon as practicable.


The Cabinet Member for Citizen Focus & Engagement (Councillor Kate Butler) reported that the net loss of income across the portfolio was so far projected to be at about half the full year budgeted income.  Councillor Butler stated that the libraries, museums and events services had been largely closed and staff form the libraries service had been deployed working on the coronavirus helpline.


A cautious approach was being taken with regard to the reopening of libraries with the phased reopening taking place at Hazel Grove, Marple, Reddish and the Heatons libraries with a view to rolling this out to other libraries if the measures implemented work effectively. 


Councillor Butler stated that the council’s communications team had worked exceptionally over the last three months to ensure that the leader’s voice had been heard clearly across media platforms, and had made the very most of social media channels.


Councillor Butler reported that within the registrars service there remained a backlog of birth registrations following government guidance to stop such registrations and as a result it would take some months to work through.  Other parts of the council were stepping in to support the registrars team in this work.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Family Services & Education (Councillor Colin Foster) started by congratulating the huge number of staff across children, families and in schools who had completely changed the way in which they approached things in response to the current crisis.  Councillor Foster stated that on 18 March, the council was advised that schools would be reduced to being available for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.  Following work between schools and the council, the vast majority of schools in Stockport were open the following Monday morning to receive those children.  Schools and social work staff maintained contact with Stockport’s most disadvantaged families to ensure that they were provided for and over 2,000 food parcels were distributed.


The reopening of schools had been very contentious and in Stockport it was decided to open on 10 June to reception, year 1 and year 6 children with 80% of schools doing so with the remainder opening on 22 June. Secondary schools had opened form the beginning of June.  There had been a large increase in the number of children attending schools and Stockport had the highest attendance in Greater Manchester.


Finally, it was reported that the Dedicated Schools Grant consultation review would shortly be launched.


The Cabinet Member for Economy and Regeneration (Councillor David Meller) reported that the council had distributed over £60 million in grants to 5,229 qualifying businesses.  The council continued to encourage applications for grants from eligible businesses.  This included £3.2 million in discretionary grants of which there was £1.25 million left, and as a result a fourth phase of the scheme was due to be launched that would support Stockport-based businesses that had not been able to access any grant support which included businesses that were based at home as well as the newly self-employed.


Councillor Meller stated that Stockport had seen a significant rise in unemployment claimant figures and that between March and May the number of claims had more than doubled, although these figures were still much lower than the majority of Greater Manchester overall.  Councillor Meller stated that the Stockport Jobs Match service had launched 100 days ago, and since then 300 urgent-to-fill jobs had been supported with 938 job-seekers registered, and over 5,000 CVs sent to 96 local businesses.


As part of the recovery, the council was looking to ‘build back better’ and he reiterated his support for bus franchising. He stated that in the light of ongoing cuts to bus services, the reduction in traffic on the roads and cleaner air as a result it was more important than even to pursue this further.  Councillor Meller reported that work was underway on the temporary bus station on the Heaton Lane car park which was a key step towards delivering Stockport Interchange.  It was also commented that there had been a rise in cycling of approximately 22%, and that the business cases for the Mayoral Challenge Fund schemes for the Heatons Cycle Link, Bramhall park to A6 and the A6 MARR schemes had been signed off with the aim of delivering the schemes during the summer.  It was further reported that the council had made three bids for monies from the Department for Transport’s emergency active travel fund.


Finally, Councillor Mellor stated that the Council had recently launched the One Stockport campaign that sought to bring together the borough in the spirit of community, collaboration and unity that had been fostered in recent months.  For now it was focussing on being an economic recovery campaign that stresses the need for residents to support local businesses and shop local.


The Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities (Councillor Amanda Peers) reported that during the last few months many of Stockport’s well and able citizens had rallied to offer their services and support to meet the needs of those who couldn’t independently access basic essentials such as food and medication.  In a relatively short space of time a small army of individuals, community organisations, charities and local businesses came together to volunteer their services. 


It was stated that an emergency funding pot was opened through the Stockport Local Fund to enable mutual aid groups and community response groups to access funding to deliver specific support to meet the needs of their communities with over £50,000 awarded to those groups.  It was stated that they had delivered 29 food projects, eight helpline projects and seven virtual activity projects aimed at children and young people.  Councillor Peers expressed her thanks to the volunteers who gave up their time freely, the businesses who donated food and repurposed to deliver food parcels and medicines, and to those services that repurposed to deliver welfare support to vulnerable people.


Councillor Peers stated that under the One Stockport banner the council would invest in locally based infrastructure to the third sector and support community organisations to further develop a robust, resilient, empowered and influential third sector in Stockport that would support the local economy.


The Cabinet Member for Adult Care & Health (Councillor Jude Wells) expressed her thanks to all of the council’s staff in adult care and to public health, colleagues across the health sector and third sectors and to partner providers for their response during the current crisis.  Councillor Wells highlighted the work of care homes and care staff who were at the forefront of tackling the pandemic and their commitment and dedication.


Councillor Wells stated that despite the overnight changes to the way that people had to work, support to residents and the rapid commissioning of new services including an intensive and comprehensive range of mental health and wellbeing services had been undertaken.


The council had put in place a robust financial package to underwrite and assure the market and had guaranteed a 90% occupancy payment for care homes which also included non-commissioned services.  It was stated that the package of support that had been put in place amounted to circa £2 million.  An additional £3.1 million in infection control monies had been distributed to providers.  This included provision for tablets to care homes to ensure that residents could continue to maintain contact with relatives.