Agenda item

Leader's Announcements and Cabinet Question Time (30 Minutes)

To receive announcements from the Leader and, in accordance with Paragraphs 10.2 and 10.3 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure, to deal with any questions to the Leader and/or Portfolio Holders on any topic which is within the jurisdiction or influence of the Council and is relevant to their Portfolio.  Any Member who poses a question will be entitled to ask one supplementary question on the same topic.


Members are encouraged to give 24 hours’ written notice of questions to the Monitoring Officer of questions to be raised under the Agenda Item.  If no notice is received, then the Portfolio Holder can reserve the right to give a written answer.  Where written notice of questions has been given, these will be taken first.  Should a Member wish to ask more than one question, questions should be listed in order of priority.  If more than one Member sends in a question, these will be taken in alphabetical order of Members’ names, alternated from meeting to meeting.  Each question and each response is restricted to three minutes.


The Leader, Councillor Giles Archibald, first referred to the debt of gratitude owed to the National Health Service and Key Workers for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic which could not be repaid but which the Council could address by gesture.  The Government had indicated that it would at some time this year be stopping free car parking for these workers.  Councillor Archibald took the opportunity to announce that South Lakeland District Council would be making the concessionary parking for these people available in its car parks for the remainder of the year by note of gratitude for their work.


Councillor Archibald informed Council that the Authority’s relationship with Barrow and Lancaster continued to deepen and flourish and he thanked Members for their support for the Joint Committee.  A draft Strategic Plan had now been produced and the first meeting of the Joint Committee had been held on 22 July 2020.  At that meeting, it had been agreed to set up two cross-council groups in addition to the work being carried out on the economy.  The first group would address the issue of climate change, with Councillor Dyan Jones, Climate Emergency and Localism being heavily involved.  The second would examine poverty and hardship alleviation and the vulnerable, and would be co-ordinated by Councillor Suzie Pye, Health, Wellbeing and Financial Resilience Portfolio Holder.  He hoped that this would be the first of many areas of collaboration across the districts.


Councillor Archibald expressed pride in the role played by South Lakeland District Council and others authorities in Cumbria in the settlement of refugees.  Three years ago, it had been agreed to settle 285 refugees within Cumbria, and Councillor Archibald thanked Lawrence Conway for his involvement.  All Cumbrian Councils had collaborated well under the leadership of the County Council and, although the target of 285 had not been met, Councillor Archibald was pleased to say that 244 had moved into the area; 244 people with better lives as a result of the local authorities had been able to do.


Finally, Councillor Archibald referred to the reorganisation of local authorities and the Government’s desire to create mayoral combined authorities based on unitary authorities.  He informed Members that he had co-signed a letter with Barrow and Lancaster asking if the Morecambe Bay solution might be considered as a possible option if the Government decided to push through the unitary route.  Councillor Archibald stressed though that this was not a commitment and indicated that he would be happy to discuss the matter with Group Leaders and other councillors; this was a matter of concern to all.


In accordance with paragraphs 10.2 and 10.3 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure, the following written questions had been submitted to the meeting:-


From Councillor Matt Severn to Councillor Suzie Pye, Health, Wellbeing and Financial Resilience Portfolio Holder - Could the Portfolio Holder tell me, with South Lakeland having one of the highest rates of furlough in the country because of the hospitality industry, what steps the Council are doing to support employment and what she thinks the government should be doing as well?


Councillor Pye said that South Lakeland’s vibrant visitor economy supported many businesses and livelihoods, but that this had also made it particularly vulnerable to the impacts of Covid-19.  Indeed, a third of South Lakeland’s employment was in sectors most highly impacted – in hospitality, retail and leisure.  This was reflected in the latest Government figures, which confirmed the number of furloughed employments in South Lakeland now stood at 18,700, or 40% of the workforce - the highest in the UK.


As a District Council, the Authority needed to do all it could to support businesses and residents at this critical time.  The Council had a prominent role in the emergency response and in protecting the health and wellbeing of its communities.  Working closely with its partners through the Local Resilience Forum, the Council had put in place the support needed to help its communities withstand the crisis.  It had made the necessary changes to maintain its frontline services, protect public health and support its vulnerable residents, and the strength of this joint response would help provide the platform for economic recovery.


