September 11, 2021 9:49 AM
By Councillor Dave Busby
For the supply chain the combination of Brexit and CoVid has generated the perfect storm. The news reports on the shortage of lorry drivers and the resulting shortages in goods. During CoVid, many smaller businesses struggled and had to sell out to larger companies. Councils have exacerbated the situation by approving applications for massive warehouses.
So, what are the consequences of this? Let's take an example of a local hotel chain who prior to CoVid had many contracts with smaller local suppliers - an approach encouraged by councils. With their suppliers now under the control of huge national companies the hotel chain is now in direct competition with much larger, prestigious outlets in the larger cities. Given the pressures on deliveries the suppliers focus on honouring their larger clients leaving our hotel short of laundry, food and drink.
In the 'old' days the hotel could go to their supplier and collect the goods but now these are transported to the large distribution centres before onward delivery. This has added an extra journey into the process - not desirable when there is a shortage of drivers. The hotel has had to resort to shopping locally when deliveries don't materialise but this is frowned upon by the supermarkets who find shelves stripped of certain products.
The alternative - which is happening - is for the hotel to shut for a number of days and to cancel big events where supplies cannot be guaranteed. Weddings, parties and Christmas lunches are all under threat. Housekeeping staff have to work much longer hours as laundry is not delivered until the middle of the afternoon, if at all. The hotel sector does not operate on large margins and short-term problem-solving eats into these margins.
We can expect the situation to get worse before getting better. However, difficulties create opportunities and as a council we need to be aware of this and work much closer with our local companies to ensure the health of the local economy.
As we hopefully come out of CoVid restrictions will you be reverting back to life as was or have you moved to a new 'normal'. Working from home, shopping on line, avoiding public transport, visiting smaller towns & villages, making more use of outside space for exercise and socialising and becoming more I.T. savvy. These all have a significant impact on service providers especially local government and its planning team.
Should we, for example, be providing 'hubs and clubs' - part-time virtual office space with meeting rooms closer to where people live? If this kind of space was provided locally, would you use it?
When seeking exercise do you just make use of the many footpaths across the village and would you like to see some kind of outside exercise equipment? If you are a cyclist, would you make use of a dedicated cycle route to Ipswich or a circular route around the Shotley peninsular?
With more remote working will we see people working for more than one employer? If you are an employer, are you finding it difficult to recruit people with the right sort of skills? Should we be offering apprenticeships to people of all ages?
At Babergh District Council we are keen to hear your views on the questions above and any other topic you feel relevant - please feel free to e-mail me (your district councillor) at the address below.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so it is hardly surprising that many working practices have changed beyond that imaginable twelve months ago. At the beginning of the year office workers may have said that they could work from home on the odd day but now those same people have reversed their position completely i.e. will only go into the office if absolutely essential. The switch in location has also brought about a change in working attire, hours and content.
Getting up at 6.00 after 5 or 6 hours of troubled sleep - is it the book I'm reading, the stimulating tv programmes or just the general activity of an ageing brain and lack of activity of an equally ageing body. A quick check of my diary shows that I have a planning meeting (that I have prepared for), a briefing (that I haven't) and a Parish Council meeting (which I need to).
Are we all suffering from topic staleness? As a BDC (Babergh District Council) cabinet member I receive weekly CoVid briefings from the chief executive, another one from the council leaders; daily bulletins from the Local Government Information Unit and monthly magazines from the Local Government Association. This is on top of the usual tv news cycle - morning, lunch, tea-time and evening). Is any of it actually 'news'? We have been hearing the same lines from the same presenters for 9 months and far from guaranteeing a 100% understanding we still get "I wasn't sure of the rules".
Anyway, I digress, time to grab some breakfast - I believe it is the most important meal of the day so it is substantial(ish) - fish fingers and baked beans on toast or eggs and bacon, porridge, etc. I eat it watching GMB and the 'smooth' talking Piers Morgan. There is the first change, pre-CoVid I would have been on the road to Ipswich at 7.30 to avoid the traffic and guarantee being on time for my 9.30 Planning Committee.
Planning is a tough bag - the decisions we take can make or break people's lives and often both at the same time. There are many policies to guide us into making the right call but I see planning as an art not a science and as a result it is as much about opinions. If you build a house 200metres from a listed building how much harm will it cause. Is it more important to protect a 'view' from the middle ages or provide much needed housing? Often the 'right' decision cannot be delivered because of our policies, Government guidelines and precedents. After much discussion the committee makes its decision and, yes, it's close 6 - 4. Could I have done better? Why did I not manage to persuade more people? Were my views correct? What will the public reaction be to the decision?
A quick lunch whilst catching the end of Bargain Hunt - don't you just love it when a £20 oddity sells for £200 - then into 3 hours of Joint Cabinet briefing on a whole array of issues. This also done virtually via Microsoft Teams which has the benefit of being able to switch off your camera and mike. I know men are not supposed to be able to multitask but I find it an ideal time to get stuck into a jigsaw. Normally we finish in time so that I can catch the evening news.
The last meeting of the day is a parish council meeting over Zoom. I have forwarded on any centrally issued briefings on CoVid, etc so my spot is more of a Q&A session. I normally listen to the rest of the meeting and interject if I can be of help.
