Agenda and minutes
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The Mayor explained that the Council meeting would be conducted in accordance with the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panel (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority Policy and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 No.392.
In welcoming all Members and members of the public, the Mayor explained which Swale Borough Council officers were in attendance.
To approve the Minutes of the Meeting held on 11 November 2020 (Minute Nos. 224 – 238) as a correct record.
The Minutes of the Meeting held on 11 November 2020 (Minute Nos. 224 – 238) were taken as read, approved and signed by the Mayor as a correct record.
Declarations of Interest
Councillors should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves or their spouse, civil partner or person with whom they are living with as a spouse or civil partner. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
The Mayor will ask Members if they have any interests to declare in respect of items on this agenda, under the following headings:
(a) Disclosable Pecuniary Interests (DPI) under the Localism Act 2011. The nature as well as the existence of any such interest must be declared. After declaring a DPI, the Member must leave the meeting and not take part in the discussion or vote. This applies even if there is provision for public speaking.
(b) Disclosable Non Pecuniary (DNPI) under the Code of Conduct adopted by the Council in May 2012. The nature as well as the existence of any such interest must be declared. After declaring a DNPI interest, the Member may stay, speak and vote on the matter.
(c) Where it is possible that a fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts would conclude that there was a real possibility that the Member might be predetermined or biased the Member should declare their predetermination or bias and then leave the meeting while that item is considered.
Advice to Members: If any Councillor has any doubt about the existence or nature of any DPI or DNPI which he/she may have in any item on this agenda, he/she should seek advice from the Monitoring Officer, the Head of Legal or from other Solicitors in Legal Services as early as possible, and in advance of the Meeting.
Councillor Alan Horton declared a disclosable non-pecuniary interest in respect of Item 13 – Report from the Standards Hearing Sub-Committee 26 November 2020 as he was the subject Member in the report.
Welcome to the new Chief Executive
The Mayor, Leader and Leader of the opposition all welcomed Larissa Reed, the new Chief Executive to the Council. The Leader drew attention to Larissa’s outstanding record in Local Government and her enthusiasm for Swale, and he explained that Larissa would be joining Swale Borough Council (SBC) on Monday 11 January 2021. The Leader of the opposition spoke positively about the outstanding team of staff that Larissa would be leading.
In response, Larissa thanked Members for their kind words, acknowledged the difficult times the Covid-19 pandemic had created and spoke enthusiastically about joining SBC. She praised the work of officers and said she looked forward to working with Members, officers and the Swale community and public and to deliver a service to make Swale the best Council in Kent.
The Mayor advised that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic he had not attended any engagements. He wished everyone a Happy New Year.
The Leader began his statement by wishing a Happy New Year to all Members and officers. He said that he hoped this year everyone could meet in person, without people dropping out, or forgetting to mute.
The Leader commented that it was all still about the Covid-19 pandemic and since Council last met there had been two monumental developments; one bad and one good, and that it was now known that a new strain of the virus had led to an alarming increase in infection rates across the country. Health professionals said it was 50-70% more contagious and hospitals were under critical pressure, a pressure that would probably increase in the next week or so as the impact of the partial relaxation at Christmas fed through. He added that, at the same time, there had been progress made on vaccines, and that the sensible conclusion was to rigorously control the first until the latter could change the prospects of beating the virus.
Therefore, the decision to go for a total lockdown was inevitable and correct, and it was not the first abrupt change. Just before Christmas, the Government took Swale and the rest of Kent into Tier 4. The Leader said that this had caught them a little unaware, as the day before a mailshot had been despatched to households once again appealing for public compliance with the Tier 3 regulations and, as the announcement meant there was an error in the letter, further deliveries were withdrawn. He said he had received considerable thanks from recipients, who sensibly understood the provenance of the one error and he had signed a letter from Kent Leaders to the Chancellor of Exchequer, asking for special consideration for retailers who were impacted by this decision.
A side effect of the pandemic was the congestion around Dover over Christmas and the Leader acknowledged the distress caused for people in Dover, Thanet and Ashford and he said he was very aware of the pressure this imposed on people and Councillors in those districts. He said that Swale had also been under pressure. The media coverage of the period when Swale was the most infected borough in the country was inevitable but not always appropriate. He referred to a report in a national newspaper, which had arrived at a pre-conceived notion that the spread of the virus to London was the responsibility of Sheppey, and there was a point where some parts of the local media were fostering the idea that Swale was “pulling down” the rest of Kent.
Drawing attention to recent reports that suggested Swale now had the largest decline in infection rates across the country, the Leader said it was especially good to see the large fall in the rate for Sheppey East and that there had not been a queue of TV journalists asking us how we felt about that.
The Leader said that throughout the period of intensive focus on Swale, the new strain was not known about but now it was, ... view the full minutes text for item 381.
