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Agenda item

Leader's Report


The Council noted a report from the Leader of the Council as follows:


·        As the festive season approached the Council was once again supporting small businesses ahead of a key trading period through a number of initiatives, including bringing back the Free after 3 offer which would see free parking available in council owned car parks across the county after 3pm every day in December. In addition, free parking would be available across the county after 10 a.m. on Saturday 7 December in all Council off-street car parks and on-street spaces.  This coincided with Small Business Saturday, a national campaign which encouraged people to shop local and support small businesses in their communities.


·        The Council’s Year of Culture, #durham19 was continuing with Christmas festivals, fayres, pantomimes and events taking place across the county.  Following on from the successful Take Off Festival, England’s leading festival of theatre for children and young people, and the much-awaited re-opening of Auckland Castle, last month saw the 10th anniversary of Lumiere.


The biggest cultural event in the Council’s calendar, initial estimates showed that Lumiere attracted 165,000 visitors this year and the millionth visitor since Lumiere began ten years ago, despite very challenging weather conditions on the first three nights.  The Council was particularly pleased to welcome many international visitors this year, including delegations from Galway in Ireland which was next year’s European Capital of Culture and from the Councils twin town Tubingen in southern Germany.


Lumiere also touched the lives of hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds across the county through community outreach programmes, providing the chance to work with professional artists and become part of the festival and this was the case with many of the installations this year.


The Leader thanked Artichoke, partners including the Arts Council England, Durham University and Durham Cathedral, sponsors, businesses, residents, the emergency services, Council staff and the 300 volunteers who, despite the rain, made Lumiere 2019 such an incredible experience, and the Council very much looked forward to its return in 2021.


·        The Council had become the first local authority in the country to sign-up to the GMB trade union’s Disability Passport initiative. The passport was a live record of up to date and appropriate reasonable adjustments which had been agreed and recorded between a manager and an employee to support individuals at work with a health condition or disability.  The passport was owned by the employee and alleviated the need for them to repeat potentially difficult conversations if their line manager changed, or they changed roles within the organisation.


·        The Council-led £2.5m Durham Advance scheme for residents who were out of work with a health condition or unemployed over 50s, had now provided support to over 500 people. The programme had helped 523 residents overcome the barriers preventing them re-entering the labour market, so that they could progress into employment or self-employment by providing one to one support, helping develop their skills or providing the training they needed.


·        Members of both the Safeguarding Adults Board and the Durham Safeguarding Children Partnership gathered at an event organised as part of National Safeguarding Adults Week. The national week ran from 18 to 24 November and aimed to encourage agencies to focus on safeguarding adults. Safeguarding was the protection of a person's right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect.  The event saw speakers from statutory and voluntary organisations on a range of safeguarding issues, such as loan sharks and domestic abuse.


·        Primary school pupils across County Durham learnt how people of different religions used light to celebrate their faith at a festival last month.  Over 100 children, from years 4 and 5, were invited to the Festival of Lights, where they met with leaders from Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities to learn how each faith used light to celebrate important events in its calendar.  As well as enjoying stories and games, pupils got creative, trying traditional Indian arts as part of a celebration of the Hindu festival Diwali.


·        Twelve schools from across County Durham were honoured at Durham Town Hall last month as part of the International School Awards.  The British Council scheme recognised schools that had demonstrated their commitment to raising awareness of other countries, traditions and languages.  The schools hosted pupil exchanges with countries all over the world, including Spain, Finland, France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic and many also had partner schools in countries such as Kenya and Sri Lanka and collaborated on projects focusing on a range of issues.


·        Aycliffe Secure Centre, which provided a secure children's home environment, had been given an outstanding judgement by Ofsted in all four areas assessed.  The centre provided high quality, specialist secure accommodation for up to 38 vulnerable 10 to 18-year olds.  The centre was judged to be 'outstanding' in terms of the overall experiences and progress of children and young people, based on how well they are helped and protected; their health; the effectiveness of leaders and managers; and outcomes in education and related learning activities.


