Questions submitted by Members under Procedure Rule No.9 will be published by way of supplement following closure of the deadline.
The Chairman advised the meeting that four questions pursuant to Council Procedure Rule No.9 had been submitted to the meeting. These had been circulated to all Members, separately to the agenda and published on the website.
The Chairman invited, Councillor David Cotton, Ward Member for Saxilby, to put his question to the Leader.
Prior to stating his question he indicated he realised only today a settlement had been reached but he considered the matter and issues were still pertinent and should be brought into the public domain, and as such continued with his question as follows: -
“Mr. Chairman, I am sure that no one would disagree that this Council’s best asset are the staff, Officers and the DSO operatives who work for us, often unsung; but would be missed if not there, or the functions they perform were not undertaken. I am sure my joint question recipients also would fully agree.
Many people, I am sure, would be surprised to learn that the Local Government pay rise for April 2021 has yet to be implemented. This is largely due to a dispute between the Unions and the employers. As I understand it, and without too much emphasis on any political ramifications, on my part, it is understood the Unions were holding out for a 10% increase and the Employers were offering 1%. I believe the gap has narrowed slightly with the Unions looking for 7% and the Employers looking for 1.75%. I do not believe 10%, or indeed 7% is sustainable, though personally, I would pay more than that for the quality of work we have from our staff.
The pay rise will be back dated to April 2021 when it is finally (if ever) settled. This has taken nearly a year and the pay rise for April 2022 is only five or six weeks away.
Furthermore, I understand that the Unions, UNITE, UNISON and the GMB have all balloted; or are in the process of balloting members over strike action. Both UNISON and UNITE have failed to meet the majority needed to legally strike and the GMB have, or had, yet to publish its results.
Meanwhile we are in a period where inflation is at around 6% and predicted to rise to at least 7% and perhaps higher. We have seen unprecedented rises in energy costs for fuel both domestic and transport. We are told there are households having to decide on food or heating but not both and it is predicted that something like 40% of households are in fuel poverty, and that includes some households where there are two wage earners in a home.
Not so many years ago our staff here were largely union members and most were members of UNISON and a few of the JMB. Now, I believe, the membership of the unions is likely to be well below 50% of the staff, and accept that senior Officers will be members of their relevant professional bodies. I also accept that while non union staff are not directly in this “fight”, they do benefit from any potential work the unions undertake to improve wages and conditions.
It is also fair to say that we as a Council pay a living wage, rather than standard flat rate and some years ago, I and another Councillor successfully pushed for some lower pay tiers within the Council to be scrapped and those staff raised up the spinal column to new levels.
We have now moved the depot to a central location, long overdue with a first-class facility, but that means some of our staff on the lowest pay scales have to travel to work in a vehicle whereas quite a few walked or cycled to each depot in Market Rasen and Gainsborough.
There has already be some concern about refuse freighter HGV drivers potentially leaving with the rather lucrative market for such drivers being high. We hear of some firms paying up to £40,000 in “golden hello” payments for such drivers. To lose our drivers at this time would leave us in a recruitment drive we would be unlikely to fulfil, and frankly if I had the skills necessary, I would certainly think about moving if the benefits were that high.
Given the whole state of this, and the parlous state of the economy globally, could my three question recipients say if there are ways we, as a Council, can help ease the burden on our staff, especially the lower paid and those in single parent families or with dependent children?
My concern in this was mis-understood in our last meeting over the question of members allowances, but I would not dwell on that, but wish to focus on the staff we have and retaining them; but also doing what we can as an “Investor in People” to do just that and invest in our staff.
It is unlikely the pay award will be less than the 1% offered by the employers at the start of this process, and so could we unilaterally offer 1% now?
Are there other measures we can take to help where we can?
Are there mechanisms in place whereby a member of staff can speak to senior staff confidentially about money struggles or worries and get help and advice?
Is it possible to pay wage advances, albeit with conditions, which would be better alternatives to high commercial borrowing or credit card balances in cases where an employee has specific issues or cannot get loans or credit cards?