Questions submitted by the Public
To consider any questions submitted by the public. (The deadline for questions is 4.30 pm on the Wednesday before the meeting – please contact Democratic Services by e-mailing email@example.com or call 01795 417330).
Two questions were received from members of the public, but as the members of the public were not in attendance at the meeting, the Mayor advised that written responses would be circulated to them.
Questions submitted by Members
To consider any questions submitted by Members. (The deadline for questions is 4.30 pm on the Monday the week before the meeting – please contact Democratic Services by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01795 417330).
Question 1 – Councillor David Simmons
Please can the Cabinet Member for the Environment give me the details of the waste contract working party?
Response – Cabinet Member for Environment, Councillor Tim Valentine
The current waste and street cleansing contract ends in October 2023. Given the complexity of the service and the massive changes proposed to the waste industry under the Government’s Waste and Resources Strategy, we felt it was important to start assessing future options.
The working group, made up of coalition Cabinet and Deputy Cabinet members, is working with officers to look at how we might improve the service, bringing it in-line with current priorities and to inform changes to the specification that will go out to tender late next year. The working group has the benefit of advice from industry consultants, and through officers are liaising with our partners for the current waste contract in the Mid-Kent Partnership.
The working group has recently launched high level discussions with all Council Members through the Area Committees and will undertake public consultation on a range of topics in 2021.
Are there any plans to consider the future waste contract at Policy Development Review Committee (PDRC)?
Response – Cabinet Member for Environment
A report will be considered at Informal Cabinet next week, setting out the management of the tendering process.
Question 2 – Councillor Mike Whiting
Other Councils have ensured virtual meetings are available to view by members of the public in real time via their YouTube Channels. Recordings are also retained on YouTube for viewing on demand. This approach has huge benefits in making the Council accountable to and accessible by members of the public at very little, if any, cost to the Council Taxpayer.
Will the Leader of the Council agree to adopt a similar practice in Swale in time for the next full Council meeting?
Response – Leader, Councillor Roger Truelove
I thank the Member for his question. Yes, this is something that we hope and expect to be able to achieve fairly shortly. The system was due to be trialled at November’s Audit Committee, but in the event this was unable to go ahead. We are now looking to trial it at the General Licensing Committee meeting in a couple of weeks’ time. If the trial is successful, we will then look to roll it out more widely. We will need to review the trial properly to understand any issues it raises, so I cannot guarantee that the wider roll-out will be in place for February’s Council meeting, but I would certainly support that if it turns out to be achievable. Live streaming meetings is likely to require the attendance of an IT officer, in addition to the two Democratic Services officers, at every meeting. This is a significant commitment, and I would just like to reiterate the thanks I have already expressed to officers in both the IT and Democratic Services teams for their hard work and dedication to enabling our democratic processes ... view the full minutes text for item 383.
Motion - Fireworks
In line with the RSPCA campaign this council agrees to :
Proposed by: Councillor Hannah Perkin
Seconded by: Councillor Mike Baldock
Councillor Hannah Perkin proposed the motion as set out on the Agenda. She highlighted the damage that unexpected fireworks could cause to animals and vulnerable people. She referred to responsibilities to animals under the UK Animal Welfare Act 2019/2020 and she said that millions of animals were affected by unplanned fireworks every year, and she gave examples. Councillor Perkin spoke about the air quality impact of fireworks and the effect on those suffering with mental health issues.
In seconding the proposal, Councillor Mike Baldock reserved his right to speak.
The Leader of the opposition thanked Councillor Perkin for bringing the motion forward. He explained that a similar motion was drafted for a previous Council meeting from his group, but under advice it was withdrawn as it was submitted during the pre-election period for the General Election in December 2019. Councillor James Hunt, who submitted the previous motion in 2019, proposed amendments to the motion as set out on the Agenda with changes that reflected the standard wording put forward by the RSPCA. Councillor Baldock commented that Councillor Perkin’s original motion was as suggested by the RSPCA but that advice had been received from the Monitoring Officer to make amendments to it. The Principal Solicitor clarified that the advice given to Councillor Perkin to change the original motion was given because requiring public displays within the local authority boundary to be advertised in advance could not be enforced by the Council, and the suggestion was that the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) process would be a way in which the Council could condition and encourage this. She added that to encourage local suppliers of fireworks to stock quieter fireworks could be more effectively enforced by Kent Trading Standards who were responsible for relevant Regulations.
In the discussion that followed, Councillor Hunt withdrew his amendment and put forward an alternative amendment which was seconded by Councillor Baldock:
This Council resolves:
To require all public firework displays notified through the Council’s Safety Advisory Group process and within the local authority boundaries to be advertised in advance of the event, allowing residents to take precautions for their animals and vulnerable people
To actively promote a public awareness campaign about the impact of fireworks on animal welfare and vulnerable people – including the precautions that can be taken to mitigate risks
To write to the UK government urging them to introduce legislation to limit the maximum noise level of fireworks to 90dB for those sold to the public for private displays
To encourage local suppliers of fireworks to stock ‘quieter’ fireworks for public display.
