Agenda and draft minutes

Cabinet - Wednesday, 10th February, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL. View directions

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

93.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 343 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of Cabinet held on 13 January 2021.

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Minutes:

The minutes of the Cabinet meeting held on 13 January 2021 were approved as a true and correct record.

94.

Items of Urgent Business

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

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Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

95.

Declaration of Interests

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Minutes:

Councillor Maney declared an interest regarding Item 15 (Active Travel Tranche 2) as he lived near one of the proposed development sites. Councillor Huelin also declared an interest regarding Item 15 (Active Travel Tranche 2) as she lived near one of the proposed sites. The Monitoring Officer thanked the Members for declaring their interests, and stated that as there was currently no detail regarding the scheme, they could still take part in the discussion and vote.

96.

Statements by the Leader

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The Leader began his statement by describing how COVID-19 cases across the borough had continued to fall. He urged residents to continue to follow the rules regarding lockdown, to only go out if necessary, and to always follow the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance, even if you had received the vaccine. He stated that the major incident that had been declared across Essex had now been lifted as the NHS was no longer under such immense pressure, due to falling case rates. He commented that all residents should still follow the rules, and not try to find loopholes, as this would increase the number of infections and delay the end of lockdown.

The Leader then moved on and discussed how Thurrock was seeing a good take up in the number of people getting the vaccine, and described how the borough was ahead of the curve in administering the vaccine to the four highest priority groups. He stated that they were now working on an accelerated timeline and were following the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation guidelines by now offering the vaccine to disabled young people and their carers. He stated that the NHS were still delivering the vaccine to those residents who were housebound in priority groups 1-3, but this process took time due to logistics. He urged residents in priority groups 1-3 to contact their GP surgeries if they had not yet been offered the vaccine. The Leader then stated that Thurrock currently had three vaccination centres: Stifford Clays, Chadwell St Mary, and Thurrock Community Hospital. He thanked the volunteers and staff at the centres for all their hard work, particularly during this cold period. He encouraged all residents to get their vaccine once they had been offered it, and to visit the Essex COVID vaccine website if they had any concerns. He summarised and stated that there were also a number of vaccination scams, whereby residents were being contacted and asked to pay for their vaccine. He urged people to stay alert for these scams and reiterated that the vaccine was free to everyone.

The Leader then stated that the Thames Freeport bid, which had been backed by Thurrock Council and private companies such as Ford Dagenham and the Port of Tilbury, had been submitted to government on 5 February 2021. He explained that if the bid was successful, the new Freeport would lead to 20,000 new jobs across the borough, billions of pounds of private investment, new training opportunities for residents, and increased wages. He felt that there would be lots of long-term benefits and positive change if the bid was successful.

The Leader then highlighted the amount of rain that had recently fallen across Essex, which had led to increased surface water and flooding risk. He explained that private properties had the responsibility for any flooding that occurred on their land, and management companies often had responsibility for potential flooding risks in blocks of flats. He stated that the Environment Agency managed the local waterways and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 96.

97.

Briefings on Policy, Budget and Other Issues

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Councillor Coxshall stated that the Tilbury Town Fund bid had been submitted to central government last week. He explained that if the bid was successful then Tilbury would receive £25million of investment, which would fund a new youth centre, new jetty, new hub entrance, new car park for Tilbury Fort, and a new beach. He explained that the bid for the Grays Town Fund would be submitted later this year, which if successful would help fund a new beach in Grays, as well as other projects. He stated that if the bid was successful then the monies would need to be spent by 2025, so new services would appear in Tilbury within the next few years. The Leader thanked Councillor Coxshall for his hard work on the submission, and was pleased to see youth provision had been included as 83% of Tilbury residents had requested additional youth services during the ‘have your say’ consultation.

Councillor Watkins stated that due to the levels of snow across the borough, waste collection services had been temporarily closed to ensure the safety of staff. He mentioned that the staff had been redeployed to other services across the council, and stated that the service would be up and running again as soon as it was safe to do so. He commented that next week side waste would be collected alongside bins due to the temporary closure, and urged residents to follow Thurrock’s social media which would outline any new updates. The Leader also mentioned that roads were being gritted regularly and vaccine centres were also being cleared of snow.

