To receive a report from the Leader of the Council in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 2.4.
In summary, the Leader’s report commended the efforts of the Council staff, Members, and the workers on the frontline who have helped to fight COVID-19, through continued service delivery, handling beach management challenges and supporting businesses and will now begin to move on and recover from this. Additional detail to the report is attached as Annex 1 to this minute item.
Councillor Ashbee as Deputy-Leader of the Conservative Party responded on behalf of Councillor Game with the following points:
· There was agreement with the comments sending sentiments to families who have lost loved ones and thanking the staff members who stepped up to help at this difficult time to keep services going and providing an outstanding response to the needs of our community.
· The behaviour of those visiting our beaches cannot be condoned. But it is good to see our residents enjoying the opening of pubs and bars once again.
· The assistance central government will give local authorities for recovery is uncertain
· A cross-party finance working group should be set up to assist in reviewing a future emergency budget, with the input of all elected Members.
· On the subject of Uncle Mack’s plaque, its future should be decided through consultation with the Overview and Scrutiny panel and the town council, rather than one person. The Pleasurama development will be an undoubted improvement to Ramsgate and a site that has sat derelict for many years.
· In regards to the earlier news surrounding the granting of the Development Consent Order (DCO) to the Manston site, the Conservative group welcomed the decision and is pleased to move on in a time of uncertainty. Districts across the country will now struggle to attract inward investment and create jobs at a time when many businesses will be struggling as a result of the pandemic. Thanet is fortunate to have private investors willing to put £300m towards a project that will create good long term work and lay the foundations for a solid economy for the future
The Leader replied to Councillor Ashbee’s comments with the following points:
· A common appreciation was shared for the efforts of the Council staff during this emergency situation.
· There was agreement that Uncle Mack should be called in; Councillors have the right to air their views and the Leader is looking forward to hearing them.
· The DCO decision was announced a few hours prior to the Council meeting and even normal arrangements for the Leader’s speech wouldn’t allow lengthy reflection on the matter. As the Secretary of State has overturned the Planning Inspectorate’s decision on the application, it is expected that the decision will be challenged and that the uncertainty is not over. The Council will engage constructively with whichever decision comes from this.
Councillor Reverend Piper as leader of the Thanet Independents Party made the following points:
· Congratulations were shared to the officers of the council for their sterling efforts during this crisis. Commitment across all teams, including the finance team, refuse collection and even the digital team to keeping the Council running was noted.
· There was agreement that it had been a sad time for those in the community who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and gratitude was expressed to all local NHS staff and those in working in care homes for putting themselves on the frontline for our safety.
· The return to the Council Chamber to resume face-to-face discussions was eagerly anticipated.
· The Black Lives Matter demonstrations should not have been condoned by the Leader of the Council due to the current restrictions on public gatherings.
· The comments regarding racism in Thanet by another Councillor from the Labour group were disputed.
The Leader replied to Councillor Reverend Piper’s comments with the following points:
· The holding of demonstrations in Thanet despite restrictions on public gatherings was problematic, yet they were lawful, orderly and not stopped by the police. It is not for the Council to stop these demonstrations if they do not break the law and this Council should respect them.
· Councillor Rawf intended to provide evidence for his comments and while generalisations were not helpful, the issue of racism (in Thanet and nationally) should not be denied.
Councillor Garner as Leader the Green Party made the following points:
· The Leader’s sentiments were echoed and condolences were sent to those who had lost loved ones across Thanet. The efforts of the NHS staff should be suitably respected.
· The response by the Council staff who have continued to deliver essential services is commendable, including democratic services who have ensured that Members continue to meet virtually.
· Many across the district have been adversely affected by the pandemic shown by the increased need in food banks and voluntary groups springing into action to help those in need, alongside the district and the town councils.
· The Green Party was disappointed that £1.5m granted by the government was not directly used to help residents; the £2m earmarked for the Thanet Parkway station should be used to continue to deliver essential services.
· The recovery phase is an opportunity to review working practices in all areas of Council service delivery and will not only make accommodation savings but reduce our carbon footprint.
· The Black Lives Matter movement and the conversation this has provoked will lead to more open and honest debate around the issue of racism. The history and significance of the Uncle Mack plaque will be discussed further at the next Overview and Scrutiny Panel meeting.
· The Manston DCO has ignored all facts considered by the examining authority, recent court rulings on the government’s climate responsibilities, and the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the aviation sector. The decision will be challenged in the courts and will continue on into the future.
· It is positive to see work progress on the Pleasurama site. Thanet’s special marine environment needs protection and an environmental inspection should have been done on this area.
The Leader replied to Councillor Garner’s comments noting that:
· The new leader of the Green Party was welcomed.
· In regard to funding from the government, the Council has a considerable financial deficit due to the loss of revenue during this period and this money was needed to plug it.
· But a substantial amount of money has been spent on expenses relating to COVID-19, the exact figure of which will be announced at a later date.
· The decision to grant money for a Thanet Parkway station should remain. This substantial investment will not be spent elsewhere in the district if it is not spent on this. It is not just an extra stop but part of a vision to improve the local economy. Ultimately it will be Kent County Council’s decision to agree to the investment.