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Medway Matters: Vince Maple and Richard Hicks in Q&A at The Howard School, Rainham

Council leaders were asked about failing social services, roadworks chaos, broken promises, and accessibility issues at a Q&A session.

The first edition of Medway Matters was held on Tuesday at The Howard School in Rainham, where members of the public could ask questions of council leader Cllr Vince Maple and chief executive Richard Hicks.

Richard Hicks, Cllr Vince Maple and Rob Smith at the Medway Matters event
Richard Hicks, Cllr Vince Maple and Rob Smith at the Medway Matters event

The event was hosted by former BBC journalist Rob Smith, and audience members could either submit written questions or raise their hands.

The head teacher of Howards School, Jasbinder Johal, introduced the two alumni who then gave presentations, Cllr Maple on the first six months of the Labour administration and Hicks on the ambition to turn Medway into a great place to live, work, learn, and visit.

There were some technical difficulties, with some microphones not working or feedback causing violent squeals, but eventually these were ironed out.

The floor was then opened up to the audience, who asked about littering, social services, housebuilding and infrastructure, and how Medway aims to improve.

Several questioners asked about how systems could be improved after they had been failed.

One mother said her son was now too far gone after social services failed to prevent him from becoming exploited by gangs.

Chief executive Richard Hicks at the Medway Matters event
Chief executive Richard Hicks at the Medway Matters event

She said her son had had eight different social workers and there was no consistency in the service, that plans and interventions were unenforced and dropped, so her son, now almost an adult, was beyond help.

She asked what was being done to improve social services so other families do not suffer the same fate.

Cllr Maple apologised her son had been failed by the system and said improvements had been made since the inadequate Ofsted report in 2019 but more work was needed.

He said: “I can’t change what’s happened and I’m sorry, the reality is you would not be the only person in to say that here tonight.

“Four years ago that service was in a shocking situation and that was not acceptable.

“We have got to a better place, but we are seeing challenges that need national intervention.

Vince Maple at the Medway Matters' event
Vince Maple at the Medway Matters' event

“Nobody should be in that position. We are constantly seeking to improve.”

Mr Hicks added he had recently been to visit the team dedicated to dealing with the county lines gangs and said Medway Council would work in whatever way possible to create a hostile environment for the gangs to keep them out of the Towns.

Similarly, another mother said her son was being bullied at school and although the school had said they were making efforts to crack down on bullying, it had continued and she had involved the police.

She said rates of suicide among young people were rising and something needed to be done, so what was the council going to do?

Cllr Maple said that although academies within Medway don’t fall under the direct remit of the council, portfolio holders for education and social services were looking at how to ensure children across Medway are safe and happy when going to school.

He also criticised the current system of support for children’s mental health, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Medway Council's Gun Wharf offices in Chatham
Medway Council's Gun Wharf offices in Chatham

He said: “CAMS is rubbish. For those of you who don’t know what it is, CAMS is the mental health provision in schools and it was rubbish before Covid and now it’s even worse.

“We need a whole system change. There’s cross-party support on this and our scrutiny committees are looking at it.”

He also said he and Mr Hicks would like to speak in detail with the two questioners about the specifics of their cases to see what could be done.

The council leaders were also challenged about how the future of Medway would be accessible to people with disabilities.

“You’re a new administration but are you going to do something about disability inclusion?

“We see a distinct lack of accessible taxis, for example, and I gave up trying to go to your council meetings because they are completely inaccessible to me.

A new �5m science and design and technology block has opened at the Howard School in Rainham. Picture: Howard School/
A new �5m science and design and technology block has opened at the Howard School in Rainham. Picture: Howard School/

“Time and time again, I see a distinct lack of disability inclusion.

“The introduction of bike gates at the entrance of green spaces effectively makes them unusable to us.

“Stop telling us what we need and start asking us what we actually want.”

Cllr Maple accepted the council had work to do in making parts of Medway more accessible to people with disabilities and said he would like to work with disability campaigners to ensure considerations were always made going forward.

However, he also said not everything could be done immediately due to the budget pressures the council currently faces.

“I can’t promise to put everything right over the last 20 years. I would value a conversation with you and ask what can be done.

Chief executive Richard Hicks at the Medway Matters event
Chief executive Richard Hicks at the Medway Matters event

“A key part of this is the art of the achievable with this budget pressure. We will do what we can, I am happy to commit to that.”

The challenges continued when a member of the audience said they had been at Chatham Docks their entire working life and their job was threatened by its possible closure for redevelopment.

They said previously Cllr Maple had supported the Save Chatham Docks campaign but since forming his administration in May he had gone quiet on the issue.

The questioner asked: “Can you assure me and my family that the promise that you made in the past will be honoured?”

The council leader gave no definite promise that he would prevent the closure of the working dockyard, in part because he could not make that guarantee as Peel L&P own the land, and said instead he wanted discussion between them and the businesses currently operating in Chatham Docks.

He said: “It looks like we are going to get something in the diary. We have not supported anything at the moment.

MM CHATHAM DOCKS Map showing where Chatham Docks is
MM CHATHAM DOCKS Map showing where Chatham Docks is

“We will do that and we will see what comes of that conversation. I don’t know what will come of that conversation.”

There were two questions relating to roads asked on the evening, one about whether anything was being done to drag Rainham out of permanent gridlock, and another about whether Hoo and the Peninsula would ever get investment to relieve traffic problems.

On Rainham’s traffic troubles, Cllr Maple and Richard Hicks both said they knew residents had frustrations about the extent of roadworks which seemed to be never-ending.

Mr Hicks said sometimes this was unavoidable, if emergency work was needed then no notice could be given to the council, but work was being done to try and co-ordinate maintenance so more could be done in one go rather than one set of improvements being finished and shortly after another set being started.

As part of the discussion, the red routes scheme was mentioned and Cllr Maple said there was an ongoing consultation about the plans and they were subject to change based upon resident’s responses.

He also added: “I want to clear something up that some people on social media are saying incorrectly. There is not and there won’t be a Medway ULEZ.”

“We will do that and we will see what comes of that conversation. I don’t know what will come of that conversation.”

The questioner about traffic to and from Hoo said there had been promises for a rail-link and an investment in road infrastructure to improve the current situation of their being only one route on and off the peninsula.

However, they said, these promises had all been scrapped and, in fact, bus routes were being cancelled on the peninsula, meaning people were more reliant on cars, creating congestion, and isolating those who don’t own a vehicle.

Cllr Maple and Mr Hicks said the broken promises were due to the removal of the £170 million Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) which was removed by central government due to their worries the plans couldn’t be followed through on.

They said that although they were aware of the problems on the peninsula, and they wanted to fix them, budget pressures and concerns from residents relating to the unique wildlife and environment meant it was a work in progress.

The next Medway Matters event is yet to be announced, but will give residents another opportunity to question council leaders on issues that matter to them.

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