A report of the Leader of the Council summarising Key Decisions that have been made under urgency provisions and officer delegated decisions taken as part of the Council’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Leader of the Council referred Members to the report in the agenda which listed the urgent decisions that had been taken in consultation with the Chief Executive during the COVID-19 crisis and went through each in turn giving Members the opportunity to comment and ask questions.
Appendix1 – Scheme of Delegation – COVID19 response period
This appendix dealt with the changes to the Leaders Scheme of Delegation, so that the making of Key Decisions was reserved to him in consultation with the Chief Executive during the COVID-19 crisis. Cabinet Members remained responsible for making Non-Key Decisions relevant to their remit.
Appendix 2 – Gravity Fields Festival 2020 (Key Decision)
The Leader, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Culture and Visitor Economy, made a Key Decision on 9 April which became effective on 23 April 2020. The decision postponed the Gravity Fields Festival to 2022 as there was no guarantee that movement and gathering restrictions would be lifted by September.
Appendix 3 – Council Tax hardship fund
The Key Decision had been taken in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, Councillor Adam Stokes. The decision was made on 11 May and came into effect on 19 May 2020. The Government had awarded the Council £924,000 to fund a Council Tax hardship fund for all working age claimants as per the guidance. An award of £150 would be made available to each eligible working age claimant for the council tax bill 2020/21. The grant would also be used for awarding new cases during the financial year. The remaining grant would be used for other hardship cases that maybe considered by the Council particularly those affected by employment issues arising from COVID19.
Appendix 4 – Ward Member Grant Scheme
A Key Decision was taken on 23 March 2020 to increase the allowance from £500 to £1,000 so that Members could support good causes and groups in their Wards that needed support during the Coronavirus.
An endorsement was made on the Council’s response to the crisis and the reinstatement of £1000 for the Ward Members grant to support COVID19 related needs in the communities. Other Members agreed with the increase of the grant and its benefit within communities and asked that the £1,000 grant be retained in future budgets. Members also gave examples of individual organisations that had benefitted from the grants within their communities.
Appendix 5 – Temporary Amendments to the South Kesteven District Council Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy
The decision was made on 24 March 2020. A pragmatic approach had been taken to the policy for taxis that were coming to the end of their vehicle age during the lockdown by granting a temporary six month extension. The extension was in response to business closures and restriction of movements. Existing taxi drivers were allowed to self-certify in relation to medical fitness, while an MOT certificate would be acceptable in lieu of a compliance test. The decision also included the suspension of applications for new drivers.
Appendix 6 – Deferral of rental income for specific organisations occupying Council commercial premises
The Leader took this decision in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, Councillor Adam Stokes and made on 25 March 2020 to suspend payment of rent due to the Council by specific occupiers of premises such as the Arts Centres which had been closed on 17 March 2020.
Questions were asked about the cost of suspending the rents and whether payment would be expected later in the year to which the Leader replied. The Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources stated that dialogue with tenants was on going and to date discussions had been positive. Any issues would be reported to the Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Appendix 7 – Renumeration of street scene officers during the COVID19 outbreak
A decision was made on 30 March 2020 to give an additional £50 per week pro rata to staff working in the street scene team and to increase the overtime tariff to time and a half. There had been national and local recognition of the work undertaken by street scene crews. The payments were in place until the end of June 2020 when they would be reviewed by the Chief Executive, the Leader and the Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations. Going forward a review of street scene pay was to be undertaken in line with the rest of the county.
The Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations, highlighted the value placed on the key essential workers which benefitted everyone in the district and he was very supportive of the decision taken. A question was asked about the impact on EnvironmentSK staff and what had been done to recognise any extra or exceptional work they carried out. The Cabinet Member for Commercial and Operations who was the company’s Chairman of the Board of Directors made sure that the flexibility of staff was known from an early stage and it was one of the reasons for bringing EnvironmentSK in house. This meant that action could be taken quickly. Environment SK staff could volunteer to be trained up to help with the street scene service and were remunerated as per the street scene staff. Thanks, were given to the street scene team and the work that they were doing, and it was asked that these thanks were passed on to the team. Support was also given to the pay review for street scene workers to bring it in line with neighbouring authorities and staff across the board.
Appendix 8 – Refuse and recycling operational policies
A Key Decision was taken on 31 March 2020 to revise refuse and recycling operational policies, to increase flexibility and maintain the refuse collection as a critical service. One option available within the revised arrangements was the ability to collect waste outside the normal hours of service. The Leader stated that to date the service had been maintained within its normal hours of operation.
