The Leader welcomed all Councillors, Officers and all members of the Public who were watching via YouTube, to the first virtual meeting of Bromsgrove District Council.
The Leader explained that the Council had been conducting meetings remotely throughout the lockdown period, and she was pleased to say that this new way of working has been well received.
The Leder went on to say that she was conscious, that this had been an extremely difficult, and distressing time for local communities and on behalf of the Council, she extended heartfelt thanks to the amazing NHS Workers, Social and Care Home employees, Police, Ambulance and Fire Services and the plethora of volunteer workers who had been striving to ensure that residents and communities stayed safe and cared for at this time. The Leader also thanked Council staff who had worked so hard to ensure that the Council Services had been maintained for the residents of the District and also thanked the third sector and voluntary organisations in their tireless work distributing food, operating food banks and collecting and delivering vital prescriptions. Thanks, were also given to the local businesses who had worked to support the production of ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) across the District.
The Leader hoped that she had included everyone in the District who had contributed during these most challenging of times, and that she believed she spoke for all those in the Council, when she said how immensely proud she was and what a privilege it was, to serve such an amazing District.
The Leader was also acutely aware, that many of people had experienced great sadness and loss. She extended condolences to all in the community and Council that had suffered the loss of loved ones during this time. She also extended the Council’s support to those who continued to suffer and those whose livelihoods were being threatened at this very difficult time.
The Council had been working hard to mitigate the extreme loss that this virus has brought to its residents and this work continued. Technological support was channelled into ensuring that first and foremost, Council services were maintained. This was achieved by enabling staff to work from home and for shift patterns to be altered, to ensure continuity of service where a physical presence was required for a person to do their job. This had also enabled the Council to ensure that it had cover where necessary in the event of anyone falling ill or needing to shield or self- isolate. This had resulted in minimal disruption to services and an ability for staff to undertake the additional services, so vital to the communities throughout this pandemic.
Bromsgrove District Council received £21.2m for the grant schemes to support businesses in the District. This had been a huge challenge as since 2008/2009 many of the businesses had received 100% small business rate relief and because of this the Council did not have the bank details for these businesses. The Leader reported that £19.4m had been allocated to 1,688 eligible businesses. There were a further 128 businesses for which a grant could be due. The Council had written to, emailed and telephoned all businesses to advise of the availability of these grants in addition to utilising social media platforms and press releases. Over the next ten days, officers were intending to visit the premises, to ascertain if they are occupied and if there is an eligibility for a grant.
Members were also reminded that a discretionary grant fund of £1,013,500 was received from Government. The Leader was able to report that 148 applications for support were made. The purpose of this grant funding was to primarily support businesses with their fixed property costs during the period when they were unable to trade, and all but £1k of this money has been paid out.
The Leader gave a special thank you to the Finance Team for actioning the grant payments and for taking her calls and emails late into the night when businesses had contacted her requesting help and guidance on how to apply for a grant .
The Leader also took the opportunity to thank the Leaders of all Groups on this Council, who together with the Cabinet, had attended regular briefings since March of this year. She believed the cross party approach taken, was the right response to this pandemic.
On a separate matter, the Leader of the Labour Group had requested that she write to the Housing Secretary to request that urgent measures be put in place to protect renters from being evicted until the Covid 19 pandemic was over and that the Minister introduce legislation to make this happen. The Leader was in support of this and had agreed that she would write to the Secretary of State.
The Leader went on to remind Members that back in March of this year, she had written to the Secretary of State regarding charges for the maintenance of unadopted communal land on private and mixed tenure estates. She had received a response to her letter on 16th July, stating that the Government was committed to promoting fairness and transparency for homeowners and ensuring that consumers were protected from abuse and poor service. To address this issue the Government was intending to legislate to give freeholders on private and mixed tenure estates equivalent rights to leaseholders to challenge the reasonableness of estate rent charges and that they would also be able to apply to the first tier Tribunal to appoint a new manager to manage the provision of services covered by estate rent charges. It was agreed that the letter would be sent out to all Members.
Finally, the Leader advised that she did not believe that the country was through this Covid 19 pandemic, and it was important that everyone adhered to the principles of washing our hands on a regular basis and adopting social distancing. By following these basic rules, she hoped that a second spike would be prevented, and the District protected.
Councillor S. Hughes echoed the Leader’s thought and thanked the hard work of all key workers who had kept the community going in this time. She also said a special thank you to the Council staff and the local volunteers who had helped to keep the vulnerable in the District safe. She was pleased to see how proactive the Council had been on business and to see all of the groups working together. The key workers and volunteers had really shown the town at its best in so many ways. As a teacher she also took the opportunity to thank all school staff and parents who had helped to keep educating the children through this challenging time. Councillor Hughes said all these people were the best of humanity and everyone should continue to thank them for all the work that they do. Her thoughts went out to all those that had been affected by this virus and to those who had lost loved ones. She thanked the Leader for being open to her and her Group’s ideas throughout this period. She was also pleased to see Committees back up and running virtually, particular reference was made to the Climate Change Working Group and to the 2050 target date for the Council becoming carbon neutral and hoped that this would be reviewed as it was not felt ambitious enough for the Council. Councillor Hughes also commented that she was pleased to see full Council meetings resuming.
Councillor S. Colella also echoed the sentiments from the Leader and Councillor Hughes and thanked the Leader for allowing Members to be involved. He added his thanks to fellow Members for participating on Boards and Committees when these began to be held virtually.
Councillor P. McDonald spoke on behalf of his Group and echoed everything the Leader had said regarding thanks to the key workers, for not only what they had done during the pandemic but what they continued to do until this was over and spoke for everyone in saying that they were grateful for all their continued hard work and efforts, above and beyond what they would normally do.
Councillor McDonald was pleased that the Leader would be writing to the Housing Secretary as he believed that a ban on evictions was much needed as it was likely that there would be a great number of residents that would be faced with eviction in the coming months.
Finally, Councillor S. Webb thanked the Leader and Deputy Leader on behalf of the Cabinet for all their hard work throughout the pandemic as she knew they had worked extremely hard with all the management team at the Council and the other Group Leaders.