Madam Mayor, members, officers and those members of the public who have joined this meeting, welcome to this annual budget Council.
You will note we have a very full agenda tonight. In addition to the suite of budget reports, we have reports on the council’s pay policy statement, the homelessness rough sleeping review and strategy, Bradgate Stables in Groby and the Leicestershire resources and waste strategy.
In addition, we are required to make appointments to Markfield Parish Council and will consider a motion regarding the staff pension scheme.
I have set out below some other key updates.
Cost of living events
I was delighted to attend the recent cost of living events which took place in Earl Shilton and Barlestone. The events followed on from the very successful event in Hinckley last autumn. They have given residents the opportunity to speak face to face with experts about many subjects including benefits, housing, paying energy bills, managing debt and eating on a budget. This year people have seen the end of the £20 uplift in universal credit, as well as energy price rises, rising fuel costs, and inflation at 10.5%. All of these changes mean more of our residents are struggling to make their money cover the basics.
I would like to express my thanks to council staff and local community organisations and other public and private sector partners for supporting the events. These include the British Red Cross, the fire service, WorkLink, local area coordinators and social prescribers, the police and local companies Aaron Services and Danfoss. Also in support were scams/trading standards, the foodbank and GamCare who provide gambling addiction support.
Officers from the council’s housing repairs, resident engagement, council tax and welfare teams also offered face to face advice. Around 100 people were welcomed to the events and 100% of the feedback received rated the event as great.
Community health investment
I would encourage all residents in the borough to have their say on the proposed new multi-million pound proposals to transform health facilities in Hinckley. The NHS in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland have developed proposals to build a new £14.5m community diagnostic centre in Hinckley, as well as develop a day care unit to increase the number of services available for the local community.
As you will be aware, I have been pushing for an urgent walk-in centre at Hinckley for a number of years. I believe this is what the residents of the borough deserve but sadly our residents are still being short changed on the range of services offered locally and by these proposals. However, I acknowledge the improvements proposed are at least a step to bringing local people modern and fit for purpose facilities for health checks, scans, tests and operations that don’t require an overnight stay. This will enable more people to be diagnosed closer to home, without having to travel to a large hospital elsewhere.
The consultation runs to 5 March 2023 and we will be publishing details in the forthcoming Borough Bulletin and details can also be accessed via our website.
I would like to take this opportunity to compliment the work that officers undertake to improve the quality of the health and wellbeing of our residents. Our role, working with health partners in preventing ill health, assisting in reducing health inequalities and promoting wellbeing opportunities, is a credit to people of our organisation and our NHS colleagues who deliver services in the borough.
Preparations for the Coronation
Plans are well underway to mark the Coronation of King Charles III. The council, in partnership with the RCC, is launching a new fund to help established community groups across the borough to celebrate and commemorate this historic occasion. Details will be published on our website and in the Borough Bulletin.
King Richard III Sculpture Trail
I am pleased to report that this ambitious project is advancing even closer to becoming a reality, which will see key sculptural pieces marking the key places in the borough that were associated with the Battle of Bosworth. A planning application has been submitted with installations being programmed for later this year.
Showcasing talent at Atkins
I am pleased to report that our flagship Atkins Building was recently host to young artists from North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, Hinckley Campus. They were able to display their artistic work from their studies in art, design, media, TV and film during January until 3 February.
Staff from the college are also displaying their work and showcasing the creative arts facilities available on the campus. This will run until the end of this week.
Hinckley and Bosworth Sports and Health Alliance awards
Our 16th annual sports award ceremony was held at Hinckley Rugby Club in January. The awards, which recognise the impact that sport can make to lives of residents across the borough, were presented by our Mayor, Cllr Dawn Glenville, and the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Colonel Murray Colville.
My congratulations to all of the award winners and a big thank you to our cultural services team and local volunteers for making this such a great event.
Sticking to the theme of community sport, it was great to see the launch of a new parkrun in Market Bosworth in January, which now takes place every Saturday morning at Market Bosworth Country Park. Participants can now enjoy a timed 5k (just over three miles) walk, jog or run and children are welcome.
The Cock Inn, Sibson
A number of you will be aware that this historic pub, once a really popular drinking and eating establishment, has been closed for some time. Officers have been working with the brewery owners to seek to facilitate repairs and reuse of this establishment. The council granted listed building consent for repairs in late December 2022. Following efforts of local ward members and officers, I am pleased to report that the brewery owners have confirmed that they will progress refurbishment of this Grade II listed building with a view to securing a new operator. The company has agreed to send two representatives to a meeting of local residents which takes place tonight to discuss their plans for the building.
