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 no questions from members of the public had been received under Council Procedure Rule 10.
Question 1 from Councillor Rands
Noting that the land on which Tunbridge Wells Target Shooting Club sits is on the list of assets for disposal and recalling this council voted on the 7th of July 2021 as follows:
“Mindful of the potential for changes in the allocation and use of sports facilities within the Borough, we recognise our commitments under the National Planning Policy Framework in general and paragraphs 96-101 in particular. This Council welcomes the policies in the Pre-Submission Local Plan (in particular Policy OSSR1) on the retention of open spaces and the requirement that losses should be made good by alternative equivalent or better provision. At the same time, we urge Cabinet to commit to always seek to ensure that alternative provision is available before any site is withdrawn for use or, if there are exceptional reasons why this cannot happen, all reasonable efforts are made to ensure that temporary facilities are made available to bridge the gap.”
What reasonable efforts has cabinet made to ensure the continuity of the club after a potential sale of that land and how much is that expected to cost?”
Answer from Councillor Fitzsimmons
The Council have been trying to engage with the shooting club for the past five years but have been unable to reach an agreement. Discussions are now with the Land Tribunal Service to broker a resolution and it is not appropriate to comment whilst this process is taking place.
Supplementary Question from Councillor Rands
Nothing to add
Question 2 from Councillor Roberts
“The council is to get around £800,000 in additional income from its investments, an additional £300,000 in carparking fees and extra income from Business Rates. So will the coalition now admit that the Conservative budget of last February, which we are still under, is set to return a surplus. And will you further admit that because of good Conservative management, the £944,000 black hole in our finances the Coalition claimed to have inherited is now, and always was, a myth used for political sloganeering with no financial reality.
Answer from Councillor Hall
Thank you very much for your question Councillor Roberts I appreciate someone who says what they mean and means what they say
There are two parts to this, so let’s deal with the question of the current deficit which you raised.
It’s still far too early to say what the final position will be for 22/23 but as reported in the latest financial management reports for Q2, the projected deficit for the financial year now stands at £706k. Any gains have been partly wiped out by doubling energy costs and inflation which you have already heard. We are still waiting on a local government financial settlement this month and there are no guarantees it will be favourable to us. A lot will depend on the economic success of the town centre over Christmas and visitor numbers. We will then be able to report on a revised position, for better or worse, when we have Q3 numbers, but any talk of a surplus is premature, unplanned and at this stage wide of the mark.
Now to the second part of your question. I must admit that in common with most people in our borough and the country at large, we have yet to be acquainted to anything resembling ‘good Conservative management.’ Unless, that is, you meant it ironically, quoting as you must be from a book of political oxymorons. But, I’m guessing you may have actually asked the question in all sincerity and really meant it. So, allow me also to answer it factually.
The £944k budget deficit, your party’s budget, presented by your administration this year and debated and voted on at Full Council is no myth. It might be an inconvenient truth to you, but it’s an indisputable fact and one that your party would do well to acknowledge. To even present it as a myth does a huge disservice to the public, who are being asked to believe that, contrary to what you’ve said in the past, not only was there never a budget deficit but that your party has by some miracle travelled in time to see into the future and spirit it away. The fact is this administration inherited a £944k budget deficit from the Conservatives. It also inherited a devastating outlook of worsening public finances over the next three years, which will rapidly deplete this Council’s reserves if left unmanaged. None of this was of our making.
I don’t point the finger at one individual for this. It’s a collective failure. Year after year of Conservative failure. Years of austerity and neglect of local government by the Conservatives at Westminster. And in Tunbridge Wells years of Conservative waste and neglect. Waste in spending over £10m of tax payers money on the misconceived Calverley Square project. Neglect in putting off the necessary decisions to tackle living beyond its means. We, as the Borough Partnership have not shied away from making a start on the tough decisions to address the budget deficit we inherited. The in year budget review, which your party opposed, is proof that the Borough Partnership is serious about its priorities and its promise to the public.
