Agenda item

Statement of the Leader of the Council

The Leader will inform the Council about his work and his plans for the Council, and will give an overview of decisions taken by the Cabinet (and Portfolio Holders) since the previous meeting of the Council


Integrated Performance Report - Quarter 1, 2020-21

(Paragraph 1 of the Statement)


In response to a question from Cllr Charlotte Atkins concerning the on-going financial crisis in the Children and Families Service and also in Social Care, and progress of the Council’s Social Care Green Paper, Cllr Alan White indicated that, in the absence of the Government’s Green Paper, Cllr McMahon was taking forward proposals for a Staffordshire Green Paper. Cllr McMahon added that Covid-19 had had a profound impact on the care home market and that the Council was to review its strategic approach and plans to ensure that they addressed the ongoing challenges facing the sector.  Cllr Sutton indicated that, with regard to the Children’s Services, the County Council had invested £8.1m in the service to improve outcomes for young people and also to reduce the number of children who needed to be taken into the Council’s care.  He added that, amongst other initiatives, the Council was progressing with proposals for its own in-house residential Children’s Home provision and was participating in the Big Fostering Partnership which was aimed at increasing the number of foster families and reduce the need for children to be taken into residential care.


Cllr Winnington spoke about the effect of Covid-19 on businesses in Staffordshire and made the following three pleas:


·       At the next Council meeting can greater reference be made in the Leader’s Statement to the economy and jobs;

·       Can the County Council work with partners to ensure that Staffordshire businesses had the best offer in the West Midlands; and

·       Can business start-ups be given the greatest priority possible.


In response, Cllr Philip White explained that the County Council had established an Economic Recovery Group; expanded the work of the Redundancy and Recruitment Task Force; was developing a Young Persons Business Start-up Scheme; introducing a Business Start-up Loans Scheme; working with the Local Enterprise Partnership to roll-out two new programmes in South Staffordshire and Tamworth; progressing measures to help the regeneration of Stafford town centre; were working on a comprehensive proposal to bring about a Staffordshire version of the Towns Fund; and was working in coalition with other authorities on a growth corridor.  Cllr Alan White also added that the Cabinet, at its next meeting, were to receive an update on the impact of COVID-19 on Staffordshire’s communities and economy.


Cllr Robinson referred to the overspend in Quarter 1 and to the Local Government Association’s calling on the Government to provide additional funding for local authorities.  He enquired as to whether the Leader shared the view that without this additional funding the Council would struggle to maintain the provision of front-line services at current levels.  In response, Cllr Alan White confirmed that the County Council was continuing to lobby hard to secure additional funding for Children and Families and also Social Care.


The Award of the Service and Testing of Domestic Water Systems Framework Agreement

(Paragraph 2 of the Statement)


Cllr Bryan Jones spoke about the importance of safe water systems which were considered to be the cornerstone of public health.  Cllr Deaville added that the framework agreement would ensure value for money for Staffordshire taxpayers.


Provision of Apprenticeship Services

(Paragraph 3 of the Statement)


Cllr Clements stated that she was pleased that the Council was to continue to procure apprenticeship training as this would support the next generation in receiving hands on training and put their skills into practice.  In response, Cllr Philip White indicated that the County Council currently had 118 apprentices in 22 different occupations and were working hard to increase those numbers.  He added a note of concern that due to the Covid-19 pandemic the number of apprenticeships in the hospitality and leisure sectors may fall.  He also added that the Council was lobbying Central Government for more flexibility locally on how the apprenticeship levy was spent.


Cllr Woodward referred to the Kick Start Scheme and how this was similar to the previous Future Jobs Scheme.


Delegation of authority to issue Directions under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020

(Paragraph 4 of the Statement)


Cllr Philip Atkins indicated that although the Cabinet had delegated authority to issue direction notices to the Chief Executive in consultation with the Director for Health and Care in his capacity as Director of Public Health, it was important that there was a political input into those decisions and the Cabinet had therefore decided that, before issuing the notices, the Chief Executive will inform the Leader, Deputy Leader, Cabinet Member for Health, Care and Wellbeing and the Local Member of the intention to issue such notices.


Treasury Management Report for the Year Ended 31 March 2020

(Paragraph 5 of the Statement)


Cllr Sutherland indicated that the County Council had retained its Treasury Management Policy of using internal cash balances instead of borrowing money. This had delivered significant savings for taxpayers, as the infrastructure to deliver more skilled, better-paid jobs was being funded at a lower cost.


#DoingOurBit Community Grants Scheme

(Paragraph 6 of the Statement)


Several Councillors expressed their support for the scheme and also paid tribute to officers for the assistance they had given to Members in supporting local communities and voluntary groups through the People Helping People and Covid-19 Scheme Funding.