98.

Petitions submitted by Members of the Public

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Minutes:

No petitions had been submitted by members of the public.

99.

Questions from Non-Executive Members

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Minutes:

No questions had been submitted by members of the public.

100.

Matters Referred to the Cabinet for Consideration by an Overview and Scrutiny Committee

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The Leader stated that Councillor Redsell was attending this Cabinet meeting, in her role as Chair of the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee and would be asked to read her statement at the relevant item.

101.

Draft General Fund Budget & Medium Term Financial Strategy Update (Decision: 110550) pdf icon PDF 668 KB

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Councillor Hebb introduced the report and stated that the report had originally been brought before Cabinet in January, before being submitted to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee for their review. He explained that the Council had a statutory duty to balance the Medium Term Financial Strategy, and this had been balanced since 2016 when the Conservatives had formed a minority administration. He explained that before this point, the Council had been in deficit, but the three main political parties had worked together during this period to balance the budget. He stated that since 2016 reserves had been trebled, and many years had seen budget surpluses which had helped to fund areas such as adult social care and mental health.

Councillor Hebb explained that due to the events of 2020 and the winding down of the investment strategy over the next 2-8 years, the Council would now have to work hard to balance the budget. He explained that all 49 members had previously agreed with the investment strategy, which had brought many benefits and investment to Thurrock. He then moved on and explained the commentary that had been received at the scrutiny meeting. He explained that the first comment the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee had made related to the need to seek funding from central government, to ensure Thurrock had continued support. Councillor Hebb explained that central government had already provided Thurrock with £140million of support, £30million of which had been distributed to businesses as grants. He added that central government had also spent billions of pounds on the furlough scheme to ensure people could keep their jobs throughout the pandemic. Councillor Hebb stated that central government funds still came from the taxpayer, but the Council had been submitting their accounts to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) monthly throughout the pandemic. He explained that as reserve levels had now trebled, part of the ‘rainy day’ fund would be expected to be used to balance the budget and fund services. He explained that Thurrock did continue to have conversations with central government surrounding funding and support, as well as through mechanisms such as the LGA, cross-borough Finance Portfolio Working Groups, and the IRRV.

Councillor Hebb then moved onto the second point raised by the Corporate O&S Committee, which concerned the rise in council tax. He explained that Thurrock had frozen council tax for some years, whilst other neighbouring councils had risen their levels dramatically, such as the London Mayor who had raised council tax by 31%. He explained that officers had been instructed by all elected members to increase investments to reduce council tax. Councillor Hebb outlined that 70% of the borough would only pay an additional 99p per week in council tax, with the remaining 30% of borough paying an additional £2 per week. He stated that support would be available for those residents who may struggle to pay their council tax. He highlighted that the majority of the council tax raise would help  ...  view the full minutes text for item 101.

102.

Capital Strategy 2021/22 (Decision: 110551) pdf icon PDF 416 KB

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Councillor Hebb introduced the report and stated that it outlined the mechanisms and instructions through which officers could undertake investments, such as through the Treasury Management Provision. He stated that last year Thurrock had announced the investment strategy would finish, and explained that this paper represented the beginning of the end. He said that the approach had helped fund services such as additional policing, increased funding for adults and children’s social care; education; and mental health in schools. He explained that central government was now less supportive of councils being entrepreneurial in this way, and there was no longer the same accessible market, so investments that matured would not be renewed. He explained that this wind-down of the strategy would lead to a reduction of borrowing by £350million. Councillor Hebb then outlined that an Investment Shadow Board had been constituted in autumn 2020 to consider investments and provide democratic oversight, and described how this would continue, and the Terms of Reference would be agreed in May 2021. He explained that a summary of the Investment Strategy would also be published on the Council’s website as an easy reference for residents to understand the process. He summarised and stated that the report had been agreed by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and had been made available at the Investment Shadow Board. He added that there were no new emerging recommendations, contrary to what officers had presented at the meeting of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee in January 2021.

