Agenda item

Interview with Worthing Leader

To consider a report by the Director for Sustainability and Resources copy attached as item 9

Minutes:

The Committee had a report before it attached as item 9, which had been circulated to all Members and is attached to a signed copy of these minutes. This report set out background information on the Portfolio of the Worthing Leader to enable the Committee to consider and question the Leader on issues within their portfolio and any high-level strategic issues which the Leader was involved in, connected with the work of the Council and the Worthing communities.

 

A Member asked “The update on our Strategic Priorities and the Cost of Living Emergency in JSC 13th June 4.6 refers to:

“Setting up a community pantry as part of a co-produced work with local food groups and sustainability groups and as a forerunner to developing a new sustainable food system for Worthing.” Finding the funds and community space will prove a challenge, yet I have been informed by a local resident that in January this year, he offered a building to the Council to use for a pantry and said he would renovate and kit it out at his expense. It is now July and the resident is so concerned that no progress seems to have been made that he has offered it to Broadwater Support Community Hub. Can we be assured that this property is being treated as a priority and have an update on the progress?

Members were told that 2 potential buildings had been identified to support the delivery of this ambition, due diligence processes were undertaken in both cases, and the conclusion was that these buildings were not viable, one was deemed unsuitable in terms of the building lay out and footprint and the other due to the costs associated with getting the building fit for use and the length of the lease term available for use.

 

The business owner approached the Council in January and an action plan was drawn up to support this activity, there had been two in person meetings at the site, and the following activity had taken place. 



  • Engaged Community Works to support the Council and business to facilitate activity
  • Linked the business owner with food groups who might be interested in partnering the business 
  • Referred them to specialist advice to explore the potential of setting up a charitable arm 
  • Referred the business to legal advice via Community Works to explore with a  solicitor the charitable arm options 
  • Pre planning advice gained, so they could support the taxi team to develop their plans

 

Officers continued to work with the business owner and Community Works and would prioritise accelerating this potential.

 

Chief Executive Catherine Howe, chaired a meeting with multiple partners to explore the next steps for a sustainable food system, this meeting had resulted in an action plan, which had recently been drawn up to support that vision.

 

A Member asked, “The same update says “the Council aims to support our food banks as the frontline of community action,” however Government money released for food support has been delivered to West Sussex County Council (WSCC), and instead of forwarding it to local food banks as they did in earlier years, it has been kept at County level for delivery by their Community Hub who do not have the same local knowledge of residents.

This is a problem for Local food groups who have no direct access to the funds, and have no way of knowing which residents have been helped by the County Council. Are there any plans for this Council to negotiate with WSCC so that food banks receive the funds for food directly, rather than administer its distribution at County level meaning residents still contact food banks who are not supported with Government funds?”

Members were told WSCC remained the responsible body for administering the Household Support Fund (HSF), some funding was awarded to food groups from HSF2 (£44,297 in Worthing and £24, 632 in Adur) and with HSF3, food groups were able to access funds from WSCC to support fuel poverty as well as some direct funding to food groups (£20,000 in Worthing and £20,000 in Adur) WSCC had also passported significant funds to Citizens’ Advice in relation to those facing significant hardship.

 

In the current year for HSF 4, AWCs used data from the LIFT platform as part of Proactive to develop a proposal to secure funding from WSCC for residents. WSCC had agreed to allocate £221,850 to distribute to 1,748 households who would miss out on the £900 Government cost of living support in 2023.  This would additionally target 142 households who were entitled to Pension Credit but not claiming this.  By offering HSF in this way, residents could also be assisted in completing a Pension Credit application form, if support was needed and access other forms of support.

 

In addition to the funding referenced here, funding under the Contain Outbreak Management Fund awarded during the pandemic saw significant funding to food groups, which amounted to over £300,000, with additional funds being awarded through a crowdfunding initiative (£23,000).What they were seeing locally was reflective of the national picture, including the views of major grant givers and donors, which was the model of funding for food banks was not sustainable, hence the work on a sustainable food system and continued efforts to support the food groups through the food network.

 

A Member asked, “the council has recently published its strategic priorities paper. Given the challenging financial backdrop local government is currently operating against, how do you see that impacting on your ability to deliver these priorities?”

Members were told the Local Government Association (LGA) was saying that councils across the land were at risk of insolvency as they struggled to fill a £3 billion funding black hole caused by inflationary costs and soaring demand for services. The new Chair of the LGA, Councillor Shaun Davies, addressed the Annual Conference that week and called for a new local deal for councils to stabilise town hall services. He had said: “Simplify our funding, cut out wasteful and unnecessary bidding for resources, and give us long-term certainty and stability. With this we can get on with working to improve people’s lives in our villages, towns and cities.” The Leader had noted that the central Government had made an announcement promising a more transparent, simple, and accountable approach to funding and they looked forward to seeing more details.

 

Despite these challenges and whilst waiting for local government funding reform, Worthing was determined to deliver for its residents and they would do this by both prudently managing finances and seeking to change the way things were done. Clearly the pace and extent to which they were able to deliver their priorities would need to match the resources available. But having said that, they were a Council for the Community; listening to residents, changing and improving services based on this feedback didn't always cost, and could in many cases reduce burdens. For example, reducing costs associated with temporary accommodation or by reducing demand on services, by getting upstream of problems.  They could also simply use resources differently. The new economic model sought to keep money in Worthing, investing in communities, driving employment and protecting the environment. 

 

Members also asked about the Trees for Streets project regarding involvement of WSCC and the progress on Teville Gate. Members were told that officers from WSCC were fully aware of the Trees for Streets project and very supportive; and that negotiations were progressing with the Teville Gate site but details could not be shared at this time.

 

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