The Council had awarded business grants to the value of over £60m, setting up schemes, and diverting and training its staff in a matter of days to ensure prompt payment.  This, in addition to the extension of business rates relief to those most directly affected, would have a significant impact in helping to safeguard jobs.  Business Support was another important element and the Council had made a significant financial contribution to this, partnering with the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce to offer free support to start-ups and existing businesses across South Lakeland.


Councillor Pye informed Members of regular meetings with partners such as South Lakes Citizens’ Advice (CAB), to support their efforts to help and advise people as they went through challenging personal economic change and faced an uncertain future.  Indeed, the Council had recently funded a new webchat facility which would help the CAB reach people in its more rural communities.  The Council met regularly with the local representative of the Department for Work and Pensions.  The Job Centre had been set up to respond to redundancies, and to help up-skill, re-train, and to work with people to become work ready.  The Council also had things such as the Jobfuse service available – this was a joint partnership created by the National Careers Service, the Department for Work and Pensions and Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, which supported businesses and individuals around redundancies.


As far as the role of Central Government, Councillor Pye felt it was right that the Job Retention Scheme should be recognised as a welcome lifeline for many workers and businesses in South Lakeland and that it had most probably prevented numerous redundancies.  However, from 1 August, the Government support would start to taper off and then, at the end of October, the scheme would come to an end.  Unless businesses were then in a position to return to a level of viability similar to pre-covid levels, they would struggle, and workers made redundant at a disproportionate level to the rest of the UK.


Alongside other local authorities, the Council had been in regular dialogue with Government ministers about ways in which Government financial support could be adapted or extended to greater benefit our communities.  Councillor Pye wished to urge the Government to recognise that South Lakeland should not be put in the same pot as the rest of the UK when setting out an economic response to the pandemic.  The feast and famine nature of the hospitality and tourism industry meant that South Lakeland businesses needed a financial package which saw Government support extended right through until Spring the following year.  She urged everyone, if they had not already done so, to sign the joint petition from Cumbria Tourism and South Lakeland’s own Member of Parliament, which had already garnered over 4,000 signatures.  She emphasised that this had received the backing of cross-party politicians, National Park leaders and the equivalent of Cumbria Tourism in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Derbyshire, Liverpool, Manchester and Cornwall.  This, Councillor Pye felt, went beyond partisan politics and was about safeguarding against the demise of people’s livelihoods, and protecting against wide set financial hardship and the onslaught of poverty.


From Councillor Kevin Lancaster to Councillor Giles Archibald, Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder - Motorcyclists from urban areas throughout the north of England congregating at Devil's Bridge on Bank Holiday weekends have long been problem for many residents of the ward of Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale.  Because of the nature of settlement in Garsdale, with many houses joining on to the main road, the A684, speeding motorcyclists, unfamiliar with the roads are particularly dangerous and over the years this has led to many tragic incidents.


Since the end of lockdown, this year there have been more bikers than ever travelling at even greater speeds than before.  They begin at 6 am and continue until 8 pm.


There was limited success against this menace in the early 2000s when former SLDC Cllr Paul Winn and I secured a 30 mph speed limit through Garsdale Street.  Will this council work with myself, Garsdale Parish Council, Cumbria County Council, Yorkshire Dales National Park, the police and others to re-examine the speed limits through Garsdale with a view to solving this long standing problem for once and all?


Councillor Archibald said that he shared Councillor Lancaster’s concern and supported the request as did, he believed, South Lakeland’s Member of Parliament, Tim Farron, County Councillor Nick Cotton, and the other District Ward Members for Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, Councillors Suzie Pye and Ian Mitchell.  Indeed, Councillor Cotton had written to the Police and Crime Commissioner and had had a fulsome exchange of correspondence with the Police on this matter and, through Tim Farron, had written to the relevant Government Minister.  Councillor Pye had also been very active on this issue.  Councillor Archibald urged Councillor Lancaster to reach out to Councillor Cotton, Tim Farron and the other local Members, indicating that he would also be willing to be involved in discussion about this issue, to share the information already available and to seek a way forward if one could be found.


Councillor Lancaster welcomed the response, however, pointed out that one issue was with regard to the limited abilities of a parish council like Garsdale.  He referred to the District Council’s new way of working and to Neighbourhood Teams and suggested that South Lakeland District Council may be able to commit officer time and support to liaise with the Parish Council in order to move things forward and put the process in train.


Councillor Archibald undertook to reflect on the suggestion, pointing out that locality working was new and that the resources required careful management.  He suggested, though, as a first step, that councillors ensured that they kept themselves aware of actions that had already taken place.  If the resources were available, the Council would be then be able to provide assistance in helping move things forward.


From Councillor Malcolm Lamb to Councillor Robin Ashcroft, Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder - After months of lockdown it is heartening to see shops and businesses opening up as the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control, at least for now. But we must not forget that the virus is still out there and it is vitally important that it is not given a second chance by relaxing our guard, particularly with respect to social distancing. Council may know that planned measures to aid social distancing in Ambleside and Grasmere have been dropped because businesses and some local people felt that they would be deleterious however the abandonment of the plan has also caused some alarm, particularly for elderly and vulnerable local residents who now find social distancing difficult and potentially dangerous because of narrow pavements and busy roads.


Can I ask Councillor Ashcroft how the safe reopening of high streets action plan is working elsewhere in the district and can he assure the residents of Ambleside and Grasmere that the understandable desire for businesses to return to some sort of normality does not take precedence over public health and safety?


Councillor Ashcroft explained that the health and safety of both residents and visitors was of great importance to the Council and was taken very seriously.  He felt that it was heartening to see businesses opening up.  This was of vital importance to all towns in the district, including Ambleside, with the visitor economy generating £1.4b for the district.  There was no question of business taking precedence over normal health and safety – it was a matter of getting an appropriate balance.


Social distancing requirements had been reduced but remained a challenge.  The High Street Action Plan was being actioned over a period six weeks.  Government guidelines had to be addressed, with a reduction in social distancing from 2 metres to 1 metre plus.  From the previous Friday, face masks had to be worn in shops, but there was no legal requirement for them to be worn on the street.  The District Council had played an important role in providing advice to shops on organisation within the premises and on queuing outside, Locality officers having been active in providing this support.


With regard to the Action Plan, Councillor Ashcroft informed Members that the Council was working with Cumbria County Council, the Highways Agency and the Lake District National Park Authority, which were key partners in terms of delivery.  There had been close consultation with town councils who, it was understood, were speaking on behalf of their communities.  The feedback was varied and Councillor Ashcroft explained that not all residents necessarily agreed with their local councils’ opinions.


Councillor Ashcroft informed Members of the depth of the conversations which had taken place.  On 27 May, shortly after the Government announcement, a Zoom meeting had been arranged with representatives invited from all local councils.  It had been made clear that this would be an evolving situation and that the District Council was not imposing a solution, with feedback being welcomed from communities through their local councils.  Similar meetings had been held on 10 and 29 June and 2 and 13 July.  The 13 July meeting had seen uniform feedback from across the area, with people being incredibly supportive of the 20mph speed limit through town centres.  There had, however, been considerable debate regarding car parking and concern expressed regarding suggested restrictions.  Ambleside had been very specific that parking restrictions were not wanted in the town and so had moved forward on that basis.


Councillor Ashcroft said that the District Council would continue to listen to local councils.  This was a difficult situation, with South Lakeland’s towns being of ancient layout and not designed with the motor car or visitor economy in mind.  What underpinned the Council’s approach was current Government advice on social distancing and use of face masks.


Councillor Lamb felt that it was all about balance and said that, as long as there was still room for listening and changing things as time went on, then this was a satisfactory approach.


From Councillor Helen Ladhams to Councillor Andrew Jarvis, Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder - I note that the short fall in income, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will have an impact on our reserves, which will have a knock on effect to the Council’s ability to face future problems such as flooding or a pandemic. Therefore my question is; has the government provided councils with the funds to assist with this lost income or the costs of this Coronavirus pandemic?


Councillor Jarvis responded, saying that it was clear that Covid-19 was placing a big strain on Local Government finance with, for this Council, £5m of additional costs and lost income in this year and £4m in the coming years.  Back in March, Government ministers had promised to do all possible to help Councils to fight Covid-19.  Although many had been sceptical of what had been said, Councillor Jarvis said that he had been pleasantly surprised, with four waves of funding having been provided, amounting to something over £3m.  This still meant, however, that the Council was potentially £6m worse off due to Covid-19, after Government assist over a period of years.  This equated to £140 per household in the district, and it had to be remembered that South Lakeland District Council’s annual share of Council Tax was less than £200 on average.  There had been a growing loss from leisure facilities, shortfalls in Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rates and there would be future gaps in income, in particular from car parking.  At present there had been nothing but warm words from ministers on those things.


Councillor Jarvis said that the Council would not be able to continue to absorb costs on this scale whilst maintaining business as usual.  He explained that, unless the Government was prepared to provide significant additional funding over future years, the Council would be faced with extremely difficult choices over income and expenditure.  Councillor Jarvis stressed that Covid-19 had been a global catastrophe and that South Lakeland had been particularly hard hit.  He felt that it would be extremely disappointing if residents were forced to pay again through reduced services and costs, and he hoped that the Government would provide both additional grants and future funding that reflected the scale of the costs that South Lakeland continued to face.


From Councillor Eamonn Hennessy to Councillor Dyan Jones, Climate Emergency and Localism Portfolio Holder - Please can Councillor Jones update the council on the latest climate conversations, the climate action fund and the biodiversity enhancement scheduled for Town View Fields?


Councillor Jones informed Members that there had been one climate conversation this year and that this had been held online earlier in the previous week.   It had started off in the usual manner, with discussion on how to get those not present at the meeting interested.  The conversation had, as always, turned to planning and public transport.  It was clear that people were becoming increasingly frustrated that the Government did not seem to be taking much notice of those in the countryside in the North.  Councillor Jones believed that there seemed to be a growing group of activists, which was great in terms of lobbying Government.  Meanwhile, within the Council, officers were working hard in implementing the Climate Change Action Plan.  The list of projects being achieved was growing, including fitting of PV panels at the MintWorks and Town View Fields, as well as a proposal for Ferry Nab dinghy store and potential for the installation of a water sources heat pump.  With regard to Councillor Hennessy’s question in relation to Town View Fields and biodiversity, Councillor Jones explained that it was due close on 3 August for some ground works, with a lovely bog due to be created.  Councillor Jones undertook to provide a full written response.


Councillor Hennessy indicated that he wished to pose a supplementary question.  He was very proud that in Kendal, the Liberal Democrat Town Council had put together its own modest climate change fund for community groups who did not qualify for the District Council funding.  He asked Councillor Jones if she would commit to look to lobbying to influence other parish councils within the area to do the same.


Councillor Jones advised that there was a climate change community fund toolkit being produced which would address this and undertook to include details within her written response.


From Councillor Tracy Coward to Councillor Robin Ashcroft, Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder - Would the portfolio holder be able to update the council on the progress of the Economic Strategic Renewal Group?


Councillor Ashcroft informed Members that the Group had met on three occasions and was starting to find its feet.  It drew upon a range of experience from across the business sector and a good geographical spread.  The Group membership was cross-party and also involved the local Members of Parliament.


Councillor Ashcroft said that the Group was now moving on to a strategic level, with a particular focus on renewal post Covid-19.  Both officers and himself were finding it very useful to be able to pick up intelligence directly from businesses and this was proving to be useful in informing policy and the local plan.


The Group had identified a number of issues:-


·         Recruitment – This was seen as a major issue, even following Covid-19, with Brexit being an additional problem.


·         Place – This was about attracting the right people and securing talent from metropolitan areas and encouraging those who had left the area to return.  It was about lifestyle and having a culture that could be engaged with.  The need for affordable housing underpinned this.


·         Local buying – How to do things more widely with a local digital approach.


·         Importance of Digital – This was not just about the infrastructure.  This was about businesses developing digital strategies and having the training available.


·         Town Centres – Businesses saw the need for change and for towns to become multi-use hubs.  It was not simply about retail.


·         Communication Bridge – An understanding between business community and residents.


The Group had found its feet and needed now to hit a certain degree of critical mass and now right to bring in other agencies and to invite the Local Enterprise Partnership and Cumbria County Council to future meetings to hear directly from the district’s businesses.