Councillor Laura Wright (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder Arts, Culture, and Corporate Services) to present a report on her Portfolio.
Councillor Wright reported on the Arts, Culture and Corporate Services areas of her Portfolio and detailed the issues relating to achieving the Council’s published priorities, major ongoing programmes of work, issues impacting delivery, financial performance, budget requirements and potential changes being considered.
The Portfolio Holder referred to the following areas:-
· the One Exeter Programme was contributing to the work on identifying the potential savings that were needed working with the Senior Management Board. A Briefing on the budget would be held for all Members in January;
· Arts Council funding had awarded five of the city’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPO’s) with another three years of funding;
· the Devon Housing Task force which included the Leaders and Members of the Devon authorities was working strategically on the housing crisis in the south west, and offered an opportunity to lobby Government for more investment in social housing. A copy of the letter written to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities would be circulated to members of the Scrutiny Committee for information;
· the investment in more staff in the city’s CCTV Control Room along with the Safety Partnership with the University of Exeter and Devon and Cornwall Police. She had raised an issue about response times to the 999 and the non-emergency 111 line; and
· the approval of funding to help roll out the preparations for the photo ID, will be needed in the forthcoming May elections.
The Portfolio Holder responded to advance questions received from Councillor Read, with the responses in italics:-
Can the Portfolio Holder explain more about the in year cuts that are being made?
There were no in year cuts being made. As per the budget monitoring reports, the budget for this year remained balanced. There was a process ongoing in respect of the 2023/24 budget which was looking to address a shortfall caused principally by the pay award, increased energy costs and increased rates with borrowing costs. The budget for the year was balanced, with ongoing work to balance the budget for 2023/24.
How many posts remain unfilled or are being made redundant this year?
It was important to note that no posts had not been identified for redundancy at the moment, but a voluntary redundancy offer was available. Any specific information would relate to individual members of staff.
There were currently 170 vacancies on the establishment, (with some covered by agency workers in Cleansing, Parks and Open Spaces). Work was taking place with the One Exeter Programme to establish how many places were vacant, but filled by agency staff.
Will One Exeter result in specific services being stopped altogether and which ones?
This was part of the work of the One Exeter Programme and there may be some amalgamation or a change of the emphasis in the way some services were operating. The work was ongoing and Members would be informed at the informal Member’s Briefing in January, before being considered by the Executive and Combined Scrutiny Committee meeting and then at Council in February.
The Devon Housing Task Force has been running for a year, what have been its significant outputs and how will these benefit Exeter?
The Devon Housing Commission has been collecting data evidence on properties used as holiday lets, to share with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DHLUC). As part of this, a member of the Devon Housing Task Force attended an oral evidence session at a House of Lords Select Committee on 8th November which considered evidence on the impact of short term holiday lettings on the supply of new homes locally in Devon. The Built Environment Committee had requested evidence to look at a correlation in the growth in short term and a reduction in long term lettings. It has been estimated that 75% of new housing stock was being lost each year in Devon with a move from long term to short term lets, and taking properties out of the rental market. The Housing Task Force would be lobbying this matter as part of a bigger wider package of measures which may be explored.
Can the Portfolio Holder explain the delay to installing the CCTV camera near St Bartholomew’s Cemetery?
The installation of 26 high resolution CCTV cameras and associated infrastructure, was complex and took time and permission was required for working on the public highway and e agreements for installing in third party assets before getting to the installation phase. Initial work had been focused on the complete replacement of the command and control systems in the CCTV control centre, and the upgrades were needed to install those systems. Those works were now complete and the camera installation work had been running for approximately four months. Following the permissions, surveys and tree work to remove obstructions, four of the new cameras have been installed. With most of the upfront work now complete, the remaining cameras were expected to be installed by February 2023, which was only the first phase. The second phase was approximately 30 new cameras and would be focussed on some of the main pedestrian routes in and out of the City. The second phase was expected to be operational by May/June 2023.
The installation of the camera nearSt Bartholomew’s Cemetery had been slightly more complex, because of tree management works to reduce the amount of foliage, which had obscured the CCTV camera. This work was also expected to be completed by February 2023 and the Portfolio Holder undertook to contact Councillor Read if there were any further issues with this.
What is the estimated number of voter ID cards that will be required to be issued and will the service be able to guarantee they will have the capacity to do this and within the timeframe set by government of up to 24 hours for applications to be made before voting opens?