Members raised points including:
· The intention should not be to ban fireworks but to properly manage them so that residents knew in advance and could take precautions;
· the Council needed to get the balance of safety and control without spoiling enjoyment;
· SBC events should ban fireworks;
· did not support a ban on fireworks at SBC events as provided joy to many, but should consider quieter fireworks or alternatives such as drones;
· SBC ... view the full minutes text for item 384.
Motion - To maintain the income of low and middle income families
This Council notes:
• Next April the Government plan to cut the benefit level for millions of claimants by ending of the time limited increase to the basic rate of Universal Credit (and the tax credit equivalent) announced by the Chancellor on 20th March as part of his pandemic response package.
• The £20 a week boost reflected the reality that the level of benefits were not adequate to protect the swiftly increasing number of households relying on them as the crisis hit. Exactly because that increase was a very significant and welcome move to bolster low and middle-income families living standards, its removal will be a huge loss.
• Pressing ahead would see the level of unemployment support fall to its lowest real-terms level since 1990-91, and its lowest ever relative to average earnings. Indeed, the basic level of out-of-work support prior to the March boost was – at £73 a week (£3,800 a year) – less than half the absolute poverty line.
• The increase in benefits have had a positive effect on the lives of thousands of local claimants who are better able to pay for life’s essentials such as food, clothing and utilities.
• The local economy has also benefited from the increase in benefit levels as claimants spend their money locally thereby supporting local businesses and jobs.
• We also note that there has been no such increase in carers allowance with many unpaid carers facing extreme financial hardship, many have been struggling for months, often relying on foodbanks to feed themselves and the people they care for.
This Council resolves to:
• Write to the Chancellor, Rushi Sunak and to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson demanding that the £20 increase to Universal Credit is made permanent and extended to claimants on legacy benefits.
• Work with other local government organisations to form a coalition to pressure the government to make the £20 increase to Universal Credit permanent.
• Write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, urging them to raise Carer’s Allowance by £20 a week immediately, in line with the increase in Universal Credit, and copy in our local MP(s), asking for their support.
• Promote Young Carers Action Day on March 16th 2021 as widely as possible on an annual basis, particularly to young carers and their families.
Proposed: Councillor Tim Gibson
Seconded: Councillor Steve
Councillor Tim Gibson proposed the motion as set out on the Agenda. He detailed the financial struggles faced by families in Swale if the £20 temporary increase to the basic rate of Universal Credit as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response discontinued, and he drew attention to the high numbers of families that now relied on food banks as a direct result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In seconding the motion, Councillor Steve Davey reserved his right to speak.
The Leader of the opposition said that whilst he was in support of the Council doing everything it could to help those in need, the motion was too political, and he did not agree with all the resolutions proposed.
In the debate that followed, Members raised points including:
· Was in support of the motion and said that the temporary increase should be made permanent;
· gave praise for and stressed the importance of carers, highlighting that Carer’s Allowance was the lowest financial benefit, and had not received the additional increase;
· gave support to the promotion of Young Carers Action Day on 16 March 2021 and encouraged lobbying of Government to raise Carer’s Allowance by £20 a week;
· there were other ways that SBC could actively seek to assist;
· if sufficient people lobbied, Central Government might listen;
· young carers were not recognised for the roles they carried out;
· not supporting the motion to keep the increase, could put pressure on food banks, housing, and voluntary and community services;
· should still take action, even if political, if it is for a good cause;
· the country was entering the worse phase of the covid-19 pandemic so far and the temporary increase should not be taken away now;
· should support a national drive to support those experiencing the harsh impact of the covid-19 pandemic;
· was in support of lobbying, but had concerns over the lack of detail on forming a coalition to put pressure on Government;
· should consider what was best for Swale;
· was a good motion, but not well written;
· the increase should be permanent and more than £20; and
· supported the principle, but not the wording of the motion.
Councillor Alan Horton proposed an amendment to the wording of the motion, changing bullet points 1 and 2. This was seconded by Councillor Mike Dendor:
· Write to the Chancellor, Rushi Sunak and to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson requesting that the £20 increase to Universal Credit is made permanent and extended to claimants on legacy benefits.
· Work with other local government organisations to pressure the Government to make the £20 increase to Universal Credit permanent.
The proposer of the original motion, Councillor Gibson, agreed with the amendments to the wording of the motion as did the seconder.
