Venue: This meeting is in line with The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020
Contact: Democratic Services Tel: 01362 656870
Announcement by the Chairman
The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting.
Prior to the commencement of the meeting, the Chairman paid tribute to Anna Graves, following her resignation as Breckland Council’s Chief Executive.
The Chairman had been privileged to be part of the Appointments Panel when Anna was interviewed and was offered the Chief Executive position for both Breckland and South Holland District Councils. In the few years that she had known and worked with Anna, she had proved to be a hardworking, feisty, innovative, and committed Chief Executive, determined to take both Councils forward in an exciting and pioneering manner. Anna had earnt the respect and gratitude of members and staff alike and her presence would be sorely missed.
The Chairman understood Anna’s decision to take another path in life, and to concentrate on her family and the community around her and the Chairman thanked her for her sterling commitment to the Council and the residents and wished her very best wishes in whatever she decided to do in the future.
Members were then reminded of the meeting protocol.
Apologies (Agenda item 1)
To receive apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Ashby, Claussen, Grey, Kiddell, Nairn and Terry.
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 22 July 2020.
The Minutes of the meeting held on 23 July 2020 were agreed as a correct record.
Suspension of Standing Order No. 5 (Agenda item 3)
To consider the suspension of Standing Order No.5 (Order of Business), to enable the order of business for this meeting to be altered.
The Executive Manager for Governance advised that, in order to keep the business on the agenda as manageable as possible, the reporting of Committee Minutes had been removed. The Council was therefore asked to suspend Standing Order 5 of the Council’s Constitution.
Following a show of hands, it was
RESOLVED that Standing Order No. 5 be suspended.
Declaration of Interests (Agenda item 4)
The duties to register, disclose and not to participate for the entire consideration of the matter, in respect of any matter in which a Member has a disclosable pecuniary interest are set out in Chapter 7 of the Localism Act 2011. Members are also required to withdraw from the meeting room as stated in the Standing Orders of this Council.
Prior to any announcements being made by the Chairman, Riana Rudland, the Breckland Place Manager and Sarah Shipley, the Public Protection Manager, who had been leading on the Critical Services Cell since the start of the pandemic were in attendance, and provided Members with a detailed presentation.
The presentation highlighted the hard work and achievements made by all staff including Capita staff, ARP and Serco during and after the lockdown.
Council buildings had been made Covid compliant by the Facilities Team, protocols had been developed, and safe working procedures had been put in place by the Health & Safety Team.
The success stories were highlighted which included the significant part that Breckland Council had played in the management of the Banham Poultry outbreak and the Covid testing sites that had been sourced.
(A copy of the presentation is attached to the Minutes for information).
Members were asked to direct any questions to the relevant officers after the meeting.
Following the presentation, the Chairman reminded Members that the UK was still in the middle of a pandemic and was entering another critical phase. Whilst all the Councils services were important, Officers were rightly prioritising Covid-19 and all the implications that came with it, and she asked Members to think before asking Officers for extra reports or information on other topics that could take them away from managing the current crisis as the safety and wellbeing of the communities was paramount.
Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 6)
To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.
The Leader made the following announcements:
Covid-19 – National Guidance
Following the recent changes to the national guidance announced by the Prime minister earlier in the week, Norfolk’s overall rate remained lower than England’s average; however, the Leader urged everyone to follow the new guidance as it was paramount not to become complacent. A new National Health Service App had just been launched and again he urged all Members to download it as this had been designed to help track and trace. Businesses were now required to display QR codes to allow customers to easily check in to ensure that the virus was able to be controlled.
Officers had been working with local businesses across the District to raise awareness of this new requirement and support them so that they could become compliant in respect of the new rules and regulations.
The Council would continue to deliver all essential services that had been highlighted in the earlier presentation in the same manner as it had throughout the pandemic. For now, the vast majority of staff would continue to work from home and would continue to serve customers remotely either on-line, on the phone or, and if absolutely necessary, face to face.
These had been extremely challenging times for everyone, not just in Breckland but across the country and of course, the world but he had been pleased by the way everyone in Breckland had risen to the challenge. Until life returned to some normality, it was uncertain what the forthcoming months might hold; however, Breckland Council’s priorities would continue, supporting its businesses to thrive, to be safe and successful whilst also providing protection for its residents, and in particular, those who were most vulnerable.
Members were then reminded of the Banham Poultry outbreak.
