I do hope you all have a Christmas full of joy and hope. Relax and enjoy time with family and friends - safely!
A few closing comments for the year from me.
What a difference a year makes, or perhaps it doesn’t, as some of this message is just like last year’s. I am just hoping that this Christmas we can enjoy the festive season even while we live with high rates of the new variant of COVID. At any rate vaccination and now the booster jab have proved in the last year to be our best defence; of course it is not too late to get a first or second dose, the drop-in centre at JLR is open right up until Christmas Eve, so you can join the 2,000 who had a vaccination there over the past week. And there are other centres running across the holidays.
The government is keeping a close eye on this Omicron wave of infections, but has decided (at the time of writing) against further measures at the moment, however, they did yesterday announce a new package of support for businesses – more information here.
Looking back at last year’s Christmas message, I am struck by the similarities – the effect of COVID on our lives, a sense of frustration; but also the differences – the incredibly successful vaccine programme, the economic recovery, meeting friends and family again.
As Leader of the Council I know what our staff have done to keep services working and provide support for individuals, businesses and communities through the COVID pandemic and in incredibly difficult circumstances. I can only say a heartfelt thank you from me and on behalf of the borough.
I also want to pay tribute to everyone for making the best of a difficult year, helping each other out; to all our essential services; to the many community groups and volunteers who help to keep our most vulnerable safe and looked after.
During this year, much has happened. I have turned my attention to the economic recovery and our work tackling climate change in Solihull and across the region. On this theme, I have to highlight COP26, and stress how we all need to take this issue seriously, as I’ve discussed in various media, but also through my series of podcasts, which you can listen to on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Then, our local plan, the borough’s blueprint for the next decade, has been picked over by inspectors at the Examination in Public. HS2 continues to push ahead, becoming more and more visible as this huge undertaking takes shape. We welcomed back elections and returned to face to face meetings in the Civic Suite. While we all embraced virtual decision making, it was good to once again meet in person.
We launched a new Council website which attracted 50% more visitors - we think because of COVID. And I can tell you from the statistics what you value most …the Bickenhill tip! followed closely by bin collections and planning applications.
Last year, we created ‘Hope Coppice’ in recognition of the COVID pandemic, which will be a place for people to remember and reflect. Our Armed Forces Community Garden was also opened to the public as a peaceful sanctuary for remembrance and reflection, especially for those who have served or have family that have served in the forces.
I have said that “Council business comes in all guises” and whilst sometimes it seems we are occupied so much with big strategic issues, let no one be under any illusion that I, and the rest of the Council team, take delivering high quality, cost effective services in every area of the business as our fundamental duty and main concern.
We all bristled at the overused word ‘unprecedented’ in 2020, but if ever a word needed reviving that word does. COVID has developed a knack of taking us into uncharted waters again and again. I hope this is the last unprecedented Christmas we have.
But even if it isn’t, let us please look with renewed hope to 2022. The Queen will be celebrating her Platinum Jubilee, 70 years on the throne, and we will have the Commonwealth Games on our patch, alongside our own cultural festival to support the games and ensure we engage with our own communities.
Next year our ‘Planting Our Future’ campaign will be well into its second planting season. So far during November and December, the team has worked with residents, businesses and community groups on planting projects across the borough. During the first week back after the festive break, they will welcome their second delivery of the season, which will consist of over 500 trees, with a further 25,000 trees planned for 2022.
Now time to close and wish you all – or at least those of you not having to work in some way, a good break – Health, Happiness and Harmony in your homes and elsewhere, and Hope for the future.
It isn’t too late to get fully COVID vaccinated, especially getting your booster jab!
- wearing face coverings when you’re in crowded spaces, on public transport and in any badly ventilated spaces
- test regularly - before you see friends and family in the coming days and weeks to check you haven’t unknowingly got the virus or are likely to spread it!
Take care, Merry Christmas!
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council