Environment, Transport and Development Overview and Scrutiny Panel

Tuesday, 14th January 2014

The Overview and Scrutiny Panels cannot take decisions on behalf of the Council, but can review how policies and decisions are actually working once they have been agreed and are in place.

The Panels can also discuss and debate policies and plans which are under consideration.  The Cabinet member will then take account of the Panels views when matters are taken to Cabinet for decision.

Members of the public can put questions to the Overview and Scrutiny Panels on any issue at the meeting even if the issue is not on the agenda.

For further information about Overview and Scrutiny Panels including membership, agendas and minutes, see the Committees section of the Norfolk County Council website.

Business rates and budget consultation considered by Environment, Transport & Development Panel

 The impact of Business Rates on local businesses, and responses to Norfolk County Council's Putting People First budget consultation, will keep the council's Environment, Transport & Development Panel in session all day on Tuesday 14 January at County Hall, Norwich.

The morning session (10am, Council Chamber) has been set aside for businesses and their representative organisations to give their views on the current system of Business Rates.*

In the afternoon (2pm) the Panel will consider all other items on the agenda, including the public response to savings proposals in the areas of waste and recycling, public transport support, road maintenance, planning and trading standards. These formed part of the 'Putting People First' consultation that ran for 12-weeks between September and December and sought views on how Norfolk County Council should plug a predicted £189 million funding gap**.

The report summarises the responses to proposals, including some high profile proposals:

  • Reducing the subsidy for the CoastHopper bus service by £150,000 over two years (currently £225,000 a year).  The majority of people responding opposed this, citing rural isolation, the impact on tourism and local businesses and the loss of an essential local service during the winter. Three businesses have expressed interest in sponsoring the service, and other suggestions to maintain the CoastHopper included a charge for concessionary pass holders and different fares for visitors and local people.
  • Reduce highway maintenance for one year (£1 million).  The majority of respondents were concerned about the impact on road surfaces and the potential for greater expense in the future.  Charging was seen as a practical way to maintain some services, but there was also concern that these could lead to higher costs elsewhere, such as increased fly-tipping and reduced recycling because of charging and reduced opening hours at some recycling centres.
  • There was concern that saving £330,000 on school transport would compromise the safety of children, as well as create difficulties for parents. However, over 100 respondents accepted the proposal with a range of views, some seeing home to school transport as the parents' responsibility, and others seeing health and community benefits from improvements to footpaths and cycleways.
  • Scaling back Trading Standards advice to focus on legal responsibilities, saving £373,000, was accepted by some people, while others were concerned that it would lead to more rogue traders and bad business practices, with concern that older and vulnerable people would be at risk.

David Harrison, Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport, Development and Waste, said: "I am not in the least surprised that people oppose many of these spending cuts and new charges, but we have to find some way of plugging the budget gap - and we are still waiting for Eric Pickles' decision on the Willows, which could add to that pressure.

"What I can promise is that we will do everything we can to reduce the impact on our services and on Norfolk people. The many comments we have received will help us to do this, and I am grateful for the way in which people have put forward their own suggestions. For example, several businesses have shown interest in sponsoring the CoastHopper, and we will certainly be exploring these further because we recognise how much it is valued locally. On Tuesday Panel members will be able to have their say with the benefit of the feedback from Norfolk people and organisations."

Dan Roper, Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member for Public Protection, said:

"The only way Trading Standards can make significant savings is by scaling back on services we don't have to provide by law. In the consultation many people have recognised this, but some have also raised concern that older and vulnerable people will be more at risk from rogue traders and bad business practices. This is something we are already taking steps to mitigate, and if the reduction goes ahead** we will try to minimise the impact by careful targeting and dealing with the areas of highest risk, and by signposting people to other sources of high quality advice."

Panel members will also have a chance to comment on how its annual allocation of highways and transport capital grant from the Government should be spent. Altogether £28.76m has been allocated to Norfolk, and it is recommended that nearly £25.4m should be spent on the planned structural maintenance of roads (such as resurfacing), nearly £1.4m on bridges and £2m for a range of small scale improvements including public transport, cycling, pedestrian and road safety schemes.

Structural maintenance is paid for by a capital grant from the Government and is used for resurfacing schemes, surface dressing, patching and other repairs.

Please Note: The proposed £1m one year reduction in road maintenance relates to the highways maintenance revenue budget which pays for day to day activities such as winter maintenance, street lighting, pothole filling, traffic light maintenance, verge cutting and weed spraying. The £1m reduction, if approved, would in 2014/15 reduce the refilling of grit bins, and delay some bridge and traffic light maintenance, the replacement of road markings and the renewal of safety barriers.