Agenda item

Cabinet Member Updates


1) Mrs Bell said there had been a rise in Covid infection rates above the average for England but below the average for the south east. The age-groups that were most affected were children of ages 5 to 14 years old and there had been an increase in those 40 to 50 years old, believed to be due to transmission to the household contacts of school children. From 9 December, there were to be two mobile testing units in schools in Kent which would test young people and staff.


The numbers of cases in Ashford were of particular concern and this was being analysed to understand the reasons. No outbreaks had been identified in the area and it was suggested that the rise was due to cases in schools and the subsequent spread to households.


The Delta variant had remained predominant and a few cases of the Omicron variant had been confirmed in Kent.  It would be a few weeks before it could be determined if the Omicron variant was more transmissible but there were early indications that it was more transmissible. 


The vaccination programme had delivered outstanding results for the people of Kent and in line with national guidance, the booster programme was being extended. KCC’s Public Health team had continued to deliver asymptomatic testing, the local Test and Trace Partnership and management of outbreaks and incidents.  The government had issued new measures on Covid, including face masks in public settings and working from home. Residents were urged to follow the guidance and take regular lateral flow tests to reduce the spread of the virus.


The Department of Health and Social Care White Paper, People at the Heart of Care, had been published setting out a 10-year vision for adult social care and provided information on funded proposals to be implemented in the next 3 years. There were 3 core objectives in the White Paper: people having control, choice and support to live independent lives, people being able to access outstanding quality and people finding care fair and accessible. KCC’s Making A Difference Everyday approach in the emerging adult social care strategy strongly aligned with the proposals in the white paper, such as a focus on choice and independence and digital technology to assist care and support.


The Carers’ Strategy was to be informed by the White Paper and good progress was being made on the engagement programme for carers.  Workshops had been held which gave residents the opportunity to tell KCC about their experiences of being a carer.


2) Mrs Chandler said on 7 December, directors of Children’s Services across the UK received a letter from Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, and Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults, which contained words of support to all Social Workers following the tragic death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Mrs Chandler thanked all KCC’s Social Workers for their continued dedication, strength, resilience, and compassion which they give to all our children and young people. The letter was to be circulated to Members.


As many Cabinet Members would be aware, the Home Office had announced its intention to mandate the national Transfer Scheme (NTS) across the UK.

As the council at the forefront of migrant arrivals in the UK, KCC had worked closely with ministers and officials at the Home Office and Department for Education for some time to find a reasonable solution to the UASC crisis in Kent which had sadly seen our Children’s Services become overwhelmed twice in the last 15 months. Since resuming services on 10 September 2021, services had consistently remained under extreme pressure and as offers of transfers had continuously not kept pace with new arrivals, government had had to rely on accommodation in hotels which had further compelled the decision to mandate the NTS.


The challenges to all Local Authorities in caring for and supporting UASC were recognised but it was felt the mandation of the NTS was the right decision for an effective, stable and fair system and it would ensure that all children would get safe, appropriate care without delay.


The Reconnect Programme was focused on reconnecting with family for Christmas 2021.  To help make it special for everyone, the County’s bus companies were providing free travel for low-income families, holiday activities and food providers were to take children on funded trips to the panto or other local Christmas events, community groups were putting on events, such as SNAPP’s Winter Wonderland, with Reconnect funding additional activity to enable more children and young people to have a great time.  Open access teams were to put on further local events.  Reconnect had funded 3 additional performances of the open-air Hansel and Gretel pantomime, which was being delivered in KCC’s Country Parks, to enable families working with Integrated Children’s Services to attend.


The financial support for families in need was further enhanced by the decision to use some of the Household Support Grant to provide supermarket vouchers to families of children on free school meals for Christmas 2021, and during the next February and Easter breaks.  The certainty of this, together with the Chancellor’s announcement that HAF was funded for the next three years would help eligible families.


The second round of Reconnect Locality Grants had been approved, with over £1.1 million awarded to local organisations to enable them to provide a wide range of additional opportunities for children and young people.  A grant round enabling organisations to seek funding to deliver activities and support at either a County or area level was to launch. A third round of Locality grants, focused on activity for summer 2022, was to open for applications in early January. 


