Agenda item

Leader's Report


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


The Leader welcomed Members to the first full council meeting under the new Joint Administration.  Despite the change in leadership, the council’s current focus remained its response to the pandemic.


A steep rise in infection rates had meant the easing of national restrictions had been paused for four weeks in order to allow more time to deliver the vaccination programme.  With this in mind, it was vital that vigilance was maintained. The Delta variant, which accounted for the majority of new cases of coronavirus, was more transmissible, so everybody needed to take extra care in following public health guidance.


Plans to transform Bishop Auckland into a world-class visitor destination of national importance had moved a step closer, with the announcement that the Council had been successful in bidding for a £33.2 million share of the government’s Stronger Towns Fund.


The wide-ranging proposals received further endorsement when Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, visited the town earlier in the month. The minister, who took a tour of sites including the Auckland Tower, Auckland Castle and park, the Market Place and Newgate Street, described the Stronger Town Board’s vision for Bishop Auckland as “one of the most impressive projects” he had seen anywhere in the country.


A visit had also taken place from Lord Callanan, Minister for Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility, who paid a visit to homes in Chilton to see how work to install free low carbon external wall insulation and renewable heating systems was progressing.


Durhan County Council was named local authority of the year at the Northern Housing Awards, recognising its housing strategy and work to tackle homelessness.  It followed the authority’s work to deliver more housing and investment in local services for communities as part of the County Durham Housing Strategy.


Mobile and home-based businesses had until the end of the month to apply for financial support designed to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.  Earlier this year, limited fixed funding was made available by the Government through the Additional Restrictions Grant which could be used to fund a discretionary policy.  Councils were expected to give financial assistance to businesses in the hospitality, leisure, accommodation and personal care sectors which had not had any previous support.  In rolling out its discretionary policy, the council extended the support to businesses in shared commercial spaces, taxi drivers, registered childcare providers, childminders as well as driving instructors.  Last month, the Council also extended the ARG support beyond the original deadline, giving businesses until the end of June to claim.


The Council had launched its annual recruitment drive for apprentices, with opportunities available across a wide range of occupations, from highways, gardening and bricklaying to business administration, human resources and commercial procurement.  The council was awarded a place in the government’s Top 100 Apprenticeships Employers, recognising its extensive apprenticeship programme.


This week saw the reopening of Gala Theatre, Durham and Empire Theatre, in Consett, which had both been closed since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020.  Both venues had undergone a facelift, with more than £1.4 million being spent on refurbishments.  Social distancing measures were in place and customers were being asked to follow public health advice on Hands. Face. Space. while visiting.


Some of the Council’s foster carers had been talking about their experiences to promote Foster Care Fortnight.  The council urgently needed foster carers, with more than 900 children currently in care of some kind in County Durham.  It was hoped that the Council’s foster carers would help inspire others to give a child a loving home.


Those who pass through Durham City would have noticed that the Council’s floral display at Gilesgate also had a fostering theme this year.  Children from Durham Gilesgate Primary School in the city joined with the fostering service and the civic pride and clean and green teams to plant the display, which also supported the Durham in Bloom campaign.


This week, thousands of schoolchildren were making some noise for Make Music Day UK’s Big Play event.  Durham County Music Service kicked off the celebrations in the area with a free Big Sing event at Ushaw College on Monday but activities were set to continue throughout the week.


This month, the Council had launched a new recycling scheme enabling residents to drop off small electrical or battery-operated items at one of 17 collection points across the county.  Run in partnership with Valpak, and County Durham Furniture Help Scheme, the project helped prevent items being thrown out as waste and offers the opportunity for them to be recycling into something new.


The highly anticipated Durham Brass festival would take place next month, running from Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 July.  Although the Government had decided to delay Stage 4 of the national roadmap out of lockdown, ‘Brass’ was largely an outdoor programme and social distancing arrangements mean it could still go ahead as planned.  A £724,000 Culture Recovery Fund Grant from Arts Council England had been used to set up an outdoor stage at Durham Racecourse, where people would be able to enjoy three days of free live music.


Nominations were open for the 2021 County Durham Environment Awards, the annual celebration of projects that demonstrated great design, environmental guardianship and community spirit across the county.  Hosted by the County Durham Environment and Climate Change Partnership, the Awards recognised the efforts of a wide range of organisations, communities and individuals.  Details of how to enter were available on the County Council website.


Councillor C Kay had agreed to remain in the role of Cycling Champion for the County Council.  Councillor Kay had been a great ambassador for promoting cycling on behalf of the Council and the Leader thanked him for agreeing to continue.