Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 6)
To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.
The Leader, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen made the following announcements.
Thursday, 5 November 2020 marked a new national restriction period announced by Government during which it was hoped that the number of Covid cases would reduce to a manageable level. Breckland Council was prepared to support all local people in any way it could; this included providing advice, information on medical collections, hardship support both in the form of the £500 isolation grant and the discretionary grant payment ringfenced by this Council to help all those experiencing difficulty.
Breckland Council had previously made a decision to allocate thousands of pounds to help those most in most need to access food and essential items. It had also committed £25k to local food banks and would continue to support the community fridges throughout the District.
It remained essential that anyone with Covid symptoms booked a test and consistently followed the current guidance - hands, face and space, to protect themselves and their family friends and colleagues.
The last few months had been a challenge for many local businesses but Breckland Council had secured over £400k to support High Street resilience and any recovery activity. Over 500 businesses and shops had already been supported as well as providing over 5000 hours of frontline High Street support and engagement.
Officers continued to work closely with businesses by providing grant funding, training and organising promotions and campaigns so that businesses continued to thrive and operate safely.
Members’ attention was drawn to an item later on the agenda in respect of the Norfolk Strategic Fund which, if approved, would enable the Council to support businesses not just now but into the future.
It was noted that the Breckland Council grant scheme support for local businesses would go live on the website later in the day.
Animal welfare was also mentioned and as 5 November was fireworks night, it was a timely opportunity to remind residents to be considerate to all animals so as not to cause distress. The Council had made a commitment earlier in the year in respect of raising awareness of fireworks and sky lanterns on council owned land during celebratory periods. The Animal Welfare Officer, when appointed, would be a new role for the Council and would be employed to carry out important visits and inspect licensed premises ensuring animal welfare was followed correctly whilst providing advice to all concerned.
The Leader thanked Members for their continued support to residents and communities within their Wards and all were encouraged to attend the forthcoming safeguarding training session that had been organised by Stephen James, the Communities & Environmental Services Manager and to contact him by email for any further advice.
Members were then invited to ask the Leader questions based on his announcements.
Councillor Clarke congratulated the Council on the RSPCA award and for the new Animal Welfare Officer post. He hoped that, once appointed, this person would work with all organisations to reduce cases of animal cruelty and neglect. Councillor Clarke said that he would email some suggestions to the Leader for the remit of the post.
The Leader assured Members that the new post would work with all relevant charities not just in the Breckland area but in Norfolk.
Councillor Jermy thanked the Leader for his update. He also thanked the Communities Team for the way that they had responded to Members when submitting requests for assistance. He had recently been dealing with two very difficult cases and had been grateful to know that those individuals had been supported and not just lost in the system.
Referring to Covid, Councillor Jermy felt that many now regarded food processing factories as high risk which was a particular concern for Breckland. He was aware that there had been calls recently for regular mass testing to be undertaken at such sites and asked the Leader if he supported this approach.
The Leader stated that Public Health England was already supporting such industries, but it had placed an extra strain on Norfolk. The question of mass testing depended upon the science and the epidemiology but he agreed that a more sporadic on the spot testing approach within different areas of the industry needed to be carried out more frequently to allow outbreaks to be managed quickly and efficiently. He and the Leader of NCC had met with representatives of Public Health England and the local MP had written to the Secretary of State for Health to raise these issues and concerns that Norfolk was now experiencing. In relation to the wider position of food manufacturing in Breckland, officers had worked proactively with all such businesses throughout and in conjunction with New Anglia LEP to understand best practice. The governance for this type of approach sat within many different areas including local authorities, the FSA, the Health and Safety Executive and Trading Standards and it was important that best practice was shared at pace so that lessons could be learnt. The Leader offered to discuss any further concerns with Councillor Jermy after the meeting.
Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Contracts & Assets asked the Leader if he could offer any message of reassurance to residents and businesses in terms of support and assistance, financial or otherwise over the next 28 days.
The Leader advised that Breckland Council was ready to support those in hardship through the tens of thousands of pounds already allocated through the hardship scheme in respect of either financial support, utility vouchers, or money to pay primary bills. There was also the £500 isolation grant for those entitled to it which was processed through the revenue and benefits authority for Breckland. The well-being service in conjunction with the Communities Team supported anyone in the District who needed medication collections or be-friending services. The Government had provided business support grants for those businesses that were required to close, and all those affected by closure were encouraged to visit the Breckland website and complete the relevant on-line form. There was also the Discretionary Business Grants scheme that the Government had recently announced and although final direction and guidance was still awaited, if businesses felt that they could benefit from this extra grant funding, the on-line form should be completed so that it could be processed at pace on receipt of the guidance. As a whole, the Council had once again pivoted as it had done previously to ensure that it was putting its resources where they were needed most, ensuring that those most vulnerable were safe and protected and that businesses could thrive in a safe environment and open once again in early December.