An issues paper prepared by the Opposition Group is attached for information.
The Council rules relating to Opposition Business are also attached for information.
Councillor Laban introduced the issues paper, prepared by the Opposition Group.
1. Issues highlighted by Councillor Laban were as follows:
· That Enfield had been slower to open up face to face services following the Coronavirus lockdown than other city centres and London boroughs.
· The Civic Centre has been closed since March and since July only 4 of the main libraries have been open for face to face enquiries.
· Works have been taking place in the reception area at the Civic Centre throughout and there is no clear signage to explain where to go to get help and support.
· This has had a detrimental effect on the local economy and retail outlets.
· If lockdown restrictions are to be re-imposed the Council needs to be more flexible and efficient at opening up.
· At the libraries that are open, residents have to book appointments weeks in advance to be able to browse the books, unlike in other places.
· The government lifted restrictions on opening of leisure centres on the 4 July 2020, but leisure centres were only opened during the week of the 17 August and some are still closed.
· The household waste and recycling centre at Barrowell Green is still only open via appointment. This has led to an increase in flytipping.
· The Council could and should do more to open up for business. The closure of the Civic Centre building had made the Council look as if it had been closed.
· A review should be carried out to find out why the response has been so slow and a plan of action produced to deal with any future lock downs. The Council should be ready and agile to do more to open up services and support the local economy.
2. Councillor Caliskan, the Leader of the Council, responded on behalf of the Majority Group highlighting:
· She had been astonished at how disingenuous, ineffective and out of touch the Conservative group had shown themselves to be in bringing forward this topic for opposition priority business.
· If the Civic Centre had been fully open during this time when Covid 19 infections were increasing it would have been unwise and been in contradiction to Central Government advice, that people should work from home wherever possible.
· The administration had taken the decision to keep Council staff safe.
· Despite this approximately 150 members of staff were attending the Civic Centre to provide vital services every day. During lockdown a supply centre had been set up to deliver food parcels where needed, the call centre has taken over 20,000 calls, £1,000m funds have been provided to support small businesses and local town centres.
· The Council had introduced an appointment system for the recycling centre and this had also been done at the leisure centres to help manage visitor flow. There has now been a significant reduction in no shows.
· Fusion is not run by the Council. It was outsourced by a previous administration. The Council had not been prepared to subsidise this private organisation. However, four leisure centres were now open. In many other places they are still not open. Fusion do not operate in Barnet.
· The Council already has a Covid 19 Action Plan.
· The reception area at the Civic Centre is currently being refurbished and will open again, dependent on Government advice and legislation.
· The Conservative Group should be holding their own government to account for their failures and not be promoting their outdated, out of touch and dangerous policies.
3. Other issues highlighted during the debate were as follows:
a. The need highlighted by the members of the main Opposition Group:
· To acknowledge that life was not returning to normal and that it was difficult to obtain information about Council services. Residents were advised to email, but it was often better to phone.
· Booking at Barrowell Green was not straightforward and people could often wait more than 2 weeks for an appointment. This system had resulted in a lot of no-shows which was a waste of time and resources. The result had been an increase in flytipping.
· To acknowledge that everyone needed to live with the virus and that the Council should have ensured that services continued as normally as possible, in a safe, covid secure way.
· The view that problems were due to the incompetence of the administration, lack of advance preparation and that a lot of money had been wasted hiring premises for the supply centre when existing Council owned premises could have been used.
· Private gyms had opened so why couldn’t public ones.
· The view that services were being poorly run. The Council should have done better. They had failed residents.
b. The need highlighted by members of the Majority Group:
· To acknowledge that officers have been working extremely hard both at home and in the Civic Centre to provide services to residents in these difficult times.
· During lockdown many of those working in the libraries had been redeployed to other areas, providing support where needed.
· Firstly Enfield Town and Edmonton Green and later the other two main libraries have been open for bookable browsing, with socially distanced markings and in line with legislation. In some Conservative boroughs, libraries are still not open at all.
· Enfield acted early and has taken a careful considered and precautionary approach in line with the Government guidance, despite multiple changes and confusing messages.
· If there was another lock down, the administration would ensure that appropriate safety measures were in place.
· There were currently 154 positive cases in Enfield. The Council has a duty to safeguard residents and staff. Services were open, but safely. The administration does not want residents to pay with their lives.
· The Government had promised to provide extra funding which had not materialised. The majority group members called on the Conservative Group to work with the administration to lobby Government for the necessary funds.
· Regret that the Conservative Group were willing to put at risk the lives of Enfield residents. Many people had already died including many from the Black and Ethnic Minority Communities.
· Commendation for the leader, other councillors and the many officers who had worked so hard to provide services, and to deliver food and medication to vulnerable people across the borough, during lock down.
· The service provided by Fusion Leisure Centres had not been good and the Council had been right not to provide them with extra support using Council tax payers money.
· The Council had kept all services going and the streets clean and safe throughout the lock down.
· In Finance, by the third week of the lock down 63% of the extra grant received had been passed on to local business. This was above the London average.
· The opposition should show more concern about the issues such as the need to keep people in care homes safe and the lack of an adequate test and trace system.
4. The need highlighted by the minority Opposition Group:
· To acknowledge that the Council had been quick to shut down but slow to open up.
· At the start of the pandemic, some community groups had set up a food delivery service before the Council had done so.
· Responses by phone had been excellent, but the waste collection services have been poor, resulting in lots of fly-tipping.
· To recognise the view that more should have been done to improve services and less effort spent on public relations and blaming others.
· To continue regular briefings to councillors during the Covid-19 period to ensure everyone was kept up to date.
During the debate Councillor Caliskan proposed and Councillor Anolue seconded a motion under 2.2 of the Constitution to extend the debate on Opposition Business for a further five minutes. This was agreed without a vote.
5. At the end of the debate Councillor Laban summed up on behalf of the Opposition Group as follows:
Enfield Council was in her view closed for business. She acknowledged the contributions of the staff putting the blame on the Labour administration. Residents were having to book in advance to browse books in the library. She expressed the view that too much money had been spent on hiring the building for the supply centre. Leisure centres should have been opened sooner, nearby places such as Essex and Hertfordshire had done better. The Opposition felt that the Council should listen more and be more open for business. Enfield residents deserved better.
6. Councillor Caliskan (the Leader of the Council) then summed up on behalf of the majority group responding to the recommendations in the Opposition Priority Business Paper:
Councillor Caliskan was proud of the way the Council had responded to the epidemic. The achievements were recognised beyond Enfield. Food parcels and medical deliveries spoke for themselves. Enfield Council had set up a Resilience Board to manage the Council response. In response to comments on the leisure centres, she said that the Council could not justify handing over £1m of taxpayers money to subside Fusion to deliver something that they should have already being delivering as part of their contract. The residents of Enfield had been let down by the Conservative Government with their failures over testing, medical PPE and care homes. They had not managed to contain the disease.
After the debate, the recommendations were not agreed and there was no vote on the Leader’s response.