Agenda item

Cabinet Member Updates


1) Mrs Bell said that home testing kits for Covid-19, which were available online and from pharmacies had been popular and therefore, KCC test centres were being scaled down.


There had been 24 test centres across the county and 600,000 tests had been conducted at the test centres during the pandemic. Most centres were to close over the following weeks. Centres were to remain open with increased hours from 1 July 2021 at Sessions House in Maidstone and at Eurogate Business Park in Ashford.


Weekly home testing was encouraged as people were going to be socialising more and to register the test results so there was a record of how many people were undertaking the tests.


The figures up to 13 June for Kent and Medway showed that around 2 million vaccines had been administered.  74% of all eligible adults had their first dose, 58% of 30 to 39 year olds had the first dose and 96% of the 4 most vulnerable groups had their second dose. The vaccinations were rolling out to everyone aged 18 and over via the national booking service.


The government had confirmed that people working in all care homes registered with the CQC would need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Over 90% of staff in KCC homes had both doses and in other adult care homes, 84% of employees had their first dose and 72% had their second dose of the Covid-19 vaccination.


KCC was well placed to support care homes with ensuring the staff were vaccinated, given the strong working relationship with the care sector, Public Health representatives and the vaccination team.


Domestic abuse affected over 2 million people a year in England and Wales. This equated to between 75,000 and 80,000 adults in Kent and Medway and accounted for 15% of all crime across the region. Since 2017, KCC had worked with partners to commission the Kent Integrated Abuse Contract which provided support for those experiencing abuse. A recent study found that abuse increased during international football tournaments. There was a 47% increase in the number of reported alcohol related domestic abuse cases on days when England were playing and an 18% increase on the days after. There was a campaign called “Show domestic abuse the red card” led by KCC and involving all partners encouraging all residents, businesses and community groups to be extra vigilant for signs of domestic abuse during Euro 2020 and to help direct victims towards support services.


2) Mrs Chandler said that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) began its inspection of the Youth Offending Service on the week starting 21 June. A briefing on the outcome of the inspection was to be discussed at the September CYPE Cabinet Committee.


The difficult decision had been made for KCC to stop accepting UASCs from the Port of Dover. Despite KCC’s ongoing efforts to work with the Home Office regarding the voluntary National Transfer Scheme (NTS), KCC had again reached an unsafe capacity and ceased to accept any further new UASC arrivals from Monday 14 June, just 10 months after having reluctantly taken similar action in August 2020. To continue would have meant the care of the children and young people already in KCC’s care would have been at risk.


At that time, there were 422 UASCs in KCC’s care. Social workers and Independent Review Officers had caseloads considerably above the DfE recommended guidelines. KCC was also providing support to 1100 care leavers.


Of 242 UASC arrivals between 1 January and 1 June 2021, only 52 had been transferred to other local authorities under the voluntary National Transfer Scheme. This was despite considerable constructive work that had been undertaken with the Home Office and DfE since August 2020. However, it was felt that the National Transfer Scheme needs to be mandatory in order to be effective. The outcome of the consultation held in 2020 on the National Transfer Scheme and the revised voluntary scheme were announced following KCC’s decision.  KCC had written to the Home Secretary regarding the first steps towards Judicial Review and had received a response which was being considered.


Virtual School Kent were accepting nominations for this year’s awards, for Kent Children and Young People in Care. The deadline for Early Years’ nominations and those in Year R to Year 11 was Friday, 30 July and for those in Year 12, Year 13 and our Care Leavers, the deadline was Friday, 27 August. It was hoped that the celebration of the achievements of our children and young people would take place in person and nominations were requested. 


The independent review of children’s social care had reached its first major milestone and had published its ‘Case for Change’ which set out what the review had heard so far and where they thought the system needed to change. The review was inviting comment on its initial findings and a response would be produced by KCC as an authority and individual social workers and practitioners had been encouraged to directly respond themselves. More information was available online: independent review of children’s social care website.


For Members’ awareness, it had been agreed that an all-member briefing on mental health was to be held by Clair Bell, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health and Sue Chandler, Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services with officers to help better explain KCC’s role in terms of the services offered and commissioned and to help address any concerns that members had.


