To receive questions from members for the Executive and committee chairs.
Councillor Loughlin said that before the election Councillor Lodge had said that he would abolish the Cabinet system and that immediately after the election he had said he would start the process but that since then the size of the Cabinet had increased to ten Members. There had been nine meetings of the Governance Review Working Group scheduled between September 2019 and April 2020 but only four had taken place. The Leader confirmed that work and consultations were on-going through the Governance Review Working Group and a report was awaited. Councillor Coote apologised for the lack of progress and confirmed that there had not been many meetings of the Working Group recently but that the next meeting would be held in September with a report being brought back to Council after the meeting.
Councillor Sell thanked Executive Members for their reports and particularly commended Councillor Freeman’s report. He noted that at least one Member of the Executive had failed to provide a report since last year. He asked for a progress report on the Carver Barracks running track. The Leader said that the local newspaper had reported that work had started, there were some logistical delays that he would be following up with the army and that he would be in a position to report back in a few days.
Councillor Barker asked the Leader how many “Duty to Co-operate Member Meetings” relating to the Local Plan had been held in the last year. The Leader said that he did not have the figures to hand and agreed to respond. Councillor Barker asked that the details be circulated to all Members.
Councillor Hargreaves provided a verbal update on the Council’s finances. He said that the latest Government return was predicting a deficit of £3.17m due to Covid- 19; the Government had provided £1.05m to date and there might be further support to follow but there would clearly be a financial shortfall this financial year. He said that the Council had applied for an £80,000 grant from the Re-opening of High Streets Safely Fund. He said he was concerned that Councillor Criscione had recently written what he considered to be a political letter to the local newspaper implying that there was money to spend and that this was creating a false impression.
Councillor Driscoll asked a question about Europe recently agreeing funding of £370m for the pandemic. Councillor Hargreaves said that he did not think these funds would be directed to UDC. Councillor Coote confirmed that funds would not be forthcoming as they related to the next financial year and the UK had not contributed. He asked if the Council’s budget would have been balanced were it not for Covid-19. Councillor Hargreaves confirmed that all budgets had to be balanced but that Covid- 19 had badly affected income streams.
Councillor Light asked for regular written reports on Council finances and stated that she was not impressed by the reference made by Councillor Hargreaves to the recent letter by a Member to the local newspaper. Councillor Hargreaves referred Members to the regular updates issued by the Director- Finance and Corporate Services. He said that he would not normally comment on letters but felt that Members should all pull together in the current circumstances.
Councillor Caton referred to the Planning Playing Field Pitches Strategy that had identified the need for floodlit football pitches and asked what progress had been made. Councillor Armstrong reported that the work in Saffron Walden was almost complete, discussions in Dunmow were moving forward but that meetings with the community in Stansted had yet to take place and that he would be looking to take this forward through Zoom meetings.
Councillor Khan expressed concern about job losses at Stansted Airport and whether there had been contact with management and the unions. Councillor Day stated that he had not been in contact with relevant bodies but Councillor Coote confirmed that he had been in contact with the Unite Union and with pilots and other staff losing their jobs and that there was a demonstration organised by Unite on Friday.
In response to a question from Councillor Criscione about the Executive decision to temporarily suspend the Statement of Community Involvement, Councillor Evans stated that the Statement of Community Involvement would be on the Local Plan Leadership Group agenda next week, where there would be an opportunity to review matters.
Councillor Light supported the excellent work of the Climate Change Working Group. She asked for clarification of the statement about empowering people to have a bigger say on public money spend and asked what public money was available. She also asked how many additional cycle racks there would be at Audley End Station. Councillor Pepper responded that only essential spend was currently being permitted but that in future years local residents would be empowered to have their say through prioritisation of key objectives. She said she would write to Councillor Light with relevant information about cycle racks. Councillor Eke added that at a recent meeting of the Uttlesford Transport Forum, East Anglian Railways had said there would be an increase of 60 new spaces for cycles at Audley End Station.