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Agenda item

Report from the Cabinet


The Leader of the Council provided the Council with an update of business discussed by Cabinet on 13 December 2017 (for copy see file of Minutes).


Councillor M Wilkes asked the following question relating to the Cabinet report Item 3, the Quarter 2 Performance Management Report


‘I would draw member’s attention to Item 3.  Within the report brought to Cabinet, Performance Indicator 100 referred to the number of people killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents on our roads.


The figure showed the Council’s performance as red, deteriorating from the previous period.


A large number of accidents occured in the winter months when road and weather conditions were far poorer.  The Council had a positive record in County Durham on winter maintenance which helped to keep the public safe and reduced the number of accidents.


However on Newton Hall estate this winter a gritting route had been cut and there had been accidents for the first time in 15 years.  Local Members were never contacted by residents before this winter about a single accident on these roads.


Prior to this winter and without any consultation with County Councillors, the Council removed the gritting route.  Having printed the new routes, and cancelled this route, Local Members were belatedly told.


The Council reported it had issues last winter with gritting the route due to parked cars.  However at no point did it contact Local Members to seek to find a solution or even tell them there was an issue.  Nor did it write to residents to tell them the route was being cut.  Little if anything had been done to work with residents to solve the problems.


To the knowledge of Local Members, so far this winter there had been two accidents with a total of five cars involved on this route, and a number of near misses.  In all these cases ice was a contributory factor.  The Council had still not informed residents on this route that it was no longer being gritted or why.


The Council’s Winter Maintenance Policy did not include any requirement to consult with residents prior to removing any route from the program.  Nor was a risk assessment report required.  If the Council was to ensure that accident rates in County Durham were kept to the absolute minimum, it was imperative that changes to services were consulted on and carried out with visible due diligence.


Would the portfolio holder therefore please:


1.    Change Council policy;

(a)  so that there was a requirement to consult with County Councillors and residents before considering removing a gritting route, and

(b)  ensure a risk assessment was carried out and report produced when removing any gritting route.


2     Find a way, if agreement had not been reached by the time of the Council meeting to reinstate the route whilst all options were considered.’


In asking his question, Councillor Wilkes thanked Councillor Stephens, Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Local Partnerships, and officers for work undertaken within the last few days to address this situation.


The Chairman informed Council that Councillor Stephens was not present due to illness and invited the Cabinet Support Member, Councillor R Yorke to provide a response.


Councillor R Yorke thanked Councillor Wilkes for his question and provided the following response.


Road safety was of paramount importance to the Council.  The Council was not aware of any serious accidents on these roads recently but if there were any road safety issues these would be investigated.


The Council reviewed gritting routes at the end of every winter maintenance season.  Unfortunately, for safety reasons, it was considered necessary to take Cotherstone Road, Lindisfarne Road and Featherstone Road from the gritting network this winter.  This was due to the high volumes of on-street parking on these narrow residential roads, during the evening and early hours of the morning when gritting was usually undertaken.  Local Members were informed before the start of the winter maintenance season and offered meetings with highway officers to discuss any concerns.


During the 2016/17 winter season the Council’s gritter driver reported that that on at least 50% of gritting runs he had major issues due to on-street parking and had to take evasive action.  There was also a wider road safety issue regarding the rest of the route if the gritter was delayed or unable to complete the route which could not be allowed to happen.  As mitigation for the cessation of gritting the Council had provided three additional salt bins to complement the ones already in situ.


Following the recent severe winter weather the Council had written to residents to explain why these changes had been necessary and the support that remained available.


Councillor Yorke took the opportunity following the severe winter weather last week to thank all staff involved for their excellent work in clearing priority roads and footpaths of snow and ice.


Councillor L Maddison asked the following question on the Cabinet report: Item 3, the Quarter 2 Performance Management Report


‘On page 16 of the Report from Cabinet meeting of 13 December it had been recognised that Children's Social Care demand continued to be high with further review needed on Social Worker caseload levels.


Reports indicated that Level 4 Children in Need open cases had risen by 552 children between September 2016 and June 2017 to a level of 3624 children, and that the number of referrals were also up from last year.  Although down at September 2017, level 4 Children in Need open cases were still up by 401 cases since September 2016, putting increased pressure on Children's Social Services.


As there appeared to be an upward trend in the numbers of children needing support from the local Authority could the Portfolio Holder advise what programs were in place to improve the life chances for these children, working with parents and where needed to encourage more foster families and adoptive parents to come forward.’


Councillor O Gunn, Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People’s Services thanked Councillor Maddison for her question and provided the following response:


‘Young babies were particularly vulnerable to abuse and early assessment, intervention and support work carried out during the ante-natal period could help minimise any potential risk of harm.  Where a coordinated response by agencies would be required to ensure that the appropriate support was in place during the pregnancy to best protect the baby before and following birth, a newly created Social Work “Pre-Birth Interventions Team.” was being created.  The team would work with parents during the early stage of pregnancy where there was a clear identified risk of potential harm to the child following birth.  During this period, assessment and intensive support to parents would be provided with the aim of making the best decision regarding the potential risk of harm to the child following birth and whether it was in the best interest of the child to commence care proceedings. 


A new “Edge of Care” service would work with families of teenagers where there was a risk of family breakdown.  The service would deliver two primary functions, the coordination and provision of Family Group Conferencing and the provision of wrap-around and intensive support into families to prevent older children, predominantly teenagers, coming into care and would work with children and young people aged 11 to 17 and their families.  The service would offer respite care and overnight emergency accommodation, where necessary, together with support directly into the family home to help the family overcome difficulties and challenges and to keep the young person at home.


Children and Young People’s Services had consistently faced challenges in recruiting and retaining experienced social workers in permanent roles in frontline social work teams.  As a result an active recruitment and retention programme is in place, managed through the Raising the Bar Group chaired by Carole Payne, Head of Early Help, Assessment and Safeguarding Services.


The Council now had a range of routes into social work qualification to ensure a Workforce.  A social work academy supported newly qualified social workers ready to start work each year including traditional university programmes, Step Up to Social Work and Frontline, and expected to be one of the first local authorities in England to offer an apprenticeship in social work from Autumn 2018.  Stable staffing was one of the characteristics of effective social work.  All of these initiatives had reduced vacancies.


Durham County Council Services and partner organisations had formed a multi-agency Child Poverty Working Group in response to the increasing levels of child poverty across County Durham.  A plan on a page had been developed to address child poverty including supporting schools to address the cost of the school day, training frontline staff to have conversations with families about financial support available including debt management and credit unions, and providing holiday activity schemes which included food during school holiday.  The plan also aimed to address supporting parents into employment through access to adult learning programmes and providing information regarding financial support available to support childcare.


The One Point Service also worked closely with secondary schools through Team around the School programme, in which a range of activities and programmes were delivered in school for vulnerable pupils including those at risk of CSE, risk of exclusions due to poor behaviour or poor attendance.

The service was currently supporting 2300 children.


The Council was very aware of the need to recruit more foster carers and adoptive parents to meet the needs of an increasing number of looked after children.  As well as the more traditional, broad approach, which had given many fantastic carers, the Council was also now taking a more innovative, targeted approach to recruitment.  Putting people at the heart of what the Council did, using a combination of press, digital, advertising and community outreach to reach those who could offer the loving homes that children needed.   This had increased the Council’s foster carer base this year including the diversity in the types of fostercarers.’

Supporting documents:


Democratic Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
County Durham
03000 269 714