Councillor Halden again thanked Councillor Hebb for his work on the report. He felt it provided residents with an accurate summary of the investment approach. He stated that Thurrock had worked hard to pay off debt, but still had to pay off longer-term, hard-core debt which had been accrued before 2016. Councillor Coxshall questioned how much hard-core debt had been inherited. Councillor Hebb responded that approximately £280-300million hard-core debt had been inherited, and this was hard to pay off as it was almost irredeemable. He explained that Thurrock would continue to work through this debt and pay it off as quickly as possible, where possible. Councillor Hebb also explained that the level of borrowing set out in the table in the report was the top-level figure and borrowing would not always go up to this figure. He then drew Cabinet’s attention to the table on page 48 which highlighted the difference in interest payable and interest receivable, and compared it to the graph from the previous agenda item, which outlined that the gap between spending power and spending requirement had now increased.

The Leader stated that the majority of borrowing which had been undertaken was short-term debt and had been repaid plus interest. He added that Thurrock had also invested in renewable energy, which remained stable throughout the pandemic, unlike other local authorities which had invested in shopping centres. He explained that the investment strategy had helped Thurrock earn money, which had been spent on services and residents, such as work  ...  view the full minutes text for item 102.

103.

Fees and Charges Pricing Strategy 2021/22 (Decision: 110552) pdf icon PDF 268 KB

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Councillor Hebb introduced the report and explained that the Council ran a number of services which were operated through the payment of fees and charges. He stated that this provided a small component of Thurrock’s spending power and highlighted point 3.3 of the report, which articulated the questions asked during the review of fees and charges. Councillor Hebb stated that the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee had encouraged new lines of enquiry, and this report showed these enquiries. He described how the team looked at market considerations when discussing fees and charges, and how they wanted to ensure that services could be self-sufficient, particularly during the pandemic.

Councillor Halden stated that the care market was at the heart of the adult social care fees and charges, and these proposed increases would help pressures within the service, as well as protecting the market. He stated that domiciliary care fees had been frozen for the previous four years, and felt that the system had become too reliant on income from other areas and was no longer self-sufficient. He stated that the increase in fees would be phased, and highlighted that the majority of residents would continue paying nothing, or only a proportion, as the system would remain means-tested. He explained that domiciliary care fees would increase from £13.06 to £17 and then to £18 over the course of the next three years, which would mean a 5.8% pay-rise for care providers in 2021/22. He felt this would help to stabilise the market and encourage carers to work for Thurrock Council. Councillor Halden then moved on and discussed the increase in fees in care homes, and explained that the cost would rise from £486 per bed to £532, which would help to boost the market.

Councillor Halden explained that the budget still included a council tax cut for foster carers, which was equivalent to £1600 in a Band D property, as he felt this would encourage more Thurrock residents to become foster carers and reduce the £2million spend on foster agencies. He hoped that this figure would half over the next three years as more residents became approved foster carers. He then explained that Thurrock were the lowest spending unitary authority in terms of adult social care, and the third lowest higher tier authority, which meant that the service was already cost efficient. He stated that there was currently a £1.5million social care fund, as well as a £19million general fund, and as well as the proposed 3% adult social care precept increase, this would help to improve flexibility in the service.

Councillor Watkins replied to the comments made by Councillor Redsell and assured her that he wished to improve sports across the borough, and had been a key priority in his annual Full Council report. He explained that he regularly met with sports teams to discuss their concerns, and this would continue as the sporting strategy developed. He stated that he was aware of the concerns raised by the CGS Committee, but  ...  view the full minutes text for item 103.

104.

Housing Revenue Account: Business Plan and Budgets 2021/22 (Decision: 110553) pdf icon PDF 747 KB

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Councillor Johnson introduced the report and stated that this updated the HRA 30 year business plan to ensure that there was a sufficient income to pay for services. He stated that the proposed increase in rent would help to maintain the current level of service, and would ensure all residents lived in good quality housing. He outlined that the projects in Claudian Way and the Tops Club had now been finished, and the Calcutta Road project was almost finished. He added that the HRA New Build project, using return on right to buy receipts would increase the council’s housing stock by 70 homes. He explained that the 1.5% proposed rent increase would lead to £462,000 additional monies for the HRA, which would be used to continue the Council’s statutory duties, as well undertaking projects residents had wanted during the consultation survey, which included the external decoration programme. He stated that the rent increase would equate to an average increase of £1.35 per week for residents, but would be covered by Universal Credit and housing benefit for those residents who were on it. He added that the money would also be used to help manage fire safety, tower block refurbishment and carbon neutral properties.

