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The Chair requested a minute’s silence in memory of Lesley Johnston, a long standing and much valued member of the Environmental Health team. She would be greatly missed by friends and colleagues at the Council.
A minute’s silence was held.
Public statements were made by Ms Thomas, Ms Roberts, Dr Ghosh and Mr Darcy in relation to Item 17. Mr Ross, representing Stop Stansted Expansion, had a statement read on his behalf. Summaries of their statements have been appended to these minutes.
Apologies for Absence and Declarations of Interest
To receive any apologies and declarations of interest.
Apologies for absence were received from the Youth Council.
Councillor Criscione declared a non-pecuniary interest in relation to Item 12 as he was a member of the Conservative Environment Network.
To receive the minutes of the previous meetings held on 8 December 2020 and 7 January 2021.
The minutes of the meetings held on 8 December 2020 and 6 January 2021 were agreed as correct records of these meetings.
To receive any announcements from the Chair.
The Chair summarised his engagements since the previous meeting and said he had 50 miles to go before he had completed his charity walk. He thanked all those that had supported him, and he had nearly raised £3000 for the Stroke Association, his chosen charity. He also thanked officers and members for their help in producing a Chairman’s Charter to reduce single use plastics in the district. He said a further update would be provided in the next two weeks. Finally, he added that UDC would be launching a “making a difference award” to promote those who had selflessly helped others who were struggling throughout the pandemic.
To receive matters of report from the Leader and members of the Executive.
The following Cabinet Members have submitted reports for information::
· Cllr John Evans, Portfolio Holder for Planning and the Local Plan
· Cllr Neil Reeve, Portfolio Holder for the Economy, Investment and Corporate Strategy
· Cllr Colin Day, Portfolio Holder for Communities, Youth and Public Safety.
· Cllr Louise Pepper, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Green Issues; Equalities
The Leader spoke on the Stansted Airport appeal and said it was correct for Counsel to solely focus on the appeal. He rejected the accusation that the Council’s defence was “apologetic” and said it was not appropriate to comment further at this time whilst the appeal was ongoing.
Councillor Pepper informed Members that the first Equalities Listening Event would take place on 9 March 202. She thanked officers for their assistance in setting up the event and encouraged people to get in touch and book a place to participate
Questions to the Leader, Members of the Executive and Committee Chairmen (up to 15 minutes)
To receive questions from members for the Executive and committee chairmen.
In response to a question from Councillor Criscione relating to the pre-determination of the 3G Football Pitch grant, Councillor Armstrong said the reason for haste was that the project had been ongoing for eight years and required additional funding now to ensure their work had not gone to waste. He said there was further funding available and he was happy to look at further applications.
In response to a question from Councillor Dean regarding an Oxfam statement that had been released in light of Investment Opportunity 12, Councillor Reeve said he could not comment on specifics due to the commercial confidentiality of the investment in question. However, he said all requests for borrowing were brought to Full Council for all members to debate, and each opportunity was considered in the light of what is in the public interest. He said a vote was taken on each opportunity presented to Members and, that whilst not everyone would agree with the outcome, the will of the majority prevailed and each decision had been taken with the necessary consideration.
In response to a supplementary question, Councillor Reeve said Yemen had not been discussed specifically but the ethical nature of the investment had been deliberated on.
In response to a question from Councillor Lemon relating to the cost of dividing the Council’s accounts due to the fact that the Statement of Accounts had yet to be signed off, Councillor Hargreaves said he was not aware of the specific cost but a response would be circulated in writing.
In response to a question from Councillor Barker regarding the low level of engagement to the consultation on the Local Plan, Councillor Evans said the current process had been innovative in securing early consultation with the public and he considered it a success.
The Chair indicated that 15 minutes had passed and he would only take questions from those with their hands already raised.
Councillor Khan asked whether Councillors Lodge, Hargreaves and Reeve had displayed appropriate behaviour at the previous Cabinet meeting in which a member of the public was named. He asked whether they would apologise publicly and whether they felt they were fit to serve as councillors. He said he would accept a written answer.
Councillor Gregory asked Councillor Reeve whether he was aware of the criticism faced by Oxfam for its own ethical standards by a range of monitoring bodies.
In response to a question from Councillor Caton, Councillor Lees said the administration would pay heed to the report and recommendations of the Ark housing study that had recently been published.
To consider the Members’ Scheme of Allowances 2021-22 report.
Diane Drury, the Chair of the IRP, presented the report outlining the proposals for the Members’ Scheme of Allowances 2021-22.
