Report of the Elected Mayor
A report of the Mayor had been circulated with the agenda.
a) Councillor Turmaine asked the Mayor for clarification of the composition of the Town Centre partnership and the outputs that would be derived from the meetings.
The Mayor responded that it was important the Town Centre Partnership was a partnership of all groups involved and not dominated by the local authority. The Council would facilitate it. Previously there had been a Town Centre Partnership but it had been based on an ‘old-fashioned’ model. The new one would be based on current best practice. In order to meet this, the Partnership would comprise representatives from a cross-section of stakeholders in the Town Centre, including the night time economy, retail businesses, the Chamber of Commerce and the Police. This would create an active dynamic partnership. The Council was proposing to appoint a new Town Centre Manager who would have a very proactive role and the post had recently been advertised. The Mayor added that in the future she hoped the Partnership would attain financial autonomy; not dependent on the Council. There had been high interest from businesses wishing to be involved. She asked Members to let her know if there were any organisations or businesses they felt should be involved.
b) Councillor Khan asked the Mayor whether she had decided if she would run for Parliament.
The Mayor stated that when she knew then the Councillor would know.
c) Councillor Brandon referred to a recent Public Health England report, which he stated showed that Watford had the highest percentage of mortality attributed to air pollution in 2011. The last Air Quality action plan produced by the Council was in April 2011. There had been a partial review in 2012. In light of the recent Public Health England report, he asked the Mayor whether the action plan needed to be reviewed further.
The Mayor responded that the legislation was already in place. There was rigorous testing of air quality. Once a certain level had been reached it was necessary to have an action plan in place. She advised that there were a few areas which were borderline; these tended to be near major traffic ‘pinchpoints’. She was not aware of any areas that had breached the set levels. She advised that if Members required further details they could contact the Head of Community and Customer Services who would be able to provide the latest information. The Council would do what was necessary to reduce levels.
d) Councillor Meerabux commented on the recent results of the consultation to introduce parking charges on Watford Business Park. He asked whether this was the start of seeking parking charges in other parts of the town.
The Mayor responded that there was always a lack of support when it was proposed to introduce parking charges. Officers would advise that the best way to manage parking was to charge. With regards to the Business Park, the main concern had been safety due to poor parking. The County Council had wanted to do some works in the area and had contacted the Borough Council to improve the parking arrangements. There had been two rounds of consultation; officers had also visited the park and spoken to tenants. The lack of response to the consultation was in part due to the fact that many of the tenants on the Business Park had on-site parking facilities, however there were some who did not have large parking sites available. There had been 68 responses to the consultation and 62 of these had been from people connected to one company. At the end of the consultation it had been decided it was legitimate to tidy up the parking on the Business Park. This would involve double yellow lines being placed on corners and parking bays marked out; this would enable lorries to turn into roads. It was not proposed to introduce on-street parking charges, but charges would be introduced in the main car park. The arrangements would need to be revisited once the Croxley Rail Link was operational in order to protect tenants’ parking.
e) Councillor Dhindsa said that there had recently been a report in the Watford Observer about a civic reception held in the Council Chamber for an MP from Pakistan. He asked the Mayor whether the Chairman or other Councillors were invited. If they were not invited, he asked for the reason it had been called a civic reception.
The Mayor stated that the event the Councillor referred to had taken place some time ago. It was an error to describe it as a civic reception and this had been explained at the time.
f) Councillor Bell referred to the External Auditors report and the comments about Housing Benefits overpayments. The report had indicated that Watford had the worst figures not only for Hertfordshire but Kent and Surrey as well. The Council was unable to get any subsidy back for local authority errors. He asked the Mayor whether she was proud on this subject.
The Mayor informed Council that even if it was not possible for the Council to receive subsidy from the Government, it was still possible to recover the overpayment from the claimant. She explained that the Government accepted it was not always possible to reclaim the full amount which was why the Government granted up to 40 % subsidy. In effect if an authority was good at reclaiming the overpayment and received a subsidy there could be a profit.
The Mayor said that the comments inferred that there were concerns over the performance of staff. She said that all Councillors on the Shared Services Joint Committee had some responsibility for staffing issues and looking at staff training. She reminded Members that this Shared Service was led by Three Rivers. The service had massively improved since the joint Director of Finance had begun working for the authorities. If there were incidents of staff making mistakes this would need to be addressed with improved training. The Mayor added that the Council had the second best recovery rate in the county.