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. Cabinet members briefly presented their written updates and where questions were asked these have been summarised below: -
The Leader, Martin Tett
The Leader provided an update on the covid-19 vaccination rollout in Buckinghamshire. He explained that there would be three stages to the roll out. The first stage would be the setting up of hospital hubs which would be aimed at residents over 80 and health and social care staff. Secondly, there would be a series of local vaccination centres targeting those 50 and over, which would include a roving service associated with visiting care homes and for those who cannot make it to centres. Then finally, there would be at least two mass vaccination centres for those aged 18 and over. The Leader advised residents to wait to be contacted.
The Leader took questions on HS2, local business support, community boards, covid tiering and local enterprise zones. In response to a query on the Council’s commitment to protecting residents from impacts arising from HS2 and the importance of having a Cabinet member focused solely on the project, the Leader advised that he was well aware of the damage already caused throughout various localities in Buckinghamshire as a result of HS2 and East West Rail works and understood the need to have a consistent approach which involved close working among senior officers, members and town and parish councils. The Leader could not comment on the Cabinet role from May 2021 as this would be for the Leader elected following the elections to decide, although acknowledged that HS2 required close attention and this would be looked at in the new year.
In response to a question on what the Council could do to protect wildlife habitats being severely affected from HS2 works, the Leader explained that the Council had staunchly opposed HS2 from the outset, however had very limited powers under the Parliament Act so could only focus on ensuring HS2 stuck to assurances given in the Act and were abiding by the law.
In response to a question on the challenges faced by pubs and the hospitality sector due to the pandemic, the Leader advised that two schemes had been set up to help local businesses. One was the local restrictions grant scheme and the other was an additional restrictions grant which was open until 18 December for businesses to apply to if they had suffered a significant downturn in their year on year trading. The Leader encouraged pubs and other hospital venues to look at these schemes and apply where relevant. It was further hoped an additional scheme would be looked at in the new year.
Following a query which was raised on public access to Community Board meetings, the Leader advised that members of the public were permitted and had contributed to the meetings of his Community Board, at the discretion of the Chairman, alongside a number of various representatives from voluntary groups. The Leader could not comment on how each individual board operated but agreed to look at public access for each.
In response to media reports that Buckinghamshire might move into tier 3 covid restrictions, the Leader explained that the figures used in the press had used a different methodology to the official Government rate used by the Council. The Leader advised that it was a personal ambition to move into tier 1, although acknowledged this would be very challenging and reminded residents to abide by the guidance issued to avoid a move to more stringent restrictions.
In response to a question raised on the impact of local enterprise zones and preparedness for imminent changes to EU trading regulations, the leader explained that the introduction of local enterprise zones had been very successful in attracting a number of innovative businesses to Buckinghamshire, particularly at Silverstone and Westcott. The zones had immediately generated 450 new high quality jobs over the last couple of years. In terms of the financial benefits, due to the business rates exemption scheme, money was being reinvested back into the zones although the Council would ultimately benefit from business rates once the exemption period ends. At the time of this meeting, exact EU trading regulations remained to be confirmed, however the Council did have a senior management representative working with Buckinghamshire Business First and the Local Enterprise Partnership to prepare local businesses for changes.
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Angela Macpherson
Cllr A Macpherson took questions on visiting residents in care homes over Christmas and respite services. Cllr Macpherson spoke of the very difficult situation with visiting arrangements in care homes during the pandemic. It was noted that care homes would be the priority for vaccinations and it was hoped that physical contact would be increased with the rollout of lateral flow testing. In relation to visiting arrangements over Christmas, the Director of Public Health had written to all care homes in Buckinghamshire explaining that the respective managers were responsible for setting the visiting policy which must take into account the individual needs of all residents in homes and include the carrying out of dynamic risk assessments. Mental health and wellbeing was recognised as an issue, with Oxford Health reporting a significant increase in referrals. Oxford Health had set up a 24/7 helpline and a local Reverend had offered to work with care homes to offer multi-faith support.