3) Mrs Prendergast said guidance had been issued by the DfE and circulated to schools in May regarding this year’s process for the Kent Test and exams. The guidance advised that authorities carry out selection testing in September as normal to enable parents to have their child’s results before the statutory national closing date of 31 October for secondary school applications. This meant that authorities would no longer have DfE support if they elected to delay their assessment as was required last year.


The Covid precautions set out in earlier advice remained in place, pending the announcement of further operational guidance for all schools for the autumn term. As parents were to be provided with their child’s Kent Test result before the application deadline, it would also not be necessary to increase the number of preference options that they were provided, meaning a return to the normal standard of four.


Families with children interested in attending a grammar school were to register them for testing by the closing date of 1 July and details were available on the webpage.


In 2021, more than ever, there was a strong focus on the interests of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose learning was likely to have suffered most during lockdown periods.  Officers had worked closely with schools on the Head Teacher Assessment referral process and were to continue to update them regularly on this and any specifics around the Kent Test.  Schools had been asked to support those parents applying for the Kent Test and to ensure that they were aware of the free familiarisation materials accessible through the Kent Test pages of the KCC website. Once registration for testing was closed, KCC was to write to those parents who had registered their child to confirm the arrangement for the 2021 Test.


Mrs Prendergast had written to the Secretary of State for Education on 14 June to express KCC’s concern regarding educational support for disadvantaged pupils, particularly those eligible for Free School Meals.


The DfE had announced its intentions to make changes to the calculation of the pupil premium for the financial year 2021- 22 which would potentially result in a loss of over £4 million to Kent schools during the year - a considerable amount bearing in mind the number of families meeting the threshold had been increasing as a result of Covid-19. Furthermore, the government’s announcement of a planned investment of just £1.4 billion over three years, or £50 per pupil per annum for post Covid educational catch up was an additional area of concern, particularly since the National Audit Office had found that less than half of pupils who were benefiting from the existing tuition support fund were eligible for free school meals.


Various studies showed that schools with high levels of disadvantaged children had experienced higher levels of learning loss than other schools, particularly in secondary schools and the funding that had been announced would not address the learning gap. As a council, Kent was investing over £10m funding in the post Covid Reconnect Programme for children and young people but were not able to compensate for the lack of national investment.


Ministers had given some indication that additional funding may be forthcoming and a significant uplift in current funding would be welcomed by schools and the Council in supporting them in addressing the post-Covid learning gap for the most deprived children and young people. A copy of Mrs Prendergast’s letter had been shared with schools and with Kent MPs.


Officers at KCC and those working in schools were thanked for all their hard work as the unprecedented challenges continued as a result of the pandemic.


4) Mr Brazier said that he had high level discussions with officers about the renewal of the Highways Maintenance Contract which had been extended. The next phase was to be market engagement. He was involved with Vision Zero, KCC’s ground-breaking highway safety strategy with its high level of community involvement which would be presented at the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee on 29 June.


Work was being undertaken with bus operators on “Bus Back Better” – the government’s national bus strategy. Work was being undertaken with Kent Communications to develop some public engagement to gain feedback about what is important to bus users and a stakeholder group was being formed, including representatives from Kent districts and boroughs. A Member seminar had been requested by Mr Brazier.


A briefing had been given to Mr Brazier on the design and operation of the new Dover fast-track services from the New Heights housing area at Whitfield.


Mr Brazier had visited Stagecoach at Herne Bay and discussed the company’s ethos and plans for the future. He also attended a trial of hydrogen-powered buses in Sevenoaks and witnessed the operators drinking the water that was the vehicles’ only waste product.


A review was being undertaken of LTP4, “Growth without Gridlock” 2016-31, with a view to early work on LTP5. This was to take into consideration the many changes there had been since the plan’s inception.  The move towards a new plan was to strengthen KCC’s position in the light of the changes brought about by the Brexit transition, the Lower Thames Crossing, innovation in transport technology, the Rail Strategy, the Bus Service Improvement Plan, the Environment Strategy and the Energy and Low Emissions Strategy as well as the Renewal and Resilience Plan. It was to be an enormously complex exercise and it was expected that there would be a second round of funding for Active Travel for which Mr Brazier had received bids in anticipation.


