Questions to the Leader from May 2017

Member question: Councillor Chris Evans, received 13 November 2017

Subject: Council pension fund investment

Please see correspondence below from a  Rogerstone neighbour with regards to our council's pension fund investment into fossil fuels, could you please answer:  

  1. Do you agree that the council should divest its pension fund from fossil fuels and reinvest in ways that benefits the community?
  2. What steps are the council taking to end fossil fuel investments and invest responsibly?  

E mail question in full:

I am writing to you as your constituent to express my concern about the investments of our council pension fund in fossil fuel companies and to ask you to support the divestment of the fund.  

A new report (http://gofossilfree.org/uk/fuellingthefire) shows that across the UK council-managed pension funds are investing more £16 billion in oil, coal and gas companies. These investments undermine local and national efforts to address climate change, and represent an unacceptable financial risk to pension-holders.  

Two years ago, world governments signed the Paris Agreement – pledging to curb emissions and limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. But the actions of fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP are pushing us far beyond this vital climate threshold.  

Since 2015, the world has experienced the warmest year ever recorded and 2017 has brought devastating extreme weather events. Further extraction and burning of fossil fuels is not compatible with tackling climate change, and investing in fossil fuels is deeply irresponsible.  

These investments also represent a serious financial risk to council pension funds. The value of fossil fuel companies is based on their reserves, and ability to burn them. But if global climate targets are going to be met, these reserves are ‘unburnable’ (https://goo.gl/EU3F95). 

Leading financial experts, including the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, have highlighted the risks of fossil fuels becoming ‘stranded assets’ and the danger which this poses to funds which continue to invest in them. 

Council pension funds should be invested in the long-term interests of their members but they are not well served by risky investments which are driving climate change. Instead, councils could be investing in ways that benefit the local community – like renewable energy infrastructure and green social housing.  

Fossil fuel divestment is a practical, legal and responsible way for pension funds to respond to climate change and address financial risk. Over 800 institutions around the world have made divestment commitments, including council pension funds in the UK like Southwark and Waltham Forest.  

Local councillors have significant power over the investment decisions of the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Response:

The Greater Gwent (Torfaen) Pension Fund is managed by Torfaen County Borough Council and they have recently issued a press statement regarding their investment practices, which in summary states:

We (The Greater Gwent (Torfaen) Pension Fund ) agree this is an important area and we’re pleased to know that the fund we’re in takes it seriously and has taken steps to look at current practices and policies and its fund managers are required to comply with international principles for responsible investing.

We’re satisfied that they are taking appropriate steps which shows their commitment to this area.

As pension funds merge in the future, the influence of these combined, bigger funds can only strengthen in this respect.   

The Fund uses a number of fund managers who rigorously review all investments to ensure they are financially strong and their business plans and strategies are robust in going forward. 

Issued 22 November 2017 


 

Member question: Councillor M Evans, received 18 October 2017

Subject: Decision for use of Welsh Government grant monies

I received the following reply from the head of service regarding a grant from Welsh Government:

The draft settlement across Wales included a notional amount of £3m (£142k for Newport) to support a city centre parking pilot initiative. This is not a specific grant and as it has come through the RSG, is un-hypothecated, i.e., is not ring fenced for a specific purpose. Due to the poor final settlement, a cash reduction of 0.43%, and significant pressures in other areas of the council, this was utilised to fund existing services.

Can you tell me who took this decision to fund existing services rather than support a city centre parking pilot initiative, and when this decision was taken? 

Response:

No formal decision was made on this and the issue was not flagged up for a formal decision with members because it was not made clear at the time of the settlement and budget setting that this issue was required to be funded and therefore a formal decision was required.

It was not included as any formal ‘new responsibility’ or a new ‘specific grant, for example, which are the normal routes for new initiatives.

It is only as the year has progressed that this has become clearer as updates have been requested from WG on this issue. It does not detract from the fact that it for authorities individually to decide on the allocation of the budget funded from RSG.  

The CM for Streetscene will now formally review the matter with the head of streetscene and decide what, if any, work is required on the matter here in Newport. Issued  27 October 2017 


 

Member question: Councillor M Evans, received 26 July 2017

Subject: Chinese lanterns

RSPCA Cymru has been running a campaign on banning the use of sky lanterns  also known as Chinese Lanterns, from council owned land.  Their latest newsletter, which I think all members received, has stated that this council is one of only five councils left in Wales to put in place such a ban.  Would the Leader of the council support a cross party motion following the majority of Wales and prohibiting the release of these lanterns in Newport?

