Members of the School Council had a unique opportunity to sit in on one of Breckland Council’s meetings on Thursday 18th July. Invited, by Councillor Hilary Bushell, on arrival they were met by Democratic Services Team Leader Teresa Smith. There was a quick photo with the Councillors for the raising of the Norfolk Day flag before the meeting started.
The Anglia Room in the conference suite at Breckland Offices was split into parts. The ‘top table’ included Councillor Sam Chapman Allen, Leader of the Council, Chief Executive of Breckland and South Holland District Council, Mrs Anna Graves, the Chairman, Councillor Lynda Turner and the Council solicitors. The Cabinet were sat on the inner circle whilst the Members (Councillors) were sat on the outer circle.
The meeting started with some introductions and formal business before two ladies from Leeway and the Daisy programme (charities supported by the Chairman this year) spoke about the work their charities do in supporting people who have experienced domestic violence and abuse.
The Chairman and Leader gave various announcements before minutes from previous committee meetings were agreed or ‘moved’. During the meeting, Councillors were posing questions to others who were responding. Amendments to documents were being suggested with the legal team offering advice and referring to the constitution. Councillors were asked to vote for or against various amendments and there was a lot of debate at times.
We left before the end of the meeting and moved into a side room. We were joined by Rob Walker, Executive Director of Place at Breckland Council who talked us through a day working for the council. He is responsible for various services including waste collection, social housing, leisure centres, planning permission and the high street. When asked if Councillors have a second job, Rob said that some do, but possibly have jobs where they can easily take time out to attend more meetings, whilst others are retired. There is a push to get more women and younger people involved too. He mentioned that for 19 of the Councillors present, it was only their second meeting having been elected in May. As well as answering a number of questions from our students he also said that Breckland Council is the biggest employer in Dereham, employing over 300 people in all sorts of jobs (across Norfolk) including accountants, solicitors, planning, housing officer, admin roles and more. Freya asked where council tax money goes to. Rob explained that about two thirds goes to the County Council for things such as education, social care and health care, some goes to the police and local parish council and finally some to Breckland Council to pay for services such as bin collections, housing and benefits. Chairman Lynda Turner also joined us and School Council members were able to tell her about some of the projects they had been involved in over the year at school.
Finally there was a guided tour of the Council Offices – much bigger than we first thought. Teresa explained what the various departments do and members of the departments came over and spoke to the students. There were teams for planning, communications and marketing, HR, legal services, electoral services, finance, licencing, environmental health, food health and safety, housing, department for work and pensions (job centre) and more.
Such an informative morning for our students, Jimmy summed it up nicely in a thank you to Lynda, Rob and Teresa saying that it was great to have first-hand experience of a council meeting and learn more about what the council does.
Thank you to all at Breckland Council – we look forward to working with you again in the future.