Cllr Charlotte Atkins enquired as to when the Community Grants Scheme would go live and how it would be publicised.  She also asked when details of Members’ spend under the People Helping People and Covid-19 Schemes would be published.  In response, Cllr McMahon indicated that the Community Grants Scheme would go live shortly with the intention of the grants being paid to successful bidders by Christmas.  Cllr Wilson added that the applications would open next week and aimed to support groups and organisations that helped meet the needs of vulnerable and older adults and/or the needs of vulnerable children and families in the county.  The maximum grant size was £2,500 and successful bidders would be notified by 30 November.


With regard to Cllr Charlotte Atkins’ question as to the publication of details of Members’ spend under the People Helping People and Covid-19 Schemes, Cllr Wilson indicated that this information was available on the Council’s website.


Cllr Woodward enquired as to who would make the decision on which bids would be successful under the Community Grants Scheme.  In response Cllr Alan White indicated that the panel charged with making those decisions would consult with the Cabinet Community Support Members and the local Member.


Cllr Hood indicated that she hoped that the Council could improve its offer to those suffering with mental health issues.


Update from COVID-19 Member Led Local Outbreak Control Board

(Paragraph 7 of the Statement)


Cllr Flunder indicated that he found the regular update reports from the Local Outbreak Control Board very useful and he requested that Members continue to receive those updates.  Cllr Oates, Cllr Deaville and Cllr Peters also praised the work of the Local Outbreak Control Board.


Cllr Parry and Cllr Adams expressed concern that, during the current pandemic, residents were finding it more difficult to gain access to GP services and asked whether the Council could challenge its health partners on this issue.  Cllr Pert added that around 80% of consultations by GP’s were now being done virtually.  Mr McMahon indicated that Government were aware of these issues and also the impact of Covid-19 on screening services.


Cllrs Charlotte Atkins and Kyle Robinson referred to the issues which had arisen around national Covid testing capacity and asked whether this could be better managed locally.  In response, Cllr McMahon indicated that he agreed that this could be managed better locally and that these views had been expressed to Government.  Cllr Charlotte Atkins also enquired as to whether the Council had looked at local lab testing capacity. 


Cllr David Jones expressed his thanks to the council for its swift response to the Covid-19 outbreak in Silverdale.  He also paid tribute to staff at Keele University who had taken action to ensure that students could return safely.


Cllr Clarke outlined his concerns that the local Borough Councillors were no longer taking part in the briefings on the actions being taken to address the Covid-19 outbreak in four wards within Burton upon Trent and asked whether this could be addressed.


Strategic Review of the Older People Care Home Market in Staffordshire 2020

(Paragraph 8 of the Statement)


Cllr Brookes spoke about the need for a national planning reform to make it easier for people to obtain planning consent for changes to their homes where those changes would enable them to care for an elderly relative.  He also called for a reform to the rating system.


In response to a question from Cllr Charlotte Atkins on the viability of care homes and the current occupancy rates, Cllr McMahon indicated that, initially, the demand for care home places fell dramatically due to Covid-19 and, at the end of September, occupancy levels had improved and stood at 87%. He added that Cabinet had therefore reviewed the Council’s strategic approach and were making plans to ensure that they addressed the ongoing challenges facing the sector arising from the pandemic.  Cllr Alan White added that the lack of action by Central Government had meant that the County Council had had to look at the levers available to the authority to care for and meet the needs of its older residents.  He added that the Council had also been lobbying government to delegate to the Authority the power to do those things that were best managed locally.


Recommissioning of Home Care in Staffordshire

(Paragraph 9 of the Statement)


Cllr McMahon referred to the Council’s aim to support the development of home care, increasing supply and encouraging innovation, whilst avoiding large-scale disruption of the market.  He also referred to the need to make job opportunities in the sector more attractive and more highly valued.


Nexxus Trading Services Limited - Annual Report 2019/2020

(Paragraph 10 of the Statement)


Cllr Deaville expressed his thanks to the staff of Nexus for their hard work and commitment in supporting those people who needed the Council’s care.  Cllr Francis also commented on how well the Company was run.


Street Lighting – LED Invest to Save Initiative

(Paragraph 11 of the Statement)


Cllr Brookes referred to complaints he had received from local residents that some street lighting had not been installed correctly and was causing issues such as light pollution on neighbouring properties and were failing to dim in the early hours of the morning.


Cllr Jessel and Cllr Greatorex indicated that upon completion of all four phases the project, energy consumption would be reduced by 8,627,502 kWh which equated to a carbon emission reduction of 2,650 tonnes and energy savings in the region of £1.6m per annum.  Cllr Woodward, Cllr Hussain and Cllr Smith also expressed their support for the initiative.  Cllr Hussain also requested that Members receive information of the timescales for the project so that they are aware of when works would be undertaken in their area.


