A report of the Mayor had been circulated with the agenda.
The Chairman invited Members to indicate whether they wished to ask a question of the Mayor. Councillors Bell, Shah, Martins, Smith, Turmaine, Stiff and Bashir indicated that they wished to ask questions.
1) Councillor Bell asked the Mayor for his view about the future of the Lemarie Centre for charities in North Watford.
The Mayor informed council that he had regularly met the groups at the Centre. They all did fantastic work. There had been discussion about them having a viable future. Concerns had been raised, particularly about the first floor. Representatives from Mencap, Paradance and Playskills had been guaranteed that the council would work with them and make sure they had a place fit for purpose.
As Councillor Bell was the leader of the Opposition, the Chairman asked him if he wished to put a supplementary question to the Mayor.
Councillor Bell asked the Mayor if he would agree that the Lemarie Centre had been a vital link to many vulnerable families over many years. It had been a base for Mencap, the Stroke Association, Paradance and Playskills. It had also been used by children from Nascot Lawn. He asked whether the Mayor and Liberal Democrat administration would invest and find new homes for these charities.
The Mayor responded that the council would be working with those charities to ensure premises were fit for purpose. He had visited the building many times and it was obvious it was not in a good condition. The council was working with the charities and families to make sure they had appropriate facilities. He acknowledged the vital work carried out by the charities and said that the council would continue to work with them, including on alternative premises.
2) Councillor Shah referred to Watford Women’s Centre which had recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. It was noted that the Mayor had praised the Centre’s work, but the domestic violence project would be shut down due to lack of funding. She asked the Mayor whether he would reinstate the funding for the voluntary sector which the council had cut in 2011.
The Mayor commented that since becoming Mayor he had done a lot of work supporting the women’s centre. The viability of the Centre was not just about the funding given by the council but also other sources. He had put them in touch with the football club and business community in order to get support for their work. He was working closely with the Centre to make sure this happened. He agreed that the group did valuable work. However, the reality was the council had had its funding cut by 70% over the last 10 years. This meant it was necessary for the council to look at how it operated. He had agreed they would be the recipient of money raised through his Christmas card. He added they were not part of the Commissioning Framework, but they would continue to be supported and they had good facilities. The organisation had praised the work the council was doing to support their charity.
3) Councillor Martins referred to reports that discussed the damage to children’s health, particularly for those at schools close to the highway and in built up areas. He said that in his ward there were three schools that were close to the highway. He was unsure if the council had information about the air quality near schools and if it was good enough and safe for the children. He asked if the Mayor would be able to obtain this information so that it could then be publicised and shown to parents to put their minds at rest.
The Mayor acknowledged that Councillor Martins had raised this with him previously. He was keen to get this information and work with the county council. As a parent he agreed that air quality across the town was an important issue for families and everyone who lived here. In addition to the information it was important to take action to support more sustainable modes of transport to and from school, including walking. The first step was to have the information that explained the level of pollution around the schools.
4) Councillor Smith welcomed the discussion about accessibility at Bushey Station. He asked if the Mayor would be meeting London Underground about Watford High Street, which presently did not have step free access.
The Mayor replied that he would be happy to raise this station. He regularly had meetings with Transport for London and would be happy to discuss it. His next meeting was due to take place on Wednesday. He was aware that funding was available for step free access. It was an important issue for families and those with a disability.
5) Councillor Turmaine noted that Imagine Watford had taken place over two days this year, less than previous times.
The Mayor stated that Imagine Watford had been on for exactly the same amount of time as in 2018. It started on Friday and finished on Sunday. Watford was one of the few councils in Hertfordshire that funded this type of event. It had been a huge success. It brought families to the town and was a boost to the local businesses. The event would continue to take place.
6) Councillor Stiff asked the Mayor if he could explain how the council was promoting Herts Pride that was due to take place in Cassiobury Park.
The Mayor informed council that Herts Pride would be returning to Cassiobury Park on Saturday 31 August. London Pride had taken place over the weekend and he was proud to see the Proud Hornets there. He commended Watford Football Club for its support. It was good that Watford was a diverse town with people of all faiths, backgrounds and sexualities. There would be promotion of Herts Pride to ensure it was a success.
7) Councillor Bashir noted that in the report the Mayor had said the council had recouped £2.3 million from Transport for London (TfL). However his question related to the funding for the homeless charity, New Hope. He reminded the Mayor that in January, as part of the Labour Group’s budget proposals, it had been proposed that New Hope should receive £125,000 over a four year period to support its vital work. He asked the Mayor why the Liberal Democrat group had not been able to support the Labour proposal at that time.
The Mayor said it seemed bizarre that unless the council was providing the funding it did not count. £300,000 had been secured for the work being carried out by New Hope, more than the Labour Group had proposed. The funding would increase the amount of outreach work that could be done. It would be possible to target people with mental health and addiction issues. He was surprised at the criticism. He had hoped that the Labour Group would work with the administration to tackle homelessness.