Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 5)
- Meeting of Budget & Council Tax Setting, Council, Thursday, 25th February, 2021 10.00 am (Item 19/21)
To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.
The Leader was delighted to speak to Members so soon after the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) latest announcement in respect of his road map and his plans for getting England out of lockdown over the next few months.
He had welcomed the PM’s proposals that would help people in Breckland and across the Country to gradually return to, what was hoped to be, a normal life, and in time seeing the re-opening of High Streets across all five of Breckland’s market towns including many other rural businesses that had all been doing a sterling job through these most challenging times.
This, coupled with the rollout of the Covid vaccine programme, meant that life was starting to look a little brighter. Members and residents across the District had been immensely grateful to the National Health Service, the Armed Forces and all the other volunteers at the vaccination centres across the County.
Throughout the pandemic, Breckland Council’s foremost priority had been to protect the lives and livelihoods of residents and businesses across the District and this would continue.
Breckland Council had distributed over £40m in grants to businesses across the District to help them through this pandemic. This included £2m to over 1,000 local businesses from the Council’s own local discretionary support grant funding pot and, in light of the PM’s announcement, further guidance on any future support was awaited but once received, local businesses would be provided with further support over the coming weeks and months.
In the interim, support was still being provided to Breckland’s residents for those in financial hardship, helping them with food and supermarket on-line delivery slots. Over £60k had been provided thus far and coupled with Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Community Foundation those in need were receiving the required and relevant support.
The Leader was also pleased to announce that his future social programme would soon be underway, this would be looking at employability workshops to help highlight how young people and young carers could be transferred into job settings and to ensure that they had access to much needed peer support. This would be branded under the Council’s ‘Young Carers Extra Support’ programme that would sit under the ‘Vulnerability’ programme which had been launched 12 months ago with £1m funding from this Council.
Further to the PM’s announcements, the Senior Management Team and the Cabinet were now reflecting on what Breckland’s roadmap would look like and how the Council was going to operate moving forward. He urged people to continue to follow the national guidance to keep themselves their loved ones, friends and family safe as it was imperative not to become complacent and lose all that hard work. Everyone must be patient and wait for their invitation from the NHS to be vaccinated.
Outside of Covid, Breckland Council was gearing up with its new waste contract working with its neighbours in Kings Lynn & West Norfolk and North Norfolk. This was expected to go live in April 2021 and the first of the brand-new waste collection vehicles would be arriving in Breckland in matter of days, on time and on budget. When that service did go live all would have a further enhanced provision of waste services across the District; one of the Council’s core services whilst finding efficiency savings as discussed back in December 2019. This represented a real benefit, a fantastic joined up approach which could be achieved in local government by working together.
The Vice- Chairman thanked the Leader for his informative announcements. Members were then invited to ask questions.
Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group had been fortunate enough to be called up for his first vaccination at the Thetford Healthy Living Centre. It had been pouring with rain on the day, but that had not stopped the cheery and efficient welcome that he had received from the volunteer marshals’ in the car park. As he sat in the waiting area the volunteers had been busily cleaning the seats and welcoming people and putting everybody at ease. He felt very lucky that there were so many volunteers speeding up the vaccine rollout and no doubt saving many lives. He asked the Leader if there were any opportunities for Breckland Council to recognise the work of the volunteers in the Breckland community whether it be for the vaccine rollout, feeding people or helping with IT, and whether he would support some sort of reward scheme for Breckland’s Covid heroes.
The Leader announced that the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the Council already had such a plan underway when able and safe to do so to thank volunteers and businesses across the District and to be recognised with an appropriate award to attribute what had been a remarkable national effort.
Councillor Clarke thanked the Leader for his comprehensive report. He wanted to endorse what Councillor Jermy had said as he had recently received his vaccination at Swanton Morley surgery. He also wanted to pay particular tribute to the heroic refuse collectors who had continued the service throughout these difficult times. In terms of the funding allocation by Central Government for Covid support, he asked the Leader if the allocation was not totally used would that be clawed back by the Government or would it be used in other ways, or did the Leader anticipate all those funds being utilised for its original purpose.
The Leader hoped that every local authority across the country was spending the funding in accordance with what it had been designed for. There were some requirements where that funding could not be spent but all the grants received by both Breckland and at the upper tier authorities were all working at pace to ensure that this funding was distributed to the right places and having the biggest impact to ensure that both residents and businesses could thrive. An update would be provided at the next meeting on any guidance in respect of additional funding.
Councillor Morton understood that the bus service from Dereham to Swanton Morley where the vaccine rollout was being carried out had been reduced. He asked the Leader if there was anything that Breckland Council could do to promote a better bus service.
The Chairman had not been aware that this service had been reduced but would be more than happy to take that up on the Council’s behalf. He was aware; however, that any resident had the ability to ask for extra support in respect of transport as well as asking for their vaccination to be carried out at another centre in a more suitable area.
Councillor Atterwill, a Ward Representative for Swanton Morley, pointed out that the bus service had been reduced but following very helpful discussions with Steve James, the Council’s Communities & Environmental Services Manager, further conversations had been had with Connect Bus who had subsequently re-instated the service to enable residents to attend their vaccine appointments. Members noted that Connect Bus had reduced the service due to the Covid outbreak, and at the time, the lack of passengers.