Estimates vary regarding the take up of Voter ID from between 2% and 6%, which equated to 1800 – 5400 potential applications. Every effort had been made to anticipate the demand by seeking additional funding from the Council to underwrite advance planning and we are looking to recruit to an additional temporary post soon. However, at the time of writing, the notification due to be received in October, from the Government, setting out the expected funding was yet to arrive. The legislation had set out the latest time for applications as being six working days before polling day (not 24hrs).
The modelling had been for the worst case scenario and financial liability that Exeter might be left with and the Corporate Manager Democratic Services oversaw funding approved at the last Council which should cover the cost of this with the assumption that the funding will be covered by the Government.
How will you ensure that young people won’t lose their right to vote as the government guidance on ID is aimed at those held by people, who are 60 years plus regarding the acceptability of bus passes
The Electoral Commission would be undertaking nationwide publicity to engage with the electorate setting out the new requirements. In particular, this would make clear which types of photo ID would be acceptable. This would also be supplemented by local publicity and by information contained within the poll card.
The Communications team at the City Council will also undertake targeted communications using social media aimed at younger people and Members were encouraged to communicate this widely when they were in their wards. There was a list of the ID that would be acceptable but that did not include student photo cards. She understood that data would be gathered to find it who is that going to affect, and the City Council would do all it could to ensure that all those who wished to vote would be able to.
What has been the level of voter fraud in Exeter in the last 10 years?
There have been no reported instances of electoral fraud at polling stations. This may only prove that none have been detected. However, no records have been kept.
The Portfolio Holder also responded to Members’ comments as follow:-
· ward grants were available and had been given for cultural activities. Devon County Council grants were available as well.
· each National Portfolio Organisations (NPO’s) had its own conditions attached with any impact measureable. The impact for the City Council would only be if any of the NPO’s could not meet the conditions and the MPO would lose the next segment of that funding and impact on us as a city.
· there had not been the opportunity to discuss with Theatre Alibi their future plans but would help to signpost and see if there was any possibility of cross collaborative working. Devon County Council had made grant funding for their work in schools.
· the creative arts industry was one of the biggest income generators for the city economy. Information shared by the Service Lead confirmed that Exeter was the third biggest city in the UK with a creative sector industry bringing in income to keep the economy viable. It was difficult to measure particularly as so many worked on a freelance basis.
· she would send a note to the researchers from the University of Exeter to ensure that data collection on empty homes element was covered, and of concerns raised about property rented as an Airbnb’s on putting out their rubbish at various times, as this had impacted on the community.
· a request would be made for as far as possible for data from all tenures, including those occupied by students would be collected across Exeter and Devon. She noted the comment made for any opportunity to encourage people living in Exeter with spare accommodation to help with the shortage for single and young people and those seeking accommodation whilst working on a temporary contract rather than just focusing on people who want long term secured tenancy does not make up the whole picture.
· social housing was a part of the Forum’s discussions, along with all of the issues raised such as homes for Ukraine, the rent a room scheme for single people along with the overall housing crisis were all being discussed in this Forum. A comment on those local councils that were not necessarily housing authorities to work collaboratively together to identify the barriers was noted.
· following a Member request and as a Panel member she would pick up the findings in the recent report on 111 and 999 response times and the Police Force’s management of registered sexual and violent offenders at the forthcoming Devon and Cornwall Police Crime Panel meeting. She would offer an update following this meeting on these particular matters.
· a push button Help Point run as part of the Safer Streets in the city initiative in Plymouth was part of an external communications company provision and would require planning permission. In Exeter as well as the CCTV provision, there was a safe space open every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night from 11.00pm until 4.00am in St Stephen’s Church on the High Street. There was the opportunity to use or charge a phone, order a taxi, obtain support from the staff and volunteers and receive first aid treatment. They would be seeking further volunteers in the spring to cover shifts and it was hoped that the work could be extended with a roving presence around the city. Other initiatives such as signs with the number of the CCTV control room to request a directing of the camera was also being implemented. At the request of the Chair, she would provide further updates on this work as and when appropriate.
· an enquiry on the liaison between the University of Exeter and the Students Guild relating to publicity on the ID Vote campaigns would be made.
The Portfolio Holder report was noted.