Sam’s Blog – December 2021
Hello DCN members
Well, it’s nearly Christmas. Hopefully you all have something approaching a festive feeling. Although things are looking tough right now, it’s also a time to look back on the great things we’ve achieved over another challenging year.
We’ve all done so much to support our businesses and revitalise our town centres: continuing to deliver grants and other support during lockdown, investing in regenerating and reshaping our towns, and helping our residents back to the high street. I’ve been delighted to hear of initiatives all over the country like Gedling’s #Rediscover campaign, harnessing online tools to showcase local business as it reopens. We really do have the powers to foster economic growth and create civic pride.
We’ve protected the most vulnerable people in our places: helping people to shield, rolling out test and trace support, and delivering Everyone In. We’ve made plain our power to be a preventative force, delivering better social outcomes for our communities. Many of you are taking further action for those who are hard-up this winter, building on the excellent support already in place to intervene early – such as East Devon’s new Financial Resilience team tackling the root causes of poverty.
We’ve reopened vital services such as leisure and wellbeing, keeping them afloat, despite the pressures. Not only that, but we’ve seen those services fly in some places. Our Oxfordshire members are rolling out their FAST programme across the county, working with the county council and Sports Partnership, to offer multiple opportunities for families on the lowest income to get involved in physical activity.
It’s great to think about what we’ve achieved. But I know many of you will now be preoccupied with the Covid resurgence. I also know you’ll be pondering how to find the resource and capacity to pitch in with the booster programme and enforcement efforts. We’ve carried out a quick survey of our members and it’s clear you’re doing more than your bit. Over half of you surveyed last week were already providing staff and venues for the vaccination effort. It’s also true, though, that some of you were not seeing enough clarity from central government about how you can help. Hopefully the webinar with the Secretary of State and Emily Lawson last Friday provided more clarity. We’ll continue to push for effective communication with local government and the public at large about what this all means for wider council services.
The Covid turn for the worse is deflating after a difficult couple of years. But I know that, despite the challenges, you’ll continue to go the extra mile to support your residents and businesses. We’ve shown before that we have the know-how to dig down within our communities and get to the people who are vulnerable and hard to reach. We’ll do the same with the new Protect and Vaccinate scheme and whatever else will make the difference to fend off the worst impacts of Covid.
In that context the provisional Local Government Finance Settlement brought mixed fortunes. We can take some comfort from the provision of the new one-off Services Grant and the decisions to maintain the New Homes Bonus and the Lower Tier Services Grant in the short term. But we need to see more flexibility to generate income and ensure the longer-term funding reforms work for all of us. We’ll continue beating the drum on this, via our fantastic Finance and Investment working group.
As we head into the new year, there really are things to look forward to. We’ll be cracking on with delivering our new strategic plan. Our five strategic priority groups – Levelling Up, Healthy Communities, Greener Communities, Local Leadership and Finance & Investment – are coming together and we’re poised to get on the front foot with new research to generate the ideas that will really shape the Government’s thinking. We’ll be welcoming back our Staff Development Programme – we’ve received lots of great applications and it’s exciting to see the depth of talent we have across our network. We’ll also be continuing our new series of all-member calls. I hope you’ll agree that our recent COP26 and climate change webinar was an invigorating way to get back into the swing of these. We’ll be thinking about other creative ways to make sure you’re all plugged into a range of DCN activity.
I’ll finish by pointing you all towards an article in The Independent last weekend. District councils featured prominently. For me this illustrates just how much value we bring to our towns and communities. The article highlighted several great examples of DCN councils investing in regenerating our high streets and supporting businesses in the here and now – Stevenage, Gedling, Eastbourne, Warwick, Craven, South Staffordshire and Hinckley & Bosworth. There are so many more examples that could have been included. I’ve shared many of these with Neil O’Brien MP in our ongoing dialogue about county deals and Levelling Up White Paper – which is the big ticket for January.
I’m immensely proud of what we’ve all achieved this year and in the two short months since I became Chairman. Let’s raise a toast to a job well done in incredible circumstances and the great things I’m sure we’ll do in what will, with any luck, be a happy new year.
Merry Christmas to all of you!