I freely admit that, as Chair of the JSCC, I know the answers to some of this but wanted the whole issue in the public domain and minuted as a Council record.
Rev. Cllr. David J. Cotton J.P. ADipR”
The Leader thanked Councillor Cotton, and echoed the sentiments expressed regarding the staff and them being a valuable asset. Given the nature and subject of the question, he requested the Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service, respond. The following response was given: -
“The Council are part of the collective bargaining mechanism for pay awards, through the National Joint Council, made up of Employers and Unions (Unison, Unite and GMB)
The unions asked for a 10% pay increase for all staff for the pay period April 2021 to March 2022, however this was rejected by the Employers side, after much negotiation and unions balloting their members, the final pay award has been agreed this week at 1.75% which will be backdated to April 2021 and paid to staff in March 2022 payroll.
We did seek advice regarding paying the pay award before final agreement was reached but were advised that we would be acting outside of the national bargaining mechanism which could raise issues for the Council.
Are there other measures we can take to help where we can - We have an Employee Assistance Programme which offers support to our staff on a multitude of issues, including mental wellbeing, legal advice and a wealth of resources around financial help, we will ensure that we are sharing these with colleagues so that they can access the advice if they haven’t done already. We will also signpost to the other organisations that we are aware of such as Citizens Advice. We have also have a relationship with Lincs Credit Union and have worked with them in the past to ensure staff understand how they can access their support, we will share these contacts again.
Members of the senior management team are available for discussions, however this may not be the avenue that staff would feel comfortable accessing, we will ensure that our managers are also equipped with the knowledge of the resources we have available should a member of staff talk to them.
We do not offer pay advances, however through Joint Staff Consultative Committee I would ask that the subject of financial wellbeing be discussed to determine if there are further opportunities to support our staff.”
Having heard the response and with the permission of the Chairman, Councillor Cotton posed the following supplementary question
“While the original question I raised with the Leader had on the face of it, largely been surpassed by the eventual final paid award agreed by the Unions, and acceptance of a pay award of 1.75% with the award back-dated to April 2021, that is not the full story.
The increase in National Insurance is to be 1.25% and given that it is linked, the real award is more in the region half of 1% with inflation currently at 5% and rising, the money worries with the cost of living and of course the tragic events in Ukraine adding to rises in many commodities.
We are also not many weeks away from the start of negotiation for the 2022/23 pay award which is due in April.
On the basis of the small actual accrued award for 2021/22 and the likely protracted process for the 2022/23 pay award; would the Leader, in agreeing with me that our staff are our best asset, undertake to extend to staff the assistance of the Council and offer confidential advice with money worries and concerns when any of the staff are struggling, especially where there are vulnerable dependents and single parents.”
The Chairman thanked Councillor Cotton, and given the Head of Paid Service’s response to the original question and the assurance given, no further response was required.
The Chairman then invited the second questioner, Councillor Jim Snee, Ward Member for Gainsborough North Ward to put his question to the meeting, as follows: -
“Persistent incidents of anti-social behaviour is a common issue, and in my opinion now affect, the majority of Wards within the district.
Could the Chairman please inform members how many Community Triggers this authority has dealt with during the past two years, and a breakdown of those incidents.
Councillor Jim Snee”
The Leader of the Council responded as follows : -
“Thank you Chairman and thank you for your question Councillor Snee.
Since the start of 2020 the Council has received four Community Trigger requests. Three of these were considered and investigated and one was deemed to not meet the threshold. The requests were received relating to cases in Market Rasen (2), Dunholme and Brookenby.
For those that may not be aware, the Community Trigger is a process that allows members of the public to ask their local authority or community safety partnership to review responses to incidents of anti-social behaviour. It has been designed to make sure agencies such as the Police, local councils and housing providers work together to try to resolve complaints of anti-social behaviour. An individual can use the Community Trigger if they (or others) have reported an incident three or more times within a six-month period and feels it has not been dealt with effectively. Requests for this can be made via the Council’s website.