The Leader thanked Councillor Johnson for his report and highlighted that the proposed increase in rent would help maintain the current service level, and would provide, safe and secure housing for tenants. He stated that some tenants still lived in poor quality, old housing stock, which would need investment to keep up with modern lifestyles, such as working and teaching from home, which put a strain on older houses. He explained that he was aware of some residents with damp and mould issues, which would be tackled through investment. He added that plans were currently in place to increase the number of council houses in the future, and the housing team were currently looking at alternative buildings, which would require less maintenance and repairs.

Councillor Redsell added that she had received feedback from residents near the new Chadwell housing site, who had felt that the new accommodation looked lovely.

RESOLVED: That Cabinet:

1. Agreed the changes in the base budget for 2021/22.

2. Agreed an increase in domestic rent of 1.50% from 5 April 2021, in line with the 30-year HRA business plan.

3. Agreed the increase in service charges to reflect the costs of running each service, in line with the 30-year HRA business plan, from 5 April 2021 (detailed in table 5).

4. Agreed the charges for garage rents (paragraph 3.10).

5. Considered the recommendation made by the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee set out in section 7.

Reason for decision: as outlined in report.
This decision is subject to call-in.

105.

Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA) Update (Decision: 110554) pdf icon PDF 317 KB

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The Leader introduced the report and stated that Thurrock had been part of ASELA for three years, and all six local authorities who were part of the group had worked hard to implement cross-boundary working and improve infrastructure for all south Essex residents. He stated that ASELA had already received £24million in funding from central government for the digital connectivity full-fibre project, as well as strategic planning. He added that ASELA had also received central government funding for infrastructure, transport studies and difficult brownfield site development. He explained that £20million of funding had also been received for a South Essex University which would focus on apprenticeship degrees, and would be the first in the country. He added that ASELA had received £5million in funding for a South Essex Estuary Park, which would be shared across the proposed Joint Committee. He stated that ASELA also had longer term goals such as super-fact broadband connectivity, which had already begun work. The Leader highlighted that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council had chosen a different method for fibre connectivity, which he felt proved that each individual council could undertake their own projects outside of the ASELA framework. He explained another long-term project was for £250million of funding for pipeline infrastructure, which would help deliver housing on sites which had planning permissions but no infrastructure. He added that ASELA also wished to improve economic development across the whole of South Essex, through increased employment, construction and through the support of key sectors. He explained that ASELA had also been endorsed by the Thames Estuary Growth Board who felt that the group removed arbitrary local authority borders for cross-party working.

The Leader highlighted that this report did not create an ASELA council, or remove current governance processes. He added that the report also did not insist that all government housing targets be located within one authority, and Thurrock would not lose planning powers. He stated that each local authority within ASELA would be considering the report which proposed a joint committee to help improve the south Essex economy and bounce back from the pandemic.

He summarised and stated that a Memorandum of Understanding would be brought to Cabinet in March, which would consider the merger of Basildon and Thurrock Councils into one, larger unitary authority. He stated that this would not happen immediately, and each Council would closely examine the implications of a merger, as well as the impact it could have on adult social care, transport and waste. He explained that government wished to see local authority reform, and although this had been paused due to the pandemic, he felt it would be good to have improved local governance consensus.

Councillor Halden thanked the Leader for his report and felt that it demonstrated the good work that ASELA had undertaken, as well as their future plans. He outlined that the future Memorandum of Understanding would not create a unitary authority, but would open the conversation, and would highlight how the proposal could benefit both authorities. He felt  ...  view the full minutes text for item 105.

106.

Active Travel Tranche 2 (Decision: 110555) pdf icon PDF 158 KB

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The Leader and Cabinet voted to extend standing orders.

