Agenda item

Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 5)

To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.

Minutes:

Firstly, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, the Leader of the Council acknowledged the success of the recent Town & Parish Forum and thanked the 49 District, Parish and Town colleagues representing approximately 20 communities who had attended. It had been an informative evening where all attendees had been provided with an update on all the successes of the Council during the previous year as well as setting out what the Council was looking to achieve in the future. Breckland Council was thanked for the great work it was doing to help its residents and businesses. The Leader hoped that even more Town & Parish Council colleagues would be encouraged to attend next year.

In terms of the finances, there would be challenges ahead, with uncertainty around Fairer Funding and Business Rates Retention.  Whilst the Council was in a strong position due to its decisions in the past, there was no doubt that difficult choices would need to be made if funding was reduced as already predicted for future years.  Further details was set out in the budget papers within this agenda.

He felt that as the financial year 2019-20 drew to a close it was important to reflect on what had been achieved or set in motion throughout the year. It was also important to look forward as a Council on what it needed to achieve in the coming year to ensure that it continued to deliver to Breckland’s residents.

The key highlights of 2019-20 were reported as follows:

Breckland Council was the only Local Authority in Norfolk that had an adopted Local Plan.

It had declared a Climate Emergency in September 2019 and was working to deliver an Environment and Climate Strategy in late spring of 2020.

The Council had invested £60k in the installation of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology in Breckland to support Norfolk Constabulary to detect, deter and disrupt criminal activity in the District particularly county lines.

It had been successful in securing £14.1 million in Housing Infrastructure Funding which would help unlock the power issues that were inhibiting the development of the Thetford Enterprise Park and 5,000 new homes at Kings Fleet also in the Greater Thetford area.

The Council had secured £3.5 million in funding from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the Norfolk Business Rates Pool to expand the current electricity supply capacity at the Snetterton Employment Area with a view to supporting substantial industrial business growth.

It had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Flagship Group and Norfolk County Council to work together to deliver a meaningful change for the future direction of the Abbey Estate in Thetford. It had also made a commitment to an ongoing dialogue with the local community to understand what mattered most to residents and other estates in the town.

The Council had restructured its existing Market Town Initiative and committed to further funding for another three years to the sum of £750k over that period, and would commit to giving £50k per annum out of this to each of the five market towns.

Swaffham had been successful in getting through to the final stages of the Future High Street Heritage Action Zone funding process. It had submitted a final bid for £350k from English Heritage and had match funded £100k itself. The purpose of the bid was to make improvements to the Conservation Area in the market place and was looking at public realm with a view to utilising the market place and the Buttercross as a focal point for events and activities.

The Council, working in partnership with North Norfolk District Council and Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, had retendered its’ waste contract with a view to making significant savings. The contract had now been awarded and represented the largest contract of its type in the East of England (circa £250 million across the three councils).

It had successfully delivered three complex elections (District & Parish, European Parliamentary and UK Parliamentary); two of which had been required at very short notice.

It had successfully secured government funding to establish a rough sleepers’ engagement service.

The Council’s Garden Waste Service was high performing and continued to grow and provide additional income to the Council.

It was making great strides in tackling environmental crime particularly fly tipping and was the best performing Council in Norfolk.

There had been a significant shift in customer satisfaction with the planning & building control service.

Breckland lottery was continuing to go from strength to strength with more organisations and communities benefiting from the money it raised.

In response to the nationally recognised challenge around social mobility, the Council had funded and recruited two Skills Officers who were effectively engaging with High Schools across the district and connecting them with local businesses to provide better opportunities for young people leaving schools. Breckland was the only Council in Norfolk to take this approach.

The Council had jointly funded the ‘Tripstart’ programme with the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) which was providing skills around using transport for unemployed people where this was a barrier and had enabled a number of people to move closer to the job market.

Breckland’s Dog Warden service had been awarded a Gold Stray Dog Footprint in the 2019 RSPCA’s Community ‘PawPrints’ Awards which recognised and celebrated good practice by rewarding those organisations exceeding basic and statutory service requirements with the aim of achieving higher animal welfare standards, particularly in terms of dealing with stray dogs. This was the fifth year in a row that the service had achieved this level of award.