In response to a question on the lack of respite care, particularly in the Wycombe area, Cllr Macpherson recognised respite was even more essential in the current circumstances and advised that she would be open to attending the mental health sub-committee of the High Wycombe Community Board to discuss this further and see what opportunities there were.
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources, Katrina Wood
In addition to the report appended to the agenda pack, Cllr K Wood highlighted the positive results from the third staff survey which had a 60% response rate and 80% of those who responded reported being happy to work for the Council.
Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Mark Shaw
Cllr M Shaw reported that he had nominated a number of councillors for awards at the National Local Government Awards. These included Cllrs Arif Hussain, P Irwin and A Waite and Cllrs N Hussain, W Raja and R Khan. Cllr Shaw was delighted to report that Cllrs N Hussain, W Raja and R Khan won an award. Thanks were also given to Cllrs Irwin and Waite who along with Cllr Shaw raised over £27,000 through the Children in Crisis Christmas campaign with many thousands of presents having been delivered to children. Cllr Shaw thanked the people of Buckinghamshire for their generosity.
Cllr Shaw also encouraged members to view and note the new Corporate Parenting Strategy which set out the Council’s commitments and ambitions to being trustworthy parents to children in its care. Cllr Shaw emphasised that he wants Buckinghamshire to be the best place for children to prosper, feel loved and cared for, happy and safe and officers were commended for this piece of work.
Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health, Gareth Williams
Cllr G Williams advised that the winter food voucher scheme, entitled ‘Helping Hand for Families’, would launch this week. The scheme would use some of the Government funded covid-19 winter grant scheme to particularly support children entitled to free school meals.
In response to questions, Cllr Williams advised that the Council was addressing the five recommendations specific to the Council in the Annual report from the Director of Public Health with a number already addressed. Cllr Williams also advised that the Council had been active in lobbying for extra funding per head for public health. Funding had been allocated dependant on deprivation ratings which had meant Buckinghamshire did not get as much as other authorities.
Cabinet Member for Culture, Patrick Hogan
There were no further updates to the report or questions.
Cabinet Member for Education & Skills, Anita Cranmer
Cllr A Cranmer advised that covid-19 numbers in schools and self-isolations had increased, with over 6,000 pupils’ self-isolating and 168 positive cases being recorded. However, it was emphasised that over 85,000 children were educated in Bucks and the increased numbers were likely due to better vigilance in schools, bigger bubbles and good track and trace measures within schools who were doing an excellent job in this area.
A question was asked whether 11+ examinations negatively impacted economically vulnerable pupils. It was explained that whilst fewer children took the tests nationally this year, in Buckinghamshire there were actually 140 more children who took the test than in the previous year and that more children qualified for a grammar school place. Cllr Cranmer advised that constant studies were undertaken on attainment gaps with an active year long programme to address any gaps identified.
Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change, Bill Chapple
Cllr B Chapple advised that the accelerated Buckinghamshire Climate Change Strategy would aim to replicate the Government target to reduce carbon use by 68% by 2030 and there remained an intention to bring a version of the strategy to Cabinet in February 2021.
Cabinet Member for Housing & Homelessness, Isobel Darby
Cllr I Darby reported that at the last rough sleepers count there were five rough sleepers, three of which were taken in the next day following the count. Since publication of the report the Council had been successful in its application for £90,000 from the cold weather fund.
In response to a question on rough sleeping and support measures in place, Cllr Darby reported that support would be tailored to individual needs and appropriate interventions from a number of partner agencies would provide support, including help with physical and mental health such as addressing substance misuse, money management and help with basic living skills such as cooking and cleaning. This partnership working was recognised as being key to helping individuals become self-sufficient and there was strong evidence that with the right support the majority of people’s lives would improve. Improving access to employment opportunities would be looked at further, with the initial focus being on supporting high needs individuals in receiving appropriate physical and mental health support.
Cabinet Member for Logistics, David Martin
There were no further updates to the report or questions.
Cabinet Member for Planning & Enforcement, Warren Whyte
Cllr W Whyte reported that in addition to the Stewkley Neighbourhood Plan being out for public consultation, Denham’s Neighbourhood Plan was also out for public consultation and the increase in Neighbourhood Plan numbers was recognised as a positive for the Council and local communities.
