Communications by Members of the Cabinet
The Cabinet Member Healthy Lifestyles reported that she had been working with volunteers and wished to pay tribute to staff at GCHQ who have been instrumental in the analysis of how the community help hub was working. The analysis would support the council continuing to work with partners to develop a way forward. She also reported that she had been working with cultural partners to develop the cultural strategy. The virtual schools VE event was a great success. She had also attended a number of virtual meetings with European partners regarding sustainable development goals and local finances and the impact of Covid. She also reported that she had attended meetings in relation to Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and how they are going to treat patients, and which patients they will treat, in the future. In this respect, she requested that the Leader write to Gloucestershire Hospitals regarding Covid red and green hospitals.
The Cabinet Member Housing updated members on the work of Cheltenham Borough Homes (CBH) to move their business online, which has been challenging. Their priority has been maintaining critical services and supporting tenants. They have been working closely in partnership with both the Cheltenham Trust and Cheltenham Borough Council on its hub operation. CBH have made calls to their tenants across the board and in some cases have made welfare visits, with the necessary Covid 19 precautions. The pace of change is picking up again as lockdown is lifted and CBH have a ‘better normal’ project in place to manage the transition of all services to new ways of operating. In closing, the Cabinet Member Housing drew Members’ attention to the work being done in supporting the most vulnerable in our community, the homeless and rough sleepers. At a time when the crisis was at its height, and the pace of activity was ferocious, the effort from the council, CBH and many charity and community partners has been extraordinary. He wished to put on record his thanks to all those involved in a huge team effort. He also thanked the Leader of the council for all his efforts over and above usual business during the pandemic.
Starting with waste and recycling services, the Cabinet Member Clean and Green Environment reported that all kerbside collection services have continued throughout the Covid crisis and that subscriptions to the garden waste service have increased. He wished to record his thanks to all staff who have worked extremely hard and also to residents who have contributed to keeping operational employees safe from the virus by adhering to the guidance. The Cabinet Member updated on the household recycling service, which has successfully reopened and is increasing capacity, and on the bulky waste services which was restarted in early June. In terms of parks and gardens, a clear decision was taken early that this service would continue, including regular maintenance and keeping public toilets open. The exception to this, in accordance with government guidelines, was the closure of children’s play areas. The Cabinet Member also updated on the early decision to keep cemeteries open, unlike many other councils, despite challenges with limited staffing numbers. In relation to the crematorium, very hard decisions had to be taken in accordance with government guidance and to protect staff, funeral directors and visitors to the site. He wished to place on record that at the forefront of all discussions and decisions were the family members and the friends of loved ones and the understanding that the decisions being taken would have significant and distressing impact. The number of mourners allowed at crematorium services has now risen to twenty and this is being kept under constant review. The Cabinet Member shared his heartfelt thanks to all colleagues and partners across the town who are involved with keeping services running, who should be proud of their contribution.
The Cabinet Member Finance reported that one of the positives to report is that this council was the first in the county, and one of the first in the country, to grant cash to businesses from the council’s cash flow, totalling £3.9 million, ahead of any government grant being received. To date £22.2 million has been paid to 1769 qualifying businesses. In addition, working with Stroud, Gloucester and Tewkesbury councils, the county council, Cheltenham BID, the county council and GFirst LEP this council lead the discretionary grants scheme aimed at those businesses which missed out first time around, particularly small and micro businesses including additional local priority to support the hospitality sector. To date, 80 applications have been received. The Cabinet Member was particularly pleased with our approach to working with central government with a clear message of our retained ambitions and confidence in our local solutions for recovery, despite difficult decisions ahead. Business as usual work continues, including the public work realms around the Minster and Workshop Cheltenham. There have been a series of meetings with parish councils who have all done amazing work within communities.
With the hard work and dedication of colleagues, the Cabinet Member Corporate Services reported that within a matter of weeks, 96% of colleagues were able to work from home and as a result of postponing some non-critical projects, 55 members of staff were redeployed to support mission critical services such as the crematorium and supporting the community hub. As a result of recent investment in our digital platforms, over 600 residents have been able to access our revenues and benefits system online and traffic to our website, particularly to our ‘covid support’ and help pages, has significantly increased. The new ways of working has contributed to a number of firsts for the council, notably virtual planning, cabinet and council meetings and thanks must go to democratic services for their hard work in getting this set up, and their continued support.
The Cabinet Member Development and Safety particularly highlighted the work undertaken by the planning department for the change in planning requirements for temporary structures to aid Covid 19 recovery plans. Likewise licensing applications have been streamlined to be more effective. Environmental Health officers have been seconded to the county council to help with test and trace, the impact of which on this council in terms of resourcing, will be quite long term. In addition, Cheltenham’s sustainable travel plan to aid social distancing and economic recovery, requested by the county council, has been very positively received and will contribute greatly to the county council’s final scheme. With regard to M5 junction 10 housing infrastructure fund scheme approved in March, working with the county council, Tewkesbury and Homes England the current the focus is of work is on getting to the contract stage with Homes England working to finalise the design of the scheme which will be subject to consultation, planned for September. As members know, the West of Cheltenham Supplementary Planning Document is coming to the July Council meeting. Developers are already working up a scheme for that site with an anticipated date for submission of outline planning permission in the autumn. The West of Cheltenham Transport Improvement Scheme is underway with work on site to start any day and this will be coordinated with the Highways England work on junction 11 bridge deck. Finally, with regard to the Golden Valley development, the formal EU procurement exercise was launched on 11 May to run for two months. The feedback from the marketing has been very positive and the long term interest in Cheltenham’s housing market has remained strong. A recent survey reveals that Cheltenham has the highest concentration of cyber security activity outside of London which puts us in a strong position. 107 registered expressions of interest have already been received since the launch of the marketing. We continue to work with the Department of Trade and International Affairs to promote and support the scheme as a priority investment opportunity.