Leaders Statement – 14 July 2021
Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, delivered her Leaders Statement to Council at the meeting on 14 July 2021
As members are aware, Covid is once again spreading fast and causing the local authorities and health partner’s concern. Oxford City has been classified as an Enhanced Response Area with mobile testing units deployed, because of the significant increase in cases there. Younger people who are not yet vaccinated are exposed to the greatest risk Vale officers from our Covid Secure team have been supporting the City council to enforce distancing and encourage 18-29 year olds to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and we have been supporting this work through our communications too. and encourage 18-29 year olds to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
I am incredibly proud of the work we have done as a council, and with partners across the county to support businesses and co-ordinate compliance during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is pleasing that our work in partnership with the other Oxfordshire councils and Police, has been formally recognised by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as part of their Product and Safety Standard’s national awards.
Waste Collection Disruption
Covid also continues to impact on our waste collections, and I am grateful for the support and understanding that residents have expressed while Biffa try to manage a reduced staff base, partly as a result of Brexit and partly because of the backlog in HGVs licenses being issued while Covid prevented the HGV driving tests taking place. Efforts to recruit more HGV drivers to a role with Biffa continues recognising there is difficulty in recruiting HGV drivers across the country and in all sectors.
Local Government Association Conference
The LGA conference went online this year and thanks to a proposal from the Liberal Democrat LGA group, the national conference was opened up to all councillors to attend for free for the first time. As well as excellent opportunities to share good practice and learn from colleagues around the country, I attended a troubling session with the Institute of Fiscal Studies about the worsening state of local government finance.
As members know, this council’s financial situation was looking uncertain back in 2019, under the leadership of our Cabinet member for Finance and Corporate Assest, Cllr Andy Crawford, we had started to get the council on more stable footing, but then Covid hit. The IFS explained that across England public spending on non-statutory services (which include many district services) will see budgets cut three time more that was predicted before Covid, and this on top of predictions of increasing unemployment and demand for employment and housing support across the country. This is something that all councils will have to address as we work on budgets for the coming year and we all need to be mindful of when making decisions on how we best target scare resources.
Abbey Meadow Outdoor Pool
On a more hopeful note, it has been really exciting to see the outdoor pool at Abbey Meadow brought back to life after Covid forced its closure last season, Cllr Pighills and I visited to watch staff carrying out the extensive preparations to get the pool open and I have been twice since it opened to see families and lane swimmers enjoying the water. Feedback from them was overwhelmingly positive and I am looking forward to the splashpad opening next week too.
Our new White Horse Community Lottery was officially launched at an event with Cllr Thomas with charities and good causes last month. The response has been great, but there is no deadline for groups to register and be part of this initiative to raise funds and awareness for good causes across the Vale.
Oxfordshire Plan 2050 Consultation
I wanted to remind members that the regulation 18 consultation on the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 starts on 31 July. This is such an important plan for our district and a real opportunity to update planning policy to be more in line with our values and commitment to tackle the climate emergency. The consultation will run until October 8 with a number of online events taking place over the summer. I hope that members will both respond themselves and encourage residents and organisation in their wards to do the same. Feedback on the options set out in the consultation will be carefully considered by the Growth Board Sub Group that I chair and Cllr Debby Hallett represents Vale on as we work with the other district and city councils to create this Strategic Plan for our county.
Government Consultation on their Vision for the Arc Spatial Framework
Finally, I wanted to mention that next week the government are starting a consultation on a vision for their Arc Spatial Framework. We do not yet know what MHCLG have put into their draft vision but it is intended their Spatial Framework will eventually become part of national planning policy so at the risk of consultation fatigue I also hope that councillors and our communities will take advantage of this opportunity to comment on, and hopefully influence, national policy in line with our local aspirations.