Statement to SKDC Annual Meeting

Council Leader Cllr Kelham Cooke, 17 September 2020

(Check against delivery)

Thank you, Madam Chairman, and welcome to your new role, I look forward to working with you in the year ahead, which promises to be a busy but exciting one.

It is almost a year since I stood in this chamber and asked for your votes and your support to become South Kesteven District Council's new leader. I said then that it was the proudest day of my life. That remains the case.

However, nothing could have prepared me, or any of us, for what was ahead; a global pandemic that would shake our way of life, our way of work, and our economy to the very core.

Covid-19 is still with us. It has devastated many lives and livelihoods, something which must never be underestimated nor forgotten.

I'm sure you would all join me in saying that our thoughts and prayers go to all those who have lost someone to this terrible virus, and to those in our communities who continue to struggle with its impact on their lives.

But I am also very proud of what we have achieved as a council and a community in the face of such unprecedented times. This is where the stats speak for themselves. As part of our response to Covid-19, we:

·       Awarded £29.1 million in Government grants to 2,535 businesses.

·       Contacted nearly 18,000 vulnerable residents personally to offer support and made 1,500 calls to vulnerable residents as part of our befriending programme.

·       Supported more than 2,250 households through the Council Tax Hardship Fund.

We also maintained a full waste collection service, collecting 80,000 bins a week; carried out 2,643 emergency housing repairs; and maintained our street markets to provide a safe and alternative source of fresh food whilst enabling many of our stall holders to continue trading. And the list goes on.

I know that many of you were personally involved in supporting our communities in a number of ways, so I would like to put on record my personal thanks to everyone for the part you have played in this collective success.

I also want to thank our staff, TeamSK. Within 72 hours of lockdown, we moved from a largely office-based team to working remotely, whilst maintaining a high-level of service.

For many this was a completely new way of working, and I know, that for some, it has been difficult as people juggled working from home with home schooling and other personal pressures. Other members of staff were deployed to support our critical services, and some remain furloughed.

It hasn't been easy. I am sure you would all join me in thanking our staff for everything they have done, from the boardroom to residents' doorsteps, to support and serve our communities.

There is, of course, a financial cost due to the impact of Covid-19.

That is why, Madam Chairman, my colleague, Cllr Adam Stokes, who I am pleased to say will remain as our Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, will be presenting an amended budget today.

We were in a strong position going into the pandemic because of successful management of our budget over the years and this puts us in good stead for the recovery.

Our record in responding to Covid-19 is impressive, but our achievements do not stop there. Since September last year, we have:

·       Secured £900,000 of Heritage Action Zone funding to restore the cultural heritage of buildings in Grantham town centre.

·       Held a 4th successful Stamford Georgian festival, celebrating our heritage, supporting community engagement and cohesion, and bringing economic benefit to our local economy.

In terms of housing, we have:

·       Adopted our Local Plan and agreed an early review which is due to start within weeks.

·       Started our programme of building high quality new homes of different tenures, including the completion of Wherry's Lane phase 2, in Bourne, and modular homes in Grantham.

·       Worked with Government to develop an improved repairs process for rented properties - both private and council housing.

Community spirit has shone through in 2020 as around 1,500 volunteers registered with the SK Community Hub, to support our vulnerable residents in response to Covid-19.

Through the SK Community Fund we helped to attract more than £2.5 million of additional funds for community and voluntary groups in South Kesteven.

This represents a 750% return on the council's investment - quite some achievement.

I know that our Cabinet Member for Communities, Cllr Annie Mason, who has kindly agreed to continue in her role, is looking forward to building on those community networks.

Another key part of our communities is art and culture. The Government has rightly recognised this sector as vital to our wellbeing and our economy.

My colleague, Cllr Rosemary Trollope-Bellew, has agreed to remain as our Cabinet Member for Culture and Visitor Economy and I know she is looking forward to implementing a new cultural strategy for our district.  

Before the pandemic, a different global crisis was grabbing the headlines and continues to do so.

I am sure that many of us here watched the BBC programme 'Extinction' on Sunday.

Climate change is an issue which I know many of you are passionate about, in particular my colleagues Cllr Dr Peter Moseley, who is continuing as our Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations, and Cllr Ashley Baxter.

There is still much to do here, but I am determined that we continue to make progress. Notably, we have:

·       Declared a climate emergency.

·       Published the council's carbon footprint for the first time and are developing an action plan to reduce our footprint.

I am sure, Madam Chairman, that I will have missed something, and I am equally sure that my colleagues will remind me if I have, but I would like now to turn to the future.