Mr Brazier had received a briefing regarding the start of construction for the Lower Thames Crossing. KCC had achieved much in the way of mitigations on the local environment, communities and the local network.  Highways England anticipated difficulties with its Development Consent Order and had withdrawn it while further work was undertaken. It was expected that they would re-submit their plans to the Planning Inspectorate in 2021 and if they were successful, construction would begin in 2023, for completion in 2029.


An informal group was being formed to work on removing HGVs from rural lanes, villages and residential areas and for drivers to use the facilities that exist for ‘paid for’ overnight parking. There had been some unfavourable feedback from the logistics industry and it was intended to look carefully at government policy and how the UK could emulate Europe in providing more and better facilities for haulage and compel drivers to use facilities.


Contact had been made regarding gridlock in Dartford resulting from congestion at the Dartford Crossing and it was hoped that a working group could be created with the town’s MP to see what could be done. It was hoped that Lower Thames Crossing funding would allow some helpful interventions.


It was reported that the government had no plans to provide east facing slips on the M25 at Sevenoaks.


5) Miss Carey thanked Mr Hills for acting as Cabinet Member for Environment for the previous 5 weeks. External recognition had been given with LoCASE receiving a national award. LoCASE was the ‘low carbon across the south east’ team which supported businesses in Kent and more widely across the south east invest to become more sustainable through reduced energy costs and lower carbon emissions, as well as expand in the environmental sector. The Low Carbon Kent team was unanimously voted the winners of the “Delivering Clean Growth” category at the awards of the Association of Directors of Environment Economy Planning and Transport. The judges said that KCC stood out from the rest by the scale and extent of its achievements in linking targeted activities across the south east region to stimulate demand, support supply and nurture innovation for sustainable and clean growth.


£21million in Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme funding had been awarded to KCC in March towards Net Zero work.  At the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee on 29 June, Members were to receive an update on how the funding was to be used and the project management around it.  KCC had committed to challenging timescales but it was a major step forward in the route to Net Zero for KCC’s services and estates.


The Waste Team had been working on the creation of a circular waste economy so that waste produced in Kent would be processed or recycled within the county.  Thanks to a contract with Thanet Waste Services, all the street sweepings from across Kent were treated in Kent.  Kent’s residents wanted their waste to be properly recycled and could be assured that even the dust from the streets was staying in Kent to be recycled and reused.


6) Mr Murphy said thanks to officers who had introduced him to numerous organisations and for their guidance.  Mr Murphy had written to the relevant Secretaries of State to call for a meeting to discuss the growth of housing in Kent and the potential effects on the environment and had made reference to the Stodmarsh watercourse catchment area and the ‘Neutral Nutrients’ issue.


Broadband was essential to the future growth of Kent and a report had been sent to the government in response to their call for evidence regarding their broadband roll out programme across the UK. This was under review and updates were delayed and expected in mid to late July 2021.  This was due to BT Openreach planning to expand their commercial building programme which in turn had led to an extension from the government. Due to the rural nature of Kent, there had been ongoing issues with the roll out to some areas in providing adequate broadband to homes and business premises. The pandemic had highlighted the importance of reliable, fast broadband as vital links for promoting Kent’s economy.  The Broadband team would be pushing for every possible assistance including a new higher value voucher scheme to ensure that Kent was not overlooked when the government’s new roll out plan was announced. The Broadband Team was responding to specific enquiries from MPs and residents regarding the provision of services in the county.

EDF had informed of their intention to decommission Dungeness B Power Station within the next 10 years and work was being undertaken to set up working groups of interested parties, including KCC to work with EDF assisting in the transition of the station.


Mr Murphy had visited Discovery Park in Sandwich and met with the owners and their business team.  The KCC Economic Development team was to work with the owners and other partners to assist in promoting the facilities with the objective of attracting companies, particularly in the life sciences sector. The owners have a progressive plan to engage with the educational community at all levels to promote interest in qualifications in the sciences and therefore, generating the necessary skills and knowledge base in the local population required by the companies they were hoping to attract.


