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Leader’s statement to council 15 July 2020

Released on July 17, 2020

Since our last full council meeting my focus has clearly been responding to Covid-19.

District councils have been on the frontline supporting our residents and playing a key part in protecting the NHS. I am incredibly proud of the work our officers, members and volunteers across the Vale have done and will continue to do.

Throughout the pandemic, the Government has issued requests and directions to local councils, sometimes announced live at the 5pm press conferences, without notice. Our officers have had to get new systems designed and operational within days and keep the public and local businesses informed in a fast-moving situation.

But we are not out of the woods yet. The ongoing health crisis and looming economic recession means we have had to create a new team of 24 staff across South and Vale to continue to run the Community Support Hub. Our Business Support team are changing their focus as the workload increases and our Environmental Health team are working with Oxfordshire’s Director of Public Health helping to prevent and prepare for controlling future Covid outbreaks.

Last Friday, my Cabinet approved extensions to partnership grants to Oxfordshire South and Vale Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Wantage Independent Advice Centre and Community First Oxfordshire to enable them to continue supporting families and communities impacted by Covid. We also adopted a new Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy and Housing Assistance Grants and Loans Policy. Our housing teams are supporting almost four times as many homeless people than before Covid and I expect that number to increase over the coming months.

A more positive consequence of the Covid lockdown has been a reduction in Air Pollution in our AQMAs and an increase in cycling and walking. We are in the middle of an opportunity to capture this enthusiasm for cycling and ensure a lasting shift away from private car use.

But as people start to slip into old routines this window of opportunity is closing. Many members of our town councils, this council and Cllr de la Harpe, the Vale’s cycling champion, passed ideas to our county councillors to include in their bid to Government for cycling and walking infrastructure from the Government’s social distancing scheme. Sadly, our suggestions for pop-up cycle lanes, 20mph limits in our towns and widening of pavements among others were not included in the county’s first bid and Oxfordshire missed out on 50 per cent of the funding they could have received. This is clearly very disappointing.

Cllr Grant wrote to the county in support of more ambitious active travel provision on behalf of the Climate Emergency and Advisory Committee. Cabinet are also writing to ask the leader of the county council to be more ambitious in the second bid for funding and asking the county to act quicker to ensure this opportunity to keep people cycling and reduce car use is not missed.

And as this council looks forward and thinks about our aims and a new post-Covid ‘normal’, we are, this week, launching a consultation on our new Corporate Plan for the Vale of White Horse District. I am really excited that we are now able to present our priorities for this council for public feedback.

This administration wants to support our communities and help people thrive by providing the homes people need, tackling the climate emergency and building healthy communities. We want to build stable finances so we can invest in services, build on our partnerships with businesses, community groups and residents and to carry out all our work in an open and inclusive way.

I ask that members encourage people to engage with the consultation about these themes and the programmes of work we are planning to help make the Vale an even better place to live, work and visit.

Cllr Emily Smith

Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council