Agenda item

Leader's statement (Paper number: COU/WS/24/001)

Paper number: COU/WS/24/001


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.


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


a.       On the Leader’s statement

b.       On any Council matter


A total of 30 minutes will be allowed for all 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/24/001.


Following the distribution and publication of the agenda and papers for this meeting, a typographical error had been identified in paragraph 13. of the Leader’s Statement in respect of the following sentence, which should read, as indicated by emboldened text:


‘When the County Council looked at relocating the archive in early 2023, they considered the option of moving to Western Way costing around £3.5 million or staying at Raingate Street at around £5 million.’


In his introductory remarks, Councillor Waterman:


a.       Budget: reported that the budget had been formulated within the context of the new recently adopted strategic priorities. A two-year balanced budget had been achieved whilst delivering much needed, quality services to the residents of West Suffolk. Proposals would bring the new priorities to a reality, together with income from investments. Certainty regarding future funding was however imperative, and stringent lobbying of central government to seek that certainty would continue.


b.       Engagement: he and his Cabinet had visited the district’s towns and engaged with ward members to better understand strengths, issues and challenges within the towns and their communities. Further engagement was planned for visiting the rural areas. Councillor Waterman thanked his Cabinet for their work and commitment to these and for additional hours spent in meetings.


c.       Local Government Association (LGA) Corporate Peer Challenge: explained that every five years, as part of its membership requirements, the Council was required by the LGA to undertake a peer review. The review, which was due to be undertaken between 23 July 2024 and 26 July 2024, was amongst other criteria, was expected to measure the effectiveness of the Council’s ability to deliver against its ambitions. This would be the Council’s first review since the creation of West Suffolk Council in 2019.


d.       Environment: reported that ten properties at Euston Estates and four Metcalfe Almshouses in Hawstead had been successfully retro-fitted to improve energy efficiency and warmer homes utilising government schemes and private investment. In addition, Suffolk Public Sector Leaders were offering grants for better loft insulation to eligible applicants in Suffolk.


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.       Budget gap forecast: whilst a budget gap of £5.7 million for 2026 to 2027 and £6.28 million for 2027 to 2028 had currently been forecast, this was largely due to uncertainty from government regarding grant levels that may be received in the medium to longer term. Best and worst case scenarios were set out in Report number: COU/WS/24/003, which also explained the level of reserves the Council had which may need to be utilised to bridge the gap, if necessary.


b.       Staff costs: the relatively small increase in the staff establishment and associated costs, were set out in Report number: COU/WS/24/003. Some were due to the improvements being made to the grounds maintenance service as a result of the review held recently; however, the majority was largely due to extra burdens being placed upon the Council by central government. £1 million worth of savings had been made in the 2024 to 2025 budget, therefore the Council was continuing to be financially prudent, which was becoming increasingly difficult to achieve year on year.  


c.       West Suffolk archives: having met with the Leader and Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council (SCC) within the last week, the issue of SCC’s proposal to relocate the West Suffolk archives from Bury St Edmunds to Ipswich had been raised by Councillor Waterman; however, Councillor Waterman reported that the SCC Leader and Chief Executive were not open to discussion on the matter at that time.


d.       Cabinet visit to Clare: the purpose of the visit (and to the other towns in the district) was to enable the Cabinet to better understand the assets and challenges of the town so that Cabinet members could make more informed choices when discussing topics affecting the town. Although local ward members were invited to meet with Cabinet on the various town visits, it was not the intention to meet with wider community organisations and groups at that time. Opportunities for wider engagement with the community and others would come forward at the appropriate time.   


e.       Environmental resilience: deferred to Councillor Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Governance and Regulatory to respond to a question. Councillor Kelly referred to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) policy paper ‘Understanding climate adaptation and the third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3)’. This paper prompted councils, businesses and communities to consider what climate change meant to them and actions they could take locally and collaboratively in some circumstances, to address climate change and how to ensure emergency and business continuity plans needed to be in place to mitigate the effects of climate change.


This matter was due to be considered at the next Town and Parish Forum on 18 March 2024 as a means for identifying potential actions and methods for making suitable adaptations to tackle the effects of climate change, including ways in which to mitigate the effects of flooding which had been of particular impact to communities in recent weeks.


f.       Markets: deferred to Councillor Indy Wijenayaka, Portfolio Holder for Growth to respond to several questions connected with the district’s markets. The markets were extremely valuable to West Suffolk and efforts were being made to support their viability. External factors, such as the cost-of-living crisis which had influenced people’s spending habits had made it increasingly challenging; however, a plan was in place to support and invest in the markets, such as through initiatives like the ‘Makers’ Markets’. Options for the location and development of Newmarket market were currently being carefully assessed in order to achieve an optimum solution moving forward. 


g.       Small grants to small independent retailers: spending habits on the ‘high street’ had changed significantly in recent years, which was a significant challenge nationally. It was recognised that some small independent retailers in West Suffolk were thriving, yet some were struggling. The request for small grants for small independent retailers was acknowledged; however, confirmation on whether this could be progressed was not forthcoming at the present time.


h.       Suffolk County Council (SCC) budget: felt disappointment regarding the way SCC’s budget had been presented, as while recognising the difficult decisions that had needed to be made, Councillor Waterman felt many opportunities for collaborative working and engagement were missed by SCC. Acknowledgement of SCC’s withdrawal of £3 million Housing Related Support from its budget was made and it was felt other options could have been explored, particularly working with Suffolk district and borough councils before making this decision. Councillor Waterman reported that Suffolk Public Sector Leaders would potentially in the short term ameliorate this much needed support. While not wishing to comment further on other aspects raised in connection with SCC’s budget, Councillor Waterman also expressed his reservations regarding SCC’s changes to the way in which Suffolk’s arts organisations would be able to seek funding from SCC moving forward.


i.        New Housing, Homelessness Reduction and Rough Sleeping Strategy: together with Councillor Richard O’Driscoll, Portfolio Holder for Housing, Councillor Waterman urged members to respond to the consultation on this new strategy before it closed on 18 March 2024.


j.       Corn Exchange, Haverhill: agreed that the Corn Exchange in Haverhill was of historical importance and working with partners, investigations would be undertaken into whether an appropriate business case could be devised to safeguard the future of the building.  


This concluded questions on Part A of the Leader’s Statement. The Chair had exercised his discretion to extend the 30 minute time allocation for this item by quite some length to conclude Part A. He therefore made the decision not to call for questions on Part B, ‘Questions to the Leader on any Council matter’ so that he could move on with business.     

Supporting documents: