Council is asked to receive the Executive Reports from the Leader and Cabinet and to deal with any questions raised by Members to the appropriate Cabinet Members on the contents of the reports.
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 Solicitor to the Council 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.
Councillor Giles Archibald, Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder, presented the Cabinet Members’ Executive Reports.
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 Judy Filmore to Councillor Giles Archibald, Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder - “I very much welcome the report on carbon reduction throughout South Lakeland and the emphasis on the need to not do business as usual. My question is how will the proposed Kendal Relief Road lead to a carbon reduction?”
Councillor Archibald responded by saying that, before a final decision was made on the proposed road, an environmental impact assessment would have to be undertaken. He pointed out that road building often came with an environmental price tag. Councillor Archibald pointed out, however, that this road had the potential to reduce pollution and relieve congestion in Kendal Town Centre which had several areas with high levels of air pollution. The proposal would reduce wear and tear on roads not originally built for heavy goods vehicles and would allow for smoother flow of traffic in town; several junctions were currently overburdened during the morning and afternoon peak. Councillor Archibald was unable to provide a scientific analysis, however, informed Members that some assessment would be carried out and that these matters would be weighed up in the balance when the decision came to be made.
Councillor Tom Harvey raised a Point of Order on the procedure around questions on the content of the Executive Reports and written questions in relation to Cabinet Question Time, as he understood that verbal questions on Executive Reports should be taken first. The Legal, Governance and Democracy Lead Specialist (Monitoring Officer), however, explained that the process being followed accorded with paragraph 10.3 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure.
Councillor Eamonn Hennessy to Councillor Jonathan Brook, Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder - “With the ongoing COVID pandemic and the associated deteriorating economic conditions, I am concerned that with the imminent lifting of the moratorium on evictions, and the ending of the furlough period, that we will see a significant spike in homeless presentations across South Lakeland. What measures is the Council taking to ensure that any individuals and families made homeless in the coming months will receive the help they need and be housed in appropriate accommodation and that those already housed under the COVID provisions will not simply be returned to the streets when Government funding comes to an end?”
Councillor Brook pointed out that the question raised was relevant not only for this Council, but for every housing authority across the Country. The scourge of homelessness was an issue that affected thousands of families nationally and, if it was not dealt with decisively now, it had the potential to spiral out of control with devastating effects that would be felt for years to come.
Councillor Brook detailed the local context. South Lakeland had seen an increase of around 40% in the numbers approaching the Council for advice. Not all these cases had progressed to full homelessness applications, however, as staff had been able to resolve some issues and so avoid people becoming homeless. This was the preferred approach. It was clearly easier to deal with the causes rather than the consequences and such an approach was key to reducing the impact of homelessness under any circumstances and the looming crisis described in Councillor Hennessy’s question was no different.
The Council had 24 people accommodated due to the COVID pandemic who would normally not have a priority need under legislation. These people had been accommodated across a mix of tenure types and 11 of these people still required a move-on option. Overall, the Council was currently accommodating 33 households, including four families with children. The Council’s staff had been working very closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to ensure that the response to homelessness within South Lakeland had been the best it could be.
Before the Government’s COVID scheme had been launched, the Council had already taken steps to ensure that any individual with no accommodation, who wanted it, was housed. In order to ensure enough accommodation was available the Council had leased some properties from its registered provider partners, used spaces within its hostel, along with hotel and holiday lets. The team had worked very hard to bring new options in to use.
Furthermore, the Council had a new post funded through the Rough Sleeper Initiative, which provided assertive in reach and move on support. The Council had already spoken to MHCLG about the additional posts and resources it would need to ensure all individuals were able to access a safe and sustainable move on option.
In addition, the Council recognised that there were many other people who would be affected by the furlough scheme changing, possible redundancies and the restart of court action. Work had, therefore, been carried out with the Council’s communication team to get the message out that there was help available, and that the earlier people contacted the service, the more the Council could do to help them. The same message was going out to partner agencies. A pre-eviction protocol with registered providers was also being re-introduced.
The case management system that the homelessness team used had been upgraded with additional system flags to identify cases with Section 21 evictions or other notices served before, during and after lockdown, so that these cases could be prioritised.
The Council had also spoken to the local courts and MHCLG about the impact of lifting the restrictions.
