Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 7)
Lynda Turner, Executive Member for Localism, Community & Environmental Services, has been invited to attend the meeting to update Members on key ongoing issues and policies within her portfolio and to answer any questions.
The Executive Member for Localism, Community & Environmental Services advised that she would concentrate on updating Members on two key areas of her Portfolio, dealing with the Olympic and Jubilee celebration plans and the Serco contract.
The review of the service was well underway and the consultation period had finished. Recruitment had commenced for a Communities Manager who would work across all three authorities and for a Pride Co-ordinator/Team Leader for Breckland. The whole Communities Team would be working under the Pride umbrella.
Ways were being sought to maximise both financial and human resources. The grant system was being reviewed to make it more efficient and effective and the review of the Local Strategic Partnership was also well underway.
The Portfolio was involved in a variety of events to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. There had been 49 applications for street parties and by careful financial management all had been supported. Grants would be used for a variety of purposes, including the purchase of time capsules, tree planting and to fund cream teas for care home residents.
There had also been 11 applications for grants towards Breckland Olympic Torch relay events. One was from Attleborough High School which would be hosting the original 1948 Olympic Torch and holding a Family Olympic Sports Day in June.
At the conclusion of the Paralympics the Tour of Britain would commence and the first stage would take place in Norfolk and Suffolk. The Council had agreed £10,000 of funding to support events to celebrate the Tour which would pass through Swanton Morley and Dereham. Those events would encourage tourism and provide an economic boost for Breckland.
There had been many offers of royal and jubilee memorabilia which would be displayed in a travelling show which would tour the District.
The Light Dragoons had been invited to parade through Dereham on their return from Afghanistan towards the end of the year. The newly refurbished Dereham Memorial Hall would be used for the reception if the offer of the welcome home parade was accepted.
Norfolk County Council (NCC) had cut its Youth Service and seven district-based Youth Advisory Boards (YABs) had been created across the County. The YABs promoted local ownership by young people. The Executive Member was the Chairman of the Breckland YAB which would appoint a Youth and Community worker to support youth activities using a £45,000 commissioning budget provided by NCC. The YABs were multi-agency and various Members were involved.
The Chairman noted that he had attended a meeting in Mattishall about community development which had included an excellent presentation by a teenager from Great Yarmouth about dealing with deprived communities.
The Executive Member was aware through her work with Youth and the Older Persons Forum, that Great Yarmouth had very similar ways of working to Breckland. She was convinced that the expansion to include joint working with Great Yarmouth was the right way forward for the Council.
The Chairman was sure that across the board there were other areas of excellence in South Holland and Great Yarmouth that would be very useful for Members to learn about.
The Executive Member advised that her Interim Community Development Manager was already working across both Councils and that the teams were working together to maximise resources and skills to deliver a service that was fit for purpose.
Mr Gilbert asked if the Council was ready to deal with the implications of the Localism Act. He was concerned that there could be a lot of minority groups seeking support.
The Executive Member said that it would be difficult to judge what demand would be until more details were available. They were developing systems to allow the Communities Team to be an enabling team. Localism was about empowering people and giving control back to communities with a degree of responsibility.
With regard to the empowering aspect, the Vice-Chairman noted that there were courses being run on Neighbourhood Planning, etc. He wanted to ensure that groups would be able to access money for their projects and suggested that the Council should facilitate courses to assist groups in accessing pots of money from other funding sources.
The Executive Member advised that that already happened. There was also a system called Delta which provided the facility for members of the public to access funding on-line. She hoped to fund purchase of the system through the Pride project.
Mr William Richmond asked if there was anyone lined up for the Olympic Torch relay and was advised that there had been 12 applications. The Breckland stage of the torch relay would start at the Village Games in Watton and would visit all sorts of places including lots of schools.
Mr Robert Richmond asked if there were any facilities for older people with regard to IT training, following the withdrawal of the One Stop Bus. He asked if computer training could be done through village halls.
The Executive Member confirmed that Pride funding was supporting training being held in village halls. Another route to access services and avoid isolation was through the Older Peoples’ Forum which already had 100 Members and provided a voice for people over 50 years of age. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) would be held on 27 March at the EcoTech Centre and would focus on energy.