Next month, we will be presenting a new Corporate Plan to full council. There has been much good work done in the past to set out our direction of travel and work towards fulfilling our ambitions for the district.

But our new Corporate Plan takes us much further. It clearly articulates our vision: 'To be the best district in which to live, to work, and to visit',and underpins this vision with five key priorities supported by action plans for delivery.

Our district is full of promise and potential. It is home to innovative entrepreneurs and savvy start-ups; it is a base for global enterprise; and an inviting landscape perfectly situated in the heart of England. Our job is to harness that promise and potential and work with partners to:

·       Develop a clean and green future so that how we live and work respects and protects our environment.

·       Develop the goodwill and community spirit that already exists in our communities, and has been so prevalent in recent months, so that our communities thrive and are strong and healthy.

·       Build and maintain housing that meets the needs of all our residents.

To ensure we are able to deliver on these priorities, we also have a priority to be a High Performing Council.

Our Corporate Plan provides a blueprint to ensure that individual performance is linked directly to the delivery of our priorities and every member of staff has clarity over what is expected from them, as well as what they should expect from a modern and progressive employer.

To deliver high-quality services, we must attract and retain the best staff.

Today we have an amended budget. Next month, hopefully, we will adopt a new corporate plan. The third part of the strategic jigsaw is our corporate restructure.

If we are to have an efficient council that puts the needs of local people and local businesses first, we must ensure that our corporate structure and individual accountability fully aligns with our Corporate Plan and that our amended budget takes account of any costs incurred in doing so.

That is the reality of efficient business. I do not intend to dwell on this now, because our restructure is an ongoing process and, at the heart of it, we are talking about people's lives and livelihoods.

That is why our Chief Executive, Karen Bradford, has ensured that every step along this journey is taken carefully, sensitively, with the utmost professionalism, and a careful eye on balancing the books.

As we look to the future, we have much to do, and much to be proud of. Among our key actions for the next three years are:

·       Delivery of the St Martin's Park development in Stamford.

·       The regeneration of Grantham town centre supported by the Future High Streets bid and delivery of the Heritage Actions Zone programme.

·       Identifying and maximising opportunities to support the development of our town centres in Bourne, Market Deeping, and Stamford, learning from our experience in Grantham.

·       The adoption of a Tourism Strategic Framework, working with partners to promote our visitor economy and increase visitor spend in our district.

We will work in partnership with the housing market to stimulate housing growth; we will increase the supply of high quality, sustainable council houses, and work to reduce and prevent homelessness in our district.

We will also prioritise bringing private sector empty properties back into use. I look forward to hearing more about this from our Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning, Cllr Robert Reid.

Equality will become part of the fabric of South Kesteven. It will underline how we work internally as a council, and how we work with partners to tackle health, unemployment and other inequalities in areas of highest need.

We will continue to work in partnership with the police and our communities in tackling crime by investing in our CCTV service; make best use of different funding sources to support the voluntary and cultural sector within the district, improve and invest in local arts and culture venues and protect our most vulnerable residents with robust safeguarding processes.

We will also develop and adopt a sport and physical activity strategy. Whilst we are on the subject of physical activity Madam Chairman, our contract with 1Life is due to end early next year.

 

As a result, my colleague and Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Barry Dobson, has been assessing the future management options of the leisure service, especially in light of the impact of Covid-19 on this sector and the instability this has caused among leisure operators.

At the expiry of the current contract Cabinet have decided to transfer the leisure service to a wholly owned council company.

Whilst there may still be an ambition to secure a future contract arrangement in the medium term, transferring the service to the council company in the short term will provide us with greater control over how the leisure facilities are run and the activities that are offered.

In addition this will give the council flexibility to carry out the planned leisure improvements without dealing with loss of income claims or contract variations. Existing staff at the leisure centres will transfer to the new council company.

We will also continue our work to reduce the council's carbon footprint by at least 30% by 2030 and endeavour to become a carbon net-zero council as soon as viable before 2050.

 

We will continue our Big Clean programme and our higher street standards, as part of our commitment to a clean and sustainable environment.

We will work with the Lincolnshire Waste Partnership to reduce waste, tackle waste contamination and further improve recycling. And we will work proactively with EnvironmentSK to deliver high quality services and maximise commercial opportunities.

Madam Chairman, fellow colleagues, and SKDC employees. This is an ambitious agenda, but it has been developed meticulously and collegiately.

This is not my agenda; it is our agenda to deliver our vision and, ultimately, it will be our legacy.

I look forward working with you over the next 12 months as we continue to deliver for those we serve.

Thank you.