Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 5)
- Meeting of This meeting will be streamed live. The link can be found on the Agenda frontsheet and the Reports Pack below, Council, Thursday, 21st January, 2021 10.00 am (Item 6/21)
To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.
As it was the first meeting of 2021, the Leader wished everyone a belated Happy New Year.
Unfortunately, 2021 had begun in very much the same way as 2020 had ended, but with the vaccination programme now in full swing and people continuing to abide by the National Lockdown Guidance, the Leader was pleased to say that 2021 was beginning to look much brighter.
He was aware that local flooding over the previous weeks had impacted many residents across Breckland. If there was an immediate risk to life, residents must dial 999 for support and contact Norfolk County Council as the Lead Flood Authority at https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/, to allow plans to be put in place where these flooding issues re-occurred.
Breckland Council continued to support its residents and local businesses as well as supporting the NHS and Norfolk Public Health sharing information in respect of the vaccine rollout, local testing guidance to ensure that all residents and loved ones remained safe.
In respect of the vaccine rollout, this was being led by the National Health Service and Norfolk CCG, there were several GP sites across Breckland already vaccinating and all were doing a sterling job at a local level. The first large vaccination site was due to be rolled out across Breckland as well as further smaller sites over the coming weeks. This would ensure that those most vulnerable and particular priority groups would be vaccinated followed by the rest of society. Anyone who had any questions or concerns about the vaccine roll-out were encouraged to visit the following website:
People were encouraged not to contact their local GP practice to arrange an appointment as someone from the health service would contact them when their appointment was due.
Breckland District Council had taken the lead on many activities that were making a great deal of difference to local peoples’ lives and their livelihoods. Approximately 10,000 individual grants had been issued to businesses within the District affected by this pandemic and more grants were being provided every single day. Businesses were able to contact their local Ward Member or the Council itself for further information via the website: https://www.breckland.gov.uk/.
Thus far, £35m worth of grants had been awarded to Breckland businesses to ensure that they were protected and supported, and further monies would be available over the coming days and weeks. In additional to the national and local grant funding that had already been distributed. Breckland Council had also earmarked over £1m towards its market town investment to support High Street businesses to bounce back financially in what had been the most difficult year.
In terms of supporting the communities, Officers and Covid Support Officers within the Council were helping to deliver the local enhanced track & trace system. This involved speaking to residents on their doorsteps making sure that contact had been made and making sure that those who had tested positive had been provided with support and were complying with the isolation rules. Since 15 January 2021, over 60 visits had been carried out - helping to stop the spread of the virus and providing further welfare support to those who needed it.
This welfare support included financial aid, access to essential supplies, loneliness and befriending support and of course mental health advice, guidance as well as providing transport options if required for travelling to local vaccination centres.
The Leader then took the opportunity to thank all communities whether in paid employment, volunteers or looking after neighbours and friends. Without this support the most vulnerable would not be protected. As part of the Council’s response to Covid, the Council’s local community hub was still operational and was still providing emergency food parcels, food bank vouchers, registering vulnerable people for supermarket delivery slots as well as local hardship grants. Members were asked if they knew of any residents within their Wards who were struggling to make them aware of the vast array of assistance available and to report such matters directly to the Council.
Whilst the Covid response was at the top of the Council’s priority list, the Leader was pleased to announce that essential services continued to be delivered at pace with 80% to 90% of its services being run at full capacity and all Officers were thanked for continuing to work in some hard and difficult conditions. These were excellent examples that highlighted once again that Breckland Council remained open for business with a bright and growing future ahead.
Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group thanked the Leader and the Team who had been managing the emergency contact line and who had answered his call on Boxing Day in respect of flooding issues. He wanted to know who supplied the sandbags as he had always understood that this was a County function. However, since then, and in response to a recently submitted Cabinet question, he had been informed that this was the responsibility of the District Council.
He was aware of the rising river levels and had received many calls of concern from residents and he asked the Leader for an update on where people should go or who to contact for sandbags and whether any guidance on such matters could be issued going forward.
The Leader thanked Councillor Jermy and those Members and colleagues who had supported people affected by flooding over Christmas and the New Year. Breckland Council did have a stock of sandbags but had been depleted at pace over the festive period. All stock had since been replenished and he encouraged those residents who could be at risk to contact Defra via their website https://www.gov.uk/guidance/contact-defra to find out if their area was at risk of flooding and how to prepare for such an incident.
Sandbags could also be purchased and bags full of soil could be used to prevent flood water entering properties. If there was an immediate risk to life or property, residents and businesses should call 999 for support or contact their local Council for advice just as Councillor Jermy had done.
Additionally, should there be a major incident or emergency, part of the process was the recovery, and Rob Walker, the Executive Director of Place was the lead person to contact along with other Officers within the Council, to ensure that the process put in place for such incidents had been fit for purpose.
Councillor Clarke wanted to publicly thank the Council and Councillor Webb, the Executive Member for Housing for the additional recent donation of £2.5k in addition to the generous donation of £10k. The £2.5k additional funding had been match funded by Dereham Town Council. As a result of the pandemic, the Mid Norfolk food bank increased its space due to the extra demand and 2,000 families had already been supported. This had been very much appreciated.
The Leader felt that this was a very positive piece of news. For the past year, Breckland Council had supported organisations such as the Dereham Food Bank with thousands of pounds for those in hardship and would continue to support those in need. He felt that this showed that District Councils and local Government had a really important role to play in supporting their communities and businesses.
Councillor Gilbert referred to the question asked by Councillor Terry in respect of flooding and sandbags. He informed Members that a flood action group had been set up in Watton, the Watton & Saham Toney Flood Action Group. The Group worked independently of the Council but with its support. Although he had been under the impression that Breckland Council did not supply sandbags it was good to know that the Council did have a strategic supply, but it would also be good to know where people could get them from and if they were available in each of the towns.
The Leader advised that he was not aware of the operational details or the exact location of the sandbags throughout the District, but he encouraged Members to sign up to the Environment Agencies Flood Alert System as he had done. This exact same system was used by the Emergency Planning Officers and as soon as an alert came through of incidents across the District they would immobilise and workout where their resources were most needed; this could be in the form of manpower, sandbags, respite centres, hotels or B&Bs. He asked Councillor Gilbert if he had any concerns about emergency planning to contact the Council during working hours or, as Councillor Jermy did, contact the out of hours Team where the Duty Officer who was on standby 24 hours a day 365 days a year would allocate resources to where it was needed most.
The Council was waiting for its stock of sandbags to be replenished and as part of the wash up sessions being held would be to review its stock requirements across the District.
As a Ward Member, the Chairman advised that those across the District that had their own emergency plans within the villages or towns had proved to be well worth their weight in gold during these difficult times. If there had been an issue, the local Emergency Plan committee had gone straight into action, there was also a supply of kit on standby to assist people in need. It was everyone’s responsibility to think about how they could be a little more resilient around where they lived.
Councillor Morton asked the Leader if he could provide or point to where the figures might be in terms of how much work the Council was doing in respect of test & trace and how efficiently it was being done in terms of contacts.
The Leader did not have this information to hand, but he would seek support from the Council’s public health colleagues at Norfolk County Council and the Council’s local track & trace team to see if something of use could be provided to Councillor Morton.