When received, community trigger requests are reviewed and subject to meeting the threshold are considered by a group of appropriate Officers. The Officers are normally representatives from across multiple agencies that are part of the local Anti-Social Behaviour Risk Assessment Conference (ASBRAC) meetings. A revised process to add more independence to the Community Trigger has been developed across the County via the Safer Lincolnshire Partnership and is due to be implemented at a later point in 2022.
Thank you again for your question Councillor Snee and thank you Chairman.”
No supplementary question was posed and the third questioner, Councillor Bunney, Ward Member for the Market Rasen Ward, was invited to put his question, as follows: -
“What plans do WLDC have to work alongside local housing associations and other charities to provide accommodation and other support for potential refugees from the Ukraine. There are a number of empty buildings in the district – including Rasen House, formerly The Grange, that can ‘easily’ be adapted for both short term and long term residences.
Councillor Stephen Bunney “
The Leader of the Council responded as follows: -
“Thank you Chairman and thank you for your question Cllr Bunney.
The emerging humanitarian crisis resulting from the invasion of Ukraine has led to a number of initiatives within the United Kingdom to support the people of Ukraine. The Government launched the Ukrainian Family Scheme on Friday, 4th March, which allows British nationals and people settled in the UK to bring family members to the UK. A humanitarian sponsorship pathway is also to be launched which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties but are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups.
In light of these announcements council leaders across Lincolnshire have sponsored joint action to address the challenges and a Lincolnshire Resilience Forum (LRF) co-ordinating group has been set up with a series of work streams established to support the emerging needs including emotional support for those already in this country and donations and resettlement for refugees who arrive in Lincolnshire. A co-ordination meeting was held on Thursday, 3rd March to consider actions in relation to humanitarian aid to Ukrainian communities and refugees.
West Lindsey is a member of the Lincolnshire Refugee Resettlement Partnership that is in turn a member of the East Midland Migration Partnership. This well established partnership has been identified as the group to focus on the accommodation side of resettlement and in preparation for actions coming out of the coordination meeting weekly partnership meetings have been planned into calendars to ensure that collectively organisations across Lincolnshire are prepared to react as announcements are made. Officers at West Lindsey will liaise with registered provider partners to enable the provision of accommodation should it be required in our district.
Some work will also be needed on the co-ordination of support provision and Officers will keep Members informed on the detail of this as it emerges.
The resettlement of refugees is a complex process and doesn’t always relate simplistically to the availability of property. Consideration has to be given to location, community cohesion and available support. It is due to this that when a property is made available the process of matching families to the accommodation is led by the Home Office.
Officers work proactively with landlords and owners to bring empty properties back into use but there can be any number of constraints to do so. Market Rasen House is an example of one such property where the current designation is one of supported housing and planning constraints due to access are likely to prevent a change of use to self contained flats.
Many residents are already turning to us as their District Council to ask how they can support the response. Whilst organisations are setting up drop off points for donations we await advice on the co-ordinated Lincolnshire response.
Mrs Di Krochmal, Assistant Director for Homes and Communities, is our Lead Officer for refugee resettlement and any queries you may have can be directed to her.
Thank you again for your question Cllr Bunney and thank you Chairman.”
On hearing the response and with permission of the Chairman, Councillor Bunney indicated he was pleased to hear that the District Council were looking to do things within West Lindsey, he considered it extremely important at times of international crisis that small groups worked together and that those small commitments spread, gained momentum and inspired leaders on national and international stages. He spoke of local family connections and links to the country of Ukraine across West Lindsey and hoped we could open up our District to refugees who may settle on family basis or near family basis. It was acknowledged that the District through its partnership arrangement had assisted with refugee settlement historically, but with families often placed in larger conurbations outside of the District where services allowed integration more easily. However, on this occasion he considered the District had quite a large community with connections to the Ukraine and this should be taken it consideration. Lincolnshire had a good history in supporting refugees and it was hoped that we could be as open and friendly as possible across the District and that this needed to continue to be the case.
