Agenda and draft minutes

Venue: The Breckland Conference Centre, Anglia Room, Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham, NR19 1EE

Contact: Democratic Services  01362 656870

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 194 KB

To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 14 September 2023.


The minutes of the meeting held on 14 September 2023 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.


Apologies and Substitutes

To receive apologies for absence and to note substitute Members in attendance.


Apologies were received from Councillors Nunn and Turner. Councillor Askew was in attendance as substitute for Councillor Turner.


Chairman's Announcements (if any)


The Chairman informed Members of the Commission of a possible additional Overview & Scrutiny meeting to be held on 18 January 2024, and asked for this date to be held in diaries, this had yet to be confirmed and further information would follow.


Urgent Business

To note whether the Chairman proposes to accept any item as urgent business pursuant to Section 100(B)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.




Declaration of Interests

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.





Non-Members wishing to address the Meeting

To note the names of any non-members or public speakers wishing to address the meeting.


The Chairman welcomed Councillor Atterwill and Councillor Annie Blackbourn to the meeting.


Portfolio update from the Executive Member for Housing & Homelessness pdf icon PDF 353 KB

To receive a portfolio update from Councillor Claire Bowes, Executive Member for Housing and Homelessness.


The Executive Member for Housing and Homelessness, Councillor Claire Bowes provided Members with a portfolio update (see attached).


Councillor Clarke thanked Councillor Bowes for a comprehensive summary of her portfolio and said it would be useful for this to be distributed to Members of the Commission. He said Members were aware of increasing pressure around temporary accommodation and asked if there were any plans to purchase properties for this purpose. Councillor Clarke also said he had seen national and regional projections around dementia and the increased need for sheltered or warden run housing and asked if this had been factored into the Local Plan with Housing Providers, taking into account layout and design. Councillor Bowes confirmed that Breckland Council were looking into purchasing properties where it was viable and had purchased a property in Thetford for this purpose which would be providing temporary accommodation very shortly. The increased need for elderly and supported accommodation was being taken into account in the Local Plan and was something that she supported.


Councillor Kybird asked for information on the source of capital for any proposed purchases. The Housing Manager, Gill Duffy confirmed that Breckland Council had previously purchased some buildings but was not looking to purchase anymore at this time; however, it would be investigating the possibility of leasing properties that would provide further savings and revenue costs.


Councillor Land said that a lot of homes owned by housing associations were being advertised for auction in Thetford and asked if Ward Members could be informed if this was the case. The Housing Manager explained that there was no obligation to inform Breckland Council if Housing Associations put any properties through auction; however, there was an agreement with Samphire and Victory as there were properties in their areas that they may be looking to lease. Going forward, this was something that could be investigated. Councillor Jermy pointed out that there was a local protocol that Members should be informed of anything significant happening in their Wards and felt that although the Housing Associations did not legally need to inform Breckland Council, he was sure, if asked, they would oblige, as this information would be useful for Members to respond to queries from local residents.


Councillor Atterwill asked of any progress on the possibility of the purchase of housing stock that would be coming available at Robertson Barracks. Councillor Bowes confirmed that this was something that was currently being investigated.


Councillor Annie Blackbourn asked for confirmation of the figures surrounding DFGs as, in her opinion, it was not clear and felt that the waiting list for works to be done was far longer than other local authorities. The Housing Manager explained that part of the money was committed money, so the works were already in place but not yet paid until year end and would be carried forward to the next year. There were no waiting times for urgent work, as such works were carried out immediately. For non-urgent works the waiting times  ...  view the full minutes text for item 63/23


Housing Providers Visit

To receive a short introductory presentation from Justin O’Connor, Assistant Asset Director, Broadland Group and receive an update on current issues from Broadland Housing Association and Saffron Housing Trust.


The Executive Operations Director, Louise Archer, and the Assistant Asset Director, Justin O’Connor for Broadland Housing Association provided Members with a presentation that included an overview of their services and an update on current issues.


Statistics showed that Broadland had a relatively newer housing stock compared to other providers within the sector with the majority of stock being built between 1990s and 2010.


A more recently completed development was the Gathering in Great Hockham which had been completed this year which was a development of a mixed tenure local need exception housing scheme comprising eight affordable rent homes and two shared ownership homes supported by surplus from the inclusions of 8 market sale homes.