In response to a question regarding the reporting to members of staff changes in the planning service, Cllr Whyte advised that there had been a one off instance where the Planning Committee Chairman had not been informed of a staffing change and an apology for the oversight had been given to the Chairman.
A further question was asked on whether officers would work closely with neighbourhood plan groups on issues affecting their areas. Cllr Whyte confirmed that the Council would be proactive in encouraging local communities to have in place, or update where necessary, their neighbourhood plan and communications with town and parish councils would continue to promote them.
Cabinet Member for Property & Assets, John Chilver
There were no further updates to the report or questions.
Cabinet Member for Regulatory Services, Fred Wilson
In addition to the written report appended to the agenda pack, Cllr F Wilson congratulated officers on Bierton Crematorium being shortlisted for a Civic Trust Award.
Cabinet Member for Sports and Leisure, Clive Harriss
Cllr C Harriss advised that a high level of investment continued to be made in Buckinghamshire’s leisure facilities and he also highlighted a concern that a large number of cyclists had been using country lanes with no appropriate lights.
A question was asked in respect of tenders having been received for a new skate park in Buckingham and whether a local facility for the loss of facilities through the development of the Winslow Centre would be considered. Cllr Harriss recognised skateboarding as an Olympic sport and agreed to take the member’s comments into consideration and include consultation with local skateboarders.
Cabinet Member for Town Centre Regeneration, Steve Bowles
Cllr S Bowles reported that he had visited High Wycombe Town centre with officers and Cllr Arif Hussain to discuss potential regeneration opportunities and also met and spoke with small business owners to discuss their aspirations for the Town. Cllr Bowles added that the ‘Merry Clickmas’ campaign recognised the excellent local businesses in Buckinghamshire and encouraged members and residents to support these businesses.
Cabinet Member for Transport, Nick Naylor
Cllr N Naylor recognised the impact on nature caused by HS2 works, and spoke of concerns residents had over work being carried out which was not in line with environmental regulations. The Council continued to oppose HS2 and was firmly on the side of residents impacted by the works. In relation to a recent complaint about a temporary bridge put up by HS2 Ltd. at Denham and its impact on water voles, the relevant organisations to enforce the Wildlife Act were Natural England and Thames Valley Police and it was for HS2 Ltd. to abide by regulations. The Council had taken a proactive approach to sharing campaigners concerns with Natural England and it was now for HS2 Ltd to consider the environmental impact of the works and apply for a water vole licence if appropriate. The Council had asked to be updated on this and advised campaigners. The Council planned to set up a joint HS2/East West Rail environmental officer group with colleagues joining from relevant organisations to discuss concerns and address issues through increased cooperation.
In response to a question on the use of fixed safety speed cameras, Cllr Naylor advised that fixed cameras were designed for a set location and that if speeding was considered to be a concern over a wider area or a length of road then mobile enforcement carried out by police would provide a more flexible option. Alternative traffic calming measures were detailed in the traffic calming booklet on the members’ portal and partnership work continued with Thames Valley Police to identify suitable locations for mobile enforcement and the Council would do what it could to assist in tackling anti-social driving behaviour.
In response to a concern raised about the safety of e-scooters and the location of the scooter bays, Cllr Naylor asked the member to send him an email with the locations of the bays which were of concern so that any issue could be looked into.
A further question was asked on increased disruption in the north of the County caused by HS2 and East West Rail works and what assurances could be given to residents about mitigating disruption. Cllr Naylor advised that the Council would continue to take up concerns with East West Rail and HS2 at the highest board level it could and recognised the disruption caused in the north of the County as a result of the works.
Cabinet Member for Youth Provision, Tony Green
Cllr T Green was asked what contact the Council had made with the volunteers and charitable organisations who were running youth clubs and services previously funded by the Council, to ascertain their financial situation to ensure that these services could continue. Cllr Green advised that officers were in constant communication with those organisations and no specific issues had been raised relating to funding and there were no plans to change current arrangements.