The Council had continued to support the armed forces through its commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant. £30,000 in funding had been committed to support celebrations for VE/VJ day and the Battle of Britain across the district.

As far as the key focus for 2020-21 was concerned:

The Council would be commissioning a partner to conduct a series of socio-economic studies across each of Breckland’s five market towns. The expected outputs of this exercise would be a delivery plan that would enable the Council to work in a more co-ordinated way with key delivery partners like the County Council or Health to make significant improvements to the towns while drawing down capital and revenue investment from their programmes of activities. Dereham would be piloted as the first town to go through this process.

Subject to decisions made at this meeting, the Council would be looking to invest £1 million from its Inclusive Growth Reserve to look at addressing the impacts of vulnerability across the district. As this could cover a very wide area the Council had decided that a targeted approach, focusing on tackling county lines, safeguarding and modern slavery, reducing the impact of domestic abuse, tackling social isolation and reducing the impact of poor mental health, would be its main priorities at present.

The Council was working to deliver an Environment and Climate Strategy in late spring of this year. This would be focusing on what was within Breckland’s gift to address; so it would be looking at reducing the Council’s own carbon footprint and environmental impact, how it used its statutory powers and duties to influence others around this agenda, and how it engaged with communities to change their behaviours.

Again, subject to decisions made at this meeting, the Council would be making further commitment to support its market towns and their rural hinterlands by allocating £50,000 per town each year for the next three years through a refocused Market Town Initiative.

The Council would continue to ensure that Breckland grew in a sustained way by bringing forward sites like the Snetterton Employment Area, Thetford Enterprise Park, and the sustainable urban extensions at Attleborough and Thetford. It would continue to champion and unlock issues around utilities and infrastructure enabling improvements to the A47 and A11 to come forward and reaping the benefits of the Cambridge-Norwich Tech Corridor for all its communities.

It would ensure that its headquarters, Elizabeth House was fit for purpose and efficient whilst offering a modern and flexible environment for Members, Officers and tenants. This would be delivered through the WorkSmart 20:20 programme.

The Council would focus on the development of new temporary accommodation provision in the district. The new unit, currently at the planning stage, would look to provide configurable accommodation of up to 21 rooms under the Council’s control with an aim to reduce the cost to the Council.

It would continue to work with communities and key stakeholders in Attleborough, Swaffham and Thetford to explore future leisure options. In addition to this the Council’s leisure provider, Parkwood, would be moving back into a refurbished facility at the Nicholas Hamond Academy in Swaffham.

Finally, if Members were in agreement, the Council would be setting its refreshed Corporate Plan and the budget for 2020/21; these, the Leader felt, were both important milestones as they would be setting out how the Council would deliver its objectives for the forthcoming year.

Members were then asked if they had any questions.

Referring to the budget, Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group mentioned the article published in the local press about the money spent on overnight accommodation and refreshments for an away day.  He asked the Leader if he could expand on what had been discussed at the away day.  The Leader advised that a £1m investment had been discussed that required a very significant time commitment from those present.  In response, Councillor Jermy asked if any follow up meetings would be taking place at the same venue.  The Leader was unsure if any follow up meetings would be required but various partners/venues were used for such events.  He pointed out that a positive outcome had been gained from that meeting.

Councillor Borrett asked if the Leader agreed that Breckland Council was a Member led Council that invested in Breckland and spent more on its residents than it collected.  He felt that this away day had played a vital part to the Council’s plans.  The Leader agreed.

The Leader had explained in some detail about the Council’s achievements and Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Contracts & Assets asked if the Leader’s announcements could be made available and circulated to all Members.   The Leader was happy for this to be shared.

Councillor Atterwill could not see the need for a stay in a hotel to discuss such matters when it could have been held in the Anglia Room.  He then reminded Members of the homelessness issues in Breckland and felt that the away day was not a good advertisement for the Council.

No further questions were raised.