Agenda item

Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 5)

To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.

 

Minutes:

The Leader of the Council, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen made the following announcements.

 

Lockdown Roadmap

 

On Monday, 12 April 2021, the Country would begin to move into step 2 of the national roadmap out of lockdown.  He was pleased to confirm that Breckland was already helping local businesses across the District in preparation to open safely. 

 

From the 12 April, non-essential retail would be permitted to open for business which would hopefully bring back much activity to the High Streets. 

 

The Council had launched a £2m support package to help businesses to begin trading again and provide residents with the confidence they needed to shop locally and support businesses whilst remaining safe.

 

This package was being branded as ‘Spring Back’ and this programme of support had already received tremendous uptake from several businesses across the whole of the District including rural areas.  This funding of up to £5k would help with new equipment to trade in a Covid compliant way including extra protective equipment such as screens marquees, benches etc to allow individuals to be safe and ensure social distancing could take place.  This money was already available and beyond that Breckland was looking to improve shop fronts making the towns attractive destinations for shoppers to visit not just in Breckland but the wider county. 

 

Training and support were also being offered to help local businesses trade on-line optimising on the new ‘click and collect’ digital market that had proved such a phenomenon over the last 12 months.   This support was not just available to existing businesses but for start-up businesses too and this funding would be paid directly to businesses to get their initial platform launched, their initial rent paid, or their initial capital outlay paid for premises. Any businesses across the District or any individual who had a scheme they were looking to launch should contact Breckland Council for further information.  

 

Over the coming days and weeks residents would see sight of a number of shops displaying Covid safe schemes in the form of a window sticker to show that they were Covid safe. The Covid Support Officers were continuing to patrol the towns to carry out assessments and to distribute these accreditation stickers for such premises. Whilst the re-opening of High Streets was welcomed and the easing of restrictions were gradually eased, it remained essential that everyone continued to follow the latest guidelines to keep everyone safe. 

 

The Covid Support Teams were out every day in the Breckland communities along side the Public Protection and Licensing Officers, as well as Trading Standards, health & safety teams and of course the Police to ensure that all premises were ready to open, answering questions and helping them go through the legislation ensuring that they were ready to open their doors.  

 

On the subject of keeping safe, the asymptomatic testing continued throughout the District and many residents and Members of the Council would have seen the pop-up testing sites in the market towns.  Anyone who had any concerns were urged to log onto any of the following websites for further information:

 

Breckland Council:

https://www.breckland.gov.uk/article/16896/12-03-21-Asymptomatic-covid-testing-to-launch-in-Breckland

 

Public Health England:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england

 

Local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG: 

https://www.norfolkandwaveneyccg.nhs.uk/coronavirus-testing

 

Individuals did not need to leave their household as everyone would be able, from the end of this week, to book some home test kits via the following government website:

https://www.gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests

 

Flood Management

 

At the previous meeting a number of Members had asked about Lord Dannatt and the new County Strategic Flood Group meetings.  The second meeting had recently taken place with all key stakeholders addressing all the initial concerns and feedback had been offered from the Working Group.  The vast number of initial challenges were still being considered and were on-going, and the ‘patchwork quilt’ of responsibility was causing much consternation for individuals to workout who was responsible and who were leading on these various matters.  Lord Dannatt was taking control of the whole situation with a number of positive outcomes from key stakeholders.  Conversations were continuing throughout the County and with George Freeman MP and with other groups to ensure that all had a mechanism to raise any concerns and issues directly to ensure that the District had a real long-term change for residents and businesses to protect them against flood and water management. 

 

Government Funding

 

At the previous meeting a question had been asked about ‘claw back’ from Government funding particularly in relation to the national Grants Scheme.  Breckland Council had administered fourteen separate grant schemes across the national Covid Grant Programme.  A phenomenal amount and sometimes immensely confusing for individuals but the Council had changed and pivoted to what had been required to support businesses. 