Councillor Brook highlighted that, as he had mentioned in councillor briefings, there was additional funding available to councils, and South Lakeland District Council would be part of a co-production process with the teams at MHCLG to ensure it was able to get the resources needed in South Lakeland to support those most vulnerable in its communities. The Council had applied for £126,512 additional funding for several posts to work with those who would be made homeless over the coming days. There was the potential to apply for more funding.
Councillor Hennessy’s question touched on how the additional prevention work would be financed once the MHCLG monies had stopped. Councillor Brook explained that a critical issue here was the availability of accommodation across the area and that the Team was already looking at options, such as empty homes, unused buildings such as sheltered schemes and new leasing arrangements.
In addition to increasing the capacity of the Team and availability of properties, the Allocations Policy was being reviewed and would, hopefully, remove some of the barriers individuals were facing to access social housing, such as previous arrears or history, some of which may have been whilst they were unwell or in a different place in their life.
Councillor Brook summarised, saying that the Council was taking numerous steps to mitigate the problem described by Councillor Hennessy. It was hoped that these, together with additional funding from Government and increased joint working with other organisations, would help the Council to meet the challenges that would inevitably arise in the coming days. Councillor Brook undertook to endeavour to keep Councillor Hennessy and other Members updated on progress.
Councillor Hennessy posed a supplementary question, referring specifically to private tenants and to announcements by the Government in March supposedly ruling out eviction during the current crisis. He pointed out that these notice periods had, in fact, simply been extended by one month. These tenancies were due to come to an end shortly, with tenants facing an uncertain time and, potentially, homelessness. He drew attention to the fact that the Government had previously proposed legislation for no fault evictions in England and Wales, already in place in Scotland. He asked if Councillor Brook agreed with him that the local Member of Parliament should be lobbied with a view to this legislation being brought forward, as well as ban the use of Section 8 Notices as a reason for eviction, as soon as possible, in order to avoid a catastrophic level of homelessness in South Lakeland and nationwide.
Councillor Brook said that the Government had made some moves to stop evictions but that there was clearly scope for further action. The Council had been working closely with MHCLG and Dame Louise Casey’s Rough Sleeper Task Force. On the basis of Councillor Hennessy’s comments, Councillor Brook indicated that he would be happy to press the Government and the Local Member of Parliament for additional measures and to work with Councillor Hennessy and other Members moving forward.
Councillor Helen Ladhams to Councillor Andrew Jarvis, Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder - “I understand the officers of SLDC have been dealing with many applications for grants during this unprecedented time, including the grant paid to Outside In the charity I am involved in. Please could you give us an idea of the volume of applications and how quickly they were paid out?”
Councillor Jarvis responded, saying that the current pandemic had led to huge personal tragedy for many, not just in relation to health but also in terms of financial and economic challenges. Councillor Jarvis, whilst he personally felt uncomfortable with many aspects of the Government’s response, welcomed the speed of provision of funding by the Government, to assist small businesses in particular for the leisure and hospitality industry, which was so important to this district.
The Council had originally received about £75m funding to help small businesses or, more accurately, organisations, as many charities were included. So far, 5,575 grant applications had been received, of which 5,553 had been processed. Of these, 590 had been declined as ineligible. Consequently, 4,943 grant payments had been approved, with £58.5m having been paid out to those small organisations. The average time from application to payment had been nine days. Councillor Jarvis applauded this remarkable achievement, taking the opportunity to congratulate officers for having built the system and having speedily and professionally processed the applications.
Councillor Jarvis drew attention to the fact that many charities had been able to benefit from the scheme. Many charities had been badly affected by the crisis, which had brought additional calls on their services. Many had had to cease fund raising and suspend membership. Councillor Jarvis was pleased that the Council’s lobbying to Government on behalf of charities had been heard. Eligibility on the first scheme had been extended firstly to include charities receiving 100% rate relief and secondly to small charities included as a priority within the discretionary scheme.
Councillor Jarvis briefly mentioned the discretionary grant scheme which had been launched at the beginning of June, with an allocated budget of £3.7m. 572 applications had been received during the two week window for applications. The process had been more challenging than initially believed, given the guidance imposed by Government. Most of the applications had been processed, with about 500 applications having been assessed as valid. Officers had recommended that those businesses be split into three tiers based on the hardship demonstrated. On that basis, it was expected that grants would be proposed of probably £6,000, £8,000 and £10,000 and would be likely to start to be paid in the next week or so.