Not all days are as full as this but we do seem to be a lot busier since we moved to virtual meetings.
Babergh and MS Cabinets have approved a raft of environmental measures to help the councils achieve their ambitions of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. This decision will now form the councils' first Carbon Reduction Management Plan, setting out how it aims to fulfil the ambition of becoming carbon neutral within the next ten years.
These are the first steps in achieving the long-term objective to reduce the councils' current emissions of 5,452 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year to net zero. The climate change task force took advice on the areas to target first to achieve the greatest impact.
Headline actions include:
Councillors have today agreed to an £180,000 upgrade in CCTV provision to ensure that Hadleigh and Sudbury remain safe towns.
Babergh worked with Suffolk Police, Hadleigh and Sudbury Town Councils and neighbouring authorities on proposals for a fully compliant, updated CCTV system.
CCTV coverage helps to reducing crime and disorder - in addition to assisting police with finding missing people. The current CCTV system installed twenty years ago has become outdated.
Both Town Councils will make financial contributions to the ongoing costs.
Pending approval, future Community Infrastructure Levy contributions will provide funding to upgrade the CCTV to a fully digital wireless system.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
The Secretary of State confirmed the extension to the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB to include additional areas along the southern edge of the Stour estuary in Tendring, Essex and two beautiful small river valleys, the Samford Valley and the Freston Brook in Babergh District, Suffolk. In total there is now 38 square kilometers (about 10%) more protected landscape as a result of the announcement.
Suffolk's Delivery of the Local Outbreak Control Plan
Suffolk has put in place a model to deliver the plan which is centrally co-ordinated by the Suffolk COVID-19 Coordination Centre (SC19CC). All information (including outbreak notifications) and national guidance is received into the SC19CC. This enables a complete system overview and a co-ordinated response allowing tasks to be allocated to the most appropriate partners.
A number of enabler workstreams, including data, testing and contract tracing, have been identified which feed into the SC19CC to provide critical information to enable a timely response to an outbreak or key information to support preventive actions.
A number of delivery work programmes have also been established to identify complex settings, complex groups and complex individuals, complete risk assessments and develop preventative tools. They have also identified the most suitable Outbreak Manager and developed clear pathways, action cards and process to allow the SC19CC to provide a robust and resilient response to both prevention of outbreaks and management of outbreaks.
The main objectives of the SC19CC are:
• Planning officers for Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils are in the running for a national award… having paved the way for technological advances as part of 21st century planning.
The Development Management team, which looks after planning matters for both councils, is shortlisted in the Best Use of Digital and Technology category at the annual iESE - Public Sector Transformation Awards 2020.
The category recognises the innovative use of digital tools and technology in order to improve services for residents.
Judges were impressed by how the team had streamlined the planning application process for residents across the districts, bringing teams and systems together in order to become one of the top performing authorities for timely planning decisions. The team has also introduced electronic case management and a mobile app in order to put vital information at the fingertips of officers and the public - with public searches of information leaping from 600K in 2017 to 1.3m in 2018. And, although not yet in use, they have started to pave the way for future technological advances, such as the possible use of drones and augmented reality as part of the 21st century planning process.
• Babergh District Council tonight approved its budget for 2020/21, including an increase in council tax that will see £5 a year added to the bill of a Band D property.
• A proposed increase of 3.1% to council tax - equivalent to just 10p a week or £5 over the course of a year for a Band D property (increases range from 6p per week for the smallest Band A property to 19p per week for the largest Band H property).
• No change in the Council Tax Reduction Scheme that sees poorest residents pay just 5% of their bill.
• A change to empty property discount, reducing the period that unoccupied and unfurnished properties pay discounted council tax from three months to 28 days, in order to bring empty properties in the district back into use.
• Continued investment in CIFCO - the council's property investment company, as agreed in last year's budget. CIFCO makes a significant contribution to the money required to run the councils' services, without which residents would face either a substantial hike in council tax bills to fund the shortfall, or cuts to services.
• An increase in long-stay car parking charges from £2 to £3. However, short-stay parking for up to three hours will remain free at all of our town centre car parks.
After four years of reductions, the council is also proposing putting up council house rents by 2.7% meaning a £2.38 per week increase for tenants - although, even with this increase, rents are still lower than in 2015/6. Sheltered housing tenants also face an increase of £2 a week on their bills, but their utility payments remain static for another year.
• A number of shops in Suffolk are offering refills for a host of household items in a bid to cut down on the amount of plastic and packaging we use.
The Suffolk Waste Partnership has launched a handy online directory which lists the shops, businesses or charities that host refill points for items such as cleaning products, toiletries and dried foods, such as rice or oats and even loose-leaf tea and chocolate. At the moment there are 22 organisations which stock refills, but the partnership is encouraging other businesses to consider introducing similar schemes.
• Now Mid Suffolk and Babergh District Councils' cabinets are set to discuss proposals to ensure the councils are poised to provide a discretionary retail discount, local newspaper discount and pub discount to support ratepayers across the districts as quickly as possible.
The Government pledged to:
• increase the retail discount from one third to 50% and include cinemas and music venues within the scheme
• extend the duration of the existing newspapers discount
• and introduce an additional discount for pubs