Agenda item

Leader's Report


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


Covid infection rates continued to increase across the country.  However, the Council had been working closely with partners to provide targeted communications in specific communities where rates were highest, reminding people to follow public health guidance and encouraging them to take up the offer of both does of the vaccine.  Pop-up vaccination clinics offering first and second doses had also taken place.


As part of the LA7 group of local authorities, the Council had launched the ‘Keep the North East Open’ campaign.  Featuring businesses from across the North East, the campaign urged people to continue to do all they could to keep the virus at bay so that the region could remain open.  The initiative was backed by Northumbria and County Durham Local Resilience Forums which included councils, third sector organisations, the NHS, blue light services and public transport bodies.


Cabinet had approved the latest update to the authority’s Medium-Term Financial Plan.  The Medium-Term Financial Plan, which set out the council’s long-term funding outlook and cost pressures, revealed that significant on-going financial uncertainty was making it extremely difficult for the authority to plan ahead.


By approving the Medium-Term Financial Plan, Cabinet also agreed to continue the council’s Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which for the past eight years had offered eligible residents a discount of up to 100 per cent on their council tax charge.  Durham was the only authority in the north east, and one of just a handful nationally, to have maintained the scheme in line with the old council tax benefit system despite funding being reduced.  More than 57,000 residents in the country currently benefitted from this support, including 36,000 working age claimants and 21,000 pensioners.  The Leader reported that the Scheme had always received cross-party support and hoped it would continue to do so.


The Council had been successful in its application for a grant of £1.2million from the National Heritage Lottery Fund to support countywide activities and temporary exhibitions linked to the new history centre.  The money would be used to support an innovative digital programme, including a dedicated website and the digitisation and cataloguing of thousands of photographs, objects, maps and other historic documents.


Aycliffe Secure Unit in Newton Aycliffe had retained its Outstanding status following a recent Ofsted inspection.  The home provided specialist accommodation for vulnerable young people aged between 10 and 18, many of whom had complex problems and needed intensive support to help them turn their lives around.  The Leader thanked the Team at the Unit for securing this rating.


The past month had seen the reopening of more Council venues and facilities.  Binchester Roman Fort reopened on 1 July and live shows were returning to the Gala Theatre in Durham and Empire Theatre in Consett, with outdoor performances also set to take place in Council parks.


Measures put in place to control traffic at Household Waste Recycling Centres at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic had now been removed.  Traffic management systems set up in May last year to support the safe reopening of Household Waste Recycling Centres during the coronavirus pandemic were no longer in place at most centres.


The Council’s Community Action Team was currently working in the South Moor area, as part of its latest 11-week scheme to identify and tackle the community issues that mattered most to residents.  Teams from across the council were working with representatives from partners including police officers, firefighters, housing associations, Groundwork North East and Cumbria, Stanley Town Council and elected members as well as local community groups and residents.


The Council had welcomed a parliamentary debate on raising awareness of the need to be safe around water.  MPs had this week called for an increase in curriculum content about water safety as part of swimming lessons.  The Council had previously pushed for water safety to be taught to children in schools, and was currently running the ‘Dying to Be Cool’ campaign across County Durham schools.


The Council had been working with Durham University, Durham Constabulary and County Durham Furniture Help Scheme to encourage students to think of the planet and their local communities as they moved out of accommodation this summer.  Under the award-winning ‘Green Move Out’ scheme, at the end of the academic year students’ unwanted belongings were collected and donated to local charities.


Last month, Council staff and elected members honoured civilian and uniformed personnel on Armed Forces Day by raising the official armed forces flag at County Hall.  Armed Forces Day was an annual opportunity for the UK to celebrate the work of its Armed Forces and the Armed Forces community from currently serving troops to service families, veterans and cadets.


The Council also celebrated the work of its registry office staff on National Registrars’ Day.  The team had worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic to make sure weddings could go ahead, and that births and deaths were properly recorded, being there for residents as they have navigated life events during the coronavirus pandemic.


On Monday, The Council would officially submit its bid for County Durham to be named City of Culture 2025.  Gaining such status would clearly have untold benefits for the county, and the wider region, giving a platform from which to demonstrate all that was great about the area, from fabulous landscapes and rich and diverse heritage to optimism, innovation and economic ambition.  Uniquely, the bid would focus not just on the city, but on the county as a whole.  The Council was working at pace to pull the bid together in time for the deadline for submissions but, County Durham had such a such a lot to shout about that the Leader was confident the Council would be able to present an incredibly robust and persuasive case.  The Leader would be providing members with an update on the submission within the coming days and, in the meantime, asked all Members to do all they could to back the bid for City of Culture, which was a unique opportunity to showcase the rich and varied county on a national level.


Next month would see the return of Seaham Food Festival which would take place on Saturday 7 and Sunday, 8 August.  The Festival would feature top TV chefs, around 100 traders and producers and some family-friendly fun.  The inaugural festival in 2019 saw more than 15,000 visitors flock to the seaside event.  Similar footfall this year would mean a major boost for businesses working hard to recover from the impact of the pandemic.


The Council was also planning for Lumiere a little later in the year and had launched an appeal for Festival Makers to help welcome visitors to the city, direct people to installations and be the face of the festival.  Those who were aged 18 and over who had a friendly personality and a passion for the festival, as well as different skills and life experiences were being sought.  The Council was working with event organisers to ensure any coronavirus guidance that was in place was followed.


With the advent of the start of the school holidays next week the Leader outlined activities for young people.  Young people could make a splash with free swimming sessions at Council leisure centres, designed to encouraged children and young people to have fun and be more active.  To provide extra support for families some sessions would include healthy food as part of the Council’s ‘Fun and Food’ campaign.  More than 100 free activities with healthy food were lined up for the school holidays as part of the wider programme.