Councillor Jarvis again thanked staff for their work in bringing much needed funds into the community, local businesses and charities.
Councillor Ladhams expressed thanks on behalf of Outside In who had been pleased to receive a grant, also thanking officers for their swift action in helping so many people.
Councillor Doug Rathbone to Councillor Robin Ashcroft, Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder - “What co-operative approach is being taken by the Council to address the crisis in our tourism industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and how is tourism being supported?”
Councillor Ashcroft first wished to highlight the significance to South Lakeland’s economy of the tourism and leisure industry which brought in, at the last count, £1.3b per year, and which was something that the area was dependent on.
He talked about the short term, referring to the delivery of grants talked about earlier in the meeting by Councillor Andrew Jarvis, Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder. Fortunately for South Lakeland, this had been specifically focussed on the hospitality and leisure industry. Furthermore, the Government now had a more flexible approach which allowed the Council to address some of the shortfalls resulting from the initial scheme. The Council had taken a very intelligent and targeted approach in this regard.
Councillor Ashcroft referred to the collaborative approach being taken by the Council, working closely with Cumbria Tourism and the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership which was leading on the plan for renewal.
Councillor Ashcroft referred to the new phase which was being entered, with the ease on restrictions. There was a need now to engender confidence within both the local and visitor population, with the relationship between the two being key. Attention was now being focussed on the high street, which was important both to locals and visitors.
Moving beyond the medium term to the longer term but encompassing both, of importance was the relationship between the local and visitor population. What had been witnessed over the past three to four weeks had, Councillor Ashcroft suggested, been a major culture clash. Some of the indications were that 70% of the visitors to the Lake District during the first two weeks of easing had come to the area for the first time. He referred to the unpleasant behaviour and the need for education to address this. However, as well as challenges, this also brought opportunities within the tourism sector and a whole new market, the income from which would be welcome moving forward.
In the longer term, Councillor Ashcroft felt that key to the sustainability of the industry was something which had already been started by South Lakeland’s Member of Parliament, and that was to lobby Government regarding the vulnerable visitor economy. Councillor Ashcroft urged all Members to put across a unified case and to use their party connections to lobby Government to emphasise the importance of tapering the emergence from lockdown on the visitor economy to South Lakeland and more widely, particularly outside of London.
Councillor Matt Severn to Councillor Robin Ashcroft, Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder - “What plans does the Council have to assist in creating the economic recovery for South Cumbria after the COVID pandemic?”
Councillor Ashcroft believed that this was the most significant economic crisis of any of our lifetimes and that we faced the potential not just for a recession but for a depression.
Regarding how the Council could assist the economic recovery, Councillor Ashcroft explained that a lot of work was being carried out. He also felt it important to make clear the fact that the problems faced going forward were not new ones; the crisis had simply accelerated systematic problems which already existed. There was now no choice but to address these problems.
Councillor Ashcroft referred to the major problems in town centres, the starkest being with the high streets 20% over capacity in terms of retail. There remained the same problems which existed three months ago. The district needed to bring in 10,000 young people of working age over next ten years. Councillor Ashcroft referred to Climate Change and Biodiversity loss which, he felt, represented both challenges and opportunities.
Councillor Ashcroft said that, as we moved into recovery, for economic development, the focus was now on the renewable phase, with the need to look beyond the immediate horizon, up to ten years ahead. Councillor Ashcroft informed Members that, to this end, the Council had formed an Economic Renewal Strategy Group focussed on seeking deliverable solutions to the challenges being presented by the current crisis. The Group had representation from across the business sector and geographical areas across the district. The Group was focussing was on town centres as hubs for living, as a place, re-imagining the future and understanding businesses and residents.
The key points coming out of this were digital and the importance of start-up businesses, and working alongside partnerships with the High Street Task Force, Great Place Lakes and Dales, the Cultural Compact and the Lancaster and South Cumbria Economic Region.
Note – In accordance with the Council’s Constitution, Part 4, Rule 8 (Rules of Procedure), a motion to continue the meeting past 9.30 p.m., was moved by Councillor Jonathan Brook, seconded by Councillor Stephen Coleman and, following a vote by roll call, carried.
