Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 10)
The Chairman reminded Members that the period for questions under this Standing Order was limited to not more than 30 minutes and if anyone had any questions to direct them to the Leader, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen who would answer them or direct them to the appropriate Portfolio Holder.
Councillor Jermy reminded the Leader that in 2019, Breckland Council submitted two funding applications to the Government’s Towns Fund to provide much needed support to both Thetford and Dereham town centres. Sadly, both these applications had been unsuccessful but very recently the National Audit Office published a report into the Government’s decision making process criticising how these had been selected. The report revealed all the scores for the towns submitted and the Thetford application scored higher than both Norwich and Ipswich, both were awarded funding, and the Dereham bid scored more highly than Norwich but neither Thetford nor Dereham had been successful. He had noted that two thirds of the successful applications were in Conservative Party areas ahead of 2019s General Election and he asked the Leader if he would write to the Secretary of State asking why these Breckland towns had been overlooked for this funding despite their high scores in the assessment process.
In response, the Leader advised that he had seen sight of the audit report but had not studied it as yet so he was thankful to Councillor Jermy for his question. If it was appropriate to do so he would certainly write to the Secretary of State confirming his disappointment and frustration with the system if what Councillor Jermy had said was indeed accurate.
Following the agenda item at the recent Overview & Scrutiny Commission regarding the current situation in Attleborough, and the Chairman’s response in questioning the validity of this item, and the involvement of Breckland Councillors, Councillor Wickerson asked the Leader if all Members could be sent advice and guidance from the Council’s Legal Team on the extent of Breckland Councillors becoming directly involved in the internal affairs of town councils.
The Leader advised that the Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission was in attendance and part of this question could be directed to him. In terms of the Council’s involvement in this matter, the role of Breckland Council was not to intervene and be involved with the governance of statutory bodies of town or parish councils. The role of a District Council was to work in partnership with many different bodies including town and parish councils. There had been concerns about Attleborough Town Council and there was an opportunity, through the Overview & Scrutiny Commission (O&SC), to consider these concerns. The O&SC would be receiving this item again for discussion as part of its agenda at the next meeting in September and the Commission maybe minded to write to the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister or others in relation to governance in respect of parish and town councils. The Leader reiterated that it was not the responsibility of Breckland Council to intervene directly in the day to day management of another body.
Councillor Clarke asked the Leader if he agreed that the use of video recordings and livestreaming at meetings had been useful to residents and communities who could see their elected representatives dealing with the challenges that the Council faced and asked if this would continue after the post Covid-19 period was over. He also asked the Leader if he would consider extending the use of such technology where this might support wider engagement and reduced travel costs - such as potential evening meetings.
The Leader advised that as Members were aware, the Regulations only allowed the Council to operate in this type of environment until May 2021; however, under the WorkSmart 20:20 programme, the Committee Suite was undergoing refurbishment to ensure that the technology was in place so that meetings could be streamed live and recorded for residents to watch at their leisure. In relation to when meetings were called that was at the discretion of the Chairman of those Committees whether it was during the working day or in the evening or at weekends to facilitate the best engagement of Members of the Council. He re-affirmed that all formal meetings were held in public but from a Constitutional perspective they did not necessarily involve public participation.
Councillor Harvey informed the Leader that Thetford Coach Services had sadly stopped their bus service to the Barnham Cross Estate that took people to Thetford Town Centre. This service had been heavily relied upon by elderly residents but the company had blamed Covid-19 and for the difficulty of too many parked cars in the area. He asked if the Leader would agree to write to Thetford Coach Services and invite them to discuss this issue with the Council to look at possible solutions.
The Leader pointed out that Councillor Jermy had already mentioned this to him and a letter had already been sent to Thetford Coach Services, and as an example, had cited the size of Breckland’s waste collection vehicles that had successfully managed to negotiate around many parked cars around the District. He had also made it clear that this was a vital service within the Council’s biggest market town. The Leader hoped that he would get a response to his letter shortly so that the information could be shared accordingly with Thetford Members.
Councillor Atterwill asked the Leader if he had seen the Terms of Reference for the Local Plan Working Group (LPWG). In the document it stated that the meetings would not be open to the public but it also said that materials would be circulated to all Members of the Council on a confidential basis; including the wording, that all agendas, Minutes and presentations must be treated confidentially by Members unless otherwise stated. He asked the Leader if he knew when these Terms of Reference were agreed and who by as he had trawled through Cabinet and Full Council Minutes going as far back as when the Local Plan was adopted in November 2019. He had not found any reference to the Terms of Reference being brought to a Full Council meeting or a Cabinet meeting to be agreed. He felt that all Members should have had the opportunity to make a contribution at a meeting to discuss these Terms of Reference for the LPWG.
The Leader advised that he would provide a written response after the meeting.