Ms Drury said the IRP’s deliberations had been focused on the impact of Covid-19 on the Council and the wider community. Specifically, the Panel had been mindful of the economic impact; with unemployment on the rise, and the public sector pay freeze, the Panel felt it was right that councillors demonstrate solidarity and therefore a freeze in Members’ Allowances had been recommended to Council. She said it was very important to note that there were positives of the past year, and praised Members for rising to the challenge of a remote decision making process. Furthermore, virtual meetings had provided greater inclusivity, for both the public and members, and had cut costs in terms of travel. Looking forward, she said that in future years there would be a need to review the Opposition Leaders’ allowance. She concluded that in next year’s review she hoped for more extensive dialogue with Members.
The Leader thanked the Panel and proposed the recommendation set out in the report.
Councillor Lees seconded the recommendation and highlighted the fact that Cabinet Members took a voluntary reduction in their allowance, to accommodate the greater number of members within Cabinet.
Councillors Sell and Oliver expressed support for the proposal.
RESOLVED to adopt the recommended scheme of allowances for the year 2021/22 as set out in Appendix 1 to the report, effectively retaining the current level of basic allowance and all existing special responsibility allowances (SRAs).
To consider the Draft Corporate Plan 2021-2025.
Councillor Barker declared a non-pecuniary interest as a Member of Essex County Council.
The Chair took Item 10 next in proceedings and asked Councillor Reeve to present the report on the draft Corporate Plan.
Councillor Reeve said the Corporate Plan had been thoroughly reviewed in light of the new Local Plan and the impact of Covid-19, but had been found to be robust and therefore largely remained unaltered. The only change from the previously agreed document related to ‘Youth’; the previous iteration had focused on the role of the Youth Council, while the updated document had broadened the scope to Youth more generally. He proposed approval of the Plan.
Councillor Driscoll seconded the proposal.
Members discussed the Corporate Plan and the following points were raised:
In response to these points, Councillor Reeve summarised as follows:
The Chair moved to a vote. The proposal was carried 25 for, 9 against and 3 abstentions.
RESOLVED to approve the Corporate Plan 2021-2025.
To consider the Medium Term Financial Strategy and Budget 2021-22
Councillor Hargreaves presented the report on the Medium Term Financial Strategy and Budget proposals for 2021/22. He began by thanking the Director – Resources and Finance and the Assistant Director – Resources for their excellent work during an extremely challenging year. He summarised the appendices that made up the budgetary reports and highlighted areas of note throughout the documents. He proposed the recommendations as set out in the report..
Councillor Coote seconded the proposals.
In response to a point of order raised by Councillor Criscione, the Chair said the debate would focus on the budgetary papers as a whole, including the Council Tax resolution, although a separate recorded vote would be taken on this resolution.
In response to a question from Councillor Sell regarding the rise in employee charges, the Director – Finance and Resources said the rise in charges related to the future investment in the Planning Department, the Little Canfield business park project and the yet unconfirmed 2% pay rise that would depend on a central Government decision.
In response to a question from Councillor Sell regarding the Carver Barracks running track, the Director – Finance and Resources said a report would be considered at Cabinet in March that detailed the progress of works on the running track, with a completion date due in September.
In response to a question from Councillor Sell in relation to Government funding for the upcoming elections, the Chief Executive confirmed that £15 million for the local elections and £16 million for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner elections had been made available to local authorities to ensure these elections were Covid-19 safe.
Councillor Criscione said the Conservative Group could not support this budget as he did not agree with the council tax rise in a time of economic hardship. Taxes should remain low to ensure more money stayed in individuals pockets. He asked why investments had not been located in the District and questioned why the Council was asking for further money from its residents, and highlighted the County Council’s decision to freeze council tax for another year. He requested that Members reject the budget regardless of party allegiance.
Councillor Khan asked how much of the Climate Change budget had been spent and where; how much money had been generated by the Council’s portfolio of investments in the past financial year; and how would the budget be communicated to residents following tonight’s meeting.
Councillor Pepper said that no money had been spent from the Climate Change budget. An independent person would be brought in to advise on how best to spend the budget over the next three years.
Councillor Hargreaves said the message would be communicated by council tax bills. He said he would circulate details on the net income generated by the investments outside of the meeting.
Councillor Barker said there had been a mistake in the papers; those paying Band D would in fact pay £10 more a year, not £5. She could not support a budget that raised taxes ... view the full minutes text for item 10.
To consider the Pay Policy Statement report.
The meeting was reconvened at 7.00pm on 25 February. Business was resumed at Item 11 – Pay Policy Statement. Councillor Criscione gave his apologies as he had prior commitments.