From Councillor Mark Wilson to Councillor Robin Ashcroft, Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder - “Please can you update us on progress on the Town Centre arrangements in Ulverston for Safety in relation to Safe distances and road changes?”
Councillor Mark Wilson having added that a partial answer had already been received through the day, Councillor Ashcroft explained that an up to date version of the Action Plan had been released. However, Councillor Ashcroft took the opportunity to provide further details on the developing situation.
Councillor Ashcroft informed Members that there was an ongoing three phase, multi-agency approach, the Council working together with the Highways Agency and the Lake District National Park Authority. He pointed out that every town was different and that Ulverston had its own unique characteristics. Fundamental to the approach was evolution and the fact that it would take at least 12 months to address the situation. There was, however, the flexibility to evolve. For example, feedback from Penrith had been taken on board in addressing Ulverston. There had been interesting feedback across the board. It was all about change; people did not always like change, and this had resulted in some negative impact. The Locality Team had, however, indicated that people were, on the whole, feeling positive and appreciative of what the Council was trying to do.
Town centres formed the economic heart of the district and Councillor Ashcroft emphasised the need to build up the confidence of both shoppers and shop keepers. At the heart was the fact that not only livelihoods but lives were being dealt with. There was a focus on reminding people of the importance of social distancing. There was a limited amount that could be done by the Government, at either national, regional or district level, and residents had to be relied upon.
Tied in with social distancing was the increase in the footprint of each human being. This space had to be found from somewhere, and so measures had had to be brought in that would affect traffic and parking. Councillor Ashcroft, however, raised the fact that people entered shops on foot to spend money and the importance of ensuring that this could be done safely. Comments raised around cars being unwelcome needed putting into context and people being on foot enabled them to spend more money.
Councillor Ashcroft closed, stressing the fact that the Council took its responsibility to its citizens very seriously. In short, he said that it was about evolution and working with the district’s communities.
The Chairman suggested that a written response might be sent to all Members by way of reminder.
From Councillor David Webster to Councillor Jonathan Brook, Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder - “I cannot believe that SLH are about to close their office in Ulverston. I know that when they moved out of the Coronation Hall into Ulverston Business Centre they found problems with people being able to access these premises, they have no disabled access, the office is on the first floor with only stair access and the main access door is electronically operated so if they are busy with something/someone else they cannot give access to the building. They claim that the closure is due to lack of use, but that lack of use may be due to the inappropriate premises that they are using. They have premises with unused office space that is easily accessible within Ulverston and that they could use for these days and I believe that we as a Council should press SLH to retain their presence in Ulverston. Not all people are computer savvy, or like speaking on the phone, they want a face to face contact so that they can best describe their problem.”
Councillor Brook responded, pointing out that Councillor Webster’s question related to a matter under the control of South Lakes Housing. As such, Councillor Brook understood that Councillor Webster had received a direct response to his concerns from Alison Kinnon, Director of Services at South Lakes Housing. That response had outlined the reasons for the closure and that South Lakes Housing had discussed the closure with their Tenants’ Committee, which had been supportive of the proposal, and with those Ulverston tenants who were signed up for digital engagement.
For those elderly or vulnerable customers who were unable to access services online, South Lakes Housing had committed to continue to provide both a telephone and personal visiting service, so that where customers prefer to meet with an SLH member of staff they will receive a visit at their home or utilise other community buildings and meeting room facilities such as the Croftlands Community Centre, or Coronation Hall etc.
South Lakes Housing had also indicated their strong commitment to the communities of Ulverston and the significant investments they were currently and would be in the future committing to the town.
Councillor Brook explained that, had these assurances not been provided, he would have been very concerned and would have been taking up the pressing of South Lakes Housing indicated in Councillor Webster’s question. In the circumstances, however, Councillor Brook took reassurance from South Lakes Housing’s comments and noted that it was for South Lakes Housing to determine their customer strategy, with the input of South Lakeland District Council’s nominated Members to their Board.
However, Councillor Brook suggested that if Councillor Webster wished to take matters further and directly with South Lakes Housing, he was able to do so. Also, if Councillor Webster had specific issues that he wanted to pursue with him as Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder, Councillor Brook was open to hear further detail from him.