It was recognised that Christmas was a challenging time for some children and young people, and their families. Aside from the financial support mentioned, Reconnect was promoting the mental health and wellbeing support it had in place via its joint work with Headstart Kent.


After a very generous donation from colleagues in Infrastructure, the Care Leaver Christmas campaign was halfway to its overall target, with donations received totalling just over £10,000.  There were two weeks to reach the overall target of £20,000, which would give each care leaver a £10 gift on Christmas Day. Thanks were given to those who had already donated and others were encouraged to donate to support the Corporate Parenting campaign.


3) Mr Brazier said that since the last meeting of Cabinet, Highways had submitted KCC’s Bus Service Improvement Plan to the Department for Transport.  KCC’s bid was for £220 million for improvements to the bus services in Kent, to include better buses and services, to a wider range of destinations, for later in the day and weekends. Also included was the Kent Travel Saver and KCC’s Supported Buses Scheme. Although government only gave KCC a short time to complete the application, it was unclear when a response could be expected to the application.  It was understood that the sum available from the DfT over 3 years  of £3 billion had been considerably oversubscribed so it was considered unlikely that KCC would receive all that had been asked for.


The new Ashford Truckstop had been opened on 3 December 2021. At capacity, the facility was to provide 650 spaces or overnight parking of HGVs and would go some way to relieving the shortage of secure, formal, lorry parking in Kent.  Baroness Vere of Norbiton opened the Truckstop.


KCC had issued a response to Gatwick Airport’s consultation on its proposal to use its emergency runway for ‘business as usual’ smaller aircraft, thereby adding capacity to its main runway and increasing over-flying over West Kent. Concerns had been raised about the effect of the proposals on residents.


Mr Brazier attended the opening of the refurbished railway stations at Swanley and Maidstone East. KCC had helped to secure Local Growth Funding from SELEP.


Mr Brazier attended the Live Labs Expo in Derby – a DfT sponsored trial of local authorities and private sector innovations. KCC was experimenting with the use of drones to detect defects in the surface of a highway and map its deterioration, signalling when intervention was required.


4) Miss Carey said that same-day bookings were being trialled at 2 Household Waste and Recycling Centres at Folkestone and Tovil in Maidstone, 2 of the busiest sites in the county. The trial was reported to be going well for both residents and staff.


The BEGIN Project, a sustainable urban drainage system in Margate, had won the People’s Choice Award at the EU Regiostars Awards 2021. Another project was forthcoming in Sittingbourne.


5) Mr Murphy said he had met with Damien Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe concerning the future of the Dungeness Power Station. There was to be a meeting in 2022 with the MP, KCC and Rolls Royce to consider usage of the site.


Discussions as part of the Infrastructure First Programme had indicated there was a big demand in the county for new industries such as data storage. Data storage required a lot of electricity so it was important that the infrastructure programme had sufficient electricity to power these various new industries. Car charging points were also to increase residential electricity consumption in Kent. Meetings were being held with UK Power Networks to move this forward in early 2022.


Mr Murphy attended a meeting with businesses organised by Locate in Kent about co-working and new ways of working. Entrepreneurs were seeking more co-working spaces.


Mr Murphy met with Logistics UK and other partners with regard to border controls.


Mr Murphy visited Aylesham District Community Trust who were keen to build 10 small workshops for small and medium enterprises. They had since submitted a business loan application and it was hoped there would be a stimulating effect on businesses in the area.


6) Mr Hill said the Libraries’ public engagement exercise had been launched to help inform the next Library Strategy. Residents had been asked for their feedback on how they would like to see the service develop. The current strategy was to run until the end of 2022. As many people as possible were encouraged to take part in the engagement process.


The Libraries’ new fleet of mobile libraries had resulted in a national award for the way they were produced and equipped. KCC had 5 modern vehicles to tour the county to service residents who would find it difficult to visit a conventional library building. The new fleet offered greater reliability, reduced maintenance costs and better economy.


