Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 7)
Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group, thanked the Chairman and everyone involved for delivering the Chairman’s reception which he thoroughly enjoyed. It had been a particular honour for him to welcome all concerned to Thetford - to the Ward that he represented.
He directed his question to the Leader. He had recently met with workers from Serco in Watton who were currently campaigning for improved pay, terms and conditions. During the time that he had been with them they mentioned how pleased they were to have been given the chance to speak to the Leader of North Norfolk Council but had been disappointed, as Breckland residents themselves, that their own Council Leader was not able to do the same. He asked the Leader when he would be taking the time to meet them.
The Leader was pleased that through the industrial action that took place recently, that Breckland Council was able to keep up with all the activities in collecting the bins by the end of that week. He did receive a communication from Serco but unfortunately had been very busy at the time and had other matters to attend to but had met with Serco staff on numerous occasions over the last couple of months and would be happy to do so again. He was aware that the Cabinet member responsible for waste & recycling had visited the staff on his behalf and reminded Members that Serco staff were not employees of this Council and therefore it would be inappropriate for him to intervene, but he would be happy to work with the contract managers and the senior officers at Serco around any concerns or issues they might have.
Cllr Atterwill, the Leader of the Independent Group was aware that Councillor Webb, the Executive Member for Health & Communities had sent all Members a copy of the Health & Wellbeing Partnership Strategy recently which he felt was quite light on detail but listed a number of actions and asked when Members could expect to receive the detailed action plan. One area of concern he had found was in respect of the housing and adaptations to facilitate independent living. The Cabinet Member for Housing had informed the Overview & Scrutiny Commission recently that in 2023/24 without any additional government funding the available funding would be short of somewhere between £887k and £1.9m of what was required. In light of this shortfall, how would the Health & Wellbeing Partnership hope to achieve its strategy and overcome this issue.
Councillor Webb was pleased that Councillor Atterwill had taken the time to read this Strategy as she had always tried to be upfront about what this Council was doing in terms of the Partnership. Achieving such a partnership had been a good step forward but there was still a great deal of work to be done and rolled out. There were issues that needed to be looked at, but all these statistics had been backed up by evidence from different organisations, and if she was re-elected, a quarterly report would be provided to all Members about how the Partnership were doing in terms of the action plan. She was unable to comment on the disabled facilities grant at this point in time, but she was aware that this issue had been raised on many occasions and she would get back to all Members on this matter in due course.
For months, Councillor Birt had been trying to arrange an officer briefing to discuss details in respect of Breckland’s 2035 programme without success. He felt that this delay was removing the ability of meaningful scrutiny on this incredibly important Council Policy. He asked the Leader if he and the Cabinet were fully committed to the 2035 programme or was it being ‘watered down’.
The Leader was not aware that Councillor Birt had been trying to arrange meetings with officers but assured him that this Council was absolutely committed to the 2035 programme and explained the wider activity that had been put in place in the towns. A full appraisal and update would be provided in due course.
Councillor Oliver recognised that the Leader was aware that Norfolk County Council had not appropriately consulted district councils thus far on the matter of devolution and indeed had undertaken an inappropriate process in terms of its consultation and also its procedural internal process and asked the Leader if he could update Members on what was happening in respect of the devolution deal and what meetings or other communications he had had with the Leader of Norfolk County Council in terms of trying to rectify the failures that had been made to date.
The Leader advised that the decision on this matter sat solely with Norfolk County Council and was not a decision of Breckland Council as district councils were not classed as statutory consultees, but he had been pleased that at the last Cabinet meeting, a response from Breckland Council in respect of County deals had been made.
Moving forward, he and the Deputy Leader, Councillor Paul Claussen had attended regular Norfolk Public Sector Leaders’ Board meetings and Norfolk Leaders meetings in which relevant updates had been provided and the position for Breckland had been clear around the processes and the current governance structure, and the opportunities moving forward. Through the updates provided at this Council in respect of the pro-action protocol, of which Breckland Council were signatories with three other councils in Norfolk, this was still in date, and it would be for this Council to decide if a judicial review was required. He was still in close communications with colleagues across Norfolk and with Members of Parliament to make sure that the best possible outcome for residents and businesses was gained and to ensure that the best structure was put in place to deliver upon the Government’s ambition for devolution but more importantly the levelling up agenda. The Leader then thanked all Members for their support.
As the end of the four-year term was getting closer, Councillor Turner asked Councillor Webb if she could provide Members with a few examples of where the grants from the Inspiring Communities fund had made a difference to those communities.
Councillor Webb stated that one of the grants provided was for a Horticultural Industry scheme and was for homeless and ex-offenders to complete 15 garden transformations on behalf of vulnerable residents, encouraging people to help others. The grant had also supported these people to gain additional training for possible future careers. Also, at the end of this month there was going to be a room opened at Etling Grange in Dereham to bring people from the independent sheltered bungalows on the site and from the care home itself together to prevent isolation.
