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Leaders statement – Report to Council

Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, delivered her latest Report to Council at the meeting on 10 February 2021:

Vaccinations

Covid has continued to dominate the discussions I have with partners and other councils. As the country entered lockdown again on boxing day. Cllr Helen Pighills, our officers and I have been working ever closer with NHS and Oxfordshire Council colleagues to coordinate the response to Covid and support the Vaccination roll out.

Our Chief Executive, Mark Stone, chairs the Vaccination Cell for Oxfordshire and I am really proud that Oxfordshire was so quick to start vaccinating our residents. It is incredibly frustrating that the government is compensating for the lack of vaccine supply by diverting doses to parts of the country who are further behind than Oxfordshire. Some weeks, local Primary Care Networks have been left with no vaccine to administer.

Despite the challenges created by the inconsistent supply, we should meet the government target to offer everyone in the top four priority groups their first dose by the middle of this month. Thank you everyone who has been involved from this council, our partners and volunteers. It is an amazing team effort.

Testing

While progress on vaccination offers hope, we of course need to maintain compliance with the social distancing and lockdown rules. Vaccination is only one of the measures required to get us back to some sort of normal.

A well-functioning Test and Trace system is also vital. The national test and trace service has significant limitations, but locally, once again, we are stepping up to improve access to testing.

I am really pleased to confirm that we have made the Beacon in Wantage available for use as a community testing site, enabling covid tests to employees working for the Police, Fire Service, Social Services and Early Years settings initially, and others not covered by the national testing programme in time. We have made 15 of our officers available to work at the Beacon community testing site including the team manager and it has been operating since Monday. 

Covid support

Meanwhile we continue to offer support for residents and businesses impacted by covid. I have had several emails from businesses praising our Business Support team for helping to keep businesses afloat.

Business as usual

With around 50% of our officers working on covid tasks, and others juggling childcare and home learning with council work, capacity is incredibly stretched. Despite this we continue to progress corporate priorities such as: the consultation on CIL Charging Strategy which, if supported, will double the funds raised for infrastructure across the Vale over the period of our Local Plan; recruiting two new climate lead officers to deliver the Climate Action Plan; and finding a way to secure a viable and positive future for Old Abbey House in Abingdon.

And, despite Covid, this council remains one of the top performing councils in the country for so many services; including recycling, homelessness prevention, planning enforcement and housing delivery. 

Flooding

The floods at Christmas, and again at the end of January, had an impact on many Vale residents. It also demonstrated the strain local sewerage and highways infrastructure is under as climate change makes flooding more likely.

The situation was particularly serious in South Hinksey Village where home would have been flooded without the deployment of temporary barriers and pumps. Gardens, footpaths and roads were under water but thankfully the efforts of residents and the Environment Agency team kept the water out of homes.

This was the worst flooding since 2014 and demonstrates the need for the delayed Oxfordshire Flood Alleviation Scheme (which we are a partner in) to get started as soon as possible.

May Elections

The next big challenge is the May elections. Now it is confirmed that the biggest set of elections since 1973 is going ahead, district councils face an up-hill struggle to ensure it is possible to run the elections in a Covid safe way. The Community Governance and Electoral Issues Committee will be considering the emerging plans at the meeting on 15 February.

So, 2021 has got off to an incredibly busy start with many challenges for the council and our communities ahead. But there is plenty for this council to be proud of.