Questions on Notice under Standing Order No 6 (Agenda item 6)
Please find attached a list of all questions received under Standing Order No. 6, including the responses.
The Questions on Notice including the responses had been circulated to all Members prior to the meeting (see agenda pack).
It was noted that as Councillors Clarke and Jermy had sent their apologies no supplementary questions would be asked of their questions.
The Members who had submitted questions and were in attendance were invited to ask one supplementary question in accordance with the Council’s Constitution, as follows:
Councillor Atterwill thanked the Leader for his response to his first question (question 2 on the list) and was pleased that lessons had been learnt and looked forward to future programmes. In regard to his second question (question 3 on the list), in respect of the Breckworld App, again he thanked the Leader for his comprehensive response but asked if he was confident that the App would be refreshed and updated in time for the up-and-coming holiday season. The Leader was hopeful that the contractors would have the App ready to be re-launched at the start of the July school holidays.
In respect of his third question (question 4 of the list) in regard to the timber building at Wayland Prison. Councillor Atterwill and the Leader had already conversed on this matter on a number of occasions and had agreed to differ.
Councillor Atterwill then asked about the £10,000 that Breckland Council had funded towards the visitor search facility and whether the Council had asked the Police & Crime Commissioners Office if it would have made better use of that money. The Leader informed Members that initially the £10,000 had been allocated towards an ANPR camera at Wayland Prison on the directive of Norfolk Police but due to issues about the siting of this camera and its proximity it was not possible to install. Therefore, in consultation with Norfolk Police, who had also sponsored the camera, the decision had been made to reallocate the money to a search facility.
Cllr Atterwill then asked a supplementary question in respect of his fourth question (question 5 on the list). He had appreciated the response that had been provided in respect of the 250 mental health volunteers in the district and wholeheartedly supported this initiative. However, he had been disappointed as he had only found out about this from a press release and felt it would have been helpful if the Leader had informed Members prior to it going in the press as it was Members who were supposed to be promoting such initiatives across the district. He asked the Leader if he would keep Members informed of any such initiatives in the future. The Leader advised that, he would include such information in his weekly Briefing paper in future. The initial press release was a soft launch and the definitive press release in respect of this matter was still in its final reiterations.
His final question (question 6 on the list) was directed to Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Property & Projects. Councillor Atterwill was grateful for his response but in his initial response dated 8 March 2021 where he had asked about the history of the Green Britain Centre, there was a sentence that said ‘officer’s recollections were’ which had caused him some concern about the facts and figures that Councillor Hewett had originally provided. He fully appreciated that Councillor Hewett was not the Portfolio Holder when the arrangements for this building had been made but asked that when significant projects such as these were undertaken in future, a lifetime file/record was kept for historical reference.
In response, Councillor Hewett advised that this was about an acquisition that occurred in the last century when records were not kept electronically, and the Council was a different organisation back then. The biggest challenge was that the Council was looking at assessing a service as an investment and he asked Councillor Atterwill to recall that actually the Green Britain Centre was never, in its early life, designed as an investment, and compared it with the Council’s vulnerability strategy that did not make a profit. A service provision and an investment provision were measured in different ways and the Green Britain Centre at first was a place in Swaffham for people to visit but now it should be considered as an investment and would certainly generate a cash return on a cash investment. Councillor Hewett was pleased to report that there was now an employer coming into the building that would generate jobs and prosperity for the town.
Councillor Atterwill asked if all Members could be kept updated when the sale of the Green Britain Centre had been completed. Councillor Hewett was pleased to announce that the sale had been completed last week and when the buyer was happy for this information to go public, he would inform Members accordingly.
Councillor Birt asked Councillor Hewett a supplementary question to his first question (question 9 on the list). He felt that the response he had been given was rather a mixed message and he had not, in his opinion, been given a clear answer to the first two bullet points, as follows:
· If the original investment was made with collective Breckland money, why should any future reinvestment only be made in Swaffham?
