Yesterday’s budget brought welcome news for many businesses and residents in Solihull. I was particularly pleased about the Deeper Devolution Deal, which will provide additional funding and flexibility for councils within the West Midlands Combined authority. This follows an enormous amount of work both by WMCA, WM Mayor Andy Street, but also by this Council to help shape and negotiate its contents. A little-known fact about my job is the number of hours and days spent in regional involvement in one shape or another, and we can be proud of what we’ve achieved for everyone in the West Midlands by working together across all the local authorities in the region.
You can read my full response to that here, but I’d just like to highlight some of key areas of investment and support. The £100m Single Regeneration Fund will support development of housing, commercial and employment land on brownfield sites, key to protecting our valuable greenbelt. Post-19 education and Post-16 technical education will come under greater local control, ensuring that we can deliver training and qualifications to young people in Solihull which ensure they can get good jobs as they start their working lives. A commitment from government to work closely with WMCA and local councils to pilot and test new initiatives in Early Years is brilliant, as we build on existing work across the region to give our youngest citizens the best possible start in life.
Of the elements of the budget affecting the whole country, the news about investment in the tech sector is great to hear as Solihull is proud to be home to a number of dynamic and growing specialist manufacturers and tech businesses. This and other measures will contribute to a strong economy for this borough, which helps give the additional financial backcloth to the investments we have to make, for instance in social care.
My interest in green growth is well documented, not least in past editions of this message, and the significant investment in Carbon Capture technology is good news for all of us. The continuation of cost-of-living support will be a relief to many, and I was pleased that the Chancellor made it a priority in his budget. The war in Ukraine, following as it did, the pandemic and effect of lockdowns has completely turned upside down the low interest/ low inflation economy that we have become accustomed to.
I have been pushing the merits and potential of a Levelling-up Zone in East Birmingham and North Solihull for a long time now, so it is brilliant to see that it has been identified as one of eight locations in England now eligible to host one of these. This is such positive news for that area, and the whole borough and region, as we seek to provide a greater focus on the possibilities, not just for businesses to thrive and bring good jobs for residents, but also, in the future, the possibilities of how we bring together some public service delivery for some critical elements.
We’ve published our first Net Zero Action Plan (NZAP) annual report, which tracks the progress we’ve made towards our goal of becoming a Net Zero borough. You can read all about it, and download the full report here. The report shows that the Council has halved its own emissions since 2017/18, overseen the planting of 51,000 trees under the Planting our Future programme in the last couple of years and got over two-thirds of the actions in the NZAP underway already. I’ll never tire of beating the drum for positive action on climate change; this is not just about carbon emissions but creating a better environment and real benefits for all, such as improving air quality, reducing waste, warmer homes and reducing fuel costs and poverty. The report is welcome, not just because of the successes it outlines, but also because it holds us to account for the promises we’ve made to make our climate better for everyone in the future.
Free help sessions are available for many businesses ahead of incoming recycling changes, and I’d urge those eligible to take up the opportunity. Businesses in Cranmore and Monkspath, Birmingham Business Park and Elmdon Trading Estate are all eligible to receive a free one-to-one help session from a dedicated business advisor to understand how the regulations will affect them, what they need to do and what resources are available to help them. The new pilot scheme will see businesses separate their waste and recycling before it is collected, which is both good for the environment and can save them money. You can find out more here.
It was lovely to read news of the Mayor of Solihull, Councillor Ken Meeson, hosting a Fairtrade trail thank you event this week. The trail, which was in place over half term recently, featured bespoke artwork from local schoolchildren which raised awareness of the threats farmers face globally from the effects of climate change. The energy of our young people when it comes to environmental matters is admirable, and the event at the café in John Lewis was a good way to thank those who participated for their work.
This will be my last weekly update up to the local elections in May. This is because of something called the pre-election period (or purdah), which restricts the type of communications the Council can send out in the run up to an election. You’ll still receive the information you need to know about any changes to services or upcoming events, but without comment from elected members.
Finally, whilst we’re on the topic of the upcoming elections, I’d like to remind you again that these will be the first elections at which voters will be required to present photo ID if voting at a polling station. If you do not have an accepted form of photo ID, you can apply for a free voter ID document. Alternatively, you can apply for a postal vote - you do not need photo ID to vote by post. It is important you understand this new requirement so you can cast your vote in May. Full information on voter ID, including the full list of accepted IDs and application deadlines, can be found on our website.
I wish you a good weekend and hope to write again in May,
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council