Agenda item

Leader's Report

To receive such reports as the Leader of the Council may wish to bring before the Council.


The Leader added his condolences to the family of Peter Baker.  His thoughts were also with the children and families affected by the bus accident in Winchester on Thursday 10 September.  The County Council was providing all possible support to Henry Beaufort School including support by the County Council’s Education Psychology Team.


In regard to Covid-19 and the challenges concerning testing, the Leader reported that this was a national issue largely caused by insufficient laboratory capacity and increased public demand for tests.  The immediate impacts on Hampshire were recognised by the County Council and its partners who were doing all they could to mitigate these impacts to ensure vital services were not interrupted and that Business Continuity Plans are in place across all services.  The Leader had also updated Hampshire’s MPs on the challenges regarding testing and the support they could give by making representations to central Government and several responded to confirm they had done so.  The County Council continues to ensure that its staff and residents are aware of the key public health messages around testing through on-line and countryside outdoor campaigns were proving effective.  Good arrangements are also in place for the testing of care workers in care homes.  The level of infection in Hampshire was not only below the national average but also below that of many other parts of the South East, borne out by the latest figures which indicated that since the start of the pandemic there had been 5,722 cases in Hampshire with just over 1,000 deaths.  In the last week there had been 107 new cases and two deaths.


Turning to schools, the Leader welcomed the positive outcome of the  Government’s decision to deal with the examination results of pupils over the last year through assessment by teachers.  In terms of attendance levels, since September over 90% of children had returned to school in Hampshire which was very encouraging.  Advice and support was being provided to individual schools in regard to any Covid-19 related issues they might have.


The Leader confirmed that a report would be considered by Cabinet next week regarding the position of the County Council’s finances, which continues to be challenging.  The Transformation Programme that was based on last year’s settlement to save £80m over two years was continuing, albeit in the current situation it would be difficult to do everything that was planned.  The latest figures indicate that, separate from the programme, the County Council has an £83m funding shortfall unless additional funding from central Government is forthcoming.  Due to the prudent use of its reserves, the County Council is in a position to cover this shortfall in the short-term.  However, reserves could only be used once, therefore it was important that additional funding was received to balance the revenue budget.  Strong representations to central Government were being made highlighting the impact that responding to Covid-19 was having on the County Council’s finances.


There had been much reporting in the press on Local Government Reorganisation and Devolution of late and the anticipated White Paper had not been published.  At the present time, the Leader remained committed to working closely with Hampshire’s district and borough Councils to ensure that residents get the best public services they possibly can in the current circumstances.  The Leader also reported that if the County Council was directed by central Government to consider unitarization, the only way forward would be for a single Unitary Council for the whole of Hampshire.  There would be little benefit financially in dividing the County up and many disadvantages of disaggregating services, particularly services for children and adults.


In regard to environmental matters, the Leader thanked the deputees for their contribution earlier in the proceedings and would ask the Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Economy, Transport and Environment to look into the points they raised in relation to recycling centres. 


The Leader referred to the successful Hampshire 2050 Conference which also included many of the Hampshire 2050 Commissioners.  A lot of work had been done since the County Council declared a climate emergency which had culminated in the preparation of an Action Plan setting out future work the County Council will be doing, and with their partners in both the public and private sectors, to ensure carbon emission reduction targets are met.  The Leader encouraged Members to read the Action Plan which would be considered by the Cabinet on 6 October.  Current circumstances has meant that everyone has had to look at different ways of working and the Leader hoped that sustainability would feature highly in plans for future working.


Lastly, the Leader referred to the recently published Planning White Paper and its environmental implications.  It would therefore be important to work closely with district and borough Council partners to make representations on the advantages and disadvantages of the planning document, particularly in areas such as digital connectivity for new dwellings which is increasingly important in both urban and rural areas in the current circumstances.