Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 7)
Councillor Jermy directed his question about virtual meetings to the Leader. He was aware that such meetings would be coming to an end after 6 May 2021 despite many Councillors and staff not being fully vaccinated and without clear opportunities to allow larger meetings to go ahead in a socially distanced way. He asked the Leader if he could confirm what representations he had made to the Government on this matter. He also asked the Leader to confirm that once ‘in person’ meetings did return what Breckland would be doing to ensure that the new opportunities that had been afforded to residents to engage with and scrutinise the Council through virtual meetings would be maintained.
The Leader advised that he had made representations for the eastern region as a Member of the District Councillors Network for the East of England and the Local Government Information Unit. At both these forums he had stressed the importance of hybrid meetings moving forward beyond step 4 of the roadmap; however, when the Government legislation ended in May all councils would have to react to that decision accordingly.
A decision had already been made to pull forward the AGM from 20 May to 29 April so that everyone could remain Covid complaint and Covid safe and the Committee Chairmen had already made their own decisions to either pull forward their meetings or postpone them until after 21 June. All Members had a duty as public leaders and as community champions that when all businesses opened again the Council should follow suit when safe and practical to do so whilst bearing in mind that beyond 17 May the numbers of how many people could meet inside could increase.
In relation to public participation, part of the works that was still on-going under Cllr Paul Hewett’s Portfolio, the Conference Suite at Breckland Council now had livestreaming facilities in place so the public would not necessarily have to attend in person. Members would soon be invited in small groups to the Conference Suite to have a discussion about how the new technology was going to work.
Councillor Birt said that the questions that he had asked at the previous Council meeting had not, as yet, been responded to and were as follows:
· How much money had been collected in the New Homes Bonus for his local area of Carbrooke, Saham Toney and Watton?
· Information required in respect of the Operational Recovery document and the Worksmart 2020 Programme.
Referring to the latter question, Councillor Birt said that he had been having difficulties getting hold of the aforementioned documents and had contacted the Legal Team accordingly. The legislation permitted him to view these documents but again he had not received any response and felt that he was being unlawfully denied access to such information.
The Leader advised that he was not aware of any Officer preventing this legal ability but felt that if every Member asked for the level of detail that Councillor Birt demanded on a continuous basis the Officers would not be able to carry on with their day job. He had not been aware that Cllr Birt had not been privy to the information that he had requested in respect of the New Homes Bonus and would ensure that this was passed onto him. In relation to the recovery document that had been shared with all Members in July 2020, this had obviously been superseded but he would be more than happy to send such information to Cllr Birt.
Councillor Atterwill asked the Leader a question about the new waste contract and asked him to confirm if the Council had purchased smaller capacity refuse vehicles. He had been informed of this concern by the refuse collectors in his area. The Leader asked Rob Walker, the Executive Director of Place to respond to this question. Members were informed that the exact specification would be confirmed in due course.
Councillor Atterwill asked Councillor Claussen, the Executive Member for Planning about a question he had asked him at the previous meeting in respect of whether he would commit to undertake an internal review of the S106 process including the outsourcing of such work. At the time, Councillor Claussen had said that he would speak to the Chairman of the Planning Committee and he asked what the outcome had been from that discussion.
Councillor Claussen advised that the conversation was still on-going. A verbal update had been provided but nothing had been received in writing, but this would be shared with Councillor Atterwill once received.
Councillor Atterwill raised another question to Councillor Claussen. Earlier in the year he had raised a concern in respect of the staffing levels and resourcing in the Building Control department and he had been informed that a recruitment process was taking place. He asked Councillor Claussen for an update on this matter and if the department was now adequately resourced.
Members were informed that one person had been successfully recruited but he was unsure of the start date but once his/her employment commenced the Team would be fully resourced. Councillor Atterwill asked for this person’s start date to be emailed to him.
Councillor Wickerson asked Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Contracts & Assets if the Council was in a position to complete the sale of the Green Britain Centre in Swaffham. Members were informed that the completion date would be finalised very shortly.
Councillor Kybird asked Councillor Bambridge, the Executive Member for Environmental Services & Public Protection a question about the new waste vehicles and if he could be provided with an update on the new trade waste service and whether it was proving popular.
Members were informed that this was one of the largest local authority contracts that had been awarded for many years, three local authorities were involved and was a cross border contract with Kings Lynn & West Norfolk, North Norfolk and Breckland. This would not only make significant savings but would also be of real benefit to the relevant communities. The new contract provided everyone with a better service and the new vehicles incorporated ‘green’ technology to extract the waste from the bins electronically and was the best outcome for a rural area. Additionally, some of the vehicles would be entirely electric. Trade waste was a new very flexible service in Breckland and would work much better for smaller businesses in remote areas and was something that should be promoted by Members to their Parish & Town Councils. It was still early days, but Councillor Bambridge was pleased to report that the feedback thus far had been excellent. An update from the Officers involved in the contract and would soon be provided and he would be happy to report back such information to Members if they so wished.
Councillor Bushell asked the Leader if he was aware of the very positive feedback that she had received in respect of the Councils speed and efficiency in dealing with businesses and charitable organisations during the pandemic and the on-going support that still being offered. She asked the Leader if he would join her in thanking all the Officers involved for their hard work and the sensitivity displayed in handling difficult cases and their commitment in helping both businesses and charities who could all look forward to the future with confidence.
The Leader was delighted with the positive feedback received within the Dereham area and he hoped that individuals across the Chamber had received the same. Breckland Council had not been the fastest out of the blocks but had been the most efficient and as everyone emerged through the final stages of lockdown the Officers were now focusing on what the businesses were asking for and what the granular support needed to be. He would ensure that this positive news was fed back to the Officers concerned to what had been a thankless task of helping businesses and organisations to access the tens of millions of pounds.
Councillor Atterwill asked Councillor Hewett if he would soon be able to update Members on the current situation in respect of Barnham Broom Golf & Country Club and asked if he would provide a private & confidential briefing at the next Full Council meeting. Councillor Hewett agreed to Councillor Atterwill’s request.