Work was also being carried out with Great Yarmouth on a ‘Sloppy Slipper Exchange’. It was known that many older-people’s falls were caused by poorly fitting footwear. It was hoped that the Councils could work with a Norfolk footwear provider and podiatrists in a scheme to be launched before Christmas aimed at reducing the number of falls.
With regard to the One Stop Bus, Mr Joel suggested that children could help older people and schools should be encouraged to facilitate that.
The Executive Member was joined by the Environmental Services Manager and they updated the Commission on the Serco contract which was due to end in 2015. Extension or renewal of the contract was currently being reviewed. At a recent meeting profit and loss had been discussed. A financial analysis had been carried out and a report would be presented to Cabinet in May to secure a decision.
The team had negotiated a shorter contract which would end at the same time as contracts of neighbouring authorities. This would put the Council in a good position to negotiate a County-wide contract at a later date if desired.
The street cleansing service had been reviewed to provide a better programme of cleaning of hot spots whilst at the same time finding further efficiencies and a review of the Grounds Maintenance service was underway.
The Executive Member mentioned that in the report to Cabinet in May there would be a recommendation to no longer provide wheeled bins for new properties with effect from 1 June 2012.
Members were concerned by that proposal and discussed its implications. There were a number of questions raised including:
· What would happen if a householder refused to buy a wheeled bin?
Under current legislation the Council could stipulate the size of receptacle for rubbish, and could refuse to collect rubbish if those requirements were not met.
· Should developers pay for the bins, not the householder?
It was hoped that developers would provide the bins, but the Council could not enforce that requirement under the current planning policies.
· Should the provision of bins be a condition on planning permissions?
This was part of a broader issue which needed to be addressed. Currently there was no requirement for developers to provide storage space for bins. This was a particular problem in Conservation Areas. A new Planning Policy would be required.
· Would existing bins continue to be maintained / replaced?
Existing properties would not be required to buy replacement bins, the scheme only applied to new houses.
Other questions raised which could not be answered were: what would happen to all the extant planning permissions for new houses if the new scheme started on 1 June 2012, and; would the new scheme create a black market in stolen bins?
The Executive Member acknowledged the concerns but explained that although the Council had provided free bins in the past it could not continue to do so. Many other Councils charged for wheeled bins to generate income. There would be a new Development Control Policy which would pass responsibility back to the community. Although they were aiming to introduce the new scheme on 1 June 2012 she would take Members’ comments on board and she would discuss them with the Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development.
Moving on, the Chairman noted that under the Localism Act Parish Councils could bid to take control of grass cutting. Many farmers had machinery capable of doing that job. Parishes could join forces and provide a service which would be more effective. Rural Parishes should be approached to see if they would be interested.
The Environmental Services Manager agreed saying that most of Serco’s work was in the towns and covering the many small pieces of land in rural areas was time consuming.
The Vice-Chairman was aware that NCC had asked Thetford Town Council to take responsibility for some areas of their land providing funding for some but not all. Economies of scale meant that the Town Council was able to do the work more economically.
Mr Joel was keen to keep the Serco contract as he did not receive any complaints about them as they were always on time and polite.
Mr Kybird noted that some primary pedestrian roads were often lined with cars which made street cleansing ineffective. The Environmental Services Manager agreed and said it was very difficult to get people to move cars. If Members gave her details of specific areas she would try to address the problem.
Mr Gilbert asked about litter picking. He was aware that it was carried out on A-roads but wondered if it happened in the Towns as well. There was a problem with litter in some areas of Watton and he asked if it was Serco’s responsibility.
The Environmental Services Manager advised that the five town centres had dedicated teams which cleaned them every morning. Other areas were more of a problem, but again, if Members knew of specific areas that needed attention, they were asked to let her know. The Council had an Enforcement Officer and people had been taken to court for littering.
A particular problem on A-roads was litter falling from rubbish lorries which were not properly covered. The team was dealing with the major haulage companies to try to address that issue.
Mr Gilbert explained that he was talking about litter dropped by pedestrians.
Mr Wassell said that the police maintained that they did fine people regularly for littering. He thought that the majority of the problems in Watton were on school routes and that getting teachers to educate the children about littering might be the answer. He also suggested another possibility would be to use May-Gurney as they worked with prisoners from Wayland and were keen to use them on community projects.
The Chairman and Members thanked the Executive Member and Environmental Services Manager for their extensive report.