In accordance with Procedure Rule 19(2), five Members requested a recorded vote, and voting was as follows:
For: Councillors Baldock, Beart, Bonney, Bowen, Carnell, R Clark, S Clark, Darby, Davey, Dendor, Fowle, Gibson, Gould, Hall, A Hampshire, N Hampshire, Harrison, Horton, Hunt, Ingleton, Jackson, Jayes, Knights, ... view the full minutes text for item 385.
The Cabinet Member for Environment introduced the report which provided an annual update to progress on targets set in June 2019, to achieve net zero carbon for the Council by 2025 and net zero carbon across the Borough by 2030. Referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cabinet Member for Environment said that some actions could not currently be addressed, whilst others had been implemented early, such as using technology to work from home to reduce business travel. He drew Members’ attention to the Carbon Trust’s Climate Action Plan included in the report on page 33 of the Agenda.
The Cabinet Member for Environment highlighted some of the progress made which included the Council’s vehicle fleet had been replaced with 9 new electric vehicles (EV) and 8 new EV charging points had been installed in Council car parks. He advised that the Air Quality Action Plan had been approved by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the reduction of single use plastic was progressing and biodegradable tree guards had been sourced. The Cabinet Member for Environment added that there was now a policy in saving 50% carbon emissions in new housing development. In seconding the recommendation, Councillor Alister Gould reserved his right to speak.
The Leader congratulated the Cabinet and Deputy Cabinet Member, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Climate Change Officer for their work.
Other Members thanked the Cabinet Member for the update and made points including:
· Some parts of the report were very technical – could training be given to Members on the technical aspects?;
· questioned whether not renewing the drinks and vending machine contract would then encourage staff to purchase at other venues, away from Swale House?;
· clarification on what the Council’s estate was (paragraph 3.3 on page 8 of the Agenda), and what control SBC had over long leased properties?;
· report lacked progress as much was already underway in June 2020;
· sought further detail on the costs of the 9 EV’s;
· sought more up-to-date figures on information;
· was cautious on the use of bio-degradable tree guards as paper guards deteriorated, suggested wire guards as an alternative;
· questioned the cladding of Swale House;
· highlighted that 50% saving in carbon emissions from new development in planning applications had been challenged; and
· was there any feedback on performance of EV cars?
Councillor Gould said whilst it was recognised that the requested levels of savings in carbon emissions in new development did not have the full backing of legislation, many developers had accepted it, and it was a good signal to push developers in the right direction. He also reminded members of the hierarchy ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ in reference to the removal of vending machines containing single use plastics. The comments made referring to the Council’s estate were addressed with the recognition that ‘operations’ may be the better term to be used.
The Cabinet Member for Environment said that training could be considered. He said that it was early days for EV drivers but so far, the feedback was ... view the full minutes text for item 386.
The Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance introduced the report and said that it had already been considered by the Audit Committee on 30 November 2020. He highlighted that SBC’s external borrowing had been reduced by £5million to £15million since the end of September 2020 and that cash flow was resilient. The Leader said that apart from the CCLA Property Fund, money markets were mostly negligible and this was unlikely to improve in the current circumstances. He praised the Chief Financial Officer, Financial Services Manager and Management Accountant. In seconding the recommendations, the Deputy Cabinet Member for Finance reserved his right to speak.
The Leader of the opposition gave his thanks to the work of the Financial Services team. He said that the CCLA Property Fund consistently paid out, enabling SBC to offer better services to the public and he encouraged continued investment in this.
A Member referred to possible investment in the ‘No Use Empty’ scheme which brought disused properties back into use and he agreed to speak to the Chief Financial Officer about this.
The Deputy Cabinet Member for Finance thanked the Financial Services team for their hard work.
(1) That the performance information in the report be noted.
(2) That the prudential and treasury management indicators within the report be approved.
Councillor Hannah Perkin, who chaired the Standards sub-committee meeting held on 26 November 2020, introduced the report and proposed the recommendation. The recommendation was seconded by panel member Councillor Ken Ingleton.
A Member drew attention that the decision notice should be dated 2020 not 2021.
The Leader said that he had received an email from a member of the public who joined the meeting online and had complimented the well-run meeting. The Leader praised the Chairman and Monitoring Officer.
(1) That Council note the findings of the Standards sub-committee held on 26 November 2020.
Council is asked to note the recommendations from the following meetings:
General Purposes Committee held on 16 December 2020
Cabinet held on 16 December 2020
The Council was asked to note the recommendations from the General Purposes Committee meeting (Minute Nos. 344-345) and from the Cabinet meeting (Minute No. 349), both held on 16 December 2020.
(1) That Minute Nos 344-345 from the General Purposes Committee meeting held on 16 December 2020 be noted.
(2) That Minute No. 349 from the Cabinet Meeting held on 16 December 2020 be noted.
The meeting was adjourned at 8.35pm and reconvened at 8.40pm.