Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 5)
To receive a verbal update from Councillor Nunn, Leader of the Council.
The Leader gave Members an update on the following:
· The Corporate Plan – the Plan was now focussing on the Market Towns as these were considered to be the hubs of the District. Funding would be allocated to each of the towns to assist with delivering their visions. Councillor Claussen, who had recently been appointed as the Executive Member for Place would be tasked with overseeing this. Lynda Turner was thanked for all her hard work as the former Portfolio Holder of Place.
· Unitary status – it was inevitable that there would now be a focus on unitary authorities and the on-going talks should be supported to ensure that appropriate work would be realised for the economic and social drivers of Norfolk.
· Sustainability Transformation Plan – these were Health Plans in respect of which Breckland Council was a consultee.
· New Executive Director for Commercialisation and S151 Officer – Christine Marshall had been appointed and would be focusing on the Council’s budget and its investments.
· Local Enterprise Partnerships – building on existing relationships so that better deals could be had for Norfolk.
The following questions were asked:
On the Corporate Plan:
Councillor Jermy had been disappointed that the Breckland Member had not attended the Greater Thetford Development Partnership meeting as this particular meeting had been about setting the vision for Thetford and he felt that support from the District Council needed to be re-iterated. The Leader agreed and felt that the Town Councils should be supported to assist with the development of a proper vision for their towns and those towns should be marketed as unique places. Councillor Clarke welcomed the Leaders vision to support the market towns and said he would be more than happy to provide a critical friend input. He also welcomed the latest Cabinet appointment and asked the Leader if he would, in future, consider appointing Members who actually lived in the Breckland area. The Leader believed that all Cabinet Members including previous Portfolio Holders had lived and worked in the District at the time of their appointments. Councillor Duigan also welcomed the market towns initiative as he had been disappointed that the investment towards development from various companies that had moved into the towns had not been forthcoming. Councillor Wilkin had been engaged in a number of discussions with the Leader on market towns that were seeing a shift in balance towards national chains and he sought assurance that Members would be involved in the debate so that these towns could continue to thrive in future. The Leader said the answer had to be yes; all towns needed support even though the needs of some were greater than others in terms of deprivation and he hoped that Breckland would be a compassionate Council. Councillor Darby felt that all five towns should work together to drive the costs down. The Leader agreed that the concept of working together made sense. Councillor Smith mentioned the partnerships that had been set up in the past for the towns and felt that perhaps now was the time for these to be revitalised. Councillor Jolly stated that there had been a great deal of work carried out by other Councils on market town initiatives and Breckland could learn a lot what other people were doing well.
The Leader was asked if he agreed that a former Portfolio Holder who had moved outside the District during his time as a Cabinet Member still managed to do an excellent job. Members were informed that this particular Portfolio Holder had been thanked for all his hard work and dedication particularly in relation to his involvement with the Local Plan.
On Unitary status:
Councillor Gilbert was in favour of unitary authorities and certainly welcomed the debate. Councillor Jermy found it very interesting and was of the view that the status quo could not remain. Councillor Duigan preferred the former Rural District Councils as any unitary would, to a certain extent take powers further away from communities and would therefore become more disconnected. Councillor Smith also supported unitary status but had been disappointed to hear that the Leader of Norfolk County Council was in favour of a County Unitary. Members were informed that the Secretary of State had stated that no unitary authority would be accepted unless there was a consensus in favour of it. Clarity was awaited from the Secretary of State.
New Executive Director – Councillor Oliver asked the Leader if he had any idea at this stage if Councillors were willing to change the risk appetite on the Council’s Treasury Management/assets. Members were informed that a Panel of Cabinet would be set up to discuss the Council’s reserves to get the best deal for the District. Councillor Taylor asked for assurance that if the Council was considering taking more risks to stay away from the Icelandic Banks. The Leader advised that at the time investment in those banks was considered to be a good risk paying a high rate of return which kept Council Tax down and felt that the Council had to balance and challenge the risks very carefully and Members should engage in that debate. Councillor Smith reminded Members that the Audit Commission had also invested in the Icelandic Banks; therefore, due diligence had been carried out.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) – Councillor Duigan was glad that talks were being had with the LEPs and asked the Leader to remind them that Dereham actually exists.