While the media circus has taken hold nationally and promises to do so for a number of weeks, locally, our focus in local government remains in maintaining the services people need, because that is our job here.
The cost of living crisis and general economic outlook continue to be of huge concern for us all, as we face a period of low growth. We know what our messages to government will be – we need support. But there is a limit to what short term and high profile give-aways can do when so many of the drivers of the current crisis are international.
In Solihull, we need long term sustainable growth, as that will deliver the jobs and prosperity we need and will be our focus in the coming years. The line in Solihull has always been that we don’t just want economic growth for its own sake; it helps us fund the health and wellbeing services you want and need, and will help us tackle the environmental and climate change issues we face.
I was heartened to attend the regional Plan for Growth launch last week by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, over in Wolverhampton, with colleagues from other councils, industry, business and academia. The figures show our West Midlands economy shrank by 11% during 2020 at the height of the pandemic. This was in stark contrast to the decade up to 2019, when the West Midlands was the fastest growing region outside London, breaking through the £100 billion economic output mark.
In response to these figures, and the current outlook, a roadmap has been drawn up by leading private sector figures working with the West Midlands Combined Authority to reignite the regional economy.
It focuses action on eight economic clusters where the region already has a competitive advantage and where businesses are still confident to invest. With the right interventions we can increase the regional economy by more than £3 billion, creating up to 45,000 new jobs.
The task is to harness the power of the public and private sectors working together to focus on these eight key sectors. Three of these, electric vehicles and battery storage, solar and wind power technology and low carbon, factory-built homes could also be critical in helping us take action on climate change.
Alongside supporting these low carbon sectors, and our economy as a whole, we also need to look at all aspects of how we do business, how we heat our homes and offices, as well as how we get around.
Cycling and walking schemes are attracting both support and criticism from residents. Encouraging more people to leave their cars behind for short journeys is important if (for instance) we are to hold back the increasing congestion, and improve air quality. Whenever we think about introducing new schemes we do always take steps to consult. We genuinely want to hear from everyone, those in favour and those against, especially those who have alternative suggestions or ideas to modify the plans.
A case in point is the proposed new walking and cycling routes to Blythe Valley Park. We want to make sure we get things right, so please get involved with the Blythe Valley Park consultation and other ones in the future.
Obviously, we want to encourage cycling and walking without inconveniencing other road users or residents along the route, but we always have limited space to work with, so inevitably there has to be compromise. In the case of the Blossomfield Road trial scheme, we have designed cycleways in the available space and we need to understand what works and what doesn’t, before we decide on any permanent solutions.
Improving energy efficiency in domestic buildings is an important part of the action needed on climate change and I was pleased to attend an event to launch the ‘Pathways for Local Heat Delivery’ report from Birmingham University. The report calls for decision-making on heat decarbonisation to be devolved to regional government. This contained a number of recommendations to improve the delivery of, for example, retrofit. The energy experts recognise that local councils are best placed to drive moves to a low carbon heating and energy future.
We need investment in research to develop these new heating and energy producing technologies. In Solihull you’ll be aware we are progressing a project to deliver affordable low carbon energy to the town centre and I’ve mentioned how we will be retro-fitting homes in Solihull and Coventry as part of a Government-funded trial.
The Commonwealth Games are now approaching fast. There are only a couple of weeks to go until all the excitement of The Queen’s Baton Relay on Tuesday 26 July, which will see events taking place all over the borough, culminating in a musical Extravaganza at Jubilee Gardens in Solihull Town Centre. There’s still time to apply for tickets to that show, applications close this Sunday, so there’s not long left!.
The Games themselves get underway on Thursday 28 July, and I’m sure many of you will be pleased to hear that you can enjoy all the action from our two town centre festival sites in Mell Square and Theatre Square. There will be a big screen, food and drink and pop up demonstrations and taster sessions of many sports that will feature in the Commonwealth Games.
I’d like to mention the current Solihull and Birmingham Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment survey. The Health and Wellbeing Board is carrying out one of its regular surveys of pharmacy services. This is to understand what is working well and identify areas that need improvement.
By taking part you will help our health colleagues ensure that services meet your health needs in the future. Do take five minutes to complete the confidential survey here, and encourage your friends, family and colleagues to do it too. The deadline for responses is Friday 29 July 2022.
Our Annual Canvass campaign has started. It’s really important you give us the necessary details as it helps us establish whether information held on the Electoral Register is complete and accurate. You have to be on the electoral register to vote in elections, and it is also helpful to be on the register when applying for credit.
You’ll either get an email, if you have registered digitally before, or a letter later in August. More details about the annual canvass can be found here.
Finally, the 2022 Summer Reading Challenge ‘Gadgeteers’, started at the weekend. This is a great way for children to keep up their reading skills and stay entertained over the summer holidays.
Children aged 4 – 11 are being challenged to read six books before Saturday 10 September and in return they can win some exciting prizes. Libraries across the borough are also holding a variety of activities for children to get involved in throughout the holidays.
Keep cool in the hot weather and I hope children taking part in the reading challenge discover the joy of books.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council