Regular updates had been and would continue to be provided to all Members. Officers involved in handling the outbreak had worked with partners across Norfolk including Norfolk County Council’s Public Health to ensure that the outbreak was successfully managed. To date, there had been 135 confirmed positive cases but thankfully, there had been no evidence of any further outbreaks within the community. He was pleased to inform Members that the peak of the outbreak had now passed, and data had shown that levels had now returned to what they were prior to the outbreak. As a result, Norfolk was no longer on enhanced support, the factory had returned to full production with approximately 80% of staff now back on site. This was good news for all those people affected, for the company and for the community. The outbreak had been well managed but there were still improvements to be made to ensure that Breckland and Norfolk were safe and well prepared for any future outbreaks.
Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) System
The Leader reminded Members of the discussions held in 2019 in respect of ANPR that was mainly used by the Police. Further progress had been made in respect of Breckland’s commitment through its vulnerability programme. The ... view the full minutes text for item 63/20
Questions on Notice under Standing Order No 6 (Agenda item 7)
· Question received from Cllr Morton:
It is now nearly a year since a Climate Change Emergency was declared. The Leader then called upon the Council to develop its commitment and implementation of an overarching and achievable sustainable Breckland Strategy. This would set out the policies, strategies, implementation plans and resourcing requirements to embed the values of sustainability into the Council’s services, delivery and operations. The Council would work with key stakeholders across the District, including Norfolk County Council, neighbouring local authorities, the Local Enterprise Partnership, businesses and of course, its residents who could contribute to a Sustainable Breckland Strategy. He assured Members that Cabinet would be discussing this Strategy early in 2020.
To expedite meaningful progress will the Cabinet Member for Sustainability create a Cross Party Working Group where the Breckland Strategy outlined by the Leader could be discussed and developed in a transparent cross-party approach?
· Question received from Cllr Birt:
The need for a Carbon Audit to start measuring our carbon emissions was raised in January when funding was deemed to not be a problem.
It is extremely disappointing to now learn that we cannot undertake a full Carbon Audit because the relevant organisations are busy carrying out audits with other Councils. Applying for the LGA Net Zero Innovation Programme is a noble aspiration and I hope we succeed but there are only ten places so the competition will be strong. Many of us believe we need to show greater urgency and rather than put all efforts in one direction we need to also pursue alternative solutions.
In line with the Constitution, the following questions and responses had been circulated to Members prior to the Full Council meeting as included below.
Also in accordance with the Constitution, a number of supplementary questions were also asked.
For ease of reference, the supplementary questions have been included in italics below.
· Question received from Councillor Roger Atterwill to the Executive Member of Planning
Councillor Atterwill had recently been advised that the Council had ceased using the District Valuer to assess developer viability assessments and was instead using a private company called CP Viability Ltd. He asked if the reason(s) for this change could be confirmed:
Ø whether a competitive tender process had been followed
Ø who within the Council authorised this change; and
Ø how could local residents be assured that assessment advice received by CP Viability Ltd wasimpartial.
The decision to do this was taken because there had been concerns expressed by Members and officers about viability appraisals and it was considered that it was appropriate to go to the market and look to appoint a Valuer to advise the Council on such matters.
The contract was openly tendered in December 2019 and was uploaded to Contracts Finder. The contract commenced on 1st March 2020 and would run until 28th February 2023. There was an option to extend the contract.
The cost for carrying out viability appraisals was recharged to the developer/applicant so there was no direct cost to the Council.
It was considered that the traditional providers of viability appraisals had links to the development industry and their impartiality could not be assured. The decision had therefore been taken to appoint a consultant with no links to the development industry and would be more challenging to the appraisals provided. The company that had been appointed worked exclusively for the Public Sector and the tender had been designed so that only bids from companies that worked exclusively for the Public Sector would be accepted. This was considered to provide a greater assurance of impartiality and challenge to the development industry. This was a delegated decision.
· Supplementary Question:
In terms of the Council not using the District Valuer anymore, Councillor Atterwill welcomed the appointment of a private company to undertake viability appraisals but asked that, in future, when any decisions such as these were made, that the Chairman of the Planning Committee be informed in the first instance rather than Members being informed of such changes by a third party.
In the absence of the Executive Member for Planning, the Leader said that this procedural matter would be investigated, and in future, any decisions that affected the planning process would be reported to the Chairman of the Planning Committee accordingly.
· Question received from Councillor Roger Atterwill to the Executive Member of Planning:
At the Cabinet meeting held on 13th July 2020 the Executive Member for Planning had been asked if planning conditions placed on any permission decision notices were subsequently monitored by the Council to ensure ... view the full minutes text for item 64/20
Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 8)
Councillor Crane addressed her question to Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Contracts & Assets.
Prior to Covid-19, the Council had agreed to change the way it worked, and she asked if the plans in respect of the Worksmart 20:20 initiative, following the impact of the pandemic, were now on hold.