The Chair reconvened the meeting and a register of those present was taken. The Chair then read an apology to Dr Ghosh, a public speaker on 23 February, for interrupting her statement. He asked Members to refrain from revealing confidential information at a public meeting.
Councillor Hargreaves summarised the report to Council and proposed the recommendation set put in the report.
Councillor Armstrong seconded the proposal.
The proposal was carried unanimously.
I. Approve the Pay Policy Statement
II. Give delegated authority to the Assistant Director – Corporate Services to update the Pay Policy Statement and associated documents with pay multiple and average salary figures as at 31 March 2021 and with revised salary information once the 2021/22 national pay award is agreed.
To consider the Draft Climate Change Strategy.
Councillor Pepper summarised the report relating to the Uttlesford Climate Change Strategy and thanked Members and officers for their help in preparing the document. She said an Action Plan would follow, which would provide measures of success and add further detail to the Strategy, and this had been delayed due to the welcomed news that £1 million had been allocated to fight climate change over the next three years. She proposed approval of the Strategy.
Councillor Pavitt seconded the proposal and said he had worked closely with Councillor Pepper and he admired her dedication to the task at hand. This was a complicated and fast changing subject and this Strategy was a great beginning.
In response to a question from Councillor Barker relating to the cost of a dedicated Climate Change officer, the Director – Finance and Corporate Resources said the role was currently being evaluated and details could be shared once the cost was known.
In response to a question from Councillor Barker relating to the reduction in the Council’s carbon footprint since staff were working from home, Councillor Pepper said she would respond in writing.
Members discussed the Strategy and there was broad support for the proposal.
Councillor Gregory said he looked forward to receiving the action plan at Scrutiny; he said clear objectives and measurements of success were essential.
Councillor Khan said the carbon reduction figures were contained in the document.
In response to a comment from Councillor Armstrong regarding potholes, Councillor Barker raised a point of clarification and said tarmac and concrete were not environmentally friendly materials but such materials were required to endure heavy use and resist the weather.
Councillor Pepper made her concluding statement; she said this had been a huge undertaking and said she was proud of the cross party working practices that had led to the Strategy. She said expert advice would be sought in terms of how best to spend money to combat climate change, and asked Members to support the proposal.
The proposal was carried unanimously.
RESOLVED to approve the draft Climate Change Strategy set out in Appendix 1.
To note the draft Schedule of meetings 2021-22.
In response to comments from Councillors Freeman and Driscoll, the Leader said an additional ‘budget only’ Council meeting would be scheduled in future years, to ensure adequate time was given to the budget.
The schedule was noted.
To consider the Appointment of Monitoring Officer and Delegation of Powers report.
Councillor Asker presented the report and proposed approval of the recommendation.
Councillor Oliver duly seconded.
The proposal was carried unanimously.
I. Council appoints Ms Jane Reynolds as Monitoring Officer for the council and gives her delegated power to grant dispensations under s.33 Local Government Act 2011 to district, parish and town councillors who have disclosable pecuniary interests to speak and/or vote on issues relating to such interests and to grant dispensations under the Code of Conduct to district, parish and town councillors with other pecuniary interests to speak and/or vote on issues relating to such interests;
II. the powers delegated to the Assistant Director Governance and Legal, by the council’s Scheme of Delegation be delegated to Ms Reynolds.
Appointments to the Standards Committee
To consider nominations to the Liberal Democrat vacancy on the Standards Committee, and to appoint a substitute member.
· Councillor Dean has been nominated for the substantive vacancy
· Councillor Loughlin has been nominated as a substitute member.
Councillor Dean had been nominated to the Liberal Democrat vacancy on the Standards Committee; Councillor Loughlin had been nominated to the substitute vacancy.
Councillor Dean proposed approval of the nominations; Councillor Sell seconded.
Councillor Driscoll requested that each appointment was taken separately.
Councillor Sell this was against protocol; the appointment was reserved to the Liberal Democrats and it was for the Group Leader to put forward nominations. The convention was for such appointments to go ahead unopposed.
Councillor Asker said she respected the convention but she objected to the appointment on the grounds the members had recently resigned and now had decided to return to the Committee.
There was dissent to Councillor Dean’s nomination.
The vote was carried 24 for, 12 abstentions.
Councillor Loughlin’s appointment was carried unanimously. However, she resigned as a substitute of the Committee immediately, due to the treatment of Councillor Dean’s appointment.
RESOLVED to appoint Councillor Dean to the Liberal Democrat vacancy on the Standards Committee.
To consider the Member motion relating to the Nolan Principles as proposed by Councillor Pavitt.