Response:

In response to your question, the Leader of the council is aware of the issues regarding these lanterns and would have no objection to you formally tabling a motion at Council to prohibit their release from council land. This could then be the subject of an open debate and a free vote.

However, she has been advised that the decision to impose such a ban would be a matter for the Executive and Council could only make a recommendation to Cabinet for consideration. Because the final decision would need to be taken by Cabinet, it would not be appropriate at this stage for the Leader or any of her Cabinet colleagues to formally second the motion to Council. Issued 10 August 2017


Member question: Councillor Jordan, received 13 June 2017

Subject: UEFA Championship Final 

With reference to the UEFA Championship final which was held in Cardiff a few weeks ago could you please answer me a few questions.  

1) Why didn’t Newport City Council get involved with this tournament to have a fan zone in Newport?   

2) Why wasn’t there an opportunity for Newport to make some money out of this event?

Response: 

Dear Councillor Jordan 

UEFA’s preferred model for fan interaction is the development of an associated festival, as provided in Cardiff Bay, rather than the traditional concept of fan zones i.e. where live TV coverage of the game is viewed by large congregations of fans. You will note that the men’s final was not even broadcasted live within Cardiff.  

Such large scale events do provide benefit to the wider area, particularly in the hospitality sector, including hotel bookings/occupation. As a council we also ensure that key visitor/event venues have information about where to eat and visit, to encourage local spend.

The Championship League Final was supported by Welsh Government, and in line with their rigorous approach to reviewing such events, we will have access to their full evaluation when completed. We look forward to digesting that information, feeding back into the process, and adopting lessons learnt in the delivery and support of future events. Issued 27 June 2017


Member question: Councillor Kellaway, received 15 June 2017

Subject: Impact of major events on local businesses 

Regarding the effect of major activities such as the Champions League final, NATO summit etc on local businesses. Whilst it is wonderful that these are coming to Wales indeed Newport, does this council realise the effect on businesses when the police advise people not to travel in the area? On the Saturday afternoon of the champions league, business was practically non- existent, in Llanwern village.

The upcoming Velothon in July will present business with yet another challenge. 

Will you please carry out meaningful consultation with all local businesses so these events are seen as opportunities and not another day when they will simply be losing income which could push them over the edge.

Response:

Please be assured that as a council, we always endeavour to consider both the return on investment, wider benefits for the city and the impact on residents, communities and businesses.  

It is important to note that many of these events are not organised by the council but we do work with the event organisers to ensure we maximise the benefits and minimise disruption. 

For example, for this year’s Velothon we have worked closely with the event organisers at the early stages to reduce the length of time roads were closed and improve the communication with those directly affected along the route. 

We also work closely with the major events department at Welsh Government who has rigorous assessment and review processes regarding returns in place to address exactly these issues. Not only are these things given full consideration prior to such events, they are evaluated in-depth in order determine whether future support will be given. 

With large-scale events such as Nato, one of the main benefits was showing that Newport has the ability, infrastructure and energy to host truly global events. Hosting the 2014 Nato summit enhanced the city’s reputation for event excellence and gave the city international exposure. We have already seen how this has triggered further investment from a wide variety of sectors and has acted as a catalyst for the development of the International Convention Centre.  

Specialists within the council also work to mitigate any impact on businesses. 

For example, we ask that event organisers provide links to local information on their websites so that visitors are aware of our businesses and facilities.  We ensure that key visitor/event venues have information about where to eat and visit, to encourage local spend. 

This year, extra effort has been made to engage with businesses ahead of the Velothon with event organisers attending trade forums to speak to local businesses. This not only ensures local businesses are better informed, but provides opportunity for them to feed ideas and opinions directly to the event organisers. 

We also work with local attractions, supporting them to connect with the media affiliated with such high-prolife events, therefore further raising their profile to wide audiences. 