The building was nominated by Sheepy Parish Council and since designated by the borough council as an asset of community value (ACV), which demonstrates considerable interest and determination in ensuring the community use of the public house is secured. Officers stand ready to assist and meet with the local community in helping signpost towards the opportunities resulting from the ACV designation, if required.
Old buildings, building maintenance guides
On the theme of older buildings, the council has launched a new free guide to owners of older buildings in Hinckley town centre, which contains information on how to maintain their historic properties and shops. The guide is an initiative funded via the Hinckley high street action zone (HSHAZ) project aimed at enhancing the town centre and protecting and preserving our historic buildings in Hinckley and throughout the borough. The guide is available online on the council’s website.
I would like to express my thanks to officers involved in the project and particularly our conservation officer who has led on this initiative.
Members will be aware of the council’s success in securing £2.6m for investment in a range of initiatives over the next two years. We are focussing on five key priorities: cost of living support; climate change; employment and skills; town centre improvement; and health and wellbeing. I’m pleased to report work has now commenced on the delivery of some of the 27 projects funded via this scheme. These include: the appointment of a new welfare support officer, doubling our current capacity; facilitating support to residents facing hardship resulting from the cost of living crisis; an initiative to support the economically inactive, with the aim of getting them back into work; and a tourism project aimed at promoting our fabulous attractions and encouraging people to stay local.
Members will be aware of the placement of over forty male asylum seekers at a small hotel in Earl Shilton at the start of the year. This was despite significant concerns raised by the council and partners when the move was first mooted in early 2022 when I wrote to the then Home Secretary Priti Patel to highlight my concerns. Whilst this prompted a reversal of the decision then, we were given absolutely no notice by the Home Office nor its contractors of the government’s change of heart and most recent placements. However, following continued concerns raised by the council and its partners, I’m pleased to report the Home Office have finally seen sense and relocated all of the occupants out of the hotel and borough to other, more suitable accommodation.
Supporting local business
I’m pleased to report that the council is supporting a joint bid from De Montfort University for government investment of up to £4.5m for a new research and innovation hub at Holovis. Holovis is a high tech creative company primarily specialising in ‘augmented reality’ for the entertainment sector. They are based on the Dodwells Bridge industrial estate off Jacknell Road. The company have their global HQ in Hinckley and offices in Asia, Orlando, Kuala Lumpur and United Arab Emirates and employ just under 200 people. The company will be joining the HBBC Employment & Skills Partnership and we wish them every success with the bid.
Following the council’s engagement in a very successful regional conference in November to highlight the case for further investment in the A5, a partnership meeting convened last Friday to hear about the next steps. As well as technical work underway by Midlands Connect and National Highways to develop the technical business case for the investment, it was agreed that an elevator pitch be launched in March to assist in making the case to government for the inclusion of the A5 Tamworth to Hinckley stretch into the national route investment strategy 3 which will be advanced this year. The partnership also received presentations on progress with Mira Technology Park and the news that Polestar are securing their European HQ on the site. I’m pleased to say this is being assisted with the council and LLEP’s investment and funding support. The partnership heard that there are also plans to improve the pricing structure and encouraging more usage of the M6 toll road which may assist in reducing traffic onto the A5. It was also advised of the very positive work underway by Leicestershire Constabulary in coordinating traffic enforcement work along the A5 corridor.
National rail freight interchange
You will all be aware of my significant concerns over this proposal at junction 2 of the M69 close to Burbage Common. The application was formally submitted on 3 February to the government agency PINS who will be responsible for determining the application. As part of the process we have been consulted on the adequacy of the applicant’s consultation process and submitted report. We have issued a press release today highlighting that the consultation by the applicant, Tritex Symmetry, falls significantly short of what we would expect for such a major scheme and its likely consequential impacts on our communities and local environment. We don’t consider the consultation to have been effective; it fails to meet government’s own guidance on consultation on such schemes; insufficient time and information has been made available during the consultation and there has been insufficient response by the applicant to the local planning authorities’ concerns. All in all the consultation has been incomplete, inaccurate and vague to say the least. Our communities deserve more than this and I hope this shoddy approach to such a significant scheme is seen for what it is by government.
The Leader of Council presented his position statement, mentioning items including cost of living events, community health services, the UK shared prosperity fund, asylum seekers, and the national rail freight interchange.