To receive an update from the Leader of the Council, Cllr Mark Brunt.
Members received an update from the Leader, Councillor Brunt about the ongoing activities and key work ahead for the Council.
The response to COVID-19 was continuing and the third wave was expected to peak in August/September this year. Some social distancing measures still needed to be maintained after 19 July including in the Town Hall offices for staff. There remained a need to be cautious while virus rates were rising. Council officers had been involved in supporting the recent surge testing in the Borough and the Leader thanked them for their work in this and their continuing work going the extra mile to respond to the pandemic and support residents. The Council continued to maintain its services despite all the challenges. The Leader was keen to make sure staff took some holiday over the summer as there would be further challenges in the autumn and winter months. Vaccination rates were progressing well with slightly lower take up in Redhill and in the north of the Borough. A number of pop-up vaccination centres were proving to be popular.
The Mayor’s Volunteer Awards were focusing on recognising the voluntary work during the pandemic and the winners would be announced in September. The Council was continuing to support local businesses during COVID-19 and beyond with business grants and through the work of the Economic Prosperity team. It had recently run an entrepreneurs’ academy which had attracted a number of candidates. A ‘Dragon’s Den’ type scenario had been organised and the judges were impressed with the quality of ideas from the entrants.
The Leader thanked the work of the Interim Head of Finance, Pat Main, finance team and Portfolio Holder for Finance and Governance, Councillor Schofield, for their work on the budget last year. The Council had come out in a relatively strong position, despite COVID-19 challenges, with the team working to ensure that all COVID-19 costs (including the recent surge testing) were recovered for the Council from central government.
The local elections had been delivered safely and successfully despite the challenges of COVID-19, social distancing and running three elections simultaneously. It was a credit to the elections team and all those who worked during the elections that the process had run so smoothly.
Ongoing activity included Marketfield Way which was a major development in Redhill. This continued to move forward at a good pace and was due to open in 2022. The development aimed to attract visitors to Redhill, in particular in the evenings. The Leader stressed it was important for the Council to continue to invest and support development in Redhill. The Harlequin had benefited from a £100k culture recovery fund grant from central government and would be reopening in the next week. It was still offering socially distanced seating for those residents who were still concerned about going out and offering socially distanced screenings.
The Leader reported that there was a backlog of housing evictions which was putting additional pressure on the housing team. Effective plans were in place, but it would be a challenge to respond to the rising number of residents at risk of homelessness. The proposals for the Community Centres was on the meeting agenda and good progress had been made.
Service and financial planning for the coming year was well underway and Members were urged to put forward their ideas before the plans were discussed in December. This included ways to bridge funding gaps to bring more revenue into the Council and avoid reducing services.
Delivering affordable homes was a priority for the Leader and the first houses set out initially in the housing strategy were almost ready in Pitwood Park. Work on the flats in Cromwell Road, Redhill was ahead of schedule. A task force was being set up to bring about the sustainability action plan which needed the support of residents and businesses across the Borough. The Council had also developed effective strategic partnerships such as with the NHS. Health partners had seen the Council in new light during the pandemic and there were greater connections locally. The Leader had met the new Leader in Epsom and Ewell to discuss ways of working in the future to deliver shared services and benefits for both communities.
The pandemic had offered an opportunity to work closely with residents and support the most vulnerable. The communities were more open to volunteering, such as litter picking and understood more about the work of the Council and the support offered during COVID-19.
The government was continuing to look at local government reform and planning reform which will require the Council to respond and will take Member and officer time and resource. The Leader looked for support from Committee Members going forward.
Members made the following comments and observations:
Vaccination take-up – Members asked the Leader what the Council was doing to encourage people to take up a first and second dose of the Covid vaccine. The Leader said the Council was working closely with Primary Care Networks (PCNs) on the vaccination programmes that had been delivered across the Borough such as in Woodhatch Place, Reigate. They worked with the communications teams to support the messaging although they had received very little notice about the pop-up clinics. There was a role for Members to reinforce the messages. The information given to the Incident Management Team (IMT) was that there would be a peak in August/September of COVID-19.
Litter bin locations – Members reported that residents had been putting out plastic bags to collect litter in certain areas and had put in requests for a Council litter bins in these areas. They asked if the Council was doing a post-Covid survey of litter bin locations to support this work. It was confirmed that there was ongoing work to map locations of litter bins and if Members and residents had suggestions then to let officers know. Bins needed to be easily accessible from the road to make collection possible. A social media campaign was underway to remind dog owners to take home the bags of dog poo from their pets to remind people that it was socially unacceptable to leave dog poo lying around.
Working with the NHS – Members asked about further work with NHS partners in the north of the Borough. The Leader confirmed he was happy to do this and there were opportunities to work with colleagues in Epsom and Ewell as PCNs crossed different Council boundaries.
RESOLVED that the Committee noted the Leader’s update.