The affordable rent, shared ownership and two of the market sale homes had been occupied, with terms agreed on a further four market sale homes with negotiations taking place for the remaining two.


Broadland Housing Association was working in partnership with Breckland Council and Parish Councils on proposals for local need exception housing schemes to build twenty-one new mixed tenure dwellings, fifteen in North Elmham and six in Brisley.


On existing stock, condition surveys were carried out over a five-year cycle and were on track to complete 100% by 2024. There were currently two homes marked for disposal in the Breckland area, and it was stressed that homes marked for disposal would only be disposed of when empty and tenants would not be moved out. The average time for a standard re-let was currently under fifteen days.


Damp and mould were a big challenge across the sector. Broadland Housing Association had a new policy and procedure in place and was using a new internal ratings system for the classification of damp and mould. They had a current programme of installing ‘switchee’ monitors to properties, a smart thermostat that could monitor remotely the humidity and temperature levels within the home, which could identify any high risk and issues relating to fuel poverty. There were currently sixteen homes in the Breckland area that had moderate damp issues.


Broadland Housing Association had an internal maintenance and repair team and aimed for 98% of fixes to be done on a first visit. The current figure was just below that at 95.13% but this was monitored closely to find reasons why and avoid future issues.


Broadland Housing had a Tenancy Support Team which was made up of a team leader, four co-ordinators and a welfare benefits advisor. The team provided additional support to tenants with the aim of sustaining their tenancy.  The team had supported 59 tenants in the Breckland area in 2022/23 and in the first six months of this year had supported 26 tenants.  The main reasons for requesting support were:


·         Welfare Benefits advice, including help with PIP and HB/UC

·         Financial support (budgeting, utilities, food

·         Help to move (completing applications and gathering supporting information)

·         Support with hoarding to live safe in the home

·         One to one support tailored to the tenants needs (employment and training, social networks,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 64/23


Houses In Multiple Occupation Licensing Policy pdf icon PDF 146 KB

Report of Councillor Claire Bowes, Executive Member for Housing and Homelessness.

Additional documents:


The Executive Member for Housing and Homelessness presented the report which was due to go before Cabinet.


Houses in Multiple occupation (HMOs) provided greatly needed housing options for people who could not afford to live in self-contained accommodation or who benefited in other ways from sharing a dwelling with other people. Breckland Council encouraged the use and provision of these types of dwellings but needed to ensure they were safe and well managed.


Legislation requires the Council to licence HMOs with 5 or more people living in them. Licence conditions required safety standards, including fire safety, and standards for the number of kitchen and bathroom facilities. A licence would last up to 5 years and the Council was able to cover its costs in implementing and running the licensing scheme through a licence fee. Under the new policy the fee would be £859 for a 5 bed HMO plus £67 per additional bedroom. The policy had been updated to enable officers to set licences for 1 year and 3-year periods for those properties or landlords that required additional monitoring, instead of the typical 5 years.


The Chairman pointed out that for HMOs to be licensed initially they had to meet strict regulations to be granted a licence and asked if further continuation checks were carried out during the licensing period to ensure conditions were still being met.


The Private Sector Housing Manager, Ellen Spencer explained that further checks and inspections were carried out during the licensing period.


The Chairman stated that some complaints surrounding HMOs, once investigated, had found that the HMO was not licensed and asked what work was being done to ensure HMOs were properly licensed. The Private Sector Housing Manager explained that there was a reporting function on the website to facilitate this, and in addition to this, the team had recently increased staffing by two, and part of their remit was to deal with unlicensed HMOs, investigating reports and checking licences. They also had the ability to fine landlords who did not have the correct licence.


Members of the Commission noted the report.


Public Health Funerals Policy pdf icon PDF 113 KB

Report of Councillor Claire Bowes, Executive Member for Housing and Homelessness

Additional documents:


Councillor Bowes, the Executive Member for Housing and Homelessness, presented the report. It was noted that when someone died, it was often a difficult period for everyone linked to the deceased. Some people did not have anyone who was capable or available to make the necessary funeral arrangements and the Coroner’s Office or Funeral Director needed such arrangements to be made.


Whilst the Council’s duties were set in legislation, it was felt sensible to explain in a policy so that the public, partners and officers could refer to these duties and understand them. The policy made it clear what Breckland Council would do, where assistance was required, to help avoid confusion and manage expectations.


Councillor Clarke had a few issues that he wished to raise regarding the policy and would set these out separately outside of the meeting and contact the team to raise his concerns.