The Chairman invited the fourth and final questioner, Councillor John McNeill, Ward Member for Market Rasen to put his question to the meeting as follows: -
"We are very fortunate in West Lindsey to have immutable decisions made on planning applications, whether by Officers of the Council or by the Planning Committee. As West Lindsey Conservatives promised in our manifesto we have ensured that Parish and Town Councils have the opportunity to "Call-In" planning applications to the Planning Committee for determination, just like District Councillors.
However, one area of continued frustration for many, not just Parish and Town Councillors, but the people who live and work in West Lindsey, is the way that the conditions applied to planning applications are enforced once the development begins (or is permitted to continue where retrospective permission has been sought).
Can the Leader confirm how the conditions on planning developments are enforced and monitored, as well as reported to Members of this Council? How are changes, if any, to the conditions applied to planning developments managed and approved, and how are these made visible to Members of this Council?
Can he confirm how many conditions on Planning developments are currently outstanding and of those how many are overdue for implementation? Has any assessment been made of the overdue conditions as to how likely (or otherwise) these will be complied with, and if so, can he share the detail with Members? If no assessment has been made, how can the Planning Enforcement Team be said to be operating in the public interest, especially when there is clear, yet I accept anecdotal, evidence that this is important to many people, not just some Members of this Council?
Councillor John McNeill”
The Leader of the Council responded as follows
“Thank you Chairman and thank you for your question Councillor McNeill.
Conditions are enforced and monitored in line with the Local Enforcement Plan for Planning Enforcement. Complaints from residents will initiate investigation by Officers and in some cases, where conditions are placed on permissions they are proactively monitored (i.e. pre-commencement conditions). As a matter of course, provision is not made to monitor all conditions.
When conditions are permitted, an applicant has the right to appeal against the conditions, typically within six months.
As soon as any permission is approved, the applicant can also apply directly to WLDC to amend or vary the conditions (a ‘s73 application’). The Council can only consider the matter of the planning conditions. If granted, a new planning permission would be formed, and it follows the same process as a planning application. Consultation and publicity is the same, including publication on the weekly list, and so has the same visibility to Members of the Council.
There is no practical way of determining how many planning developments have outstanding or overdue conditions. Planning permissions usually give 3 years to commence development (or otherwise expire). Planning conditions also have different triggers before they are engaged (pre-commencement; during construction; post construction). This would require monitoring every extant permission (i.e. every permission granted in the last 3 years (upwards of 2,500); and all those developments that have commenced and are still under construction) and monitoring the stage of development it has reached.
The onus is fully on the developer to comply with the conditions in order that their development remains ‘authorised’. Where the Council become aware of any non-compliance, it is dealt with in line with the Councils Local Enforcement Plan for Planning Enforcement. Any breach of condition is assessed on its merit and when investigated Officers seek to ensure that the permitted party meets the requirements set out in their permission.
In the year ending September 2021, planning permission was granted for 846 applications, given the three-year commencement timescale, there could be over 2,500 active applications at any one time for developments of varying scales and degree. This does not include other application types such as Advertisement or Listed Building Consents. This does not include any earlier permissions (granted more than three years ago) where development is still under construction. Nearly all planning permissions will have some form of condition(s) attached.
Planning law allows the local planning authority up to ten years after a breach of condition commenced, to take action. Consequently, if public concerns arise, there is a significant window in which this can be brought to the attention of the local planning authority.
Thank you again for your question Councillor McNeill and thank you Chairman.”
Having heard the response and with the permission of the Chairman, Councillor McNeill posed the following supplementary question.
“Please could the Leader advise when the Local Enforcement Plan was last reviewed or updated? In your answer you (Leader) refer to there being no practical way of knowing how many conditions there are outstanding or overdue. What does he mean by no practical way? Also, what assurance can be provided that planning conditions are not made that are impossible for applicants to fulfil, and that Officers only impose achievable conditions. Is there any external assurance on that?”
The Chairman of the Council indicated that that Leader would need to speak with relevant Officers further and she would ensure Councillor McNeill was provided with further information outside of the meeting.