Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 5)
To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.
The Leader of the Council announced the following changes to his Cabinet:
Councillor Sarah Suggitt – Executive Member for Governance
Councillor Paul Claussen, Deputy Leader - Executive Member for Planning
Councillor Gordon Bambridge – Executive Member for Environmental Services & Public Protection.
The Leader welcomed Councillor Suggitt to his Team. The updated Portfolio Holder responsibilities would be released at the end of the meeting.
WorkSmart 20:20 Programme
Members were reminded that this programme of works had been signed off at an earlier Full Council meeting. The programme was already moving forward with the initial first project of the refurbishment and enhancement of the Committee Suite being implemented including the installation of new technology and replacement of the air conditioning units. The delivery of numerous other Worksmart 20:20 projects would be phased in over the coming months including the on-going digitalisation of services, a revised office layout and making new technologies available to staff and Members. This would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all the Council’s services and ensure that this Council could meet the changing needs of both its residents and businesses. The WorkSmart Member Board was made up of Councillors Claussen, Sherwood and Hewett who would be happy to answer any questions relative to the programme and he urged all Members to feed any initiatives or ideas that they might have to the Board.
Fireworks and Sky Lanterns
The Leader was sure that many Members had received a number of communications from residents and businesses about fireworks and sky lanterns. The Council would be taking some form of action to protect animals from fear and distress caused by fireworks. This was something he felt passionately about and therefore he intended to ask Officers to investigate ways in which these matters could be addressed. For example, the Council would encourage all organisers of public displays within the District to advertise well in advance to allow any residents or farmers to take necessary precautions. To promote awareness of animal welfare and vulnerable people and to lobby Government to limit maximum noise levels through legalisationand encourage local suppliers of fireworks to stock quieter ones. These matters were being championed by the RSPCA across the Country. This was also an opportune moment to consider the release of balloons and sky lanterns, both of which could cause potential hazards to animals and livestock. Local Authorities’ powers were extremely limited on private land, but this Council could choose to ban lanterns on its own land and land that it leased to other bodies. As such, the Leader asked Officers to look into these matters and as most would become executive functions, he therefore proposed to take these matters forward in the coming months and support from Members would be sought.
Town & Parish Council Forum
A Town & Parish Council Forum was being organised to take place on Wednesday, 12 February 2020 at 5.30pm. The Forum would be picking up all the salient points that had been fed back from newly Elected Councillors and from the previous Town & Parish Council Forum. The first part of the evening would be a market stall event where Councillors and Town & Parish Clerks would have the opportunity to engage with Officers and discuss issues that were significantly important to them. The formal part of the Forum would contain a presentation by the Leader and the Chief Executive. Members were asked to encourage their Town and Parish Councils to attend this event.
The budget papers had already been presented to the Overview & Scrutiny Commission in December, but in terms of the financial position of this Council moving forward, the Leader was in no doubt that there would be challenges ahead with huge levels of uncertainty on the fairer funding and business rate retention and the front bench of the Government not yet being confirmed. Whilst the Council was in a strong position due to its decisions in the past, of just not Members of this Council but of its predecessors too, he had no doubt that difficult choices would have to be made if funding was to be reduced from Government on already precedential levels; however, he was certain that through previous sound financial planning, Breckland Council would remain in a strong financial position moving forward.
Market Town Support Officers
Finally, after listening to all the concerns from Town and District Members during his coffee call/sessions over the last six months, a restructure had taken place to provide greater support. Market Town Support Officers were now in place overseen by Rob Walker, the Executive Director of Place, and included Stephen James, the Communities Manager who would be responsible for Watton, Riana Rudland, Breckland Place Manager, responsible for Attleborough, Cassie Ruffell, the Regeneration Manager, responsible for Dereham, Sarah Shipley, Public Protection Manager, responsible for Swaffham and Rob Walker for Thetford. Additionally, when the Greater Thetford Partnership Officer had been recruited that post would be responsible for Thetford too. He hoped that these Officers would provide greater support for Members in those localities.
Councillor Gilbert referred to the firework issues as he had private firework parties every year in his garden for his friends and family. He knew that some animals were very nervous of fireworks but wanted clarity on the noise levels that would be allowed. The Leader was not aware of the noise levels but a lead would be taken from the RSPCA to work with Government on these matters. At no point was he trying to deter firework celebrations but he just wanted to ensure that Breckland Council was doing everything in its power to communicate to its residents a better way to engage with their neighbours if they had a private firework display.
Councillor Jermy mentioned the Committee Suite upgrade and asked if these upgrades would provide the Council with the ability to livestream Council meetings that had been discussed on a number of occasions. In response, Members were informed that the technology would be put in place; however, the Council had not made a decision to live-stream its meetings, this would be something that the Overview & Scrutiny Commission would have to debate first followed by a recommendation to Full Council. The technology; however, would also be available for other bodies/businesses who used the Committee Suite for their meetings – livestreaming would be a valuable asset.
Councillor Philip Cowen drew attention to the Cabinet reshuffle and asked the Leader if he would agree with him in thanking Councillor Gordon Bambridge for tackling the newly adopted Local Plan that had been at the forefront of everyone’s minds for the past five years - a thankless task. The Leader concurred with the comments made. Being a Cabinet Member could be, on occasion, an immense and thankless task and for those who had been previous Cabinet Members or higher level Committee Chairmen, could be, at times, quite overwhelming. The Planning Portfolio was a truly emotive portfolio and Councillor Bambridge, under his stewardship, had managed to get the Council through some very turbulent times. He welcomed Councillor Claussen who would be taking over the reins for 2020 and taking charge of the new Local Plan review.
Councillor Bambridge had not expected the aforementioned announcement but did want to mention that most of the improvements had been down to the excellent team of Planning Officers and felt that this should be acknowledged. He also thanked all Members for their assistance.