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 made the following announcements:

 

A range of initiatives were already well-underway to support Breckland’s residents and businesses to thrive; this included some of the Council’s most vulnerable or at-risk.

 

Amongst these, the Council was now on the home straight in its project to develop a brand-new temporary accommodation centre in the district which would bring a dis-used building back into use. When finished around the spring, Elm House in Thetford would be providing modern facilities for up to 35 people at a time – including individuals, couples and whole families – who were at risk of becoming homeless.

 

In addition to this, he was delighted to inform Members that on the same site, the Council would also be providing five new one bedroom living units specifically to provide supported accommodation for rough sleepers or those who were at risk of rough sleeping, which was a fantastic example of this Council investing in facilities to support those most in-need.

 

The Leader was also pleased to inform Members that the Council had recently received an additional £100k of funding – from a £28m national pot – to help protect and provide vaccinations to rough sleepers in the Breckland area, including supporting those who were hesitant about getting their vital booster jabs and provide safe, emergency accommodation over the winter.

 

As for the wider population, the Anglia Revenues Partnership had issued over £400k worth of £500 Self-Isolation payments to support people in Breckland to help those most in need to follow Government Self-Isolation guidance.

 

This was in addition to the £6.6m of Government funding Norfolk received through the Household Support Fund. This fund would provide short-term financial support to meet immediate needs and help those struggling to afford food, energy and water bills, and other related essentials this winter. Nearly £200,000 of this funding had been passed through to Breckland Council and by the start of this month (January) it had distributed more than £130,000 of support across around 400 households. He asked Members that if any residents in their Wards were in need of urgent financial support, he urged them to come forward to establish what support could be offered.

 

In order to support vulnerable individuals and families within the district, he was delighted to announce that Breckland Council had partnered with Norfolk Community Foundation to create a new food bus service, which was due to be launched in the Spring.

 

The offer was still being refined but the bus would be operating across identified areas of need within Breckland to provide affordable, healthy, nutritious food - including fresh fruit and veg, and a range of chilled and store cupboard basics - all at a reduced price. This would help families in need to make savings of around 40-50% on a household’s weekly food shop (estimated to be up to £1000 per year).

 

The scheme would also work with residents to help address other challenges that they might be facing, providing early intervention support with debt management, skills and employment advice, or mental health and well-being. Further details would be shared as this scheme progressed.

 

Turning to Breckland businesses, once again the Council found itself at the front line of vital support for those most in need due to the impact of the pandemic. Having issued over £50m support in the last two years, 2022 would start with a fresh set of business grants targeting those hit hardest by Omicron and the disruption to trade, with almost £1.9m of new support.

 

Businesses were successfully trading their way through to recovery and he was proud that the Government had district councils such as Breckland at the forefront of delivery.

 

Breckland had continued to be amongst the quickest to react. Just recently, such schemes were opened to businesses again, again one of the first in the country to do so and had complemented the national offer with a far-reaching and generous discretionary boost to ensure no business in need went unsupported.

 

Despite the challenges, the Leader remained confident that this year would be one of growth and success for Breckland, its people and its businesses, and he was delighted to confirm to Councillors that early in the New Year this Council would be breaking ground on the creation of a new £4m substation at Snetterton Heath, the culmination of a major effort by this district Council to unlock growth in one of Norfolk’s most exciting growth areas, and a move which would be a catalyst for almost 2,000 new jobs and over £100m in added value. He looked forward to this being one of the first of many positive growth stories that could be shared in 2022.

 

Residents were already reaping the benefits of investment in services, with the Thetford Office - Breckland House being re-opened to customers at the start of January, following a refurbishment of the space.

Around £30k had been invested to repurpose and reconfigure the space to create a bright and welcoming front of house for customers and refurbish the space with new carpets and energy efficient LED lighting.

 

Whilst customers continued to do most things via the website, people could now choose to book an appointment or drop in to speak to a member of customer services and get help with their issue.

 

The Thetford office was on track to see around 100 customers this month following the soft launch of the service, and this was expected to be further enhanced with officers from the Council’s Housing Service due to be on hand there from the end of January.

 

More widely, he was also pleased to have read that a number of Breckland residents had been included in the New Year’s Honours list. He conveyed his sincere congratulations to them, and everybody who had done so much for their communities.

 

As Members would be aware, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee would be celebrated later this year and he was delighted to announce that Breckland Council had now received a new, signed photograph of Her Majesty, which would be proudly displayed very soon. To kick off the Jubilee celebrations, it was hoped that recipients of the New Year’s Honours would be invited to join us next month for a small celebration of their achievements and to help the Council unveil the new photograph of the Queen, here at Elizabeth House.

 

Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group wanted to convey his thanks to the Communities Team for their help in supporting vulnerable individuals and families within the district.

 

In respect of the pandemic, key workers in Breckland had been working around the clock to keep everyone safe and whilst the majority of the country had their freedoms limited to a daily walk Downing Street it seemed had not and had been enjoying themselves with alcohol fuelled parties being held and he asked the Leader if he would condemn the Prime Minister and his actions as this contemptable behaviour was not acceptable regardless of political persuasion, and he hoped that the Leader would agree to his request.

 

In response, the Leader was aware that the Prime Minister had already made a statement to the House and had offered his apologies and was currently under investigation by the Deputy Civil Servant who would soon be looking at all these issues.  He was not going to get involved in politics, as every Member of this Chamber and every person across the District had the ability to write to their MPs and raise their own concerns.   He was pleased that people across Breckland had continued to follow the rules and for those staff members who had worked immensely hard throughout this pandemic. Breckland Council was again poised ready to support residents and businesses back to recovery.