The torture and murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes by the very people who were meant to care for and love him still occupies my thoughts. The trial and subsequent verdicts and sentences have sent shockwaves throughout the borough and across the country as a whole.
What those two people did is beyond understanding and I have welcomed the national review and the other investigations into Arthur’s short and tragic life in the 12 months he lived here in Solihull.
I know that all of these investigations and reviews will take time and I am desperate to find answers, so I have asked for an independent verification of the Council’s involvement in Arthur’s life. This will not answer the wider questions around the safeguarding system, for example the lack of a common risk database and issues around the sharing of information between agencies, but will begin to answer my own questions.
As we all come to terms with this tragedy and await the outcome of the national investigations we have now been faced with the reintroduction of some COVID restrictions. I find it difficult to switch focus to all the other business going on in the Council, but I must.
First of all, the ongoing COVID situation: this virus is determined to keep our attention. It is early days in our understanding of this new variant and last week the government put in place Plan B as a precautionary measure given Omicron’s rapid transmission across the country.
You already know I am an advocate of face coverings. I will continue to wear them when required and I hope everyone will follow suit.
Plan B has been followed swiftly by the Prime Minister announcing the new target for everyone getting a booster jab by the end of December. This will be a massive undertaking. It will need everyone to play their part and get the booster when they can or when they are called.
Remember your best defence against COVID and the Omicron variant is to get fully vaccinated, see our Director of Public Health’s recent message.
Our new Solihull town centre vaccine centre continues to be very busy and is providing a convenient service for shoppers, visitors and local residents alike. Located in-between Pret a Manger and Halifax bank this permanent vaccination centre is open daily from 8am to 6pm, no appointment is necessary, although you can book an appointment at the centre via the national booking system.
I want to mention the campaign to build the UK’s first ‘Emergency Services Cenotaph’. Supported by HRH The Duke of Cambridge, the Prime Minister, First Ministers of NI, Scotland, and Wales and all emergency services, this new Cenotaph (also known as a ‘999 Cenotaph’) will honour everybody who has ever served in the NHS and emergency services – from call handlers, admin staff and porters to first responders, nurses and GPs.
Almost 2 million people work and volunteer across the NHS and emergency services today, including 250,000 first responders – those who respond when you dial 999.
All of us rely on our emergency services and will have been helped by the NHS or one of the ‘blue light’ services at some point in our lives. Then there are the incredible sacrifices many across the emergency services have made during the COVID pandemic, going above and beyond expectations.
There’s more information about the campaign, how you can get involved and donate here.
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) met the Minister, who is leading the government’s Violence Against Women and Girls agenda, to report back interim findings following a series of roundtable discussions on the issue. The visit follows the appointment of West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Chief Executive Laura Shoaf and TfWM interim Managing Director Anne Shaw as the government’s first Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Transport Champions.
It’s completely unacceptable that women don’t feel safe on our region’s transport systems. I am so glad this issue is being highlighted and that TfWM are looking at what can be done to make sure women and girls feel safer on our buses, trains and trams.
It was good to hear from CityFibre that around 10,500 Solihull homes and businesses will be able to receive a gigabit-capable service. I welcome this investment in digital infrastructure for the borough, but there’s still work to be done to make it available to all parts of Solihull, including our rural areas.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the schools’ model COP26 summit which took place during COP26. However, pupils from Tudor Grange Academy Kingshurst, Arden Academy and Langley School stayed behind to ask me questions about climate change.
We videoed their thought-provoking questions and I have attempted to address their queries in detail, explaining what the Council is doing to help tackle the climate emergency. The questions made me realise how seriously young people take the issues around climate change.
I hope in the future there will be many more opportunities to engage with our young people and develop a dialogue with them in order to ensure we tackle the climate change emergency together.
In other good news, the West Midlands has just secured more than £19 million of government funding to deliver energy saving insulation, low carbon heating systems and other fuel reducing technologies to up to 2,000 old and cold homes across the region.
The funding from the government’s Sustainable Warmth Competition is welcome if we want to meet our ambitious target of being net zero by 2041, as nearly 40% of the region’s carbon emissions come from heating and powering our homes. We need to ramp up the installation of new retrofit technology and this should be seen as the start of a much wider transition towards better, warmer housing that both cuts carbon and tackles fuel poverty.
Finally, I was really sorry to hear that we have lost Honorary Alderman Norman Davies. It was only a few weeks ago that I saw him at the Remembrance Day service at St Alphege Church back in November.
I followed Norman as Mayor and he did everything he possibly could to help me understand the role and prepare for it. He was a true gentleman and had an approach to politics that showed how it should be done.
My colleagues have been warm in their praise for him as a fellow Councillor and man and I have passed on my condolences to his family, friends and the Liberal Democrat group on the Council.
Remember, for maximum protection this winter:
- Get fully COVID vaccinated, especially your booster
- Wear a face covering in crowded spaces, on public transport and in badly ventilated spaces
- Work from home where you can
- Test regularly, especially before and after attending large gatherings, to check you haven’t unknowingly got the virus
- Get a flu jab
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council