Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 7)
- 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 8/21)
Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group asked the Leader a question in respect of grants. It seemed to him to be much more complicated due to the different tiers and different amounts and he asked the Leader if he could provide reassurance that the Team managing these grants had sufficient capacity to distribute this money in a timely manner. He had spoken to a number of businesses in Thetford who were obviously concerned as these grants had been a lifeline to them.
In response, the Leader advised that he had regular meetings with the Executive Directors to discuss resources across the organisation and as such they had daily meetings with their Teams within every service area to discuss the same. He had not been informed of any resource issues within the Council but asked Councillor Jermy if he knew of any delays to contact the Regeneration Team via their generic email address or as Member such issues could be raised with the relevant Officer directly or via himself as the Leader of the Council.
Councillor Birt had two questions to ask, the first one was directed to the Leader. He felt that for many months, many issues that he had raised had not been totally agreed with, but he hoped, at this meeting today, that some common ground could be found and asked the Leader if he would agree that employment was the best way out of poverty for most working age people, and working close to where they lived, benefited both the employee and the environment by reducing travel.
The Leader agreed, getting a job and a better career was the way out of poverty for everyone. In relation to the locality of employment and residential locations, there was a mix, but people had the right to live where they chose to live and should not be curtailed or restrained. However, through the Planning system and the Council’s Local Plan where it was placing growth sites for employment, the residential sites should be intrinsically linked not just through their close proximity but also near to public transport and walking and cycling too. These were some of the comments made by Members which were fed back in response to the recent Planning White Paper consultation and the exact same comments that he himself had made previously to the Right Honourable Christopher Pinch MP, the Minister for Planning.
Councillor Birt’s second question was directed to Councillor Ian Sherwood, the Executive Member for Customer Engagement and Climate Change. Councillor Birt stated that he had recently received the draft Carbon Audit report but was slightly concerned, even though it was a draft copy, that the report, in his opinion, seemed to be making decisions rather than setting out the Council’s position and provided some examples. The document itself he had noticed had been produced on the 15th December 2020 and he asked why this had taken so long for Members to see sight of the draft.
In response, Councillor Sherwood advised that the report was to inform, advise and help all Councillors on the most challenging issues for any Council and society had to deal with over the coming decades. These were not decisions; it was advice, and the report was not sent to Members over the Christmas period as most would have been taking a well-earned break. He and the Officer involved had looked at the initial report and had identified some typographical errors and some broken links contained within the report and the company had been asked to correct these errors. As such, the final report would be emailed to all Members in the very near future.
Councillor Clarke’s question related to flooding. He asked the Leader if he welcomed the decision made at a recent Norfolk County Council Cabinet meeting to establish a new Flood Management Strategy. The decision made was to re-establish partnerships within the District and he asked the Leader if he would agree to commit resources in an effort to ensure that all Councillors in Breckland would be able to have some form of input into this. Furthermore, where this Council had its own powers, to exercise them where it could in respect of blocked ditches etc.
The Leader was aware of the decision but had not, as yet, seen sight of the document. He pointed out that there was an item being raised at the Norfolk Leaders Forum in relation to flooding across the District, this involved working with Anglian Water and Essex Water and other key partners and organisations. He would be more than happy to share this information with all Councillors once more was known and how Breckland and its Members could proactively engage in this to ensure that the Council was protecting its residents and businesses.
Councillor Brindle mentioned the improvements that were being made to the river system in Thetford and was pleased to hear that there was likely to be a jetty built on Breckland land along the river. He asked the Leader if he could confirm that the jetty would be open and be free to all Thetford residents to use at all times.
The Leader was not aware of the detailed conditions in relation to that access permit granted by the Council’s Assets Team for the jetty itself. He was aware that the business owner was trying .to ratify some insurance related issues and he would be more than happy to respond to Councillor Brindle and other Thetford Members once more information was found.
Councillor Atterwill directed his first question to Councillor Paul Claussen, the Executive Member for Planning. He asked if the Building Control department was sufficiently resourced at this time to best serve the District.
Councillor Claussen advised that Building Control was short of staff but a recruitment exercise was already underway.
Councillor Atterwill’s second question related to the Green Britain Centre in Swaffham and was directed to Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Contracts & Assets.
He asked Councillor Hewett if he would commit to provide Members with a financial report detailing the original capital outlay and the subsequent capital receipt that had been realised by its recent sale.
Members were informed that Councillor Hewett had already left the meeting due to other work commitments and therefore the question would be dealt with by the Leader.
The Leader explained that the Council had approximately 240 assets across the District and surrounding areas. The Facilities Team acquired and disposed of such assets on a regular basis to ensure that the Council was getting the best revenue streams to support and protect frontline services. In respect of the Green Britain Centre, this had been a decision taken by the Cabinet Member in consultation with local Ward Members and Councillor Atterwill was reassured that such information would be provided to him in due course on the building’s acquisition and its subsequent disposal.
Councillor Terry, as a school governor, had concerns about food poverty and how it impacted on children’s education. This remained a major issue in the District. He was also aware that many families did not apply mainly due to thinking that they were not eligible for free school meals. He asked the Leader if there was anything that the Council could do to encourage these people to sign up.
Members were informed that the Government had awarded millions of pounds to upper tier authorities across the country to support food poverty and Norfolk County Council was the responsible authority for this area. He was aware that Officers were working at pace to support individuals and families across the County who had been impacted by the current pandemic. In relation to the free school meals, for those who had not taken up the offer, as part of Breckland Council’s vulnerability support network, and through the Communications Team, families and individuals alike were being made aware of what help was available. Norfolk County Council had also re-advertised the food hardship scheme prior to Christmas but he would raise this matter again with Councillor Proctor, the Leader of Norfolk County Council.
The Chairman said that she worked closely with the headteacher of a school nearby in her Ward and often provided information or pointed them in the right direction for such schemes.
Councillor Wickerson asked Councillor Sherwood a question about the climate change situation. He had also received a copy of the draft Carbon Audit report which he felt was very detailed and he understood that it would take time to get through it all. However, at a previous meeting Members had been advised that the Climate Change Officer had been appointed and that in due course Members would receive some details about that individual such as an introductory email from that person which no-one had received. He asked Councillor Sherwood for reassurance that this information would be forthcoming.
Members were assured that the said information would be forthcoming but, at the moment, he felt that it would be unfair on the applicant in his first few weeks to have an inbox full of questions before becoming familiar with Breckland as a whole. That said, his first few weeks had been spent getting to know exactly what the Council expected of him and a number of conversations had been had and very shortly all information would be released accordingly.