Appendix 9 – Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
A decision had been taken on 22 April 2020 establishing a policy for the use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme by the Council. Most of the Council’s staff did not fall within the Governments job retention scheme that allowed employers to furlough staff however, there might be some exceptions and delegated authority was given to the Chief Executive. The Leader noted that the Council would top up the Government’s scheme so employees would not have a reduction in salary or pension contributions.
A question was asked about bringing people back to work following the Government’s recent announcement easing some restrictions. The Leader referred to his statement at the beginning of the meeting where he stated that staff would continue to work remotely. An online survey was being undertaken to see how the Council could support its staff either with equipment or mental wellbeing while working from home.
Appendix 10 – Suspension of collection and enforcement for South Kesteven District Council’s pay and display car parks
The Chief Executive made the decision on 27 March 2020. The suspension had been made in recognition that car park users were often key workers and other essential personnel. The suspension would stay in place until the end of June 2020 when it would be reviewed. Season ticket holders had been written to.
There was a financial impact with a 95% drop in income. Work on car park income was being undertaken with Leaders across the county. A question was asked about the timing of the review and the Leader stated that this would take place at the end of June with other authority Leaders and the Council’s Group Leaders. The decision on whether the suspension should continue would depend at what point the recovery stage was at.
Appendix 11 – Furlough of staff from East Midlands Building Control
The decision made on 24 April 2020 enabled 13 staff from the East Midlands Building Control to be furloughed due to a drop off in fee earning income. Work was spread across Rushcliffe and Newark as well as South Kesteven. The partnership was topping up the scheme and staff would not receive a reduction in salary income or pension contributions. Once the economy recovered the staff would be brought back to work.
Appendix 12 – Temporary Amendment to the South Kesteven District Council Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy (vehicle age)
Following the closure of car show rooms a decision was made on 30 April 2020 by the Chief Executive to agree to a temporary revision of the Council’s policy to increase the age limit for hackney carriage and private hire vehicles from 10 years to 11 years up to and including 31 December 2020 or until restrictions relating to car sales were lifted. One Member stated that she was very proud of the sterling work that the Leader and the Council had done. A question was asked about the vehicles having a MOT and being road worthy. Reference was made to the earlier decision relating to the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy but it was confirmed that this would only apply to a couple of vehicles and it would go back to normal next year. A further question was asked in relation to taxis parking on Red Lion Square, Stamford near the pedestrian area. It was stated that there were provisions in place to address this and the member should pass his questions on to the Licensing Team.
Appendix 13 – Meeting procedures during the COVID19 restriction period
The decision had been made on 1 May 2020 to set out how the Council had adopted the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 in its virtual meeting procedures. The Leader stated that it was important to be able to hold virtual meetings, other authorities had yet to hold such meetings. Governments Regulations allowed Councils to make changes to their rules of procedure. Members needed to be able to be heard and where possible seen. Some authorities had proceeded to hold meetings but on the basis of reduced membership, but the Leader had felt that it was important that all Members had the opportunity to participate in the meeting. The Public Open Forum, Members’ Open Questions and Motions would be reintroduced going forward.
A discussion then followed, with those Members who spoke applauding the work that had been done by the Leader, the Chief Executive and the Council staff during the COVID19 crisis. One Member felt that remote conferencing should have been looked at in more detail sooner with training being given to Members earlier. This would have enabled a quicker response in relation to virtual meetings. He also mentioned the draft schedule of meetings which had been circulated to Members but was not yet on the website. In the spirit of collaboration and inclusion and being informed/notified/consulted he felt that the emergency meeting that had been held after the last Cabinet should have been open to other Members as observers.
Mention was also made about how the voting had been undertaken at the meeting and it was stated that perhaps this could be done by a poll which was a function of Skype for Business.
The Leader stated that the Chief Executive had been tasked with looking at how voting was undertaken going forward. The draft programme of meetings had been circulated and responses were being collated. The programme would be brought to the next council meeting, which was planned for the 16 July 2020 for approval.
Further reference was made to voting and it was stated that perhaps solutions could be discussed at the next Group Leaders’ meeting. Further thanks were given to the Leader, Chief Executive and staff with special reference being made to the IT section; this was echoed by those Members who spoke.
Appendix 14 – Employee Assistance Programme
The Head of Organisational Development made an officer delegated decision on 1 April 2020 to extend the Employee Assistance Programme, which was available to officers, so that it would be available to Members and the close family of officers and Members .
Further comments and thanks were made with Members endorsing the decisions that had been taken and the work that had been done to keep vital services running including the refuse collection service.