At Tuesday’s Council meeting we elected the Mayor for the next civic year and I unveiled my new Cabinet.
Having experienced a pandemic-disrupted mayoralty, Council has asked Cllr Ken Meeson to continue as our Mayor for another year.
The Mayoral role is an important one for the borough. In a typical year, he or she can be involved in 600 or more engagements. The relationship with our voluntary and community sector and local charities is what makes the role so vital.
It is no exaggeration to say that in the course of a Mayoral year, the Mayor can change lives, inspire people and be an ambassador for the borough. Despite the return to a post-COVID normality, Cllr Meeson has had a very limited year in terms of activities and members thought it would only be fair that Ken has another year.
We hope this time he will be able to attend many more events and gatherings and have a chance to see people and communities right across the borough during the coming year.
With the Commonwealth Games and the Queen’s Jubilee, this year promises so much and as our first citizen Cllr Meeson will represent the best of Solihull.
I also announced my new Cabinet and their new portfolios. Cllr Karen Grinsell is to remain as Deputy Leader and will be Lead Member for Partnerships and Wellbeing. She will also be looking after the Commonwealth Games which she has been leading on the last few months.
I have asked Cllr Michael Gough to take over Children’s Services. Cllr Richard Holt has a number of significant work pressures and he felt that as Children’s Services was a top priority we needed to make sure there was the capacity to support our improvement journey. Cllr Gough has served as Chairman of Children’s Services Scrutiny Board so is well placed to take this on.
Cllr Holt is still keen to help and will be able to do so in his new capacity on the Scrutiny board. I am grateful for his highly professional approach to his work over the last year and welcome his continued involvement in the future.
My next new appointment is Cllr Diane Howell who will head up Communities & Leisure, while Cllr Tony Dicicco - Adult Social Care & Health, Cllr Ken Hawkins - Environment Services & Infrastructure, Cllr Andy Mackiewicz - Climate Change and Cllr Bob Sleigh – Resources will continue in their previous roles.
However, there has been some change overall of responsibilities between portfolios which I hope will help my Cabinet colleagues better focus their efforts. I believe we are really lucky in this borough to have a strong and very talented team at the helm who will be able to take on the challenges ahead.
Our economy has held up well considering what we have faced over the past two years. The recently published Public Health Annual Report presented to the last Council meeting set out how the borough handled the COVID pandemic and just made clear the sacrifices that were made by so many - here I was not just talking about officers, but the people, our communities and community organisations, our businesses- for which I sincerely thank them.
Just as with the COVID pandemic, Solihull cannot escape the many other outside pressures that we are currently facing: climate change, the aftermath of COVID, ongoing effects of the horrific war in Ukraine, and the resultant cost of living crisis that I know so many locally are enduring.
Many of these pressures are either international or national and are therefore not in the Council’s gift to solve. But locally we have a part to play in tackling climate change and it will remain front and centre in our work.
We also have work to do to ensure we continue to support our children and families across the borough through our Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme, foster care recruitment or helping young people get the skills they need to thrive.
We have a lot of exciting plans for Kingshurst, Solihull and Chelmsley Wood town centres. We are still working on plans to ensure Solihull Station continues to serve the town well and becomes a transport hub linking buses, trains and the town centre more effectively. The construction of HS2 continues at a real pace now and as it emerges from the ground its opening seems much closer and ever more real.
Planting our Future will continue our mission to plant 250,000 trees across the borough over the next nine years and while we are on track at the moment, I know it will get harder as we need more landowners to come forward to suggest sites for planting.
All of these plans and strategies come to nothing without the people to bring them into reality. Here in Solihull I am grateful to the Council officer team for continuing to deliver and to work tirelessly to provide the services our residents and businesses want and need. I must pay tribute to them all and to the members who play their part too.
The civic year ahead will give us many challenges and we will tackle them as we always do, together, with strength and resilience
Finally, take care and live in hope.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council