As Ukraine continues to occupy our thoughts and news bulletins, it is devastating to witness this tragedy unfold and to feel so impotent in the face of this aggression. At least it is heartening to see the West united in condemnation of this illegal war and people around the world expressing their horror at what Russia is doing.
Let us pray the bravery of the Ukraine people and the unprecedented sanctions being imposed on Russia will help bring a halt to the violence and allow a peaceful and equitable solution without any more bloodshed.
As a sign of solidarity with Ukraine and its people, we will be flying the Ukrainian flag from the Council House.
I know the government is working with the various agencies to allow Ukrainian refugees to come safely to Britain and I am expecting Solihull to play its part in offering sanctuary if called upon. We are still awaiting the details from the Home Office concerning any new schemes, but we do have resources in place to offer support once we know more about the situation.
We are currently setting up a webpage to provide information and to direct people with an interest in supporting refugees to official Home Office sites and to local fundraising opportunities that are being set up, which have been created and verified by the Council’s Community Development team.
Difficult though it is to move on from this subject, I now turn to local news, starting with the Birmingham 2022 Festival. This will be one of the largest ever cultural programmes to surround the Commonwealth Games bringing a series of creative events to Birmingham, Solihull, and the West Midlands over the next six months.
The £12million festival has been supported by a range of funders with the aim of animating the entire West Midlands with major support from Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Birmingham City Council and Spirit of 2012.
There are over 200 events planned, including a spectacular open-air show, an immersive 3D experience on public transport and a brand new Birmingham inspired album, events start from March and finish in September. The full programme of events can be viewed here.
I hope you will be able to get involved as I’m assured there will be something for everyone from tap dancing, to music, to table tennis! I hope the Commonwealth Games and this cultural programme will make the region come alive with creativity this summer and help us put the pandemic behind us.
It will be International Women’s Day on Tuesday 8 March and this year’s theme is ‘Break the Bias’ which is about imagining a world more equal between women and men. It seems appropriate to highlight the work of our very own Soroptimists and their network of Sisters in Europe. Our Solihull club is linked to all Soroptimist Clubs around the world whose ethos is to transform the lives and status of women and girls through education, empowerment and enabling opportunities.
Reading the newsletter that Ann Keepax from the Solihull Club kindly shared with me, I was struck by how Carolien Demey the President of the Soroptimist International of Europe said we should approach International Women’s Day:
“Let’s celebrate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. …..and commemorate it by showing the educated men that we appreciate them respecting our achievements, working together, and standing up with us.”
On Tuesday let’s join Ann and her colleagues to celebrate the women of Solihull’s achievements and help ‘Break the Bias’.
Last week I had the pleasure of showing Transport Minister Trudy Harrison MP the cutting-edge work being carried out in the Borough in the development and use of Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs).
Trudy Harrison is responsible for the decarbonisation of travel and the future of transport and has the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles as part of her portfolio. She was very interested in our CAV, especially as we are the first local authority in the country to purchase its own fully electric autonomous shuttle with funds secured from the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP).
We followed this in September with our driverless vehicles taking to the road as part of ground-breaking passenger trials of the shuttle at the NEC. Trudy praised our work, “It’s great to see the Council taking proactive steps in the deployment and testing of this emerging technology which is creating high-skilled jobs across the region while supporting the Government’s ambitious transport decarbonisation targets.”
I agree with her that “self-driving technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we get around our towns, cities and rural areas” and am looking forward to the next phase of our CAV trials at Birmingham Airport so that we can continue to learn and build on our success. To be honest, I was a bit sceptical about this at the beginning, but we know that infrastructure projects of all sizes have a history of being very costly and there is a need to develop technology to better use existing infrastructure, acknowledging that safety will always remain uppermost in our minds. I believe there is real potential in this technology if we develop it properly.
I was pleased to see we have announced our new five-year workforce strategy for adult social care. My colleague Councillor Tony Dicicco, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, has described the adult social care workforce as the ‘backbone of the care sector’, which I can only agree with. The new strategy, ‘Great Care, Great Careers’ is about ensuring we have enough staff with the right skills and compassion to support and care for Solihull residents in the coming years.
Working with our care providers we want care work to be seen as a worthwhile and rewarding career in which people of all ages and backgrounds can develop and progress.
Finally, I was invited today to the official dedication of the opening day of planting 9,400 trees for the first of the Commonwealth Legacy Forests at Hope Coppice in Dickens Heath. These forests are part of an initiative to create 2,022 acres of Commonwealth Forest across the Midlands to leave a social and environmental legacy following the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. We are also set to receive a Tiny Forest at the site (a tennis court sized forest).
Working with our partners the B2022 Commonwealth Games and Severn Trent, the forest will enhance our environment and create a lasting legacy to benefit future generations. A big thank you to all the volunteers who have joined in to get the 9,400 trees into the ground.
Let us hope and pray for peace in Ukraine and that the bloodshed can cease.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council