Agenda item

Reports from the Leader & Members of the Cabinet

To receive reports and any announcements from the Leader and members of the Cabinet on matters falling within their area of responsibility:


(a)        Report of the Leader of Council (verbal);


(b)        Report of the Place Portfolio Holder (attached);


(c)        Report of the Finance Portfolio Holder (attached);


(d)        Report of the Housing & Community Portfolio Holder (attached);


(e)        Report of the Wellbeing & Community Partnerships Portfolio Holder (attached);


(f)         Report of the Customer Portfolio Holder (attached);


(g)        Report of the Contracts & Commissioning Portfolio Holder (attached);


(h)        Report of the Technical Services Portfolio Holder (attached); and


(i)         Report of the Internal Resources Portfolio Holder (attached).


The Council received written reports from Portfolio Holders. The Chairman invited the Leader of Council to provide an oral report and the opportunity for other members of the Cabinet to give updates on matters concerning their relevant portfolios.


(a)        Leader of Council


Councillor C Whitbread asked for his name to be associated with the Chairmans earlier comments on congratulating Pat Seager, Tom Carne and the Corporate Communications Team on how well and professional they acted on bringing Operation London Bridge into fruition.


Since the last Council meeting, he reported that he had been having regular meetings with the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town board, separate to the meetings where issues were discussed that were pertinent to Epping Forest in making sure that it was understood what was happening.


He advised that the Council were also playing an active role in the devolution piece following on from the Governments White Paper on Levelling Up. There was a certain element of this paper that the Council hoped to get the best from for the district in the future. It was not devolution that was originally anticipated with local government reform, this was very much around seeing how the Council can operate better as a West Essex Alliance. The work between Uttlesford, Harlow and Epping Forest along that corridor were going to become more important as time goes on, bearing in mind, that the Government have now announced investment loans. This Council was committed to getting the best we can for the people of Epping Forest, whether that be in skills, employment and opportunities because we want to see Epping Forest prosper and do well. In order to do this, as a Council, we need to make sure that we remain in a good financial position and stated that he had been working closely with Councillor J Philip, Finance Portfolio Holder to deliver a budget in the most productive way possible.


He stated that he was proud of the progress that this Council were making with its Council Housebuilding Programme, where we were seeing the delivery of quality council homes for the future.


The Corporate Plan was being developed, which was a strategic document for the future and was an important piece of work that we had been doing collaboratively across the council which has been challenging as it was a very difficult time for everyone, the cost-of-living crisis that was affecting residents across the district, and the impact on us as a Council as we were all affected by inflation.


(b)        Internal Resources Portfolio Holder


Councillor S Kane advised that he would like to update members on the Local Land Charges position. Members will be aware that there had been quite a backlog over the last few months with up to 10 weeks and more for land searches to be completed. This was a result of a government initiative to centralise the registry search function with an online database. The Council have had to upload over 60,000 records to the central system, which required data cleansing, data formatting having to re-submit file errors to the government database. He stated that he was pleased to inform members that the government have now accepted the data that we have updated and the team were now busy working on the backlog which they have gotten down to 7 weeks and by the end of this month we should be back to the normal 10 day turnaround time.



(c)        Finance Portfolio Holder


Councillor J Philip advised that looking forward to next year the financial situation was bad. Just to summarise we have a projected expenditure of somewhere in the region of £19 million and a predicted income of around £15 million therefore leaving a gap of around £4 million between what we need and what we think we have got. The HRA was all right at the moment but in 10 or 11 years’ time it will move into a more challenging financial position but we have the time to work on that and I know that Councillor H Whitbread will be looking at the 30 year plan to bring that into balance.


This Council had a real problem coming in the next financial year and were looking at that gap of £4 million. There were a lot of things we did not yet know and probably wont know for a while in terms of where inflation was going, what were the costs going to be for energy supplies and how much money the Council were going to get from Government, we were therefore taking our best estimates at the moment and he fully expected those estimates to change between now and when a report comes to Cabinet in December with an updated view of the budget. He also expected the budget to change again at Januarys Cabinet and the final budget to Council in February 2023.


He stated that the Council would continue to protect its frontline services and make sure that the most vulnerable in our society were looked after but there will be costs and will be things that we have to pass on. A detailed report will go to scrutiny but at this moment in time so much was unknown.


(d)        Housing Portfolio Holder


Councillor H Whitbread highlighted the event with the opening of Spinks House in Waltham Abbey. She thanked the Chairman for attending and former district Councillor Liz Webster and stated that these two large family homes in the heart of Waltham Abbey were a real testament to how successful the Councils house building programme had been. These new houses have been built to the highest standards in an energy efficient way particularly in mind of the current energy crisis in trying to reduce the cost of energy for our tenants.


The HRA account was something she was going to be looking at in close detail in the coming weeks and months, considering the challenges around inflation and how this may affect the future of the Councils Housebuilding programme. A comprehensive 30 year business plan had been set regarding regeneration and council house building which may now have to be slightly modified to take into account the cost of borrowing. She highlighted that this Council was very focused on council housebuilding and their regeneration programme.


She advised that she had been involved in an event held in collaboration with Voluntary Action Epping Forest which hosted Ukrainian refugees and their host families in the Civic Offices. This was an opportunity to introduce these people to the various relevant community partners from the NHS who attended and gave out covid vaccinations, the local Job Centre, the Community Police team and the Councils housing team. As well as being an information event it also gave the refugees and host families to socialise.


Last month she advised that she visited the Ninefields Estate in Waltham Abbey along with the Police, Fire and Rescue Service, Citizens Advice and NHS Partners and got involved with a door knocking activity where we were seeking to find people who had various different needs and required support. This was really a successful event with hundreds of doors knocked on and support and referrals given where necessary.


(e)        Place Portfolio Holder


Councillor N Bedford advised that following on from Inspector Jonathan Ball who had been working very closely with the Council and the officers who have been doing an extremely diligent job in making sure that they get the changes to the further main modifications to the Local Plan. We were expected to launch at the end of the month and there will be an update on the website. It was critical that we are clear what this stage of the consultation was about, which was the further changes to the further main modifications only and it was not an opportunity to resubmit previous representations or main modifications that have not changed. Some points to note were that representations will be encouraged to be made online as much as possible, although emails and hard submissions were possible.


E-mail and phone contacts for Planning Policy would be provided for those with queries and updated guidance made available. All material will be made available online and would be supported by hard copies at the Civic Offices and at libraries. Members will be updated via the members briefing notes notification which will go out externally to consultee on the database and via Council press and social media promotions.


We were ensuring officer awareness across the Council via the staff news letter with direct liaison across teams.


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