Paper number: COU/WS/22/006
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/22/006.
In his introductory remarks, Councillor Griffiths:
a. War in Ukraine: acknowledged the atrocities of recent events in Ukraine and paid tribute to the refugees, their families and those affected by the catastrophe. Later in his introductory remarks, Councillor Griffiths provided further details on the Government’s recently announced ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme. Initial guidance had been received with more expected in the coming weeks; however, it was anticipated that together with Suffolk County Council and other partners, West Suffolk Council would have a vital role in supporting the operation of this scheme.
b. COVID-19: that whilst restrictions were being eased, the virus remained prevalent: however, in most cases, those that had tested positive were experiencing less severe harm to their health. Members and staff that were currently suffering from COVID-19 were wished a speedy recovery.
c. Monthly newsletter: the second monthly ‘Your West Suffolk update’ newsletter had been circulated to members during the previous week. The newsletter had primarily been introduced to support councillors in their own wider communications to local communities and businesses about the Council’s activities.
d. Sunnica Energy Farm Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) proposals: the Council’s draft Relevant Representation on these proposals was considered and approved by Cabinet at its meeting held at the Mildenhall Hub on 15 March 2022. The Council had a strong commitment to the provision of green energy, not only as owners of a solar farm but also recently approving in February 2022, a £9 million net zero carbon budget investment facility. However, the Cabinet acknowledged the serious concerns with the proposed Sunnica Energy Farm application, as it was currently presented. Such concerns were provided in the Cabinet report (Report number: CAB/WS/22/012) and also by the several ward members that had attended the meeting to convey the views of residents they represented, many of whom felt strongly adversely affected by the proposals.
e. LGC Awards 2022: Suffolk County Council with the Suffolk Office for Data Analytics (SODA) had been shortlisted for a nationally recognised LGC award for its ‘Data Saves Lives’ project which aimed to help, support and protect those most vulnerable during the pandemic. Sources of data from a range of partners, including West Suffolk Council, had been brought together in order to identify those residents that were most vulnerable, and potentially in need of help during lockdown. This had led to the creation of the ‘Home But Not Alone’ initiative, which was an excellent example of how the collaborative working of the Suffolk System operated extremely effectively.
The Leader responded to a range of questions relating to:
a. ’Homes for Ukraine’ scheme: if accepted to host a Ukraine household within their home, those in receipt of the single occupier discount on council tax would continue to receive it.
b. Investing in growth: in the context of thanking Councillor Sarah Broughton, Portfolio Holder for Resources and Property, for her recent visit to Brandon, and with reference to paragraph 19. of his statement, the Leader was asked whether the Council could consider allocating an investment towards the restoration of the railway station building in Brandon. In response, Councillor Griffiths, supported by Councillor Broughton, informed Council of the recent investments in Brandon, including the refurbishment to the leisure centre and the support provided to the MENTA business hub. Brandon was faced with significant challenges which had impacted growth (see e. below); however, the Council would continue striving to progress appropriate growth, where possible.
c. Sick pay: In the context of rising infection rates of COVID-19 and hospitalisations, Councillor Max Clarke asked whether all staff at West Suffolk Council received proper employment sick pay or statutory sick pay only, and if the former, whether this applied to contracted maintenance and housekeeping staff. In response, Councillor Griffiths stated that a written reply would be provided, which would be circulated to all members.
d. Christmas Fayre: That a partnership comprising a range of organisations were working together to provide a variation on the Christmas Fayre that had traditionally been held in Bury St Edmunds prior to the pandemic. The Council was one of many partners involved, which meant it was no longer the lead organising body. Similar events would be welcomed for other West Suffolk towns and rural villages alongside the commitment and financial support of partners. Partnership working was also an integral part of supporting ‘the high street’ in its recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
e. West Suffolk Local Plan - Brandon: That discussions were being held with Natural England regarding the environmental restrictions in place that affected development growth in Brandon. Extensive lobbying was being undertaken with a view to seeking, amongst other matters, a compromise on the depth of the buffer zone currently in place.
f. General Practice health service provision in Mildenhall: Councillor Don Waldron asked a question in connection with whether there was any further news on a GP practice moving into the Mildenhall Hub, as was mooted when it was agreed to be built.
Upon invitation by the Chair, Councillor Lance Stanbury informed Council that the Reynard Surgery GP practice based in Red Lodge, had a second surgery in Mildenhall town centre (White House surgery). Pre-COVID and following a period of consultation with patients, the practice was intending to move that operation into the Mildenhall Hub. However, whilst this was encouraged by the Council, the practice, as a private sector organisation with its own challenges to overcome, particularly around the impact of COVID-19, reviewed its plans. This included reviewing how the practice considered they could deliver health and care services more effectively and efficiently. It consequently decided to consolidate all its services under one roof at Red Lodge. This meant provision of a satellite service was not pursued at the Hub and the decision was taken to close its White House surgery.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Waldron asked whether the opportunity should have been taken to ensure the practice was tied in by contract to relocate the White House surgery to the Hub. In response, Councillor Griffiths stated that a written reply would be provided, which would be circulated to all members.