By Natasha Harpley – Leader, Broadland District Council Labour Group
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On the 21st of May, Broadland District Council held its first Full Council meeting via Zoom and this was also live streamed on YouTube.
It was quite a hefty agenda and due to the restrictions of virtual meetings, it took over 3 hours to complete. There weren’t many overly contentious issues and only one item that had a significant vote split – this was the proposal to charge for “pre planning advice‘. The original plan, after reaching some consensus at committee level, was to allow certain exemptions and then impose the fee from April 2020 onwards. This was then revised to be delayed until 2021 as a gesture to recognise Covid-19 related financial hardship – which all councillors were supportive of in principle. The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to exempt charities, not for profit organisations and town/parish
councils from the charge – an amendment that the Labour group were happy to support. However, the Tories voted en bloc against the amendment, so the unamended version was passed 30 – 11.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of funding andexpenditure created the most debate. The recommendation to allow an additional Covid-19 expenditure of £100,000 pm was passed unanimously, although questions were raised regarding the setting of this budget and how quickly it could be authorised, likewise whether this figure was an inflexible cap. I said that I was concerned about residents needing help towards the end of the month when the spending limit had been reached, but was reassured that the cap was retrospective and additional funds could be accessed if needed. I also asked if the council was pursuing the lobbying of government for more funding: both directly and
through the local MPs. I added that at the start of the Coronavirus lockdown, the government told councils to spend “whatever they needed” to keep people safe and that they would be reimbursed. However, the government later backtracked on that commitment, forcing councils to be more careful. The portfolio holder for finance informed council that they had been doing so and that the local MPs were aware of Broadland Council’s financial needs. We are glad that that they are “aware” but not convinced that they will stand up to their own party and hold them to account for the funding let-down, which could leave Broadland District Council with a finding shortfall of £4 million, depending on when restrictions end.
Another important issue raised was IT services provider Capita, experiencing issues administering some resident’s £150 Coronavirus council tax hardship discount. A report published ahead of the meeting stated: “We are currently working with our council tax system supplier to administer the £150 reduction in council tax. System suppliers are experiencing challenges in administering this change, mainly due to changes being made by MHCLG to the requirement. This is impacting the timeliness of implementing the reduction.”
Capita have been issued a warning because of their ongoing IT issues which they expect to be resolved within a week or so but no Direct Debits of council tax bills will be requested in the interim.