To receive any questions from members of the Council, of which due notice has been given in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 10, to be submitted and answered.
The Mayor advised that two questions from members of the Council had been received under Council Procedure Rule 10.
1. Question from Councillor Scott
“I would like to congratulate all those Council officers and employees who have worked hard to provide support to residents and local businesses during the Pandemic and the long periods of lockdown. Looking towards the ending of the lockdowns, I ask the Portfolio holder to advise what work is being done by the Council, Tunbridge Wells Together and other supported organisations, to reinvigorate the town during this summer and the remainder of 2021?”
Answer from Councillor March
“A range of officers and volunteers across the borough have provided support to our residents and businesses since the start of the pandemic last year. The Restart grants were launched on 12 April for retail and hospitality in rateable property and the ARG restart grants to address other sectors and businesses not in rateable value property is to be launched later this week, so we would encourage businesses to check the council website for eligibility. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is a paid-up levy member of the Business Improvement District and as part of Royal Tunbridge Wells Together we promote the reopening through the latest Royal Tunbridge Wells video, in the Welcome Back campaign, and the new loyalty scheme, which is a free of charge loyalty card with a programme funded by Royal Tunbridge Wells Together. When a customer makes a purchase, the business stamps the card with their unique code. At 10 stamps you pop the card into one of the allocated boxes around the town and once a month a winner is drawn and the prize is £100 of gift vouchers to spend in any store in the scheme. Royal Tunbridge Wells Together is also providing ‘reopening kits’ to businesses as well. Across the borough the ‘Say Hi to Your High Street’ campaign for Paddock Wood, Southborough, Hawkhurst and Cranbrook has been launched with press coverage and social media promotion. The ‘Visit Tunbridge Wells’ website has been revamped and recently relaunched including listings for events, attractions and accommodation across the borough. The Community Safety Unit and Environmental Health are overseeing and supporting businesses in reopening and responding to any Covid security breaches. Working with West Kent Partnership, Kent County Council and The Growth Hub on business support programmes for later in the year. Also on the High Street in Royal Tunbridge Wells there is an improved scheme of planters and parklets. The West Kent Kick Start programme, a jobs programme for 18-24 year olds already has young people recruited to Tunbridge Wells businesses. The first Kick Starter started on 25 February this year and since then another 10 have gone into the workplace. In total, 129 placements have been approved. Finally, there is wraparound training support for young people on the Kick Start West Kent scheme and this is being delivered by North Kent College.”
Supplementary question from Councillor Scott
“I ask the cabinet member if she would join me to thank and encourage the whole range of amateur groups, businesses, individuals and other organisations who continue to put on events and other activities in the town and encourage them to continue through a full schedule to 2022 and beyond and to recognise that they are key in making Tunbridge Wells a more vibrant town in which to live, work and visit.”
Supplementary answer from Councillor March
“I always welcome volunteers and I congratulate them on the work that they are doing as well as businesses doing their bit. There is a growing list of events being planned for this summer and autumn and looking into next year. Yesterday I attended a Safety Advisory Group meeting to discuss an event with all the interested parties, from police to parking, litter to loud noise and the Council is very much involved in making sure the events are safe and run successfully as planned. So any events, whether professionally organised or volunteer organised, will be given the same support and advice and facilitation through the events toolkit which I know they will all find helpful because everybody uses it.”
2. Question from Councillor Hayward
“In November 2020 the Audit and Governance Committee instigated a Major Project Review working group in order that we may learn for the future from the successes and failures of the Calverley Square Project. The Committee was very clear in its composition and was to include a representative from all parties. Councillors Pound for Labour, Rands for Lib Dems and myself for The Alliance were nominated by the 4 December deadline. Now that it has been officially acknowledged that the line in the minutes relating to political balance was added after the minutes were approved for submission, are you going to continue with the exclusion of Councillors Pound and myself from the Audit and Governance Major Project Review?”
Answer from Councillor Dawlings
“In a statement to the November Audit and Governance Committee, I advised that I fully accepted the recommendations made in the Grant Thornton Value for Money and Governance report and planned to assemble a small reference group to take these recommendations forward. For the Council, responses to audit reports are prepared by the relevant head of service. It is squarely an executive function for the portfolio holder to lead on the response to the Grant Thornton review and the development of guidance for future projects and to report to the Audit and Governance COmmittee.
The agenda item was included, for the November meeting, with the agreement of the Audit and Governance Chairman but with no notice so, unfortunately, there was no Officer report or recommendations prepared. Nevertheless, when introducing the item, Acting Chairman, Councillor Reilly, stated that the aim of the group was to ‘incorporate the learning from Calverley Square into a best practice guidance document which can then provide a clear framework to bring together strategic project assessment, project management, appraisals and post audit disciplines for future business planning and project work within this Council.’ He proposed the review should be sponsored by the portfolio holder. I particularly wanted Tony Quigley, an Independent Member of the Audit and Governance Committee with wide experience in such reviews, to be involved with the reference group. I also arranged for a report from the Council drawing together reports received during the planning of Calverley Square which I hoped would be of help to the reference group. This report was prepared by Michael Josh who is the Project Management Office Lead and Project Manager of the Council’s Business Delivery Unit.
After the 30 March Audit and Governance meeting at which members hotly disputed what had been said and agreed at the November Audit and Governance meeting, I was grateful to be approached by Tony Quigley and Geoff Turner offering to undertake this review independently – very firmly they wanted to keep away from the politics. So that is what is now happening. Tony and Geoff entirely independently are preparing a draft report which they will then share with all Audit and Governance members. All input from the Audit and Governance members will be considered for their final report which will be presented to the A&G Committee in July 2021.”
Supplementary question from Councillor Hayward
“Will all members of this review group have access to unredacted electronic copies of all of the GVA/Alison Young monthly project management reports from October 2018? This is so that they may compare those with what was contemporaneously reported to members of the Scrutiny Committees.”
Supplementary answer from Councillor Dawlings
“All members of the Audit and Governance Committee will have access to the draft reports prepared by independent members Tony Quigley and Geoff Turner.”