Councillor Kybird stated that Brandon Station located in Weeting was currently undergoing some engineering works and that these in turn involved listed building status and approval of these potential works by Breckland Council and asked Councillor Suggitt, the Executive Member for Strategic & Operational Planning for an update.
Members were informed that Greater Anglia had contacted Breckland Council as they had discovered some structural issues to the roof of the building that needed to be partly demolished. A site visit had taken place and since then the report that had been submitted had been pushed back and consent had been refused. Whilst on site they had been accompanied by conservation architects who also viewed the building and had the same view and advised that the issues were not as detrimental as Greater Anglia had suggested. A solution was now being worked on and it was hoped that when the next submission was received that it would be something that could be supported, and consent could be granted.
Councillor Wilkinson said that it had been an honour to be asked to be Vice-Chairman of the Council for 2022/23 representing not only Breckland must most of Norfolk, Suffolk as well as many other counties. He then asked Councillor Bambridge, the Executive Member for Housing & Homelessness a question about the grant funding awarded to the handy man service that supported the NHS discharge patients to their own homes and asked if this programme had started.
Members were informed that the scheme had recently started and understood that within a couple of hours of it going live enquiries started to be received from the public. Members were reminded that a grant had been received in the region of £80k and Breckland Council had allocated a further £50k. This scheme was limited to offering small grants for simple adaptations such as installing grab rails, doing shopping and turning the heating on if there was no-one else available to get people out of hospital, to free up beds and back into their own homes. He felt that this was an excellent scheme and was pleased with the response thus far.
Councillor Kiddell asked Councillor Webb where this Council was in respect of the Mindful Towns and accreditations.
Councillor Webb explained how villages and towns in Breckland could gain accreditation as a 'Mindful Town or Village'. She was pleased to report that every town in Breckland had achieved this status and courses had been completed. Swanton Morley and Necton had also now gained this accreditation.
Councillor Plummer had noticed in the press that new ‘moving-on’ houses had been opened in Thetford and asked Councillor Bambridge if such housing would be made available elsewhere in the district.
Councillor Bambridge said that he was very supportive of ‘moving on’ housing as there were many homeless people not just in this district but all over the UK and provided them with temporary accommodation before moving on. There were other sites in the pipeline, but he was always looking for other opportunities and asked Members if there was land available in their Wards that was suitable for such accommodation to let him know.
Councillor Dale was aware that the Daisy Programme had lost a full-time staff member and asked Councillor Webb if there was any way that Breckland Council could help bridge that gap.
Members were informed that the Daisy Programme had a number of posts funded by different sources and pointed out that this Council’s funding supported the core services to residents. Discussions were being had with the Norfolk Integrated Abuse Service and she would report back to Members on this matter at some point in the future.
Councillor Land directed his concern to Councillor Bambridge. He was concerned to hear at the recent Overview & Scrutiny Commission meeting that demand for the disabled facilities grant was increasing.
Councillor Bambridge said, as he had explained at the O&SC meeting, this was funding provided by Central Government and Breckland Council just administered it. There were very strict rules as to how this funding could be used and penalties if not spent correctly. Additional funding was a concern but on the other hand this was a good news story as Breckland Council was one of the few councils that was spending all the money that had been provided and therefore was writing to Government through the MP’s and to the Levelling up Minister to try and obtain additional funding due to this Council’s efficiency in getting through more applications than anyone else. If this Council put in money itself it would have to stop some other service and assured Members that if re-elected he would be writing again.
Councillor Clarke thanked Councillor Webb for the refurbishment of the Queen Mother’s Garden in Dereham. He asked about the Yaxham Road closures as he was aware that Councillor Webb had been making representations to Norfolk County Council to inform timely and proper communications about such closures.
Councillor Webb advised that any matter in respect of highways was Norfolk County Council, and they did listen to residents’ concerns and Dereham Town Council were also on the case in terms of road closures.
At this point the 30 minute time limit for questions without notice had ended.
Councillor Brindle was very disappointed that he had not been given the opportunity to speak.
Rob Walker, the Deputy Chief Executive read aloud the relevant Standing Order under Standing Order 7.1.
Councillor Jermy raised a Point of Order and proposed a Motion to suspend the Standing Order to allow the time period to be extended.
The Deputy Chief Executive advised that if a proposal to suspend Standing Orders without notice, could only be done with at least 50% of the Members present voting in favour of the suspension.
Cllr Atterwill seconded the proposal.
A vote was then taken and the proposal to suspend this Standing Order was lost by a majority vote. Councillor Jermy and Councillor Clarke asked for their vote to be recorded.