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 earlier this year society had been turned upside down by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and the government's response was to implement a national lockdown coupled with significant financial support measures. Following this period, track and trace measures had been implemented coupled with more financial assistance to help the country start to return to normality. Councillor Wilson stated that the Cabinet had been supportive of that approach and at all times had endeavoured to support and protect the people of Stockport. The North West was one of the areas to come of lockdown with higher rates of infection and as a consequence, from July Stockport had almost continuously been placed under additional measures and restrictions. Councillor Wilson stated that officers and health colleagues have been working to combat the rise.
Councillor Wilson stated that it had become clear that the national tools had not been sufficient to bring down the infection rate, and at a Greater Manchester level it had been considered that a better route would be through devolved test trace, isolate and compliance, coupled with support for those most affected should they contract Covid-19.
Councillor Wilson reported that the leaders of the ten Greater Manchester councils had entered into discussions with the government in relation to these matters as it was felt that Tier 3 restrictions would not have as much impact as the proposals put forward by Greater Manchester. However, it was clear that the government wanted to maintain its current policy and as a result, Greater Manchester entered into negotiations over the appropriate tier and which financial package was needed to support businesses and residents.
Greater Manchester returned with a fully costed evidence-based package of proposals that would have supported residents and businesses throughout the difficult weeks ahead within Tier 3 restrictions, however the government rejected that offer and imposed Tier 3 on Greater Manchester without a support package confirmed. It had subsequently become clear that the £60 million offer of support from the government had been based on a formula that they didn’t wish to deviate from, and in the light of that and the potential hardship faced by businesses and residents, the Labour leaders made a decision to accept the government funding offer.
It was confirmed that talks were ongoing, but as soon as any details were known, Councillor Wilson undertook to share this members of the Council.
Finally, Councillor Wilson then reported that she was disappointed that the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework proposals were not able to be considered by the Council Meeting this evening, and that members had received an email with an updated timetable.
The Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Resources, Commissioning & Governance (Councillor Tom McGee) reported that he had previously stated his aim that the Council wouldn't need to engage in an emergency budget because of the implications and the impact on services, staff and residents. Councillor McGee stated that the Council had received a number of grants from the government including infection control grants, hardship funds and the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund that had bolstered the Council’s position for this financial year. Further funding would also become available once the borough entered Tier 3 restrictions. Councillor McGee further outlined the range of support that the Council was offering to communities in Stockport through this difficult time.
Councillor McGee stated that while the Council’s financial position was relatively stable for the current financial year, there remained concerns about the future with regard to demographic changes and further loss of income coupled with increased expenditure that would mean careful consideration would need to be given to the use of reserves, grants, council tax revenue and savings for the next financial year.
The Cabinet Member for Citizen Focus & Engagement (Councillor Kate Butler) reported that NK Theatre Arts based at Romiley Forum, Rising Stars North West and Stockport Plaza had recently benefited from rounds one and two of the Arts Council's Cultural Recovery Fund.
Councillor Butler then reported on the activities that had taken place during the recent ‘Get Online Week’ and thanked all those that had taken part and those who had contributed to making the week a success.
Councillor Butler referred to the digitalstockport.info website and the call out for more individuals and organisations to join the digital inclusion alliance with a particular focus on recruiting as many community groups as possible.
Finally,, Councillor Butler reported on the work to restore library services in a Covid-safe manner. It was stated that a small number of libraries were currently in operation and it was hoped to open a couple more before the end of the year.
The Cabinet Member for Children, Family Services & Education (Councillor Colin Foster) reported that one of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic had been an increase in the number of children taken into care, with 79 cases in the period between 23 march and early June 2020. It was stated that for the same period in 2019, there had been 49 children taken into care marking a significant increase.
Councillor Foster then reported on the situation in local schools and that following the full reopening of schools in September, once a pupil had been asked to self-isolate, the whole bubble was also required to do so which meant that in some cases significant numbers of pupils were being sent home for two weeks. While this was still happening on occasion, a more targeted approach was being taken with the schools. The Education Team with support from public health colleagues have been able to develop their own test and trace which meant that only contacts were having to be isolated.
Councillor Foster then referred to the current financial position of local schools and that in recent times it had been regular for schools to predict potential in-year deficits on their budgets that had been mitigated using reserves. These were now declining in total and the current situation was that 65 out of 93 maintained schools had projected in-year deficits. However, this position had now been compounded because of the additional expenditure that schools were incurring because of the Covid-19 crisis for which little central government funding had been made available.
The Cabinet Member for Economy & Regeneration (Councillor David Meller) reported that he had recently attended a discussion with other cabinet members and local businesses to hear about the impact of Covid-19 on those businesses and in particular on the hospitality sector.
Councillor Meller then stated that he hoped to be able to make some positive announcements in the near future in relation to the RedRock and Stockport Exchange Phase 3 developments. It was further stated that he was involved in dialogue with Capital & Centric about their intentions for the future development of Weir Mill. Councillor Meller also referred to the work being carried out by Hall & Co in for the redevelopment of a number of underused sites in the Underbanks area and stated that a consultation was taking place that closed on 11 November 2020 in relation to the public’s views of the Underbanks area as it currently was.
Councillor Meller reported on two ongoing engagement exercises that were taking place with regard to Active Neighbourhood proposals for Romiley and the Heatons which had received 2,650 and 7,201 responses already.
The Cabinet Member for Inclusive Neighbourhoods (Councillor Amanda Peers) reported that with regard to local policing, while it had been busy, it had not been overwhelmingly so with many issues related to anti-social behaviour and public disorder with licensed premises and Covid breaches of which there had been approximately 80 reports a week. Officers continued to try and balance enforcement of the covid regulations against competing crime and disorder priorities. Greater Manchester Police were working closely with Council colleagues and the new pandemic response team was meeting regularly and were well prepared for the further changes in restrictions.
Councillor Peers reported on the recent publication of the Annual Report which outlines the functions, activity and progress in meeting the police and crime objectives in the Mayor's Police and Crime Plan. The report provided a wide range of information including some of the challenges faced as a result of Covid, information on recruitment and allocation of officers and support staff as well a financial information.
Councillor Peers then reported on work taking place at a Greater Manchester and local level to support those who may be at risk of losing their job or having a reduction in hours. It was stated that Stockport Jobs Match had evolved into a well-used resource that linked people with jobs, training and employment support.
Finally, Councillor Peers referred to the Stockport Fairtrade Group and reminded members that Stockport was a Fairtrade Town and supported the use of Fairtrade products where possible. It was stated that while the Annual Faritrade Event would not be able to take place this year, there was a plan for trades to sell their products online and Councillor Peers urged all members to ‘like’ the Stockport Fairtrade Facebook page.
The Cabinet Member for Cabinet Member for Adult Care & Health (Councillor Jude Wells) reported that on the current covid infection rate in Stockport that had risen exponentially recently and was now at around 300 per 100,000. Work was taking place with the Public Health and Adult Care departments to support communities to address this. Councillor Wells reiterated the importance of public health messaging around hand washing, social distancing and the wearing of face masks.
Councillor Wells reported on the positive work taking place in care homes, including a survey undertaken to understand what testing regime was right for them, and the response indicated that up to 98% of staff were being tested at the moment. It was further reported that with regard to the annual flu vaccination programme, 69% of residents in the over-65 group had been vaccinated compared to 61% at the same time in the previous year.
Finally, Councillor Wells reported that the annual Star Awards were due to be held remotely in November. It was stated that the Awards aimed to recognise the work of the provider sector and was organised by the Council in conjunction with the Clinical Commissioning Group.