·        The Council’s Practice Lead for the Social Work Academy, Shelley Gill, had received the silver award in the Practice Educator of the Year category in the annual Social Worker of the Year Awards.


Shelley was an exceptional practitioner and had played a key part in the success of the Council’s workforce development programme and support to newly qualified social workers within the academy over the last three years.  The award was well deserved.


·        County Durham Youth Justice Service was also highly commended in the Youth Volunteering and Social Action category at the prestigious national Children and Young People Now Awards 2019.  The team was shortlisted for the With Youth in Mind group, which provided activities for young people who had been victims of crime.  Since it was set up in 2015, the group had supported over 150 children and young people aged up to 18 years old.  The group was led by young people, supported by agencies including Durham Constabulary, the Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner and Investors in Children.  The Leader congratulated everyone involved.


·        The Leader paid tribute to a number of senior officers for whom this would be their last full council meeting before they left the authority.  Brian Archer had led Business Durham through a period of continued economic growth over the last two years but would now move back to his native Yorkshire to take up a post with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority in Leeds.  Steve Howell had been the Council’s Head of Culture, Sport and Tourism for many years during which County Durham had developed a real reputation for delivering high quality cultural and sporting events.  Lorraine O’Donnell had served as Assistant Chief Executive and more recently Director of Transformation and Partnerships, areas in which the council had set the standard for others to follow.  Lorraine had played a key role in many different areas of work, including the transformation programme, the County Durham Partnership and performance management, helping ensure that identified budget savings were delivered on time, something achieved each year in spite of the large budget reductions which had unfortunately been required during the years of austerity.  The Leader was sure all Members would join in thanking Lorraine as well as Brian and Steve for all of their hard work and wish them well in their future endeavours. 


The Leader took the opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


The Chairman invited Group Leaders, or their representatives, to say a few words about the officers due to leave the authority.


Councillor A Hopgood, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group informed Council that it was sad to see Lorraine O’Donnell leaving the authority.  Lorraine had always been approachable, a dedicated member of CMT for the last 10 years and a great advocate for public engagement across County Durham.  Councillor Hopgood wished Lorraine the best of luck for the future.


Councillor Hopgood wished Steve Howell a long and happy retirement and thanked him for his 10 years of service to the Council, particularly the work he did for Wharton Park in establishing the investment for its refurbishment.


Brian Archer had been an excellent ambassador for County Durham businesses, had engaged small businesses and had led by example.  Councillor Hopgood wished Brian good luck in his new job.


Councillor J Shuttleworth, Leader of the Durham County Council Independent Group endorsed the sentiments of Councillor Hopgood and wished all three officers all the best in their new ventures.


Councillor R Bell, Leader of the Conservative Group gave his Group’s best wishes to all three officers and thanked them for their service.  They had played an important role in building up the Unitary Council over the years and relationships outside of the Council through partnership working in the fields culture, sport and business and public service delivery.


Councillor Jopling on behalf of the Durham Independent Group wished all three officers the best of luck.


Councillor L Maddison, Leader of the Spennymoor Independent Group thanked all three officers for the contribution they had made over the years and wished them all good luck for their future.


Councillor J Allen, Portfolio Holder for Transformation, Culture and Tourism thanked Lorraine for leading a significant change and transformation agenda which had already delivered major benefits to both residents and staff.  Austerity measures and budget cuts had presented many challenges and innovative ways had been adopted to accommodate budget pressures to achieve the necessary savings.  Many peer reviews had been undertaken which had identified improved ways of working to deliver more efficient, economic and effective services.  Councillor Allen also thanked Steve Howell for his invaluable service and achievements and wished him all the best for his retirement.


Councillor L Hovvels, Portfolio Holder for Adult and Health Services thanked Lorraine for her work on the Police and Crime Panel and wished all three officers the best for the future.


Councillor B Stephens, Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Local Partnerships thanked Lorraine for her work with Area Acton Partnerships and wished Steve and Brian the best for the future.


Democratic Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
County Durham
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