Cllr Barry Rickman, Leader, speech to council meeting

18 February 2021

This evening, Cllr Barry Rickman spoke to the council meeting about the 'year like no other' we have had.  

His speech highlighted the important work we have been doing over the past 12 months, to help residents and businesses through the coronavirus pandemic as well as continuing the business as usual council services. The meeting also set the council's budget for 2021/22 and the Council Tax.  

You can watch the meeting back in full via our YouTube channel or you can read Cllr Barry Rickman's speech below.

Cllr Barry Rickman's speech

A year like no other!

In my budget speech 12 months ago none of us could have anticipated the year we have had. It has been a very difficult year with the covid pandemic impacting on all of us in a way we have not previously experienced. 

I am pleased to say both our community and the District Council have done well. Now with the vaccination programme at the forefront of the country's response and the Roadmap set out this week by the Prime Minister all of which indicates a much more positive time ahead as we return to a normal way of life and working even if as I suspect it will be very much a new normal. 

I would like to use my introduction to the budget to reflect on what we have achieved as a community and to look forward with positive hope on what we want and can achieve for our future generations. 

As a council over the last 12 months we have responded in so many ways. Critical services have not stopped. New ways of working have become "normal". The success of staff home working and the holding of virtual member meetings has only been possible because of the investment we have made in our ICT over the last 4 years. Our budget for 2021/22 includes over seven hundred thousand pounds on further ICT improvements

New tasks and responsibilities we have delivered included the Local Response Hub, business grants, supporting those social distancing, homelessness, supporting public health, covid ambassadors, environmental health officers supporting safe business, re-opening the high street, and introduced a regular residents email service, with over 14,000 subscribers. 

The council's revenues team has administered eighty two million pounds worth of financial support to businesses who have suffered as a result of closures and reduced trade. We have also offered over half a million pounds in Council Tax relief to assist individuals and families in financial hardship. These sums will continue to grow as we now enter the stepped approach to easing the national Lockdown, as outlined by the Prime Minister earlier this week.

I'm so thankful for everyone involved in delivering such a smooth operation of these grant and support schemes. Thank you for the response from Portfolios and all our staff. 

During the pandemic, we fully supported the Government's 'Everyone In' campaign, providing Covid safe accommodation for rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness, accommodating over 130 households.

We have secured over eight hundred thousand pounds of government funding to support vulnerable homeless people. We continue to bring on board more council owned temporary accommodation facilities to offer a better alternative to external B&B accommodation. 

In line with our Corporate Plan commitment, we are making great progress in bringing on board more new council housing for local people.

By April this year, we will have brought on board over 200 new additional council homes and are planning on spending fifty three million pounds over the next 3 years as we work towards securing a total of 600 new council homes by 2026.  

I am particularly pleased that we are broadening our housing offer to include Shared Ownership properties for the first time.

The picture shows our new Shared Ownership properties at Mulberry Close, Blackfield which have received an incredible response from local people interested in buying them.

Our Housing Maintenance teams have kept working 24/7 during the pandemic, to ensure our tenants' homes are looked after and our Housing Revenue Budget for 2021/22 provides over eleven million pounds for the delivery of our programmed and responsive repairs.

I am particularly pleased with how the council is putting green initiatives at the forefront of what we do. 

Our Greener Housing Task and Finish Group has just been successful in bidding for over a quarter of a million pounds of Government funding to provide energy efficiency upgrades to the homes of tenants on lower incomes. The council will be topping this up with a further half a million pounds to deliver heat pumps to off-gas council homes.

In the coming weeks and months, the administration will be setting out its plans, across all services, to go greener.

Work is also continuing to look for a new greener and more efficient refuse and collection service, and I am grateful for all of the 3,865 responses to the council's waste strategy consultation.

I am so grateful to our refuse and recycling teams who throughout the last 12 months have continued to provide such a wonderful service to all of our residents despite the pandemic and the with an increased amount of waste to collect.  Current figures show that we had to collect an extra 20% more waste and recycling in December 2020 compared to 2019 as lot more people order Christmas gifts online. 

Safety of our staff carrying out these front-line services is paramount and I know how much work has gone into revising working methods to ensure our staff stay safe in the course of their duties.

Unfortunately, we have seen over the past 12 months a 59% increase in flytipping incidents.  We aim to investigate each of these and where possible bring the offenders to task.  Currently we have a number of ongoing investigations.  These incidents not only impact on the environment but also on the council's budget with the cost of dealing with flytipping increasing by 66% in the last year to nearly one hundred thousand pounds.

We will continue to work with our partner organisations to track down where possible those who are responsible and we are investigating every incident of fly tipping, with the aim of reducing these incidents ands the associated costs of removal.