 

A number of these legacy schemes were now coming to a close and all were being reviewed to ensure that the Council had 100% payment against all of those eligible businesses within the area.  According to the schemes based on national criteria, the Leader was hopeful no monies would be clawed back by the Government.  There was a material risk that the Government could move the goal posts as this was within its gift and the additional restriction grant from the ARG that was initially meant to move to April 2022 had been pulled forward and the Council was moving at pace to ensure that 100% payments were sent out.

 

Town Delivery Plans

 

The Town Delivery Plans had recently gone live.  This was a Breckland Council initiative to ensure that every single market town was treated fairly, and each had an opportunity to plan and shape their future needs as well as the rural parishes and the villages that were so important to the towns.  Moving forward out of Covid, this was the perfect opportunity to pull this plan together as part of the Council’s longer term growth strategy that was being supported by a company called Hatch.  This company had extensive experience and an excellent track record in this field and some ambitious plans were expected.  

 

This was a long-term programme and would be a year in the making and could end up being many years in the planning with detailed engagement, and evidence to help shape new places.

 

The first town would be Dereham, and the programme was now being developed.  This would be a shared vision, and everyone would have a key role to play from Town Councils, local resident associations, local businesses, the voluntary sector, health, education and the plethora of individuals who would be pivotal to the success.  The Leader hoped that everyone would join in this process and not stand on the side-lines and criticise but roll up their sleeves and get involved to ensure that this became a really positive piece of work.

 

Questions were then invited.

 

In respect of flooding, Councillor Gilbert advised that the Chairman of the Watton & Saham Flood Action Working Group had attended the meetings with Lord Dannatt.  He felt that a small step forward had been made in respect of the successful joint bid for funding submitted by Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils to look at the re-use and storage of surface water.  The funding was £6m over 3 years - £500k for each County and he hoped that something would come out of this and action be taken on issues to protect people in the future.  

 

Councillor Terry advised that it had recently been revealed that those aged under 25 years of age made up two thirds of the 700,000 newly unemployed people across the UK since the start of the pandemic.  He was aware of several people in this age group who had been impacted in the Breckland area describing job hunting as a confidence shattering process during this pandemic amid fears of lack of opportunities and he asked the Leader to confirm what Breckland Council was doing to support this demographic to ensure that this generation was able to recover as everyone emerged out of Covid.

 

The Leader advised that Breckland Council had a strong track record of working with partners such as the DWP and independently starting schemes such as KickStart to ensure that local individuals had the opportunities to find employment or further education.  This was a national issue and as the furlough scheme drew to a close over the next few months an increase in those numbers would be seen.

 

A District Council could not work in isolation it needed to ensure that it worked across the geography of Norfolk with DWP and linked with industry and further education establishments to ensure that there was a record and a transition for those individuals who were coming through the education system and for those who were unemployed.  Breckland Council had already provided many thousands of pounds for employment and skills officers prior to Covid and throughout the pandemic as the recovery process began, those Officers within the Business Regeneration Team would be looking at a long-term approach to this issue within the Breckland area. 

 

Further details on these matters would be provided to Councillor Terry and any other Members but, at this point in time, Breckland and would continue to provide the necessary funding, not in isolation, but with other partners who had bigger funding models and longer-term outcomes for residents.

 

Councillor Jermy followed up on the Leader’s comments about flooding and asked the Leader if he could provide some assurance that all Members of the Council would be kept informed of the work of the new County Strategic Flood Group as it was a very complicated subject and affected everyone in different ways.

 

The Leader explained that that he had conversations frequently with individuals on a plethora of subjects and did not have the ability to brief Members on every matter but for something as important as flooding, once a delivery plan and some objectives and targets had been agreed such information would be shared with Members.  He felt that there would also be an opportunity for the Overview & Scrutiny Commission to scrutinise this work.  The Leader had been pleased that Councillor Gilbert had highlighted the fantastic work carried out by Norfolk County Council thus far particularly with the £6m re-use water bid.