From Councillor Mark Wilson to Councillor Suzie Pye, Health, Wellbeing and Financial Resilience Portfolio Holder - “Please can you outline the arrangements that the District have in mind to aiding the communities such as Ulverston East and Kendal East to prepare for and support residents who will need extra assistance through the Summer and into the future when the furlough period end ceases? Great hardship and increase in child poverty may hit hard very soon.”
Councillor Pye felt that Councillor Mark Wilson was right to highlight the hardship that many families might be experiencing as a result of the effect the pandemic was having on the local economy. Recently released labour market statistics indicated that, between February and May, unemployment in South Lakeland had risen by almost 300 %, one of the biggest rises in the Country. In the Lake District, unemployment had seen a rise of 470%, reflecting how hard the hospitality and retail sectors had been hit. The numbers on furlough in South Lakes equated to 50% of those in employment, with the national average being 30%. Councillor Pye expressed concern about what the future held come October when the furlough scheme had been tapered off and when some employers might not be able to retain all of their staff. The number of Universal Credit claimants had increased by 160% or 3,200 people in South Lakeland over the same period.
Councillor Pye reported on what was being done in response. The Council was working very closely with partners on the South Lakeland Community Resilience Group to try and mitigate against a worst case scenario. There were regular meetings and close contact with agencies such as the Department of Work and Pensions, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, food banks, schools, third sector organisations and the local Integrated Care Communities.
The role of the group was to monitor trends, escalate issues, and respond where appropriate. One of the recent actions had been to create a sub group which was primarily concerned with feeding families over the six week summer break. The group was working closely with County colleagues to ensure that no child went hungry over the coming months, including making a directory available for families in need to access key information about what was available in their area.
Councillor Pye pointed out that one of the positives to come out of this pandemic had been the abundance of volunteer groups, community groups, church groups, and resident associations. Often, these groups had already responded in an organised and targeted way to the need they witnessed around them, so, often there was simply a need to offer support, guidance, funding, and to match the need with the provision.
One thing of concern was that often families in need felt unable to seek help because there was a stigma attached to, for example, using a food bank. It was very important for sensitivity whilst trying to get the message across that it was alright to ask for help. The Integrated Care Communities in the area had launched a hashtag OK to ask campaign to try and push this message and Councillor Pye asked Members to look out for this and promote the campaign whenever they could.
In addition, the District Council had also put in place over 30 period poverty boxes all over the district, so that girls and women did not have to go without the most basic of supplies when times were hard. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau had moved to remote working, both online and via the telephone. The Council had provided funding towards a new webchat service, so the Bureau was now more accessible than ever. There was also the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which continued to be the difference between a family managing, or not. Anyone who was worried about meeting their Council Tax payments was encouraged to get in touch with the Council to ask for help. An Emergency Covid response fund was being used to help fund projects which were being set up in response to the crisis. Also, the poverty alleviation fund could be used to fund local initiatives. The Department for Work and Pensions was working closely with the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership to create a new scheme called Job Fuse, which was concerned with getting people back into work. Inspira had a plethora of help available to get young people into work, such as CV workshops, interview techniques and retraining advice.
Councillor Pye, in closing, said there was a lot going on, however urged Members to continue to support their communities by communicating the help that was available and, most of all, to convey to families that it was alright to ask for help. More than ever now and no matter our job, our background, or age, we were all one or two steps away from financial hardship.
Councillor Mark Wilson thanked Councillor Pye felt that written details would encourage others and help pull people together in providing assistance.
The written questions been put and answered, the following verbal question was put.
Councillor Vicky Hughes referred to the Climate Emergency and Localism Portfolio Holder’s Executive Report and the section titled “Green Agenda – Active Travel”, highlighting the importance of sustainable travel and cycling. She asked if this Council aimed to look to work alongside Cumbria County Council and other organisations to introduce Santander style electric bikes.
Councillor Dyan Jones, Climate Emergency and Localism Portfolio Holder suggested that as the district returned to normality following the COVID crisis, this option should definitely be taken up with the Lake District National Park Authority who also had plans to do as much as they could.
Councillor Hughes took the opportunity to refer to the excellent collaborative work carried out between different authorities and organisations throughout the pandemic. She felt that this healthy relationship should continue moving forward.