Full Council received update reports from each of the Cabinet Members. These were appended to the agenda pack and members were invited to submit questions ahead of the meeting. Due to the large volume of questions received, not all could be presented during the meeting although written responses would be provided following the meeting. Cabinet members briefly presented their written updates and where questions were asked these have been summarised below: -
The Leader, Martin Tett
Mr Tett welcomed Rebecca, a student from Wycombe High School, who was attending today’s council meeting. It was the first council meeting that Rebecca had ever attended. It was hoped that by encouraging Rebecca to watch this meeting, it would also encourage other young people in Buckinghamshire to become interested in local politics.
In relation to the Community Governance Review which took place for the Wycombe area, it was confirmed that the Shadow Executive had previously agreed to defer decisions on the outcome of this to the new Council. At the Standards and General Purposes Committee held on 2 July where the arrangements for the boundary review were discussed, it was agreed that logically the most appropriate action based on Boundary Commission advice would be to defer decisions on this until the outcome of the electoral review.
In response to a question on Covid Government funding, Mr Tett advised that council expenditure in relation to Covid had been recompensed but the Council had suffered significant losses on fees and charges with the examples of lost car park revenue and property income given. The Government had confirmed an allocation of £500m additional funding for councils, but it was not yet known how this would be distributed across the country. The Government have also agreed that on fees and charges, after a 5% subtraction 75p of every £1 would be recompensed. The Council was hoping to get more guidance on how this would work later this week. There was also an expectation in the Council’s budget that savings would be made as a result of the formation of the new council but these savings had been unable to progress during the lockdown period so these savings opportunities had not yet been achieved.
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Angela Macpherson
Mrs Macpherson explained that 75% of the £6.25m Buckinghamshire had received from the Adult Social Care Infection Control Fund had been provided to care homes to support infection control. Mrs Macpherson advised that the Council had a level of discretion over the other 25% and had been working with domiciliary care providers and supported living providers to discuss the best use of these funds. As plans developed further, these would be shared.
In response to a question on what the Council was doing to support care homes and prevent them from closure, Mrs Macpherson advised that there were significant concerns that not all providers across the county would be able to survive the impact of Covid and that sadly the Council was not going to be able to save all providers. Safeguarding vulnerable adults was the Council’s priority and a review was being undertaken to ensure that the Council would be able to meet need across the county and across different types of support. The Council was working closely with providers to help them transition to the changing pattern of need.
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources, Katrina Wood
Ms Wood advised that with regards to the number of calls answered and number of calls abandoned, the average wait time for those calls was about 90 seconds and the abandonment rate was about 8.9% which was well within the industry standards. Ms Wood added that a lot of those abandoned calls were customers that abandoned their call as soon as the call was not answered immediately so was not due to a long wait and that an average wait time of 90 seconds was a great achievement.
A question was raised on the Council’s plans for continuing mutual aid by supplying partners with office space and facilities. Ms Wood advised that the Strategic Partners Board which brought together the Council’s key partners had met for the first time this week and would be looking at how to harness the work carried out during the pandemic. A review of staff working from home was underway to assess how staff had coped, the number required to be in the office and how social distancing could be managed.
Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change, Bill Chapple
Mr Chapple paid thanks to the waste and recycling staff. A question was asked around the lack of information on climate change in the written update to which Mr Chapple gave reassurance that regular reports on progress would be presented to members and a motion would be debated later in this meeting.
Cabinet Member for Property & Assets, John Chilver
Mr Chilver responded to questions on the future use of council buildings and future plans for the Market and Kingsbury Square areas of Aylesbury. In response to the question on council buildings, Mr Chilver acknowledged that the pandemic had provided the opportunity to comprehensively review office accommodation and this review was underway with opportunities for surplus space to be identified. The need for affordable housing and key worker housing was recognised as were the opportunities for the Council to generate income. Mr Chilver advised that he would work closely with Mrs Darby, Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness, on these opportunities.
In terms of Market and Kingsbury Squares, Mr Chilver advised that plans had been inherited from the former Aylesbury Vale District Council and design consultants were progressing these with a view to improving infrastructure, power supply and drainage.
Mr Chilver concluded by advising that with regards to a previous question on working with partners and in particular the NHS, the Council was already renting some council space to both the CCG and the NHS.
Cabinet Member for Education & Skills, Anita Cranmer
Mrs Cranmer agreed to respond by email to a question raised on percentage levels of non-grammar school children’s attendance of online classes and plans to support those catching up who did not have access to online learning over the previous few months. Mrs Cranmer advised that 850 laptops had been donated by the Education Secretary and these had been distributed to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children of Buckinghamshire that social workers had identified.
In response to a question on plans for the schools return in September, Mrs Cranmer explained that the current guidance from the Department for Education was that all children would return as normal with no social distancing for younger children. Teaching staff would be recommended to keep a 2 metre distance from children and older children would also be encouraged to social distance. Current plans did not include face covering requirements or temperature testing but there would be track and trace in every school. Normal attendance guidelines would also apply.
Cabinet Member for Housing & Homelessness, Isobel Darby
In response to a question on the Council’s plans to continue to support homeless clients, Mrs Darby advised that the Council was committed to keeping rough sleepers off of the streets but acknowledged this would be challenging as a number of clients were in hotel accommodation and needed to have suitable alternative accommodation in place which took account of individuals complex needs. Central government had supplied funding to support rough sleepers during the pandemic and a government taskforce was addressing ways to manage support moving out of the pandemic.