Additional Investment in Community Highways Issues

(Paragraph 12 of the Statement)


Cllr Brookes highlighted the difficulties which arose when utility companies failed to give notice of their intention to undertake works on the County’s roads.  Cllr Woodward and Cllr Smith also spoke about flooding and the Council’s relationship with Severn Trent Water in relation to drainage issues.  Cllr Dave Jones added that a lot of flooding was a direct result of Severn Trent Water’s aging and inadequate infrastructure and urged the Cabinet Member to take them to task over this issue.  Cllr Pert also requested that the Cabinet remind landowners of their role regarding the discharge of water from private land; address all known flooding hotspots; and oppose planning applications that might bring a risk of flooding or require unfunded infrastructure improvements.


Cllr Jessel informed Members that one of her main priorities this year was to review flood risk management and the working arrangements with partner organisations.


Cllr David Williams added that priority was to be given to gully emptying, additional grass cutting, encouraging farmers to comply with their responsibilities where public rights of way crossed their land, increased road sweeping to help alleviate the risk of blocked gullies and bringing forward improved information for Members.


Consultation on Proposals for Changes to Marshlands School and Greenhall Nursery

(Paragraph 13 of the Statement)


Cllr Francis welcomed the proposals for changes to the two Schools and expressed the view that they were jewels in Staffordshire’s crown.  Cllr Price added that the changes were necessary and that they were supported by the governing bodies of both schools.


Thank you to schools

(Paragraph 14 of the Statement)


Cllr Robinson and Cllr Dave Jones indicated that they echoed the Leader’s thanks to teachers, the wider school staff and to parents for their efforts and support in getting Staffordshire schools ready to welcome pupils back this term.  Cllr Robinson added that, during the pandemic, many Staffordshire schools had stayed open to provide for the children of key workers.  He, together with Cllr Dave Jones, Cllr Hood and Cllr Price, also extended their thanks to all schools, colleges and universities in Staffordshire.



(Paragraph 15 of the Statement)


In response to a question from Cllr Dave Jones concerning whether there was an adequate supply of the Flu vaccine in Staffordshire, Cllr McMahon indicated that this matter had been raised with the Chair of the Integrated Care System for the County.  He added that he was reassured that when the local resources was depleted, there was a central resource which would be utilised.  He also encouraged those who were eligible for the vaccine to ensure that they received it.


Covid-19 Testing

(Paragraph 16 of the Statement)


Cllr Trowbridge asked Members to encourage their residents to download the NHS Covid-19 App for their smartphone as this was vital in helping to tackle the pandemic.  In response, Cllr McMahon thanked Cllr Trowbridge for raising this matter but added a note of caution and reminded Members that installing the App should not lead people into a false sense of security as it would not prevent them from contracting Covid-19.


Cllr Charlotte Atkins indicated that it was laudable that the County Council had tried to fill the gap arising from the inadequacies of the national testing system but enquired as to whether the national and the Council’s local systems were coordinated.  She also enquired as to whether care home residents and staff were tested regularly and routinely and also whether the Leader thought that the Government had learned from its mistakes on testing and tracing.  In response, Cllr McMahon indicated that the booking systems for the national and local testing were separate and that residents were requested to first check availability on the national site and if there was no availability, they could then go on to the local site.  With regard to the testing of care home residents and staff, Cllr McMahon confirmed that staff were tested weekly and residents monthly.


Cllr Dave Jones referred to the capacity for Covid testing at laboratory level and indicated that there was additional capacity sitting in universities across the Country but that this was not being used due to “red tape”, and that this issue needed to be addressed by Central Government.  Cllr McMahon thanked Cllr Jones for his comments and undertook to pursue this issue further.


Cllr Pert spoke about the long-lasting impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health and the role which Members could play in promoting good mental health.  In response, Cllr McMahon referred to how the County Council was supporting communities through initiatives such as the #DoingOurBit Community Grants Scheme.


Cllr Alan White informed the Council that he, together with the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, had sent an open letter to the Secretary of State imploring that the Government gives the Councils the resources they required.


Covid-19 – The Next Six Months

(Paragraph 17 of the Statement)


Cllr Philip Atkins and Cllr Tagg spoke about the need to “keep Staffordshire open for business” and the impact of the Covid pandemic on businesses particularly in the hospitality and leisure sectors, which were likely to see redundancies, and the need for the Council to plan to respond to this eventuality. In response, Cllr Alan White indicated that it was inevitable that some businesses would suffer as a result of the on-going pandemic but that the County Council was doing what it could to address the situation through a range of initiatives.


Cllr Hussain spoke about the need for residents to follow the Covid-19 guidance including wearing face masks, social distancing and washing hands regularly.  He also referred to the tremendous support given by the County Council in responding to the Covid-19 outbreak in Burton upon Trent.  Cllr Peters also paid tribute to the faith groups in Burton for the important role they had played.


RESOLVED – That the Statement of the Leader of the Council be received.

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