Our in-year budget review was the first step in our ambition to safeguard the Council’s finances. It is projected to deliver an additional £600k in income. However, in opposing every step this Council makes to put the finances on a more sustainable footing and denying that there is a problem, the Conservative party is signalling to the public that it would do nothing to address it. It would be better if they used their time in opposition to reflect on what they would actually do instead.
Supplementary Question from Councillor Roberts
Your answer was slightly unclear and rather ramblings, so I take it you do not accept that last May’s conservative Budget which is the one we are still operating under is going to bring in a surplus this year, which was articulate by the conservatives in 2022, and the supposed black hole which you claim is a myth created by the coalition.
Supplementary Answer from Councillor Hall.
Absolutely correct, I do not accept.
Question 3 from Councillor Bailey
In July, Cabinet gave council officers the authority to draw up Terms of Reference for the Community Support Fund to set out the basic details of how the fund will work. Given that we are now in December, has this document been completed and, if so, can it be shared with Full Council?”
“In light of the statement made by Councillor Warne at the beginning of the meeting, this question was withdrawn”
Question 4 from Councillor Holden
Your election material said, this would be an administration "committed to more open and consultative politics and to listen to the public and act accordingly". So do you accept that the 2/3 majority in favour of all out-elections in the recent consultation was a decisive expression of public opinion and will you now tell the public that you are no longer committed to listening and acting accordingly which is why you failed to support all-out elections”
Answer from Councillor Chapelard
Thank you Councillor Holden for your questions, I am not sure which specific item of election material you are referring to but as one of the most experienced councillors both here are TWBC and Kent Count Council and previously at Hart council in Hampshire, you will know why councillors consult with residents in my view public consultation is to inform the councils decision and as you said earlier this evening in your speech a consultation is not a referendum councillors are the final decision makers.
Supplementary Question from Councillor Holden
Thank you the bit that followed in my speech about a consultation not being a referendum, is that when you get a two third majority then it really is a referendum. Having voted against that overwhelmingly decision made by the resident on the all-out elections how having failed as a leader to say a single word in this debate not much leadership there is there will you now go and explain why you did that in the next edition of ‘Local’ please
Supplementary Answer from Councillor Chapelard
Thank you Councillor Holden I appreciate there are two arguments, argument for all outs and argument for by thirds and my belief is that this borough is best served by elections by thirds.
Question 5 from Councillor White
“Can Councillor Rutland please provide information as to how many applicants there where to Rural England Prosperity Fund and how many were successful”?
Answer from Councillor Rutland
The Council was required to prepare a Rural England Prosperity Fund (REPF) Addendum to its UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) Investment Plan within a tight time schedule. The Department for Rural Affairs, Food and Agriculture (DEFRA) indicated to local authorities that the REPF was a successor to the EU LEADER funding and would have a focus on Supporting Local Businesses and Communities and Place.
The Council worked with Sevenoaks District Council and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council to develop a grant scheme similar to the highly successful West Kent LEADER programme. Our three authorities enjoy an excellent track record of working in partnership, pooling resources to deliver these grants effectively and speedily.
Care was taken to make the eligibility for grants as flexible as possible. No call for individual applications from businesses or local communities was made by Tunbridge Wells at this stage and the same goes for Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling.
Instead, all three West Kent authorities convened a meeting of the rural stakeholders who were part of the Executive Local Action Group that previously administered West Kent LEADER grants to discuss setting up the REPF grant scheme. This group includes representatives from rural businesses and communities, who advocated for a replacement for the LEADER programme with a greater remit for who could apply and what projects could be supported.
The following interventions were selected:
1.1 Capital Grant Funding for Small Scale Investment in Micro and Small Enterprises in Rural Areas
1.3 Capital Grant Funding for Developing and Promoting the Visitor Economy
2.3?????Capital Grant Funding for Creation and Improvements to Local Rural Green Spaces
2.4?????Capital Grant Funding for Existing Cultural, Historic and Heritage Institutions that make up the Local Cultural Heritage Offer
2.6?????Capital Grant Funding for Active Travel Enhancements in the Local Area.