In response, Councillor Hewett advised that understandably, a number of initiatives had been put on hold as the offices were closed and staff had been re-located and re-directed to frontline essential services that had been described in the presentation held earlier in the meeting.
He felt that in many ways, the speed of reaction and the ability to change, in every aspect in what the Council did, had been a testament to the resilience of staff, the focus of the leadership team and the underlying ambitions of Worksmart 20:20.
He was delighted to announce that works to the Breckland Conference Centre, which it would now be called, using local builders and specialists had continued at pace over the last couple of months and the new Anglia, Norfolk and Dereham Rooms would be ready to resume full face to face or hybrid face to face on-line meetings as soon as legislation allowed. Members would see a smart new reception area, new furniture, which was flexible and adaptable, particularly for paying users, new quiet air conditioning and air extraction systems, and along with ‘state of the art’ IT systems meant that meetings would be accessible and could be enjoyed by everyone.
Focus was now on the first floor of the Elizabeth House, creating an environment for the Council’s hardworking staff which he felt would be exciting, vibrant and ready for the future – in many ways, reflecting the legacy of the departing Chief Executive. All in the Worksmart Steering Group, that included Members and Officers, were keen to see this progress and create a Council that met the needs of Members, Officers, residents and businesses alike to allow everyone in Breckland to thrive.
Councillor Kybird directed his question to Councillor Sherwood, the Executive Member for Customer Engagement & Member Champion for Breckland Sustainability Strategy.
In respect of the Climate Emergency, he welcomed the appointment to carry out the Council’s carbon audit and he asked if there were any plans to recruit specialist staff to help deliver this audit and the actions thereafter as necessary.
Councillor Sherwood knew that Councillor Kybird was extremely passionate about the environment and his input and comments received over the past few months had been incredibly useful and he thanked him for this information and the areas that he had highlighted.
He was delighted to announce that the Council would be recruiting a fixed term Officer and the advertisement for that post would soon be published. This clearly highlighted the commitment of this Council and once this audit had been completed, there would be a full-time Officer who would be responsible for pushing this policy forward and assisting the Council with what the Councillors had chosen to do.
Report of Councillor Mark Robinson, Executive Member for Community, Leisure & Culture.
Councillor Robinson, the Executive Member for Community, Leisure & Culture presented the report.
The report asked Members to consider and accept the grant of £380,000 from Historic England as partnership funding to support the Swaffham High Streets Heritage Action Zone over a four-year period 2020-2024.
Councillor Robinson was pleased to bring this item forward as the Council continued to support its five market towns. He reminded Members that in 2019, Historic England launched the High Streets Heritage Action Zone Programme (HSHAZ) through funding from the Government’s ‘Towns Funds’, providing £45m for prospective bids in England to unlock the potential in its High streets. The programmes objectives were explained. Swaffham with its rich history had been considered as a potential HSHAZ location with its iconic Buttercross that formed a central focus to the Market Place that had been gifted to the town by George Walpole in 1783 as well as the many other listed buildings within the heritage Action Zone area.
An Expression of Interest was submitted to Historic England in July 2019 and following approval Breckland Council was required to submit a Programme Design Plan (attached at Appendix 1 to the report). Following a three-month national assessment period, Breckland Council was provided with approved funds of £380,000 as part of a total programme cost of £697,900 to deliver the HSHAZ over a four-year period from 2020-2024.
The Programme Design Plan identified the actions to be financed through the scheme and provided the details of confirmed and partnership match funding that had been initially approved by the Council in Support of the Swaffham HSHAZ in February 2020.
The Programme would require daily management and monitoring and continuous reporting to Historic England as the accountable body over the four-year period. Therefore, the recruitment of a Project Officer would be central to achieving both successful delivery whilst working with a wide range of stakeholders, and ensuring that the processes and procedures required to adhere to the opportunities and constraints of the HSHAZ were followed and met.
Following on from his earlier question, Councillor Colman felt that this was something that should be celebrated, and he hoped that all Members would support this unprecedented investment in one of Breckland’s Market Towns.
Councillor Ian Sherwood, as one of the Ward Members for Swaffham, was delighted with what Breckland Council had achieved. He thanked the Executive Member, Councillor Robinson, and the Team for all their hard work. He had been overwhelmed by the result and this funding would be an enormous help in the town of Swaffham, which he considered to be the heart of Breckland. He pointed out that this investment would filter out into the hinterlands so everyone who used the town would benefit.
Given current circumstances with the pandemic, Councillor Bushell asked Councillor Robinson if the initiative for the five market towns would still be able to be undertaken.
Members were informed that the Match Funding from the Council’s Inclusive Growth Reserve for the Market Town initiative would continue to be supported for ... view the full minutes text for item 66/20
Report of Councillor Phil Cowen, Executive Member for Finance & Growth.