Following lockdown in May 2020 we witnessed an increase of 40% in visitor numbers to our beaches and a significant increase in litter on our coastline. We managed to use LGA funding aimed at changing the behaviour of those who litter. #crabby was an initiative that saw a reduction of 29% of waste collected from our beaches and a saving of ten thousand pounds in additional costs.  

Using this type of initiative is a must for 2021 and we expect to see an increase use of our beaches and coastline as we come out of lockdown yet again.  

During the pandemic we have also been responding to the damage caused by the various storms during the winter of 2019/20:

  • the most significant damage was that caused to Westover Cliff and the Sea Wall at Milford on Sea
  • in August of 2020 works commences to carry out urgent works to the sea wall to protect over 48 properties which were deemed at risk
  • over 15,000 Tonnes of rock have been imported and have been placed in front of the failing sea wall to give it extra protection

I am pleased to say that we have been given a quarter of a million pounds from the Environment Agency to carry out scoping works for what could be a much longer term coastal project for Milford on Sea.

The Food and Safety team have dealt with over 1,100 service requests relating to covid since March 2020. This includes complaints and queries from the public and requests for advice from businesses concerning opening up and covid controls measures they have put in place.  This will continue into 2021 and our budget allows for these additional costs.

In recent weeks, officers have visited over 100 supermarkets and food retailers, 37 other premises such as garden centres, DIY stores and builders merchants to support them with continuing to implement covid measures and have made contact with many of the day nurseries in the district to offer further advice.

The Licensing team introduced pavement licences to support local businesses and worked closely with event organisers last summer to assist them in providing safe, covid secure events.

During the pandemic we have increased the cleaning activities on our public conveniences.  For the financial year 21/22 we have continued to budget for these additional duties to ensure where we can that they are COVID safe.  

We have continued to progress with the replacement of the new public toilet facilities for the District with Milford on Sea being replaced in 2020 and subject to the required permissions being granted,  we are expecting to see a new facility at Lymington Quay opened for the spring of 2022.

The proposals at Lymington Quay offer an enhanced facility and a financial return, an important part of our financial resilience.

With more pressures than ever on local government finances, we cannot underestimate the importance of financial resilience. We must continue to be pro-active to tackle our financial challenges head on.   

As government grants and funding reduces, we must ensure the burden on council taxpayers is kept to a minimum by delivering efficiencies.

We are an administration which looks beyond a 4-year cycle and focuses on, and understands the longer term implications of the decisions we take.  

The council's financial strategy makes sensible and achievable financial plans to ensure the council remains financially responsible, sustainable, and resilient.

We as councillors are a significant piece of the jigsaw in addressing the two and a half million pound budget gap over the next 3 financial years.  We simply cannot brush this under the carpet or make promises which we cannot keep.  We need to act responsibly, and we need to act now.

We have overseen numerous service reviews, adopted new and exciting strategies, but we must do more to protect the financial sustainability of the services so well regarded by our residents.

We must not only concentrate on what we do, but on how we do it.  We owe it to all of residents and Tax Payers to provide our services in a way which is sustainable, and cost effective.  We're not too proud to understand that this may mean alternative methods of service delivery are necessary, and indeed is what is best for the protection of services to our residents and service users.

Council Tax plays such a significant part in our delivery of services, now representing over 2/3rds of our funding outside of income generated within services.

As we tackle ongoing funding reductions, we must strike the right balance between local tax paying for local services, and ensuring the protection of household income to our to most vulnerable.

In 2020 the council adopted the Local Plan 2016-2036 bringing with it a step change in growth across the District.

At a virtual Planning Committee members resolved to grant planning permission for a new sustainable community and centre of marine and maritime innovation at the former Fawley Power Station - the largest brownfield regeneration project in south England. 

Demonstrating environmental leadership we are one of the first council's in the UK to require Biodiversity Net Gain on all new development planning is now working with land owners to look at potential additional projects. 

Delivered full Building Control and Planning Service throughout the pandemic including 14 virtual Planning Committee meetings. The team are now working with ICT and Environmental Health to procure a new IT system to support the delivery of more efficient and customer friendly services and respond to the government agenda around digitalisation in planning . 

We have ambitious plans to support the growth of the economy across the Waterside and to provide much needed homes and jobs in a way that enhances the special environment of the area. In partnership we produced and agreed high level Vision for the Waterside document in 2020 in the coming year we will be working to identify and deliver projects.   

We recognise the important role cycling and walking plays in addressing the impact of climate change, promoting health and well being and being a cheap way to travel. We have worked with HCC to develop a Local Cycling Walking Investment Plan for the Waterside and are now preparing a joint Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan for rest of District with NPA/HCC/FE. This important document will enable us to apply for national funding, and use monies collected from development to deliver projects on the ground.      

