Agenda item

Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 16)

Minutes:

Councillor Gilbert congratulated Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen on his new appointment and he wished him well in steering the Council in the right direction. 

 

He understood that at a Conservative Group meeting in October 2018, the public were given confidential, commercially sensitive, financial information that they had no right to see.  Seven months on, not all Councillors had been privy to that information and therefore had three questions to put to the Leader: 

 

1.     Did the Leader believe that this person who gave the public this confidential information was in breach of the Council’s Code of Conduct and therefore should not be classed as a fit and proper person to hold the office of Councillor?

2.     He was aware that an investigation was underway and he asked when this Council would be informed of the outcome and if any proposed sanctions would be applied?

3.     When would Members be able to have sight of the private & confidential, commercially sensitive, financial information?

 

In response to question 1, the Leader said that it was untrue that this information had not been shared with all Members of the Council.  It was a ‘below the line’ item but all Members would have had access to the papers within the Cabinet and Council reports and he would be more than happy to show Members where this information was held.  In regard to question 3, confidentiality was exactly that; the Council thrived on its investment in its commercial property portfolio and it was right and proper that items such as these were taken in private.  These conversations had to be confidential between the Council, as the Landlord, and with the tenant moving forward, to enable this authority to reach the best possible agreement for the Council and its residents.  Without the commercial property portfolio, the Council would not be in such a sound position, as it had no reliance on central government and was currently self-sustaining with the lowest Council Tax within Norfolk but was spending exactly the same on services as other authorities.

 

The Chief Executive responded to question 2.  She advised that there was an investigation pending which had not been concluded and therefore no further comments could be made and no details from this investigation could be shared.

 

The Leader of the Green Party, Councillor Tim Birt, congratulated Councillor Lynda Turner on her appointment as Chairman of the Council.

 

Councillor Birt’s question related to IT issues.  Firstly, the lack of information available on the iPads particularly in relation to land sales and secondly, not having access to his emails when his iPad broke at the weekend and the lack of IT support outside office hours.  Councillor Birt wanted to know why his request to install iMap to access his emails had been denied.

 

The Leader stated that all information should be freely available to all Members.  As far as land sales were concerned, the Officer/Member Protocol stated quite clearly that the Ward Member(s) would be contacted as part of the potential land sale consultation process.  The procedures were then explained in detail.   As far as the IT issues were concerned, Members were informed that by moving to iPads the Council would save around one million sheets of paper over 4 years, saving the Council in the region of £90k a year.  He hoped Members welcomed the move to a paperless environment and he was pleased to see everyone in attendance with their IT.  He appreciated the fact that there would be teething issues but he was pleased that the IT Team had been able to help Councillor Birt with his issue earlier in the week.  He would be more than happy to look into the possibility of a 24hr IT Helpdesk Team at a cost to this Council but it would be a Council decision if this came into effect.  He reminded Members that all Councillors had been offered a mobile phone for back up but these had not been purchased in advance just in case such offers were declined and would only be ordered on request moving forward. 

 

Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group mentioned fly-tipping that still remained a major issue in his Ward.  He felt that the Council’s existing Policy was not helping and asked the Leader to confirm that if a member of the public were to report an incident of fly-tipping to Breckland but unbeknown to them it was not Breckland owned land would the Council then report it to the relevant land owner and inform the person or would it do nothing.  Rob Walker, the Executive Director for Place,  informed Members that the Council did contact the landowner (if known) on behalf of the person reporting the fly-tipping issue.  The Council had recently recruited a new Enforcement Officer and fly-tipping would be their main priority.  The Leader then thanked Councillor Jermy for the work he had done in respect of the Task & Finish Group on behalf of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission.  Much of this work had shaped where the Council was currently at in terms of digitalisation engagement.

 

Councillor Atterwill congratulated the Chairman, the Leader and Deputy Leader on their appointments. He then asked the Leader if he knew of the actual date when the Local Plan was expected to be approved as he had many concerns that this Plan had been slipping further behind for many months.  He also asked what the Council’s intention was to ensure that it had a more robust 5 year housing land supply and what the strategy was for achieving the growth that Breckland required.  Additionally, he also thanked the Council for the Induction Training that Members had attended, he found it very helpful.  He had been most interested in listening to the Housing Team and understanding the amount of stress they were all under in terms of demand.  He had been told at the induction that demand had increased by over 100% in the past 12 months and asked what the Council’s strategy was for improving this situation.

 

In response, the Leader advised that in terms of the Local Plan every single Member of the Council had raised concerns about the process and although frustrating, the process would continue and the date when the Local Plan would come forward was still unknown.  Everyone involved was working extremely hard with the Planning Inspector in terms of his approach to Breckland’s local policies compared to national policies and this approach was where the challenges lay.  He felt that if Members had not been so pro-active in wanting local policies for Breckland, to which he had agreed, he believed the Plan would have been adopted many months ago.  In the interim, the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Councillor Bambridge would update Members on this matter once further information came forward. In relation to Housing Land supply, this was a real frustration.  Members were informed that Breckland Council had local partnerships working with it to investigate blocked sites.  These sites were a real issue across the District as developers were not developing them out.  The reasons behind this were explained and it was noted that Norfolk as a whole had a poor delivery rate and all Norfolk Leaders were working together on this matter.  The Leader was pleased that Councillor Atterwill had found the Induction programme helpful and as far as the Housing Team were concerned, there was a Housing review taking place in July following many changes in policy from central Government where a number of responsibilities had been devolved back to local authorities.  The findings of this review would allow the Council to shape the Housing Team moving forward.  In response to a request, the Leader agreed to meet Councillor Atterwill outside the meeting to hear a number of suggestions to improve growth particularly in the north of the District.

 

Councillor Clarke mentioned that at a previous Full Council meeting it had been agreed to live-stream public meetings on the internet and he asked if this was any further forward.  The Leader explained that a small business case was being put together which would then be passed to the Overview & Scrutiny Commission for consideration.