Paper number: COU/WS/22/001
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.
On behalf of the Leader, members may ask the Deputy Leader questions on the content of both her introductory remarks and the Leader’s 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.
On behalf of the Leader of the Council, Councillor Sara Mildmay-White, Deputy Leader, presented the Leader’s Statement as outlined in paper number: COU/WS/22/001
In her introductory remarks, Councillor Mildmay-White:
a. Storms: thanked councillors and staff for their support in helping to keep residents safe during the recent storms. Special recognition was given to the emergency services and the Suffolk-wide emergency planning team.
b. Budget: made references to the proposed budget for 2022 to 2023, which was to be considered later on the agenda.
c. Historical anomalies: that work was being undertaken to look at historical anomalies between the former St Edmundsbury and St Forest Heath councils when West Suffolk Council was created. The proposed review would not only look at street lighting and other similar issues, as highlighted by other members but would look at the future role and relationships the Council could have with the district’s town and parish councils.
d. COVID-19 Additional Relief Fund (CARF): West Suffolk Council had received an allocation of £4 million from the CARF, and applications could now be made by eligible businesses. This funding was to be used to support businesses most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but who were not eligible for earlier business rates reliefs linked to COVID-19.
e. Easing of COVID-19 restrictions: following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement to further ease mandatory COVID-19 restrictions, the Council remained committed to its business continuity plans and would ease restrictions in line with these plans. This involved making better use of space within the office, adopting a flexible approach which would allow staff to work collaboratively on projects, as well as providing sufficient desks to enable staff to work individually. Capacity was not being reduced and would return to pre-pandemic levels; however, working patterns within the office would fluctuate depending on working practices of individuals and teams.
f. Environment: the Council was continuing with implementing initiatives to protect and improve the environment, and tackle climate change. The West Stow Anglo Saxon Village had recently won the RAC Cooling Industry Awards 2021 Building Energy Project of the Year for its bespoke heating and cooling systems, which demonstrated a range of benefits and efficiencies.
g. New Community Centre: was delighted to attend the opening of the new community centre on the Howard Estate, Bury St Edmunds. This was an excellent example of the community coming together to achieve a common goal. Supported by public bodies, this project to replace the former nearby out-dated centre was led by the New Bury Community Association.
h. Families and communities: recognised the importance of the Council’s priority to support families and communities, which included a significant budget investment in councillors’ locality funding and the Community Chest grant scheme. Over £460,000 had recently been allocated to voluntary and social enterprise organisations throughout the district following applications received for the 2022 to 2023 round of Community Chest funding. Examples of organisations receiving funding and their valuable work were provided.
i. Community Governance Review (CGR): reminded members that the deadline for receiving initial CGR submissions was 25 February 2022. Subject to Council approval on 22 March 2022, consultation would commence on the draft CGR recommendations thereafter.
The Deputy Leader responded to a range of questions relating to:
a. Harmonisation process: as stated in her introductory remarks, and upon invitation, explained by Councillor Sarah Broughton, Portfolio Holder for Resources and Property, the historic anomaly between the provision and cost of street lighting between the former Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury areas was to be analysed, together with other anomalies that remained between the two areas following the creation of West Suffolk Council. Details of that review would be announced shortly. It was a previous Council decision to harmonise council tax across the two predecessor authorities sooner than the required seven years. This had resulted in numerous benefits for residents across the entire district.