The Chairman suggested that if any other Members of the Commission had any points to raise, they could do the same prior to the report going to Cabinet.


Members of the Commission noted the report.


AI Project Update, including phone bot demo pdf icon PDF 824 KB

To receive an update on the AI project including phone bot demonstration.


The Executive Member for Customer and Corporate Services, Councillor Alison Webb explained that the Artificial Intelligence Project had been demonstrated to the Overview & Scrutiny Commission from the outset of the project, with updates throughout. She was pleased to provide the latest update of the next stage which included a Telephony Bot demonstration before its intended rollout in February 2024.


The Customer Experience Manager, Adele Newsome, explained that within the Corporate Plan Breckland Council had stated that they would provide exceptional customer service for residents, business, and partners by providing a simple user experience no matter how they chose to engage. This project was an innovative way to achieve this by providing convenience and choice by enabling access to digital customer service agents 24/7 across channels. This would reduce inbound demand, freeing up capacity to redeploy into supporting those with more complex needs. It was anticipated that the phone digital assistant would reduce demand by 20%.


The team gave a demonstration of the phone bot capabilities using various scenarios and questions on Council Tax.


Councillor Kybird asked how customers would know what a phone bot was. The Customer Experience Manager explained that the verbal scripted introduction would be changed to explain what it was and how it could help the customer.


Councillor Wickerson asked if the resident would have an option of who to speak to and that if their preference was to speak to an agent, they would be able to do so. Members were informed that once the phone bot was introduced, in the early stages it would just be on the Council Tax dedicated line and there would not be a specific option to speak to an agent; however, if the chatbot was unable to answer the query after a couple of attempts the resident would be escalated to an agent, details would be taken and presented to the agent alongside the call.


The Chairman said that it was important that choice was offered to the resident, and the human element should not be lost, and if they wanted to speak to an agent, it was essential that they had that choice. Councillor Webb advised that she would have further discussions with the team to investigate all options as she felt that it was important to offer choice to all.


Councillor Askew asked about the wait times, and if, after speaking with the phone bot, they were passed to an agent, how long would the resident then have to wait. The Customer Experience Manager explained that the line was prioritised and if transferred from the phone bot they would then be top of the queue for an agent.


The Chairman suggested that it would be interesting for the team to come back to Overview & Scrutiny in a year’s time so that the data could be reviewed after the initial rollout and progress checked.


Rural Prosperity Fund

To receive information on the Rural Prosperity Fund, it’s application and how it links to corporate objectives and Town delivery plans.


The Assistant Director Economy & Growth, Andrew Holdsworth explained that the Rural England Prosperity Fund (REPF) had been established by the Government in September 2022 to allocate £110 million over a two-year period, from April 2023 to March 2025, to local authorities for capital expenditure in rural areas. This fund aimed to support the Levelling Up Agenda and complement the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). It was vital to address the unique challenges faced by rural areas. Breckland had been allocated £1,041,797 from the REPF, distributed as 25% for 2023/24 and 75% for 2024/25. It was important to note that this funding was 100% capital, with no allocation for resource management or delivery. The delivery was being managed through the district’s existing resources and beneficiaries were only able to use this for capital purposes.


The primary objectives of the REPF allocation in Breckland were to "Support Local Business" and enhance "Community & Place." Whilst the Council had the flexibility to determine how the funds were utilised based on its priorities, it was advisable to align with government-defined interventions. Activities supported by the REPF must be conducted in a rural area, defined as any area with fewer than 30,000 residents in one settlement, which included the entire Breckland District.


The Council was now bringing forward the business support element of the scheme, to provide grants to key identified groups within this financial year, and the next financial year. These would include support accessible for:


·         Rural Fund – For rural businesses or landowners seeking to diversify their operations through introducing new products or expanding their facilities and through investment in environmental measures (including flood or nutrient neutrality mitigations).

·         Business Growth Fund – For businesses which have exceptional growth potential, which could lead to greater employment or sustainability.

·         Local Centre Improvement Fund – For businesses based in local centres towns and villages across the district to utilise on improved look and feel investments (shop fronts etc.) and connections across the District.

·         Community Infrastructure Fund – For rural voluntary and community organisations to support the Social Economy through growth and innovation.


All grants were 100% capital. All applications would be subject to due diligence checks, and business plan appraisal (with the intensity variable depending on the size of grant sought).


