Agenda item

To receive questions from, and provide answers to, councillors in relation to matters which, in the opinion of the Chairman, accord with the provisions of Procedure Rules 8.4 and 8.6.


Councillor Miscandlon stated that no questions had been submitted under Procedure Rule 8.6 and asked if there were any questions under Procedure Rule. 8.4 from Councillor Cornwell as Leader of the Opposition.


1.    Councillor Cornwell said he would like to know the anticipated effect on the Council’s budgets given the unprecedented energy price increases and requested a summary of how prepared the Council is to deal with the many community issues arising from expected high levels of fuel poverty in Fenland. Councillor Boden responded that he could not provide an answer or even a realistic prediction in respect of the effects of fuel price changes on the Council’s budget for this or future years. Firstly, we have yet to fully understand the implications of additional money from the Government which will be made available to reduce fuel costs for local government functions. Secondly, we do not know what fuel prices are likely to be at any point in the future. Councillor Boden added that although he cannot provide any figures, in practice we will need to be prudent and cautious, and when approaching budget time advice will be sought from officers as to the likely effects on our direct and indirect costs. Regarding the effect on our businesses and residents, support is being given for residential use fuel costs, particularly those with the greatest need, but undoubtedly there will be an increase in the number of people who will face difficulties. Responsibility for this largely lies with the County Council but our Housing Team will undoubtedly be receiving a greater number of enquiries in term of living conditions and potential additional homelessness. If required we may need to look at staffing levels but at this time it is difficult to predict the degree of extra demand there will be.

2.    Councillor Cornwell thanked Councillor Boden, saying he could understand the difficulty but would have expected some form of risk assessments to be underway within the Council to at least try to prepare for situations as they arise. Every household within Fenland is going to go through a tough time and this will surely impact on the services this Council delivers, particularly housing. He stated that less house building is going on and therefore he wondered if that service is being affected by extra demands such as the homes for Ukrainians scheme and immigration. If fuel poverty is going to be an element that leads to homelessness, how prepared are we as a Council?

3.    Councillor Boden responded that he agreed with mostly all that Councillor Cornwell had said. The Portfolio Holders Report gives information about the trend already experienced this year towards a greater demand on our homelessness service. However, the report also states what has been done and will be done to increase capacity on that. He is not aware that there will be any impact caused by the Ukrainian refugee scheme, and the decamping of individuals awaiting asylum from hotels into local communities’ scheme has not started yet. However, the draft proposals he has seen regarding this, and immigration generally, would mean a significant tightening of the private sector rental market which would have the impact suggested by Councillor Cornwell. It could then mean that individuals who would previously have been able to find accommodation will be unable to do so. Members and officers have already made representations about this scheme, as have other local authorities, and much continues behind the scenes regarding this. Although the Council is doing what it can, admittedly there are gaps through which some people will inevitably fall so we are facing pressure on that and a reduction in private sector housing. There is not much further he can say other than it would be unreasonable to take more than our fair share of those individuals who are being decamped from hotels or who are seeking asylum.