Planning for the future we are preparing a Joint Strategy for Growth and Infrastructure for South Hampshire through PfSH

Managing recreational pressure across the District, delivering green infrastructure projects  including the Sweatford Water project to create safer pedestrian routes and enhance biodiversity

We value the special character of the area and are working hard to delivery projects that improve our environment and offer attractive open spaces for people to visit as an alternative to getting into cars and driving to the sensitive areas in the National Park. Recent projects include improvements to the Castleman Trail public rights of way network and Poulner Lakes Ringwood - enhancement of informal open space, improved accessibility, enhanced biodiversity

The Economic Development team has been busy supporting our local economy with over £4m in Discretionary Funding allocated to local businesses unable to secure financial support elsewhere

Including:

  • 60% of businesses supported under Additional Restrictions Grant 1 were home based
  • support provided to Limited Companies, new enterprises and tradespeople
  • majority of applications assessed and paid within one week
  • £120k secured from Solent LEP including Rural Resilience Fund in direct response to Covid-19 and Rural Growth Fund to support wider business investment
  • our Pop Up Business School initiative has supported over 40 local individuals through week-long online course focused on starting their own enterprise 
  • throughout 2020 we have significantly improved ongoing business engagement we now are in weekly contact with 60% of businesses in District
  • we have supported our towns and parishes through the Re-Opening High Street safely initiatives 
  • in the coming months we will be increasing the level of one to one business support we give and play a greater role in supporting our residents to learn new skills and improve pathways to employment 
  • improving Broadband connectivity is more important than ever as working from home has become the norm, through our Local Plan all new homes will have high speed fibre connection.           

We have maintained our 24/7 delivery of Appletree Careline and the out of hours services.

During this time we have responded to 42,356 careline requests for help to ensure the vulnerable people within our community get the help they need.

I was very pleased we launched the new website in July, the more user-friendly site has resulted in the doubling of some transactions (parking clocks) online compared to the same time last year.  We are working to bring more transactions online during the next year.  This does not only meet the needs of our community, but this is all done at a reduced cost.

A Local Response Centre was established in March 2020 to provide support for some of the most vulnerable in our community during the pandemic. This service continues to be run 7 days a week, working with the voluntary sector to provide the help needed.

The Budget for 2021/22 includes over two hundred thousand pounds for supporting local organisations to deliver vital services and support across the District.

It has been a challenging year for the Health and Leisure centres, but at every stage the service, staff and customers have ensured where possible the service has continued in a covid secure way.  

Our leisure centers have also helped us in support of our community by becoming Covid Vaccination and Testing sites.

We are fortunate in that around 70% of our forecast five million pound income loss for 2020/21 will be covered through government support. We have a further two million pounds loss built into our budget for 2021/22, again with a proportion covered by government support.

This year saw the conclusion of the Health and Leisure review and I am pleased that we will be recommending a partnership with Freedom Leisure, which will not only sustain our service, but increase participation to improve the health and wellbeing of our community, all at a reduced cost to the Council Tax payer of 7m to 8m over the next 11 years.

A positive outlook for the future:

  •  priority for Community Wellbeing to lead us out of the pandemic
  • supporting residents and business by
    • addressing significant health and skills inequalities
    • developing affordable and efficient housing
    • creating new sustainable jobs
  • recognising that we need a Green Recovery in all that we do
  • ensuring we have a "Green environmental thread" in all we do by:
    • delivering biodiversity net gain and natural capital
    • supporting and delivering green infrastructure initiatives.

A council-wide approach to the Green Agenda:

  1. develop a council-wide response, looking at key issues, as we have already commenced in housing and within our review of waste collection
  2. use Task and Finish Groups of councillors and guests to engage and develop a strategy based around specific "green" topic areas
  3. Task and Finish Groups to report directly to Cabinet
  4. possible structure set out. 

The opportunities for us are: 

  • the Freeport Bid, local economy recovery
  • the Waste Strategy, green environmental recovery and efficiency
  • investing in technology and smarter working, green environmental recovery and efficiency
  • delivering sustainable development across the district including green infrastructure, biodiversity net gain, habitat creation and carbon capture.

2021-2022 council budget and Council Tax

Despite the New Forest District Council, Council Tax charge making up less than 10% of the typical Council Tax bill, we do not take a £5 annual Council Tax increase lightly. 

However, being a responsible administration does mean taking tough decisions. For 2021/22 this will include a 1.5% rent increase to our housing tenants in line with government guidelines. 

We have a budget which not only protects services but invests in services and my belief is that an average Council Tax charge of £183.36 per year for everything that this authority delivers to our community continues to represent excellent value for money.

Chairman I thank my Cabinet and all members and officers who have played a role in constructing such a well-balanced Housing Revenue Account and General Fund budget. I wholeheartedly support the recommendations put forward tonight as adopted by the Cabinet on 17 February.

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