Cabinet Member for Youth Provision, Tony Green
Mr Green also welcomed Rebecca from Wycombe High School to the meeting and explained that it was one of his aims to get the youth voice more active in Buckinghamshire through youth councils and ultimately the youth parliament.
A question was asked on plans for future youth work by the Council to which Mr Green advised that the work of the former county council’s youth service would be integrated with the youth support which had been supplied by the former district councils to benefit the youth of the county.
Cabinet Member for Culture, Patrick Hogan
Mr Hogan took questions on the community aspect of the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre and Covid-19 experiences being recorded by local museums. In relation to the theatre, Mr Hogan advised that the theatre business was going through a very difficult period due to the pandemic so bringing a community aspect in at present was not planned, although could be discussed in the future.
In terms of recording peoples’ experiences of Covid-19, Mr Hogan advised that the Wycombe museum and the County museum had projects underway to capture stories, as had the Archive service and all groups were welcome to contribute to these.
Cabinet Member for Logistics, David Martin
Mr Martin took questions on transport for children with Statements of Educational Need (SEN) and risks to the transport trade. Mr Martin clarified that under normal circumstances transport was provided to over 2,500 children in the county and it was planned that this would continue as normal in September. For those children who had continued to attend school during the pandemic, transport had been provided to and from schools. In relation to trade concerns, the issues had been addressed commercially and the expectation was that all eligible children who qualify for transport would continue to be able to access it with unused seats being made available to parents to pay for on a first come, first served basis.
Cabinet Member for Transport, Nick Naylor
Mr Naylor took questions on improving north/south county connectivity, improving the road network in and around Aylesbury and HS2 engagement. Mr Naylor agreed that he would work closely with the Leader and Cabinet Member for Town Centre regeneration to look at improving north south connectivity and should have a clearer view on potential plans in the coming months.
Mr Naylor acknowledged the vast amount of development around Aylesbury and Mr Tett added that development of the eastern link road was complex due to planning issues around the Woodlands development and Hampden Fields. The target delivery was now circa 2024 with the option of a dual carriageway being explored.
A meeting had been held recently with HS2 representatives and both Mr Naylor and Mr Tett had made clear that they had been very disappointed by the lack of engagement from HS2 with the Council and communities and the plan was to adopt a greater model of engagement, although this was not yet in place.
Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Mark Shaw
Mr Shaw received questions on the lack of mention of the Ofsted recovery plan in his written update and the preparedness of the Council for an increased demand in children’s services when schools return. Mr Shaw advised that progress with the recovery plan had been positive and efficient and he would provide an update to members displaying the positive trajectory and the huge achievements made during the Covid pandemic. Mr Shaw recognised that moving out of the pandemic there were serious concerns that many children would raise serious issues and assurances were given that the Council did have a plan in place to deal effectively with the potentially heavy demand in September and October.
Cabinet Member for Planning & Enforcement, Warren Whyte
Mr Whyte placed on record his thanks to those who had made the virtual planning committees a success, highlighting that public participation had continued despite the virtual nature of the meetings.
Mr Whyte responded to a question on service transformation to advise that the review would take into account all the good work of planning departments across the legacy councils as well as good practice around the country.
A question was also asked on the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan with Mr Whyte advising that the final modifications requested from the planning inspector were now being concluded and once submitted it would be the decision of the planning inspector as to what happens next. Mr Whyte assured members that he would let them know more once this information became available.
Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health, Gareth Williams
Mr Williams encouraged people to fill in the health impact assessment found at https://yourvoicebucks.citizenspace.com/ and took questions on the Council’s preparedness for a second spike and funding to community groups.
Mr Williams recognised that volunteering was a vital part of the Council’s response. He explained that £250k of the £500k public health funding allocated to community boards had been set aside for a councillor coronavirus fund so that councillors who were aware of groups and excellent projects could put these forward to receive funding. The remaining £250k would be disseminated on the outcome of community board discussions now that they had started to meet. Mr Williams advised that the community boards had a total budget of £3.9m to assess local community priorities and support projects and partnership working was at the forefront of this.
In response to a question regarding how prepared the Council was for a potential second wave of Covid-19, Mr Williams advised that the Council was well placed to deal with a potential second wave. Improved infrastructure was in place and organisationally there was now a Strategic Partners Forum and Infection Control Board. Mr Williams stated that partnership working had remained strong and that the 3Rs to Recovery Plan had been put together in conjunction with partners. Mr Williams added that there was a lot of focus on winter planning, including the need to ensure a high take up of flu jabs. Mr Tett advised that the Council had conducted an extensive review and would reflect on lessons learned. Mr Tett reiterated that the relationship with partners was very strong and established. Reference was made to the Strategic Partners Forum which met last week. Mr Tett added that the Infection Control Board was meeting weekly and involved the detailed assessing of data. The Council had requested more regular postcode data so that the Council would be able to identify clusters of potential local outbreaks and contain them early on. The Council was also working to reinforce the importance of washing hands and social distancing with the hope of avoiding people becoming more casual in this area.