We do appreciate that not everyone will benefit from all events, but the general aim is they add to the city’s offering, attract visitors and support, in the long-term, our ongoing economic growth. Issued 26 June 2017


Member question: Councillor K Whitehead, received 1 June 2017

Subject: Standing Orders for council questions

Thank you for your recent reply to my question below, and further belated congratulations on your official appointment as leader of our great city, Newport Independents look forward to working with you constructively over the next five years. We passionately believe that 'full council' meetings need progressive reform with open questions to cabinet members and, your good self as leader, you'll also recall that  at the Hustings you gave a commitment to introduce 'open questions' at full council adding 'you can ask me anything' so we are asking that you alter standing orders accordingly in time to be agreed at the next full council meeting, as we've stated previously it's interesting to note that this promise did not appear in Newport Labours manifesto, the statement 'you can ask me anything' also indicates Newport Labour will allow public questions at full council so we further request that standing orders are amended to accommodate this change. We’re  proud to have included the idea of open questions in The Newport Independents Party Vision:  

Public questions will be allowed and encouraged at full council. 

Open questions to leader/ cabinet will be allowed and we will keep questions ‘at any time’ where cabinet members and the leader can be asked a written question at anytime. 

We will encourage the people of Newport to petition the council on the issues they care about. Petitions with more than 500 local signatures from Newport residents will be debated in full council. 

Further to the above suggestions, can we further request that standing orders are amended so that petitions with over 500 signatures are automatically placed on the agenda of full council for debate. 

We share your vision of Newport becoming a city of democracy but feel we should begin by firstly becoming more truly democratic.

Response:

Thank you for your question.  As you have stated, I made a clear commitment during the election to introduce open questions to the Leader at Council, and a report will be presented to Council on 25 July 2017, proposing the necessary changes to standing orders so that we can introduce this.  

We have no plans currently to introduce direct questions from the public at Council meetings.  As an administration we are committed to openness and transparency in all our business, but we believe that there are more appropriate avenues for this kind of public engagement.  For example, the facility already exists for members of the public to suggest issues and topics directly to the scrutiny committees for consideration. In putting together my new Cabinet, I have given my Cabinet Member for Community and Resources, Cllr Mayer, specific responsibility for public engagement, and I have tasked him with exploring how we can interact more effectively with residents, and promote and develop the available channels of communication. 

The protocol for petitions was last reviewed and agreed by Democratic Services Committee in February 2015. This report was made and agreed in direct response to specific issues that arose around the receipt of petitions at the Civic Centre, in order to clarify that process. It did not specifically address petitions to Council, or deal with the question of e-petitions. We now have the capability to deal with e-petitions through our modern.gov software. I propose requesting that the Democratic Services Committee reviews the approach to petitions, to explore and make recommendations  on these points. Issued 16 June 2017


Member question: Councillor M Evans, received 13 June 2017

Subject: Sale of Friars Walk

In the recent press release sent out about the sale of Friars Walk you stated that you “welcomed the deal which will ensure the council can repay the loan it took out to finance the scheme in full.”   

Can you confirm whether or not the proceeds of the deal will cover the repayment of the loan in full, or if there is a shortfall how much this is ?

Member Question: Councillor C Evans, received 12 June 2017

Subject: Sale of Friars Walk

With reference to the recent sale of Friars Walk, a neighbour in Rogerstone has raised the following questions:  

  • How much was Friars Walk sold for?  

Further, with regards to the statement: “The council will have a continuing financial interest in the scheme through a small share in the rental income that will bring benefits to the city for many years to come.” 

  • What is the exact figure NCC will get from ‘future rental income’ of units? How is this structured, and for how many years?
  • Will the income from rental units be back dated?

Given the sale has been completed and in the interests of being open and accountable there should be no commercial sensitivity in making the above public.  

Can I also thank any officers or councillors who have been involved in the process for their contribution. 

Response: 

Thank you for your question. The sale of Friars Walk will be the subject of a public report to Cabinet, scheduled for July. This report will set out the details of the sale, and will be open for all to view. Issued 13 June 2017 


Member question: Councillor C Townsend, received 18 May 2017

Subject: Newport Transport

As the principal shareholder of Newport Transport Ltd, will the Leader of the council outline her commitment to having regular meetings and active dialogue between the council and the company?

Response:

Since becoming Leader of Newport City Council in May 2016 I initiated a series of regular meetings with the Managing Director, his senior team and the Chair of the Board of Newport Transport. Our senior officers also meet and engage with Newport Transport officers on a regular basis. Both the Chief Executive and I have attended the Board’s recent AGM and I intend to continue in this manner to ensure that active dialogue takes place thus fulfilling my commitment as one of the principal shareholders of the company. Issued 1 June 2017