Councillor Huelin presented her portfolio report by stating this past year had seen some very difficult times for staff and residents who had lost loved ones due to the pandemic and her heart went out to all those affected. That COVID had shown the strengths and ability to not just being flexible and reactive to situations but to proactively lead as a borough. There would always be a debt of gratitude to those serving the borough from front line workers across all services to countless charity organisations and volunteers, cabinet, councillors, officers, directors, chief executive and that honesty, openness and trust in each other across all areas had got us through and kept us ahead of that curve. PPE had been provided to services, informal carers and community groups, had led a multi-agency hub to oversee COVID protocols and manage exposures, testing protocols for care home workers months before national arrangements were made, a 24/7 access to public health advise. Council workers formed through the COVID Community Action Group sent to support 5000 vulnerable residents, supported people discharge from hospital who could not go home because of self-isolating. Councillor Huelin thanked Councillor Halden and Roger Harris for their hard work and dedication last year providing us with a solid base to build on this year. There would be successful pilot schemes of health and wellbeing teams in Tilbury and Chadwell, social worker apprenticeships, working with the volunteer sector and health partners to access mental health facilities and support, provide a more flexible care package for residents based on understanding through long term care relationships, the micro enterprises scheme had won an national award giving the flexible support to residents such as offering lunch, clubs, handymen and gardeners. It had been a tough year for libraries with lockdowns and changing guidelines but during the times of closure had facilitated services and outreached supplies by phone, on-line and hand deliveries. Joined a library consortium and installed a new management system. Arts, cultural and museum volunteers had during the year done some amazing work such as rearranging bookings, creating educational packages and interactive online offers for students, teachers and care homes and had organised outdoor museum exhibitions. The Council was particularly supportive of community led projects and continued to support creative people and places in their bid to arts for funding. Councillor Huelin concluded that we were on the road to recovery with some difficult decisions to be made and was proud of our collaborative community approach and would continue to work with partners to deliver community driven arts and heritage across the borough that improved the quality of life, health and wellbeing of all residents.
Councillor Holloway questioned with the strength of the feeling against the closing of Thameside Theatre not just this evening but in the weeks since the closure had been confirmed would the portfolio holder consider reversing the decision. Councillor Huelin stated that no decision had yet been made and this was an opportunity to be open and frank with the community and cross party to make decisions going forward about the Thameside building. As part of her portfolio holder responsibilities was art and culture. That officers and directors were working on ways of providing that offer in alternative venues such as community halls or maybe a community group would like to come forward and discuss with the Council how they could take the Thameside Theatre in that building or in other buildingand stressed that they were open to those conversations. A report would need to come from officers before cabinet can make any decisions in September.
Councillor Byrne stated could the portfolio holder stop pretending that she was interested in arts and culture and that Council had no interest in supporting arts or culture in Thurrock. Councillor Huelin stated that as cabinet member for arts she was interested in arts and was fighting for a theatre provision and for an arts and culture offer across the borough.
Councillor Holloway thanked all staff who had been phenomenal throughout the pandemic and continued to be fantastic. Councillor Holloway questioned how much money would need to be cut from the adult social care budget to balance the books in the next two years. Councillor Huelin stated the budget was £43 million and would stay at £43 million. The budget would not be cut but were looking to transform services for efficiencies but the foremost was the health and wellbeing of all adults in this borough.
Councillor Holloway referred to the “Meals on Wheel” service which had been removed and questioned what other services would be removed and how many job losses would this result in. Councillor Huelin stated that the meal delivery service had not been taken away and that the meals on wheels was a name provided by the Royal Woman’s Voluntary Society who no longer provided that offer. The Council were still providing hot meals just from a different building that was fit for purpose instead of spending £190,000 on a crippled building to support a service that can be taken to another kitchen, have the food cooked and delivered.
Councillor Holloway asked the portfolio holder to promise those currently receiving any services via adult social care would continue to get a high quality service despite financial pressures to which Councillor Huelin stated 100% yes.
Councillor Worrall asked the portfolio holder on behalf of residents and those based at Thameside that the building would not close until a new museum, library and theatre was built in Thurrock and that theatre was appropriate and nothing makeshift. Councillor Huelin reiterated her passion for arts and culture and the Administration were now taking the responsibility of addressing those issues identified in a cross party workshop undertaken six years when Labour where in control which had not been fixed in that time. Councillor Huelin stated that the building would fall under Councillor Coxshall remit but the arts and culture services fell within her remit and was trying to find a better and provide a theatre offer, an arts and culture offer, a museum offer, a library offer and could not necessarily do that in old buildings which were not fit for purpose.
Councillor Piccolo referred to the libraries section of the report and acknowledged that COVID had affected some of the services that residents used and questioned whether some form of library service could now be operated from the Stanford le Hope library. Councillor Huelin agreed these had been hard times and anticipated more issues would arise as we come out of the pandemic restrictions to move into a full recovery and the only way to get services back at Stanford le Hope library was to take staff from other parts of the service. To facilitate this, Corringham library would be temporarily closed one day a week in order to open Stanford le Hope library for the same amount of time. From the Wednesday 4 August, Corringham library would be closed and Stanford le Hope library would be open on that day and throughout the summer holidays. Councillor Huelin did state that there may still need be periods of temporary closure which may not be avoided. For the future offer, officers would bring a paper forward to look at a strategy to recover from COVID and move us forward.
Councillor Kerin asked for assurances that Thameside Complex would remain open and functional until such time as a purpose built theatre, library and museum based in Grays was up and running for the people of Thurrock to use and enjoy. That the complex remained open and something even better would be built to replace it. Councillor Huelin stated the Council was looking to keep the service offer which she was looking at in her remit as portfolio holder for arts and culture, waiting for a paper to come from directors, look at assets, strategic and economic growth directors so that informed decisions can be made in September. Looking for open and honest conversations, including the community and urged them to come and speak with her or Councillor Coxshall.
Councillor Pothecary stated her passion for libraries and asked for assurances that Grays central library played an incredible part to resident’s life would not be downgraded in terms of space, paid staff, PCs or study spaces and the existing specialist facilities for children, young people and local history would be retained. Councillor Huelin responded by welcoming the question and again reiterated her passion for libraries and had hopefully proved that. The library service was so important to everybody and that Grays library had the largest footfall and would be crazy not to look at a library offer. Councillor Huelin and Ian Wake had visited all the libraries to get a feel for what the libraries offered, looked at the buildings and what provisions each one had. An area that had been highlighted was that not enough room had potentially been allocated for Grays library and that a strategic paper would be brought to cabinet and directors board so that we can really start to look at how we continue an offer and improve an offer.
Councillor Huelin summed up by stating the hard bit had been done, the Administration had stood up and admitted there were problems with the building and we now need to do something about the services and urged members and the community to come and speak to her or Councillor Coxshall as they were open to ideas and options.