The REPF was expected to deliver various outputs and outcomes benefiting Breckland's residents and businesses, including:


·         Creation and safeguarding of jobs

·         Support for farm businesses and diversification projects

·         Enhancement of public realm

·         Creation and support of facilities

·         Increased footfall and visitor numbers

·         Greater use of cycleways and paths

·         Improved perception of facilities, amenities, and events

·         Development of new or improved cycleways and path


The Business Development Manager, Cassie Ruffell explained that they had kept the criteria very broad to enable as many businesses and organisations as possible to apply. There was one application form, available on the Breckland Council website, which covered all four grants, and applications received would be checked by the Business Development Team. Once all due diligence had been completed officers would  ...  view the full minutes text for item 68/23


Outside Body Feedback (Standing Item)

To receive an update from representatives on Outside Bodies.



Councillor Kybird, as a member of the Norfolk County Council Health Overview & Scrutiny (HOSC) said it had been difficult recently as the last two meetings and the next meeting were all on the same dates as the Breckland Council Overview & Scrutiny meetings and had been unable to attend both; however, he would furnish Members with the minutes of HOSC for any meetings he had missed.


As Chairman of the Breckland Area Museums meetings, Councillor Kybird said that the Ancient House Museum in Thetford had submitted a lottery bid for assistance in celebrating the 100th Anniversary of The Ancient House and would find out the result in January.


Councillor Wilkinson said that the Breckland Youth Advisory Board (YAB) continued to carry out their programme of events supporting young people outside of school and during the holidays. A new youth group had been established in Thetford, every Thursday 4.30pm to 6.30pm in the library with 60 young people between the ages of 11 and 19 attending the first event.


In his capacity as a member of the committee for The Queen Elizabeth Hospital NHS Trust, Councillor Wilkinson said that there had recently been a recruitment drive in and around Fakenham recruiting in all areas. He also explained that anyone could sign up to be a part of the hospital trust to have a say in how the hospital was run, with varying degrees of involvement from signing up for the newsletter to joining committees and working towards the new build project for 2030.


Scrutiny Call-ins (Standing Item)

To note whether any decisions have been called-in for scrutiny.




Councillor Call for Action (Standing Item)

To consider any references.




Work Programme pdf icon PDF 95 KB

(a)          A copy of the Commission’s work programme is attached.  The Commission is asked to agree any additions, deletions or amendments to the programme as appropriate.


(b)        Member Issues:  In accordance with the Commission’s protocol for member leadership, which states that members of the Commission will take the lead in selecting topics for overview and scrutiny and in the questioning of witnesses, members are invited to put forward items for selection for future review.


A copy of the Key Decision Plan is attached for Members’ information.

Additional documents:


The Chairman explained the methodology behind the new work programme, which had been planned through to May 2024, and had incorporated all previous requests from Members of the Commission. The Chairman explained that it was hoped that each future meeting would see a Member of the Cabinet invited to provide an update on what would be planned as a portfolio-themed meeting.


Councillor Atterwill asked if UK Power Network (UKPN) could be invited back to a future meeting as there had been significant power outages in Gressenhall and Beetley recently and felt that UKPN and not been pro-active with the network but just re-active to issues as they arose. It would be informative to understand what issues they faced rurally, and understand the maintenance of tree work to prevent such issues.  He also felt that there was disparity surrounding compensation to residents. He pointed out that with the telephone network changes due in 2024, it would also be interesting to understand how people could report issues if the mobile phone network was not available and asked if this could be included in the January meeting. The Chairman asked Councillor Atterwill to send through some suggestions of what he would like to be included and agreed to include in the January meeting.


Councillor Atterwill also asked if the Safety Advisory Group could be invited to a future meeting to provide a presentation as it would be useful for members to understand who was involved with the Group and how they liaised with partner organisations and volunteers for large community events. The Chairman suggested that this could be incorporated into the 1 February 2024 meeting.


Councillor Kybird, as a Member of Forest Ward, said that it would be useful to invite the Forestry Commission to a future meeting to inform Members of the Commission what would happen if there were large forest fires within the Breckland area.


Next Meeting

To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 21 December 2023 at 10am in the Anglia Room, The Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham, NR19 1EE.



The arrangements for the next meeting, scheduled for 21 December 2023 at 10am in the Anglia Room, The Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham, NR19 1EE, were noted.