Agenda item

Leader's statement (Paper number: COU/WS/23/018)

Paper number: COU/WS/23/018


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.


The Leader will introduce the statement and members may ask the Leader



a.       On the Leader’s statement

b.       On any Council matter


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.


The Chair may use their discretion to extend or reduce the time allowed if they feel it appropriate.


Councillor Waterman, Leader of the Council, presented his Leader’s Statement as outlined in paper number: COU/WS/23/018.


In his introductory remarks, Councillor Waterman:


a.       Strategic Priorities and Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) 2024 to 2028: drew attention to setting the Council’s strategic priorities and vision for West Suffolk together with the MTFS which underpinned the priorities. He thanked those that had contributed to the formation of the priorities which would help the Council to meet the challenges faced by the district and provide better support to communities and businesses both now and in the future. Councillor Waterman highlighted that through strengthened engagement, the voices of local people would be at the heart of shaping the Council’s activities.


b.       Grass cutting: new proposals would come forward in the forthcoming budget to invest approximately £200,000 on additional skilled workforce within the grass cutting and grounds maintenance team and increasing equipment needs, as well as reducing commercial work to ensure the Council’s resources kept up with demand. This action had arisen following a review of the current arrangements which was led by Councillor Ian Shipp and involved input from members and various key partners, parish and town councils and organisations.


c.       West Suffolk Local Plan: highlighted key policies of the Local Plan (Regulation 19) document which subject to approval later in the meeting, would go out to consultation in January 2024. Councillor Waterman thanked all who had contributed to this vital work.


d.       Provincial House, Haverhill: was pleased that Cabinet had approved up to £2 million investment in Haverhill for Provincial House. This provided opportunities to grow the local economy and support sustainable communities.


e.       Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme: expressed his support for the proposal to provide 100 percent council tax discount to eligible persons for another year.


f.       Mildenhall pump track: was pleased to hear that a brand new, free-to-use pump track was shortly to be opened at the Mildenhall Hub site. The £112,000 facility had been built by West Suffolk Council and was delivered on time and within budget.


g.       Councillor Sarah Pugh: offered his congratulations to Councillor Pugh who had been voted on to the Executive of the Rural Services Network at its recent Annual General Meeting.


h.       Achievements for the year: explained that on behalf of all councillors, he had attended a staff event which included the opportunity to celebrate achievements made in the last year.




Part A: Questions on the Leader’s statement


In accordance with the recently amended Council Procedure Rules, the Leader firstly responded to a range of questions relating to his statement itself:


a.       Provincial House, Haverhill: that investment in Provincial House was an integral, exciting part of the overall strategy to develop Haverhill. Councillor Margaret Marks asked a specific question regarding the reasons for borrowing approximately £2 million for the project and whether the Eastern Education Group (West Suffolk College) would be contributing; whether there was a fully costed business case, and if so, for it to be shared with members so the implications of the scheme, and particularly its impact on the town, could be considered. A written response would be provided following the meeting by Councillor Diane Hind, Portfolio Holder for Resources.


b.       Barley Homes: that although Barley Homes was a commercial operation, the company provided a blended return whereby it also aimed to achieve the Council’s priorities, one of which was to address provision of affordable housing.


c.       Comments from Councillor Nick Clarke, Leader of the Conservative Group: These comments were in relation to the strategic priorities;Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme (LCTRS); West Suffolk Local Plan process; and external borrowing utilised for investment in Provincial House rather than internal borrowing. Councillor Waterman stated that he welcomed support from all members to the proposed strategic priorities that would be considered next on the agenda. Careful consideration had been given to them by the West Suffolk Working Partnership and examples were given on how they differed from the existing and where development of the priorities would evolve over time. He positively acknowledged Councillor Clarke’s comments on the continuation of the 100 percent council tax discount for eligible persons for another year under the LCTRS; and the sterling work undertaken to develop the Local Plan over the past three years. In response to the issue regarding external borrowing, Councillor Hind, Portfolio Holder for Resources explained on behalf of the Leader that borrowing would only take place once the treasury management cash-flow required the Council to do so. The Council was not currently looking at further external borrowing, estimated, for another 12 to 18 months. This would be expanded on further in the written response referred to in (a) above.


d.       Homelessness and rough sleepers:  Councillor Ian Houlder asked a question in connection with homelessness and rough sleepers.


          He acknowledged that many people that had found themselves rough sleeping often presented with complex needs. Being mindful of sensitivity and confidentiality, Councillor Houlder asked whether information could be provided to highlight some of the specific issues being presented by rough sleepers; for example, the range of age groups; the different sorts of mental and social problems being experienced; and whether individuals were citizens of West Suffolk or from elsewhere. Councillor Houlder also welcomed news on the success stories had by the team. A written response would be provided following the meeting by Councillor Richard O’Driscoll, Portfolio Holder for Housing.


e.       Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme: The 100 percent council tax discount for eligible persons was proposed to be extended for another year and would be reviewed again for the 2025 to 2026 scheme.


f.       Glyphosate: In December 2022, and following the consideration of a motion on notice, the Council took the decision to cease the use of glyphosate as a chemical weedkiller. Suffolk County Council (SCC) had also stopped its use. This therefore presented an issue that if West Suffolk Council was to re-introduce glyphosate in some areas, it would need to work closely with SCC regarding a potential compromise for its use if both authorities were clearing weeds in the same area. A review would be undertaken on this matter in preparation for next year’s weed control.


g.       West Suffolk Working Partnership: This partnership comprised members of the West Suffolk Progressive Alliance Grouping and the Independents who were working collaboratively on Council matters.


h.       Affordable housing: This referred to homes sold at 80 percent of the market rate. More social housing provision in the district was an aspiration; however, this was not under the Council’s direct control.


Part B: Questions to the Leader on any Council matter       


The Leader then responded to questions on other Council matters:


a.       Corn Exchange, Haverhill: Councillor Margaret Marks read out a written question on behalf of Councillor Joe Mason in his absence. The question was in connection with the possibility of, with support from partners such as Haverhill Town Council, securing the Corn Exchange as a community asset and thus safeguarding its future.  In response, Councillor Waterman stated that as part of encouraging greater engagement in the district’s five towns and surrounding areas, this may be an issue that could be raised as part of that; however, no commitment could be given towards investing in the Corn Exchange by West Suffolk Council.


b.       Bank mandate fraud matter: Councillor Nick Clarke stated that he was yet to receive a response to the questions he had raised at the Performance and Audit Scrutiny Committee meeting on 23 November 2023 and the Cabinet meeting on 5 December 2023 regarding this matter. In response, Councillor Waterman stated that his questions would be answered and as stated at the Cabinet meeting, a report (with an exempt appendix containing sensitive information) would be presented to the next meeting of the Performance and Audit Scrutiny Committee on 25 January 2024, which would cover the issues he had raised.


c.       Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre: on the Leader’s behalf, Councillor Ian Shipp, Portfolio Holder for Leisure, stated that work was ongoing with the Council’s partners, Abbeycroft Leisure, on preparing a potential scheme to refurbish Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre. Assurance was given that critical works would be addressed as a priority. Further information would be shared with members in due course.


In connection with the written responses to questions outlined above and in accordance with the Council Procedure Rules, these would be circulated to all members and published on the Council’s website.


(At this point and in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 2.3 of the Constitution, the Chair had previously agreed that the following items were to be considered in a different order to that set out in Council Procedure Rule 2.2.)

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