In accordance with the Council’s Standing Orders, the Leader of the Opposition shall be given the opportunity to raise one matter relevant to the Borough that has arisen since the last meeting of the Council. The Leader of the Council shall then have the opportunity to advise the Council of matters relevant to the Borough that have arisen since the last meeting.
The Leader of the Opposition asked the following question:
“Given that the Leader was quick to distance herself from the press comments about the possibility of issuing a s114 and potential bankruptcy, is she now embarrassed that Sir Keir Starmer has prompted similar inflammatory comments in a recent front page article in the Comet?”
The Leader of the Council replied that the article on the front page of the Comet had declared the Council bankrupt, which was not the case. A s114 notice was a technical notice, issued by the Section 151 Officer if that officer felt that the Council would not meet its legal financial obligations to balance its books at the end of the financial year. No such notice had been issued for SBC and, when asked the question by the Press, the Leader advised them of that fact, but stated that this did not mean that it would not happen if the financial position did not improve.
The Leader advised that prompt action was taken by SBC in revising its Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), in order to address the difficult financial position. She was of the opinion that the Council had found itself in this position due to the broken promise of the Government, who had advised Councils to do whatever was necessary to support their communities through the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Government would provide the funds to support them. She wondered if the Leader of the Opposition should perhaps disassociate himself from that broken promise.
The Leader continued that the estimated cost for the Council during the Covid-19 crisis up to the end of July 2020 was £5.8Million, with only £928,000 received so far from the Government. SBC had avoided cuts to services and had developed a clear financial plan via the revised June 2020 MTFS. If the further promised Government funding did not materialise action would be taken in accordance with that agreed within the revised MTFS. On 2 July 2020, the Government promised a new support package, but no details had materialised thus far, although the Government had asked for a fourth financial update return from the Council.
The Leader was of the view that Sir Keir Starmer was absolutely correct to point out the national funding gap in Council budgets of over £7.5Billion. She added that the current situation puts jobs and services at risk, and had left the public with an uncertain future as to how their local councils would be able to manage.
The Council then received updates from the relevant Executive Portfolio Holders on the following matters:
· Planning Committee and determinations;
· People’s Orchards and Green Flag Awards;
· Reopening the Town Centre and Supporting Business;
· Housing Programme;
· Healthy Stevenage Partnership;
· Housing First: Response to Rough Sleepers;
· Housing online;
· Community Safety during COVID-19;
· Environmental Health during COVID-19;
· Leisure and Culture at the heart of our recovery;
· Stevenage Covid Snake;
· Stevenage Helps; and
· Business and Council Tax support.
In response to an issue raised by the Leader of the Opposition regarding the importance of County Councillors being invited to local community/residents meetings, the Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods & Co-operative Working agreed with this comment. If any County Councillor had concerns that they were not receiving invitations to such meetings then he urged them to take the matter up with the Chair (s) of the respective Community/Residents Association(s).
In reply to a question raised by another Member, the Portfolio Holder for Resources confirmed that, to help households during the Covid-19 pandemic, the maximum amount of Council Tax reduction for those on Council Tax support would be £150 per person.