In case you missed it, our Director of Public Health issued a detailed statement on COVID this week and the link is here.
In summary, our numbers are low and we are in a good position, but we still have to be mindful of the impact variants may have on our roadmap out of lockdown. We know that the recent Indian variant spreads rapidly and I have held a number of meetings with the Public Health team to review what action we are taking, and might need to take. In Solihull the actual number of new variant cases is five.
As we test our new freedoms, please continue to practice the hands, face, space and fresh air guidance, take regular COVID tests and have your vaccine when offered it – this will help us out of this pandemic.
One recent return to normality was being able to hold elections! I would like to thank our residents who took part in the voting and also congratulate our democratic services team for organising the whole process, and the count in such a COVID-safe manner at the cavernous NEC Hall 9.
Also, I must thank all the candidates, successful and unsuccessful, for their responsible canvassing over the past months during lockdown, trying to keep themselves and their communities safe.
At our very much scaled down annual Mayor making Council on Tuesday, Councillor Ken Meeson was elected to be the new Mayor for 2021/22. I wish him all the very best over the coming year. I know he will be a great ambassador for the borough.
The annual meeting was also where elected members approved the make-up of my cabinet for the next municipal year. There has been a reshuffle of sorts with Cllr Richard Holt taking over Children’s Services from the new Mayor, and Cllr Tony Dicicco taking on the Adult Social Care & Health portfolio. However, my deputy Cllr Karen Grinsell will retain an overall brief for Wellbeing and Partnerships, as will I on the Economy. In all of this, I am trying to increase the focus on the key challenges facing us, whilst ensuring continuity and a joined up approach to our local government.
Sadly, I’ve also had to say goodbye to Cllr Ted Richards from my cabinet following his decision to stand down in this year’s election, after serving this Council for over 37 years, including a period as leader. We also said goodbye to a number of other councillors from all parties across the chamber and I take this opportunity to thank them for their service over the years, and wish them well for the future.
It will not surprise you that the focus for my new team is delivering our recovery plan and responding to the climate change challenge.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will be able to show the practical measures we will take to support people and businesses to return to productivity following over a year of lockdowns, tiers and economic and social uncertainty.
I am very conscious that so many have suffered through this pandemic, which has affected every one of us. I was moved by Mental Health Awareness week and will have more to say about this subject in the future, particularly in relation to our young people.
On a different subject, there is an unparalleled series of infrastructure projects coming to fruition at the moment. Some we are leading on, such as Kingshurst and Solihull Town Centre; others are national projects, such as Junction 6 and HS2. The Council’s role is to mitigate where we can the adverse effects of these, but also do our utmost to ensure that you and the borough economy benefit as much as possible from these investments. An obvious example of this is the potential new health & innovation campus in the Hub next to the HS2 station.
Climate change and how this Council and the borough responds to the challenge will remain front and centre. As the environmental portfolio holder for the Combined Authority, I have had a unique opportunity to steer the regional response and, as leader in Solihull, champion our ambitions to be a zero carbon Council by 2030 and be part of a zero carbon region by 2041. Seeing the detailed work that has been done to formulate the region’s five-year plan for 2041, this will, however, be very tough. It will need engagement by everyone.
COP 26, the UN Climate Change Conference, is taking place in Glasgow and I hope will enhance the issue of climate change and allow us all to begin thinking about what changes are needed. The pandemic has taught us that we can change how we live our lives and together accomplish great things. The agenda for climate change is not just about carbon emissions, but other matters like pollution and biodiversity, and to my mind the environment in the borough is key to that.
There is one other theme close to my heart that I want to explore and develop over the coming years, which is the future of our town centre, and arts and culture. Our plans for Solihull town centre present a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in a cultural centre that I hope will bring talent, learning and expression to Solihull. This will all help retain the importance of the town centre at the top of the regional hierarchy. However, all of this will take some time, great care and determination to do the right thing for the future.
Finally, we are coming to the end of Foster Care Fortnight (10 – 23 May) which is a national campaign highlighting the vital role that foster carers play in transforming the lives of vulnerable children and young people.
We are lucky to have some fantastic foster carers in Solihull, however there are still many children across the borough who are desperately in need of a safe and loving home. If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a foster carer, please call 0121 788 4253 or visit www.solihull.gov.uk/fostering.
Keep doing the right things for you, your family, friends and Solihull. Stay safe
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council