(Prior to the consideration of this item, Councillor Smith redeclared his Prejudicial/Pecuniary interest made at the start of the meeting and requested to be placed in the waiting room for the duration of this item.)
The Chairman, Councillor Dr Walsh, presented the Minutes from the meeting of Cabinet held on 21 September 2020.
Councillor Dr Walsh alerted Members to a recommendation at Minute 211 [Financial Support to Leisure Operating Contract] which he formally proposed. The recommendation was then seconded by Councillor Oppler.
Following a lengthy debate,
That a supplementary estimate for a sum up to £191,000 (Band D equivalent of £3.07) to support the Council’s Leisure Operating Contract from October to December 2020 be approved.
The Chairman then alerted Members to the next two and final recommendations at Minute 214 [Options to Progress Webcast Improvement Project]. Councillor Dr Walsh then formally proposed these two recommendations which were then seconded by Councillor Stanley.
There was much debate on this item. Many Councillors confirmed that they could not support the cost of £65k for this project at this time and in view of the financial situation that the Council found itself in as a result of the Pandemic. There were other more vital priorities to address which was to continue in supporting residents and businesses in the area. It was also felt that the technical issues experienced in the past could be overcome. What was required was a more flexible approach to the webcasting of meetings and that a hybrid option should be investigated to provide flexible resilience allowing some Councillors to be present in the Council Chamber and others attending virtually and in view of the fact that it was likely that virtual meetings would continue for some time.
Others spoke in support of the recommendations confirming that the upgrades were required to allow the Council to continue webcasting some of the Council meetings once normality returned – this being a physical presence again in the Council Chamber, especially as the public had become used to being able to watch all meetings live.
Following a lengthy debate, and in view of the fact that it could be some time before meetings could resume in the Council Chamber, it was felt that this project should be looked at again in line with what other guidance might be available in terms of hybrid and virtual meetings. Requests were also made to receive the viewing figures of meetings since lockdown and if these could be compared to viewing figures from the year before as this would then indicate how vital this service was to the viewing public.
Having again made points that this was not the right time to be spending money on anything other than services that were vital to the public, the proposer, Councillor Dr Walsh, confirmed that he was happy to withdraw this item and he asked Officers to reconsider the proposals and to find the most technically up to date solution for further consideration by a future meeting of Cabinet.
Councillor Gunner then made a Statement in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 13.2 in relation to Minute 220 [London Road Coach Lorry Park - Exempt – Paragraph 3 – The Supply of Goods and Services]. Councillor Gunner referred to the sum that could have been received which would have delivered much needed investment in Bognor Regis from students. Councillor Gunner outlined that this money could have been invested into other regeneration schemes, but that Cabinet had turned the offer down. This had been why a Call-In had been requested which had been unsuccessful and so Councillor Gunner urged Cabinet to look at this decision again.
The Interim Monitoring Officer reminded Councillors of the need to respect Exempt items and their confidentiality and requested Councillor Gunner to put his request for reconsideration back to Cabinet in writing and he strongly urged the Councillor to not to continue to debate this item.
Various Points of Order were then raised where it was stated that this was an important matter that needed further debate and for questions to be asked and answered which were responded to by the Interim Monitoring Officer.
The Interim Monitoring Officer urged Councillors to refrain from raising any further questions on this confidential matter. If this request was refused; it would be necessary for the meeting to move into Exempt business to protect confidential information and the Council from any future challenge. Councillors were reminded that this was not an opportunity for them to attempt a further Call-In process.
This advice was disputed with Councillors urging that the matter be debated further tonight. Councillors were reminded by the Councillor Dr Walsh that the preferred bidder had withdrawn its offer.
This point was disputed by some Councillors who made further Points of Order.
Councillor Dr Walsh provided further explanation and confirmed that discussions were continuing with the Police and that the suggestions made by some Councillor that the Police were not interested were far from the truth, negotiations were still ongoing. Councillor Dr Walsh confirmed that he would accept a written statement from Councillor Gunner which he would respond to confirming when the matter could be discussed further under Exempt Business rules and in line with the Constitution.
Councillor Gunner urged Councillors to move into Exempt business now and that if this could not happen that he would write to Councillor Dr Walsh as an assurance had now been made that some form of debate would take place.
Councillor Tilbrook then made a Statement in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 13.2 in relation to Minute 216 [The Council’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic Situation_ where he praised the work of the Working Party and he hoped that all twelve of its recommendations would be processed soon.
This developed into a debate in terms of the Working Party’s Recommendation (8) where an update was requested.
Councillor Dr Walsh confirmed that these recommendations were being progressed but as the minute highlighted, it was necessary to consider, in prioritising them, the Council’s financial position and the amount of available Officer time to take projects forward.
A further statement was then made by Councillor Dendle in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 13.2 on the recommendations approved by Cabinet from the Covid-19 Working Party in relation to the Sussex by the Sea website and the rebranding of this web site.