Paper number: COU/WS/21/012
Council Procedure Rules 8.1 to 8.3. The Leader will submit a report (the Leader’s Statement) summarising important developments and activities since the preceding meeting of the council.
Members may ask the Leader questions on the content of both his introductory remarks and the written statement itself.
A total of 30 minutes will be allowed for questions and responses. There will be a limit of five minutes for each question to be asked and answered. A supplementary question arising from the reply may be asked so long as the five minute limit is not exceeded.
Councillor John Griffiths, Leader of the Council, presented his Leader’s Statement as outlined in Paper number: COU/WS/21/012.
In his introductory remarks, Councillor Griffiths made reference to:
a. Issues that could be adversely affecting people’s daily lives on a national basis.
b. Paying tribute to staff of West Suffolk Council for their continuing commitment despite the ongoing challenges.
c. That all 37 homes within the new Barley Homes Westmill Place development in Haverhill, which included 30 percent affordable homes, had been sold. This not only provided much needed housing but also generated an income to the Council from its commercial company, Barley Homes.
d. The official opening of the Mildenhall Hub which took place on Friday 17 September 2021.
e. The opening of the new splashpad in Haverhill, which was a new family play amenity funded in partnership between West Suffolk Council and Haverhill Town Council.
f. The forthcoming Business Festival commencing on 4 October 2021, whilst acknowledging the extreme challenges currently faced by businesses.
g. Warm Homes Week which commenced on Monday 27 September 2021, including ways in which homeowners and landlords could access funding to make certain energy saving home improvements through the Government’s Green Homes Grant Scheme. The scheme had been extended to accept applications up to 31 March 2022.
The Leader responded to a range of questions relating to:
a. A voice for West Suffolk: Recognition was given by Councillor Nick Clarke on the successes of West Suffolk Council in respect of its many projects and its support to businesses and residents, particularly during the pandemic. He urged the Council to continue building strong relationships with Central Government and the Local Government Association by being clear on its direction and policies to help shape national policy. Councillor Griffiths agreed that West Suffolk Council and its partners would continue to lobby MPs to meet with ministers and civil servants on various issues to help achieve the best outcomes for businesses and residents of West Suffolk. All councillors were encouraged to lobby government, where deemed appropriate, on issues that may be affecting their wards.
b. West Suffolk Council: Councillor Terry Clements made references to matters that he felt should have been handled differently when setting the direction for the new West Suffolk Council following its creation in April 2019, together with a number of current issues in which Councillor Clements felt frustrated and disillusioned. A councillor for more than 38 years, Councillor Clements felt he could no longer satisfactorily represent residents within his Horringer ward and accomplish what he wanted to achieve for them. This culminated in Councillor Clements announcing his resignation from the Council and immediately leaving the meeting. In response, Councillor Griffiths acknowledged the extensive years of dedicated service and commitment of Councillor Clements and thanked him for his valuable contributions to the Council and his residents.
c. Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme – consultation: Following a decision made by the Portfolio Holder for Resources and Property it was intended for consultation to be undertaken on proposed changes to the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which was administered on behalf of West Suffolk Council by the Anglia Revenues and Benefits Partnership (ARP). Whilst generally supportive of the suggestions coming forward as part of the proposed consultation, Councillor Diane Hind, Leader of the Labour Group, expressed some concern with the intended proposal to simplify the application process by requiring customers to apply to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rather than directly to the local authority. Implementation of the proposals would mean that potential benefit claimants would only need to apply to the DWP and the DWP would then notify ARP if the applicant was also eligible for a reduction in council tax. Councillor Hind asked if an impact review had been undertaken to ascertain whether the DWP would be able to process applications within an acceptable timeframe. Councillor Griffiths acknowledged Councillor Hind’s reservations and referred the matter to Councillor Sarah Broughton, Portfolio Holder for Resources and Property to comment on the detail of the proposed consultation. She explained that assessment of the responses to the consultation, including those of partners and stakeholders, would be undertaken once it commenced. These would be taken into account when producing a final version of the proposed scheme, which would be presented to Cabinet and Council in December 2021 for approval.
d. Brandon Leisure Centre refurbishment: Recognition was given by Councillor Victor Lukaniuk, one of the members representing Brandon Central ward, for the Council’s investment in Brandon Leisure Centre. He was very much impressed by the upgrade and standard of work undertaken to achieve a better sports, leisure and health facility for Brandon and its locality. Councillor Griffiths welcomed and thanked Councillor Lukaniuk for his comments.
e. Newmarket market: Concern was expressed by Councillor Karen Soons, one of the members for Newmarket North ward, that the market in Newmarket had a number of challenges that needed to be overcome to improve its current situation. It was asked how stallholders, businesses and residents in Newmarket could be best supported so that an appropriate solution could be implemented for all. In response, Councillor Griffiths acknowledged the operational issues currently being experienced by Newmarket’s market and recognised its specific difficulties. He referred to the review currently being undertaken by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s Markets Review Working Group. This taskforce had been established to support the Council in refining its strategic vision for its markets, taking into account that each market was different. The aim was to produce a number of recommended actions to support that strategic vision, and the means through which those actions could be delivered. Opportunities would therefore be explored, and support given, in partnership with others, where appropriate and possible. Councillor Peter Stevens, Portfolio Holder for Operations, provided further information on the specific issues facing the High Street and market in Newmarket and how the Council was working with partners, businesses and residents to find a permanent solution to overcome the current difficulties.
f. Covid-19 awareness and testing: In response to a question from Councillor Julia Wakelam regarding the role of the Council in encouraging individuals to remain vigilant about the prevalence of Covid-19, particularly as infection rates were steadily rising in the district, Councillor Griffiths explained that the Council sat on the Local Outbreak Engagement Board (LOEB) where he received regular updates on the current situation regarding Covid-19. Working in partnership with the LOEB and others, regular communications were distributed amongst a number of outlets, including via the Council’s own communications team, with the aim of trying to reduce transmission, encourage testing, and keeping people safe.
No further questions were asked.
(Councillors Terry Clements and Dawn Dicker left the meeting during the consideration of this item. Councillor Aaron Luccarini left the meeting at the conclusion of this item.)