Agenda item

Public Questions

These must be received no later than 12 noon on Monday 5 December 2022.


1.  Question from Dr Cook to the Leader, Councillor Rowena Hay


Between April 2019 and March 2022, Cheltenham Borough Council paid leasing costs for the mayor's car of £14 439, with a further £1079 spent on fuel. This is the highest amount paid by any council in the South West. If the leasing costs had not been paid, we could have paid for 6275 children to have hot meals in the coming Christmas Holidays. How can the council justify spending so much on leasing costs for the car, when council finances are so limited, and whilst many Cheltenham residents are sat in cold homes, and struggling to feed themselves or their children?


Response from Cabinet Member


Thank you for the question.  We are proud of the work that the Mayor of Cheltenham does to support civic life in Cheltenham. While the global pandemic has impacted Mayoral engagements in 2020 and 2021, in a typical year the Mayor attends hundreds of engagements, sometimes 3 or 4 in the same day. Firstly it is not realistic to use public transport for the Mayor’s schedule as the bus services, which are the responsibility of Gloucestershire County Council, are neither reliable nor frequent enough. Secondly, the Mayor wears a chain of historical significance and heritage value, therefore retaining a car is preferable for safety.


It is also important to remember that a key part of the role of Mayor is to raise money for their chosen charities. Over the last ten years £195k has been raised for local good causes doing absolutely essential and valuable work in our communities. Therefore the cost of leasing a car should be offset against the funds raised which are far in excess of the annual cost of leasing a green and sustainable car.


One of the Mayor’s charities for this year is #feedcheltenham which directly helps people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. I hope the Mayor succeeds in raising as much money for this essential cause as possible during these difficult and challenging times.


Supplementary question from Dr Cook to the Leader, Councillor Rowena Hay


Thank you for the answer. I am sorry to hear that the Mayor feels it is unsafe to travel on public transport. If, both as a society and at this council, provided the necessary support and benefits for those in need, there would be no need for charity.


What lower-cost travel solutions have been explored, and if these are not possible due to safety risks, can these be mitigated – for example, by using a protective case for the mayoral chain? If public transport is not feasible, could a daily car hire be more cost-effective than leasing a vehicle for a year?


The Mayor clarified that the original response had described travelling by bus as unrealistic rather than unsafe. She added that the route nearest to her did not run during the week.


Response from Cabinet Member


Some years ago, this authority owned a car specifically for the Mayor, and paid for its maintenance and storage. This was gotten rid of in order to save money, with a leased electric vehicle being the most appropriate replacement. I remember that when my husband was Mayor in 2012, we often walked to events, but this was not always possible. The cost of insuring the Mayor’s chain would likely increase significantly if she were to regularly walk to events rather than use a car. I have no aversion to looking at different options for the Mayor’s transport, but using a bicycle or scooter while wearing the chain is hardly realistic. The Mayor could drive herself, but it is really important to ensure that she arrives at events on time, as many of them are scheduled around her arrival. In order to do that, a dedicated driver is needed, and alternatives are unlikely to work on this level.


2. Question from Dr Cook to the Leader, Councillor Rowena Hay


I have twice been unable to copy & paste my question to the council into the online form, which means this form is inaccessible for users of assistive technology, and the website does not contain an accessibility statement. I have contacted the helpdesk regarding this matter and was told I needed to type my question onto the online form, however if I was using a speech to text device, this would not have been possible. Therefore I find that people with disabilities are being discriminated in their access to the When will the council bring the site in line with The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018?


Response from Cabinet Member


Thank you for your question. Our web team has tested our ‘Submit a public question’ form and has successfully copied and pasted text into the form so cannot identify with the issue raised.


With regard to the council’s accessibility statement, this is available on our main website and you’ll find links to it in the website header and footer. We thank you for highlighting that it is not apparent on, so we’ll look at improving this as a priority.


Our web team is currently working with an external organisation called The Shaw Trust, who are experts in the field of accessibility, to bring our website in line with the accessibility legislation. This work is nearing completion, but work to improve accessibility will always be ongoing. We have recently produced an accessibility policy, which is aimed at ensuring the continued improvement of our online platforms.


Supplementary question from Dr Cook to the Leader, Councillor Rowena Hay


I am pleased to hear that the council has recognised that its accessibility statement is not apparent on this site, thank you for promising to amend this. I found the process of asking public questions to be challenging, as the online form did not ask about specific needs or requirements, and did not provide a map telling me where to come to the meeting. When I arrived here today, there was a tiny sign for the wheelchair accessible entrance, and the door in the corridor was locked. Once you are in the building, there is no signage to indicate a wheelchair accessible route, and if you had difficulty climbing the stairs to reach the public gallery there was no signage to indicate another route. Will all councillors uphold democracy by making coming to meetings more accessible?


Response from Cabinet Member


The public questioner left the Chamber before a response could be given.


One Member added as a point of information that members of the public could also email their questions directly to [email protected], which might be more amenable to assistive technology than the online form.


Another Member added that the Accessibility Forum advised the council on these matters, so it would be helpful if Dr Cook’s questions were referred to them.

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