· Would such a policy limit achieving 'best value' for Breckland residents as a whole?
Councillor Hewett pointed out that he had answered the same questions at the Full Council meeting in January 2021. He assured Members that the monies from this investment would not only be spent in Swaffham but would also be allocated to other towns and villages to allow them to thrive.
Referring to his second question (question 10 on the list), Councillor Birt had been disappointed that this ‘forum’ mechanism had to be used to gain responses to his questions. He believed that self-certification did not work and felt that his question had not been answered and asked Councillor Mark Robinson, the Executive Member for Customer, Digital & Performance how he was supposed to review contracts prior to them being awarded to ensure best practice.
The Executive Member for Customer, Digital & Performance advised Members that self-certification was standard practice in the tendering process. He was grateful for Councillor Birt’s due diligence, but the Council would be working with the contractor going forward as it tied in neatly with the Council’s WorkSmart 2020 programme. Councillor Birt was assured that further investigation would be carried as to why he never received an initial response.
In respect of his third question (question 11 of the list) Councillor Birt felt that the response received from Councillor Claussen, the Executive Member for Economic Development & Growth had been very limited, hence this supplementary question. He stated that in 2011 when the New Homes Bonus was announced it was set up to benefit communities but asked if that funding had been used to ‘prop up’ council tax.
The Leader, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen pointed out that a response had been provided and could be clearly seen under the heading of Carbrooke. New Homes Bonus had been based on the overall tax base changes and was not separated out by each individual parish as such work would not be appropriate use of Officer time. The New Homes Bonus within the Council’s budget quite clearly stated that these monies had not been used and had been ring-fenced for the past 3 years and would be used to support the whole of the district.
Referring to the second part of his original question in respect of the Council’s IT equipment, and the assertion that he had made around active monitoring being misleading, Councillor Birt quoted a conversation that he had with a member of the IT Team back in 2019 which, in his opinion, clearly demonstrated that the IT equipment was being monitored.
The Leader, Councill Sam Chapman-Allen advised that there was no monitoring involved but there had to be clear checks and balances to go through to ensure safety and security and it was Councillor Birt’s decision not to use the councils IT equipment.
Councillor Birt then asked Councillor Sarah Suggitt, the Executive Member for Planning, Leisure & Contracts a supplementary question in respect of his final question (question 12 on the list) in relation to the Serco Contract. He asked who decided what he was allowed to see. The Leader deferred this question to Mike Horn, the Council’s Solicitor who stated that the question had been referred to him and he had decided that Councillor Birt had already been provided with enough information on this matter.
Councillor Morton asked a supplementary question (question 13 on the list) and directed it to Councillor Claussen, the Executive Member for Economic Development & Growth. He asked if the Cabinet would be adopting more urgently some of these principles that he had mentioned in his original question in respect of climate change.
Members were informed that the Council was fully engaged with its partners in respect of climate change/green agenda.
Referring to his second question (question 14 on the list) he asked Councillor Paul Hewett, the Executive Member for Property & Projects for reassurance that Breckland Bridge was adopting green housing policies and that there would be an emphasis going forward of adopting green materials to be efficient whilst building housing that was profitable.
Members were informed that this question had already been answered.
Councillor Wickerson directed his supplementary question to Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Property & Projects (question 15 on the list). He appreciated the confidentiality in respect of the detailed information but asked if Councillor Hewett could confirm whether a deadline had been agreed to resolve this longstanding issue. Councillor Hewett said that he was not prepared to answer this question as it could contain information that was prejudicial to the Council’s investment and to the tenant and should therefore be taken below the line.
Councillor Wickerson, thanks Councillor Webb, the Executive Member for Housing, Health & Communities for her written response to his second question (question 16 on the list).
Members were informed that the list of all Flagship managed properties should be available for Members by the end of July.
The Chairman thanked Members for all their questions.