Work was being undertaken by KCC and Dover District Council to implement changes required for the siting of the Inland Border Facility at Whitfield in Dover to accommodate HMRC, Border Control and Dover Port Health Authority. In preparation for 1 January 2022, the facility will require alterations to the road network in and around Whitfield Industrial Park and access to the Park from the Port of Dover. This work was to be of importance to maintain the free flow of vehicles from the Port, through the facilities and onward to their final destinations but also to ensure that nearby businesses and local communities were not inconvenienced.


7) Mr Hill said that community services had made a vital contribution to KCC’s response during the pandemic and thanked all officers for their efforts. Most services had returned to normal. The Country Parks and Public Rights of Way had seen a huge increase in usage and were dealing with the wear and tear which had been exacerbated by a wet winter. Trading Standards and Coroners were returning to near normal levels of activity, although both services had a large backlog of complex and extensive court cases. Wardens had continued to be very busy and there had been an increase in requests for wardens for community engagement along the seafronts, in parks and in youth ‘hotspots’ due to the number of complaints received about anti-social behaviour, litter and consumption of alcohol in public spaces.


Libraries and Registrations had continued to be significantly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions. 42 libraries were open for socially distanced book borrowing, book browsing and IT access. The mobile library service was visiting communities offering the ‘select and collect’ book offer from a new fleet of vehicles.  It had been hoped that all libraries could be opened by the end of July 2021.  Following the extension of restrictions to 19 July, it was expected that the remainder of libraries would be open by the middle of August 2021. It was planned that the libraries would still open even if restrictions were extended beyond 19 July 2021.


There had been an unprecedented demand for wedding ceremonies for the summer of 2021 and there was a commitment to conduct over 60% more ceremonies than in a normal year. Despite best efforts, the service had to cease taking further bookings for July, August and September 2021 but would continue to facilitate ceremonies for emergency situations.


It had been confirmed that up to 32,000 fans were able to attend each Championship day of 149th Open Golf at Royal St George’s at Sandwich and a total attendance of 130,000 spectators was expected, in comparison with around 200,000 spectators in normal times.


8) In a pre-recorded video, Mr Sweetland said that a new online engagement platform had gone live on the KCC website which created a flexible environment for engagement and consultation with residents. Residents’ views and opinions would be sought in a variety of ways such as conversations and using interactive maps. It was hoped that this would improve engagement from the public.


Teams within Mr Sweetland’s portfolio were working toward ‘recovery’ from the pandemic and it had been encouraging to see the numbers of those who were getting Covid-19 testing every week. KCC had carried out over half a million symptom-free Covid-19 tests through testing sites. Home testing kits were the most popular method of testing but everyone was reminded to get tested twice a week even after full vaccination.


Support had been given to Public Health England with enhanced testing in the areas it had been needed, namely in Canterbury and Maidstone.  Alongside testing, the work of Kent Local ‘Contact and Trace’ partnership had continued to ensure that people were given the right advice and support if they needed to isolate.


KCC was helping young people to get a good start in their working lives and was making an investment in the Kickstart Programme. 50 places had been planned across the organisation and it was linked to the Reconnect Programme. A further 70 places were being supported through schools. The KCC Graduate Scheme had been revised and had been recognised by the Job Crowd, a UK graduate and apprentice employer ranking system based on employer feedback. For the second year running, KCC had been ranked as ‘Number 1’ and KCC were the only local authority to make the list.


The Kent Summer Fair was to take place on 10 and 11 July at the Detling Showground. KCC was to be present at the fair and the theme would be ‘Walk to Wellbeing’.


9) The Leader said that KCC’s focus was on the economic, social and environmental recovery of the county and the work outlined in the Cabinet Members’ updates supported recovery.  A meeting of County Council was to take place on 20 July 2021 and one of the important items was to relate to KCC’s relationship with the NHS, joint working and the supporting structures around joint working.


At the end of March, KCC had 270 UASCs in its care and the situation had quickly changed since that time and this underlined how serious the situation relating to UASCs was.