2.7?????Capital Grant Funding for Rural Circular Economy Projects.
Subject to approval by DEFRA, this grant scheme will launch in Year 2 of the REPF programme (April 2024). The scheme will be promoted widely to potential applicants.
In Year 1 of the REPF 2023-24, again subject to DEFRA approval, the Council will direct funding to urgent works to support the Weald Sports Centre. This facility is considered vital to rural communities in the east of the borough.
It is important to understand that the Rural England Fund is an add-on to the UK SPF which is itself aimed at the whole borough, including our many rural communities and businesses. This investment plan was approved by government last week and we are pretty much ready to go. The priority projects for year one include:
· The West Kent Business Support Programme, also in partnership with Sevenoaks and Tonbridge & Malling, in which start-up and newly formed small businesses across the borough will be provided with mentoring and small-scale financial support.
· Funding for Visit Tunbridge Wells to grow tourism in all parts of the borough
· Funding for Creative Tunbridge Wells which seeks to maximise social and economic benefits of the cultural and creative economy.
· And the Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Community Kitchen.
I hope this answers your question.
Supplementary Question from Councillor White
Thank you for a very comprehensive answer to that question, but I guess the short answer was that nobody was invited to apply and there were no successful applicants.
Cabinet may be aware that it is common practice for employers of reserve personnel to grant some additional paid leave to enable to complete their annual training commitment (typically a two week "camp" but not less than eight days consecutively deployed). As an employer of reserve personnel and a signatory to the Armed Forces Covenant does Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have a policy on reserve forces leave?”.
Answer from Councillor Hall
This is covered in our Time off for public duties policy which stipulates that:
“Leave without loss of pay will normally be granted to a member of staff to attend the annual summer camp for volunteer members of the non-Regular Forces
Supplementary Question from Councillor Rands
Do you know if reserved forces within the councils employment know about this policy.
Supplementary Answer from Councillor Hall
Councillor Hall advised that he would have to go away and ask the question and a written response will be provided
Update Response provided – A communication was shared via ‘all Staff Email’ prior to the Christmas break.
Question 7 from Councillor Bailey
At the October Cabinet meeting, Cabinet agreed to a very late change giving the s151 officer, the Monitoring Officer and the Portfolio Holder for Finance the power to terminate the decarbonisation works at the Weald Sports Centre if the project becomes financially unviable. Given the importance this Council places on reducing its carbon emissions, and given that the Weald Sports Centre is a large source of CO2, can Cabinet give assurance that the decarbonisation works won't be permanently terminated without first presenting all relevant evidence and options to Full Council?”
Answer read out by Councillor Rutland on Councillor Everitt’s behalf
The decisions taken at the Cabinet meeting in October have ensured that we were able to confirm to SALIX (a Government funded agency providing grants for carbon reduction) that the Council had the wherewithal to deliver the scheme securing the £1.4m of Government (SALIX) investment and ensuring this was not lost to the borough. The decision also enabled us to confirm with suppliers the contracts for delivery. Ongoing engagement with SALIX and particularly UKPN has enabled the Council to confirm its ability to deliver the scheme. There are always risks within construction and current price inflation is not helping anyone. Also the challenges of the UKPN process, timescales and costs has resulted in many local authorities having to abandon their carbon reduction schemes.
The amendment made to the decisions was to ensure that if for example the UKPN estimate we were expecting, but had not been received by the time of the Cabinet decision had been unaffordable and there was a very real risk that the new quote could have still been in the same cost territory of previous quotes, the Council would be able to re-evaluate the position and take appropriate action. I am however happy to confirm that the engagement with UKPN, with the welcome support from both Helen Grant MP and Greg Clark MP, we have agreed a future proofed cost for the works and are now awaiting dates for the works to take place. As a result we are confident that the scheme will progress as planned.