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 was, pleased that so many Members had made an effort to wear their Christmas jumpers and donate to the Daisy Programme.
The following announcements were made.
Following the recent periods of national restrictions, Breckland’s High Streets were once again open for business and all Members were encouraged to support their local shops going forward. The Council was still working closely with all local traders throughout this pandemic providing them with advice, support and millions of pounds of grant funding to help them to remain viable now and into the future.
Following the success of the Council’s Confidence Campaign in the Spring and Summer 2020, a new campaign was underway to support those businesses in the run up to the Christmas period – ‘Enjoy, Discover and Explore’ that called upon all residents in Breckland to support their High Streets and shop locally in all five market towns.
A team of Covid Officers had recently been recruited in response to the pandemic. These Officers were already in place on the High Streets within the market towns and would provide a presence in the coming weeks and months to provide support, advice and guidance - not just to businesses but to local shoppers as well. They would also be undertaking door knocking for the local ‘track and trace’ that had proved to be a valuable tool in the attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. Officers would be introduced via social media platforms and Members and the public watching this meeting were encouraged to follow the videos and on-line content to understand what roles these Officers would be undertaking in the coming weeks.
As 2020 drew to a close, in what had been a dreadful year for many, Members and Officers were encouraged to look forward and focus on the new year ahead. The draft budget was already well underway for the forthcoming financial year and would be shared in due course through the committee process. Breckland Council was in a balanced budget position and would not have to make some of the difficult decisions that many other Councils were facing. All frontline services would be protected, and further investments would be made in respect of environmental issues, a new Animal Welfare Officer, new waste collection services and enhanced fly-tipping support.
A positive response had been received in respect of the Council’s Market Towns Initiative (MTI). Breckland Council was still committed to the investment of £150,000 for every market town in the District. The first tranche of projects was being prepared and it was anticipated that delivery would be in the latter part of the current financial year, all being driven local Members.
For Watton, new improved sustainable street furniture would be installed in the High Street to enhance the look and feel of the town centre making it a fantastic place for people to live and to visit
In Thetford, new lighting and new seating would be installed along the riverside, together with new attractions for people to enjoy this incredible area - one of the town’s greatest assets.
Active Attleborough would be the main focus for Attleborough, such as movement, sport and activities to encourage people out into the community and enjoy the wonderful public spaces whilst also promoting the historic centre.
Green infrastructure initiatives would be the main focus for Swaffham to actively improve the air quality within the town and make Swaffham a destination of choice within the northern part of the District.
For Dereham, vibrant independent shops would be encouraged to the town linked together with the culture sector and with footways to inspire coactivity between those locations.
The Council had approved the power connectivity in both Thetford and Snetterton and this would enable Breckland to grow not just in housing but in industry so that individuals had the chance to live and work in Breckland.
In the light of Covid, the Corporate Plan would be re-visited and revamped to ensure that Breckland was still a place where residents and businesses could thrive. The Plan would be presented to the relevant Committee process - Overview & Scrutiny Commission in early January, followed by Full Council in February 2021. Cabinet colleagues and Officers across the Council were working hard to pull this together and have it ready so that this Council could continue to deliver to every single resident and business within the District.
The vaccine had been rolled out across England and other parts of the UK this week which had been a great achievement. The NHS in Norfolk & Waveney had already started to invite care home workers and the over 80’s to attend appointments to receive the vaccine which had been confirmed as safe and effective. Initial supplies of the vaccine were limited and would be given to those most at risk together with a small number of frontline National Health Service staff. People over 80 would be contacted by their local GP practices so all would need to follow the advice by only attending an appointment when invited. The pandemic, however, was still very much with us, therefore all across the District and Norfolk must remain cautious and the best way to protect each other and friends and families was to continue to wash hands, cover our face and make space.
The Leader thanked all Officers, all Members, and public sector workers across Breckland and Norfolk, key workers and volunteers, childcare workers and those in the care sector providing valuable support to those most in need. All had ensured that Breckland communities were safe. The Council would continue to operate over the Christmas and New Year period supporting those most in need and details of the out of hours service would be available on the website.
The Leader then took the opportunity to wish everyone across Breckland a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.
Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group thanked the Leader for his update. His views had been reaffirmed about the importance of Local Government when his inbox had been filled with emails about Covid, Bird Flu and an unsafe building in Thetford but had been dealt with. He thanked the Officers who had all been doing a sterling job in keeping everyone informed including Members and the public alike.
He asked how negotiations were going in relation to local government funding and what representations had been made on behalf of the District to provide all these important services and if it was known whether a fair settlement would be provided from Government.
The Leader echoed Councillor Jermy’s thanks to the Officers concerned. These Officers had worked weekends to support Defra in respect of the Avian Flu outbreak and to protect residents in Thetford from the unsafe building. These were just some of the examples of why local Government was so important to the district’s residents and businesses.
In respect of the budget position, he had been involved in recent meetings with the District Councils Network (DCN) to prepare the Council’s position statement in response to the Government’s settlement. Members could note from the emerging budget the measures that Breckland Council was taking to ensure that it was protecting its frontline services. There would be some disadvantages in respect of the announcements made but the Government had, throughout the pandemic, committed millions of pounds to local councils to ensure that they were able to continue to operate and protect frontline services.
Councillor Wilkinson echoed the thanks that had been offered to all Officers, but he highlighted, in particular, Democratic Services who had been facilitating all of the meetings. He asked the Leader if he would also agree in thanking the Chairman, Councillor Lynda Turner for the sterling job in chairing these meetings.
The Leader said that he congratulated anyone who was able to chair a meeting successfully on-line, it was immensely challenging, and he felt that the Chairman had done a sterling job. There were many Members who chaired various meetings, groups, parish councils and sub committees and all should be proud of what they had achieved.
Councillor Borrett highlighted a number of projects that were already underway including the Norfolk Strategic Infrastructure Plan that was being delivered with the Council’s partners, the LEP and NCC with Breckland Council very much taking the lead. The Attleborough town centre improvements of £4.5m that had already started, £3.6m for the Snetterton Energy supply, £9.8m for the Thetford Water supply and £2m for the sewage infrastructure in Thetford. Also planned but not yet started, was £14m towards the Thetford Sustainable Urban Extension and works in respect of the A47. This was an enormous amount of capital money being spent in the District in the midst of a pandemic and he asked the Leader if he agreed that this was an incredible achievement.
The Leader agreed fully and stated that as a District Council it would not be able to deliver this programme of works and activities without working in partnership. The projects listed highlighted how true partnership and collaboration worked to ensure that Breckland was a place where residents and businesses could thrive.