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Leader’s statement to council 7 October 2020

Our fantastic officers and the community groups that stepped up during lockdown have my admiration and endless thanks. A lot of work continues. I of course hope that they won’t all be asked to step up to the same level of work again.

With cases rising again across the district, our officers are already planning for the worst. If the cases rise in the coming months our focus will have to return to supporting people who are isolating and our more vulnerable residents.

If we move into local response measures or local lockdown, this council will have more tasks and responsibilities than we did last time. While local authorities are far better placed than central government to provide food, financial support and advice, we will be delivering this extra support without additional staff resource.

The financial and time pressures are real, but it is right that we do all we can to keep residents safe and local businesses afloat. I will keep making the case to government for Robert Jenrick to fulfil his promise to fully compensate us for our losses from Covid. Our services will be needed by the community more than ever, even after a vaccine is found. 

Active Travel

Following our motion at the last council meeting in support of Active Travel I wrote to the County Council Leader requesting that walking and cycling be supported in the Vale.

Unfortunately, since then, the County have made cuts to their budget which will in fact delay the planned Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan for Abingdon. None of the suggested changes County Councillors or our Cycling Champion made for post-Covid measures from anywhere at all in the Vale were included in the County Council’s bid for Tranche 2 of the government’s Active Travel Fund, Cllr Hudspeth explained to me this was because the suggested schemes in our towns did not meet the criteria set by central government.

This is incredibly disappointing, and we must keep working with them for support and find ways to support walking and cycling across the district.

New Corporate Plan

However, we have been making some really positive progress on this administration’s other priorities. Not least the huge amount of work that has gone into our new Corporate Plan, led by Cllr Debby Hallett, which assuming council supports it later this evening, will enable us to move forward at pace on projects residents of the Vale have asked us to deliver.

Delivering Affordable Housing

Last week Cabinet approved plans to use the £4m of developer contributions sitting in the bank for affordable housing to finally be spent on homes that local people can truly afford and to develop a business case for this council to once again build homes and increase supply of the type of homes the Vale needs – rather than just what developers what to build.

Local Government Reorganisation & Planning White Paper

With so much work happening across local government on Covid support as well as keeping our regular services operating, I remain baffled as to why government thought this would be a good time to proposed a country wide top-down restructuring of local councils and the entire planning system.

The attempt to get rid of District Councils and install Mayoral Combined Authorities throughout England seems to have been put on the backburner for a while but the planning white paper is still on the table.

The proposals could remove powers from elected councillors and communities to plan and shape the development in our district. Moving democratic accountability away for the residents who elect us to act in their best interests would be a worrying step backwards.

To me, the white paper proposals on planning reflect a lack of understanding, respect for and trust in district councils and councillors – at a time we are demonstrating our worth perhaps more than ever.

Cllr Emily Smith

Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council