Councillor Pavitt presented his motion on the Nolan Principles. He proposed as follows:
Whereas it is noted that there has been some ambiguity over institutional and personal commitment to the Nolan principles as a result of conflation with other matters,
We, the undersigned, note that the Nolan Principles underpin all actions of this Council and our actions, in the public interest, as individuals. This Council reaffirms its commitment to the seven Nolan Principles of Public Life - Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.
He said the motion was simple and clear, and urged members to support this proposal rather than the amendment.
Councillor Tayler seconded the motion and said he was doing so to build respect and trust between groups and to reaffirm Council’s commitment to the Nolan principles. He said the previous motion, considered at Council on 8 December, that had been rejected at Council, which some had purported was a rejection of the Nolan Principles, had been rejected due to the crux of the motion itself, which related to a specific matter.
Councillor Khan said he was surprised by the “Damascene Conversion” in the Members support for the Nolan Principles.
Councillor Pavitt raised a point of personal clarification; he said he had not voted against the Nolan Principles.
Councillor Khan asked Members to show integrity and vote for the amendment.
Councillor Isham said it was strange to reaffirm principles to which all councillors were duty bound; all members were in support of the Nolan Principles.
Councillor Asker said this situation could have been avoided if the previous motion’s clauses had been taken as a separate vote and this guidance should have been provided to the Chair.
Councillor Sell had given notice of an amendment and proposed as follows:
Whereas it is noted that there has been some ambiguity over institutional and personal commitment to the Nolan principles as a result of conflation with other matters.
We, the undersigned, note that the Nolan Principles underpin all actions of this Council and our actions, in the public interest, as individuals.
This Council therefore reaffirms its commitment to the seven Nolan Principles of Public Life – Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.
We therefore acknowledge and recognise our obligations in terms of these principles to hold ourselves to full and open scrutiny, and to stand up to and report all actions or omissions by our colleagues and elements of our council that appear reasonably to contradict these principles.
Councillor Sell said he was looking to build a consensus with his amendment, and it was by no means opportunistic.
Councillor Dean seconded the amendment.
Councillor Hargreaves asked members to vote down the amendment. He said it was looking to amend the Code of Conduct to incorporate the Principles. This had been discussed in 2017 by the Standards Committee and they had decided against incorporating the principles, as they lacked definition and could lead to a political mechanism which could be used against Members in a potentially vexatious way. ... view the full minutes text for item 16.
To consider the Member motion regarding an Ethical Investment Protocol as proposed by Councillor Fairhurst.
Councillor Fairhurst presented his motion relating to an ethical investment protocol. He said he had questioned the governance process surrounding investments for three years, and had asked for a number of measures to be put in place, including the appropriate training for Members who sit on the Investment Board. He said it was essential that an ethical protocol was put in place, and that Council listened to residents, regardless of whether dissenting voices were in the majority. He said it was right that a protocol was put in place now, even if there were no plans to add to the investment portfolio, as it would give a clear message that the Council was committed to integrity and good governance. He proposed the motion as follows:
Recent controversy surrounding a particular investment has once again raised the issue of ethical investments considered by the Council.
It is unfortunate that these parameters were not agreed when the Investment Board was established, but the Council recognises that it has a public mandate and is using public money which warrants a higher degree of ethical selectivity than a private investment portfolio.
This Council therefore resolves to establish and agree an Investment Protocol and process which reflect the highest ethical standards and values and will exclude all investments that compromise or do not meet or exceed these values.
This Council will demonstrate its commitment to ethical integrity by requiring its investment strategy not to include the purchase of any commercial assets which are directly or indirectly associated with issues of human rights, environmental or social harms.
Councillor Khan seconded the proposal and reserved his right to speak.
Councillor Luck said he had been impressed by Councillor Reeve and his account on Investment Opportunity 12.
Councillor Lodge raised a point of order and said the amendment should be taken at this point.
In response, the Chief Executive explained that the amendment had yet to be proposed and a number of Members had raised their hands indicating that they wanted to speak on the substantive motion first. The correct procedure was being followed.
Councillor Light said she was in mourning as children were dying in Yemen every 10 minutes. She said investments had to be ethical and asked whether councillors could make such investments in good conscience. She said the first draft of the motion had been deemed too prescriptive by officers, and now the amendment was reducing the scope of the motion even further. She supported the motion.
Councillor Freeman said he supported an ethical policy but he said the reason the Council were making commercial investments was in order to protect finances and fund services in light of the reduction in central Government funding.
Councillor Reeve proposed an amendment to the motion as follows:
To strike out the substantive motion and replace with the following wording
This Council commends the commitment to ethical integrity as set out in paragraphs 36 and 37 of the Commercial Strategy 2021 – 2025, and the requirement therein to ... view the full minutes text for item 17.