Members are asked to note that this report has already been discussed at the Cabinet meeting on 7 September 2020 and has been recommended to Full Council for a decision.
Councillor Cowen, the Executive Member for Finance & Growth presented the report.
In these unprecedented times he doubted whether anyone could recall an instance when the Council had to consider a change to the budget part way through a fiscal year.
COVID 19 has had a significant impact on the workings and financial status of Councils throughout the United Kingdom and Breckland was no exception.
Earlier in the year, in June 2020, an interim report was presented on the likely and potential impact of COVID 19 on the budget that had been set prior to the outbreak.
The report now being considered contained two recommendations that were related directly to the impact of the pandemic and the likely cost effects having been drawn out of the Quarter One financial report that had been presented to the Cabinet meeting held earlier in the month on 7 September 2020.
Losses had been suffered through reductions in the Council’s income streams as shown in paragraph 1.3 of the report. The Council had also experienced additional costs as identified in paragraph 1.4 of the report. Government support had been targeted at some of the gaps the pandemic had created and whilst substantial, it had not fully funded the budget gap resulting from the impact of the pandemic.
However, Breckland Council through its prudent fiscal management had been able to absorb the majority of the financial gap by drawing down Reserves as shown in Appendix A of the report and the Council was confident that it should be able to put in place measures to address the £217k shortfall.
Furthermore, despite all the disruption, redeployment and change of working practices that staff had faced in the last 6 months, the Council Taxpayers of Breckland had been provided with an uninterrupted service. Bins had been emptied regularly, planning applications had been processed, communities had been supported and housing needs had been met.
Councillor Cowen thanked all the Teams within Breckland Council who had worked in challenging and often difficult circumstances to put this revised budget together. This had been a workstream that they had never encountered before and hopefully one which would not occur again.
Full details that supported the revised budget had been set out in the report and appendices.
The recommendations were then commended to Members for approval.
Councillor Bushell asked if the Executive Member could confirm whether the Council could still deliver its growth agenda, having regard to the drain on finances as result of the Covid 19 outbreak had placed on the budget. She also thanked the Officers who had worked diligently throughout.
In response, Councillor Cowen advised that the report highlighted the significant sums that had to be drawn down from the Council’s Reserves in order to bridge the gap. He drew attention to section 1.6 of the report that stated very clearly the great deal of work the Council was currently engaged in such as the HIF project in Thetford, the Snetterton power project as well as many others some of ... view the full minutes text for item 67/20
Report of Sarah Suggitt, Executive Member for Governance.
Councillor Suggitt, the Executive Member for Governance presented the report that asked Members to consider and approve changes to the revised Workforce Strategy as a result of Covid-19.
In 2019, the current Workforce Strategy had been published but for obvious reasons, the current pandemic had changed the work considerably.
The Workforce Strategy took account of the aims of the People Plan and was linked to and supported the Council’s strategic priorities as part of the Corporate Plan.
It ensured the Council had the right people, with the right skills, in the right jobs and it was imperative that staff were trusted and empowered. The development of programmes to support managers and individuals in agile working resilience, staying digitally connected, being outcome focused in their delivery and to balance the need for face to face collaboration and agile working was extremely important.
The changes to the Workforce Strategy and the recommendations were highlighted.
Councillor Birt appreciated the flexibility that the Council was going to need going forward but wanted to know when this document might be updated in the future as he had noticed that one of the characterising terms that had been used before had been removed. He had also noticed that the document used ‘generation y’ or ‘millennials’ and since these could be morphed into derogatory terms he felt that in a report such as this the Council, in future, should not use these vernacular terms but have a better definition.
Councillor Suggitt noted Councillor Birt’s comments and would take them forward accordingly.
Councillor Hewett reflected the excellent work of the staff whilst lives and the workplace had been overturned by Covid., He felt that this document linked really neatly into the work that the Council was doing in respect of the Worksmart 20:20, not just in terms of agile working, but in terms of an agile office space, a space that was fit for purpose for the foreseeable future. He congratulated the Executive Member on the report and the work that the Team had done and commended the recommendations for approval.
After being proposed and seconded, it was:
RESOLVED that the Workforce Strategy 2019 -2023 (revised following CV19) be approved.
Nominations for Committee and other Seats (Agenda item 12)
To receive nominations for any changes to Committee and other seats from political groups.
Amendments to the Constitution (Agenda item 13)
Any other items which the Chairman decides are urgent (Agenda item 14)
NOTE: No other business is permitted unless by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the Chairman is of the opinion that the items(s) should be considered as a matter of urgency.