The vaccination programme continues apace and I understand will be accelerating as we move from focusing on the initial priority groups to the wider general public. Marvellous that 20 million had had their first dose by the start of March, from a standing start in December.
My Director of Public Health is keen to remind us that, while the infection figures continue to fall due to lockdown, we have been here before, so we must take utmost care, continue social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitising in the coming weeks.
Yesterday’s budget announcement may have been a stark reminder of the state of the British economy after a year-long pandemic, but I was heartened by the various elements of support for businesses, such as the extended Business Rates holiday, the furlough scheme running until September alongside support for self-employed and the other business tax breaks.
One announcement that caught my eye as we look to reinvigorate our ‘support local’ campaign, was the £5bn Restart grants for shops and other businesses which were forced to close. We await the details, but I know our local centres will need as much help as possible to re-open and start trading in the coming months.
Hidden in the Budget’s ‘Red Book’ was really welcome news about £50 million to help develop the multi-storey car park at the future HS2 Interchange Station site. Since HS2 was first discussed eight or more years ago now, I have argued for a multi-storey approach to its car parking in order to make the most of this valuable land so close to the airport, NEC, and road and rail interchanges. I am really pleased we have now secured government support, and wish to thank Mayor Andy Street and our own Urban Growth Company and Council staff, for their hard work over the years to help us reach this milestone.
This has been a really challenging time for parents, dealing with home learning, whilst juggling family and work commitments. The return to school next week is welcome news for parents and children alike. To ensure our schools remain safe and can continue to stay open, I ask that parents wear face coverings at drop off and pick up and observe the one-way systems. Our secondary schools will have a phased return to accommodate the regular testing of pupils and staff.
As the pressures on families and services have increased over the pandemic, we learned that the Birmingham and Solihull Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) heard its first case this month. In order to reduce the number of children being taken into care, parents addicted to drink and drugs will now receive help and support as part of this new problem solving court programme. This has come through a partnership between Solihull Council, Birmingham Children’s Trust and the Judiciary; it aims to offer an alternative solution to tackling substance misuse, and the impact it has on parenting capacity.
I’m sure that this new approach to care proceedings will mean Solihull families getting the additional support they need and will improve outcomes for children and their families. Details of the programme are here.
Our new woodland area in Dickens Heath Parish, between Blythe and Shirley South, will shortly be planted up with 19 cherry blossom trees, as well as a 40 tree orchard and 700 tree whips (small trees). This is going to be a wonderful new woodland and I am delighted at how our tree planting programme continues at a rate of knots across the borough.
Finally, I hope you will be aware of our aim for the borough to have net zero carbon emissions by 2041. We are keen to hear from you now at this early stage while we are still developing the Action Plan. Please go to netzerosolihull.co.uk to find out more and let us know what you think. We want to know where you think we should be focusing our efforts, and what’s important to you.
Please get vaccinated when it’s offered - keep doing the right thing for you, your family and friends, and Solihull.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council