7) Mr Sweetland said that KCC as an employer was pleased to be part of Kickstart, the government initiative which created new job placements for 16 to 24 year olds in receipt of Universal Credit and were at risk of long-term unemployment. Work was being undertaken to offer a wide range of jobs across the organisation and in schools based all over Kent. The placements would support young people to develop skills and experience needed to find work after completing the scheme. KCC became an approved Kickstart employer in December 2020 and an agreement for 150 placement opportunities was in place. 80 of these were in KCC directorates and a further 70 were part of the Reconnect Programme coordinated in our Education department. It was hoped that KCC would have confirmation of a further 100 placements from the DWP. Each of the ‘Kickstarters’ had access to a bespoke development programme. Managers across the organisation strongly supported the programme and there were a wide range of roles, not just within office-based roles.


The first cohort of ‘Kickstarters’ had gone back into education, moved into permanent employment and taken up apprenticeship roles. The Reconnect Programme placements had been very successful. It was hoped that the Kickstart scheme would be extended further. Further information was available on KCC’s website.


Guidance was being issued to staff on how to keep themselves safe and to follow the government’s Plan B guidance. KCC services continued to be delivered to residents in Kent thanks to the dedication of frontline staff working in the community and with the support of those able to work from home.


A new issue of KCC’s Residents’ newsletter had come out – this issue included an advent calendar and encouragement for people to become involved with Domestic Abuse Awareness.


8) Mr Oakford said work had continued to develop the 2022-23 budget and KCC was preparing to launch the draft budget consultation. Since the announcement of the government’s Plan B guidance, work was ongoing to understand what the announcement meant to KCC and to ensure KCC worked within the guidelines to ensure the safety of all Members and officers.


Increased social distancing was being introduced within all KCC buildings and work was being done to ensure Covid-compliance. Emergency kits of equipment were being delivered to ensure that KCC continued to operate within the published guidelines.


9) Mrs Prendergast said there were increasing infection rates across the county. Fair Access had sent updated guidance to schools regarding school transport. Providers had continued to be required to wear facemasks and undertake relevant COVID safeguards. Families were contacted directly to advise that face masks were again mandatory for secondary aged pupils (unless exempt), and to encourage all others to wear one where they can.


With regard to Elective Home Education, the Local Authorities and the Department for Education had been keenly awaiting the outcome of a Judicial Review which was brought against Portsmouth City Council in relation to the implementation of their Elective Home Education policy. The complainant brought four charges against the Council, alleging that it was exceeding its legal duties in ensuring their child was receiving a suitable education. All four charges were turned down, providing vital case law to support statutory guidance in this area. Members can be reassured that KCC’s EHE Policy, which was reviewed in January 2020, had a firm legal footing and this ruling supported Kent’s approach in this area.


It was announced that the Kingsnorth CE Primary School in Ashford had been selected to form the Kent Associate Research School and joined the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) network of 28 Research Schools and 10 Associate Research Schools across England. Their main objective, as an Associate of Durrington Research School in West Sussex, was to establish new partnerships with local schools and provide effective guidance by promoting and exemplifying evidence-based practice.


The appointment of a new Associate Research School would support the EEFective Kent Project - an ambitious partnership between EEF and Kent County Council (KCC) aiming to support all Kent schools, so that they were able to access training and support based on the best available evidence. They were to become part of the Research School Network, working to encourage other schools in the region to adopt approaches which had a proven history of improving outcomes for learners, focusing on those that had been successful in boosting the progress of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and to improve pupils’ outcomes.


It was confirmed that the Community Learning Service had been able to meet its contractual targets for 2020-2021 despite the unprecedented challenges that Covid brought with it, meaning that many of its teaching and learning centres had to be closed for a vast period of time. This was mainly due to a vibrant and high-quality online learning programme, as well as the efforts of CLS staff making physical exams possible during pandemic restrictions. All teaching and learning centres were now fully reopened, with much of the online programme also continuing. A date (25 April 2022) had been set for the resumption of Adult and Community Learning at the new Amelia Centre in Tunbridge Wells.


Ofsted’s annual report had shown Kent’s schools had continued to perform well and 93% of Kent’s primary schools were rated as Good or Outstanding, with the national average being 88%. Secondary schools were also rated above the national average of 77% with 87% ranked as Good or Outstanding.