Councillor Maney introduced the report and stated that it provided an update on the national allocation of funding to support active travel schemes. He drew Cabinet’s attention to point 3.4 which outlined the active travel plans, and highlighted that public engagement would help to shape the delivery of the programme. He stated that the active travel scheme had been devised by central government during the pandemic to increase cycling opportunities and improve footpaths, to ensure people could access more sustainable travel. He explained that Thurrock had submitted their bid last year, and the Secretary of State for Transport had agreed to give Thurrock £690,000 in tranche 2, on top of the £280,000 which had already been received during tranche 1. He explained that the schemes listed only included an indicative cost, which was very approximate, as no design work or consultation had been undertaken. He added that the schemes listed in the report exceeded the government funding allocation, but explained that this was deliberate as the Council could then present a broad range of schemes to the public, which could then be funded through a Section 106 Agreement or other funding streams if necessary. He summarised and stated that government were also considering a tranche 3 of the scheme, and any additional schemes outlined in the report could potentially be funded through later tranches.

Councillor Halden stated that he was a ward councillor in Homesteads and felt pleased to see that £250,000 investment could come to his ward. He felt pleased to see that the scheme provided space for a cycling route which would make roads less obstructed and improve safety for cyclists. He thanked Councillor Maney and the team for their hard work on the report, and questioned whether the Branksome Avenue project would be funded through tranche 2. Councillor Maney highlighted point 2.3 of the report which explained how the team had arrived at the proposed schemes, which included through resident and cycling groups comments, and ward councillors feedback. He thanked Councillor Halden and Councillor Collins for their dedication to their ward, and to the Branksome Avenue scheme, which would be funded through tranche 2 if it approved by residents, officers and the Portfolio Holder.

The Leader felt it was good to see a bank of schemes in draft, which could be ready to go if further funding became available. He felt that if some of the projects within the scheme were funded through a Section 106 agreement, this report would increase Section 106 transparency.

RESOLVED: That Cabinet:

1. Approved the approach to develop and implement a programme of Active Travel Tranche 2 schemes.

2. Approved the engagement and consultation process required to inform the Tranche 2 programme.

3. Approved the requirement to delegate authority to the Director of Place, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, to review and make local changes to the Active Travel Tranche 2 programme taking into account local views and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 106.

107.

Adoption of the Essex Coast Recreational Disturbance Avoidance & Mitigation Strategy Supplementary Planning Document and Partnership Agreement (Decision: 110556) pdf icon PDF 348 KB

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Councillor Coxshall introduced the report and stated that it formed part of government legislation to mitigate against coastal erosion, which included a small charge on new house builds until 2038 to offset any potential erosion. He stated that only 500-600 new homes would be affected by the charge over the period of the scheme, and the charge would help fund park rangers, for example in Langdon Hills, to ensure the protection of birds and wildlife. He stated that this report formed part of Thurrock’s ‘play’ strategy as it would protect the coast and open spaces. He added that the report was a statutory duty in partnership with Chelmsford City Council, which would help both councils save money, and would be monitored through a Steering Group.

Councillor Halden thanked Councillor Coxshall for his work on the report, as he felt that climate change could cause serious erosion along Thurrock’s coast, and the new scheme would help to protect birds and wildlife. The Leader supported the work being undertaken to protect against erosion, and felt pleased to see that it was a collaborative effort with Chelmsford City Council.

RESOLVED: That Cabinet:

1. Adopted the Essex Coast Recreational Disturbance and Mitigation Strategy (RAMS) 2018-2033 (January 2019) as set out in Appendix 1.

2. Adopted the Essex Coast RAMS Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) (June 2020), as set out in Appendix 2.

3. Adopted the RAMS Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) Screening Report, as set out in Appendix 4.

4. Authorised the Director of Place to join the Essex Coast RAMS Partnership on behalf of Thurrock Council, via a Partnership Agreement with the 11 Essex Authorities and Chelmsford City Council, as the Accountable Body (for the first item) and put into place operational processes to implement, collect, monitor, and pay the tariff contributions collected in the Thurrock Borough to the Essex Coast RAMS Accountable Body.

Reason for decision: as outlined in report.
This decision is subject to call-in.