What a beautifully sunny week it has been, I’m mindful that many people have been stuck indoors on Zoom, Crowdcast and MSTeams meetings and have not seen much of the weather.
As lockdown easing starts to take place, the council is making plans for the safe reopening of town centres and other retail spaces. Labour Councillors are involved in scrutinising the plans for reopening and the council is part of the Town Centre Task Force, looking at safe ways for shoppers to travel around the town centre whilst adhering to social distancing rules, safe queuing and ensuring that hand sanitiser units are readily available.
Outside of the town centre the council is taking the lead in guiding shop owners and shopping parade landlords on how make the best preparations for reopening and greeting new customers.
It is not going to be easy, local government has to respond to central government of easing of lockdown, whether we agree or not, it takes up a lot of officer capacity and councillors will no doubt receive reports of individuals (shop owners and customers) who flout the guidelines. Labour’s plan is to ensure that education, information and reminders along with a reasonable plan for most eventualities is discussed with business owners.
This week sees the recommencement of formal decision making at the council. Monday is Scrutiny Panel, chaired by the Conservatives, which no doubt will lay much blame on the council for suspending recycling collections at the beginning of lockdown. Wednesday is the Cabinet meeting, where the revised budget and budget gap, scrutinised on Monday, will be presented.
There is absolutely no way that local councils can carry on providing the level of services without significant financial support from government for the next few years. Labour councillors continue to lobby ministers either directly or through the Local Government Assn Labour Group, in order to ensure that this message is heard loud and clear. We do not want to hear that councils are ‘manipulating their budget projections’ for a more favourable response. We want a financial response that is timely and fair. It is local councils that are either directly delivering services to the vulnerable in our communities, or funding those organisations that are doing the same – not central government. Using reserves this year will get councils through the current municipal year, but thereafter there will be nothing left for emergencies or contingency planning.
My very deep concern is that we are starting to see a move away from centrist accountability to local accountability for delivery in COVID response; this will need significant resourcing as we move into the new phase of Test, Track & Trace which relies heavily on local council Environmental Health Officer teams.
Wishing you and yours all the very best for the week ahead.
Cllr Tina Bourne, Leader of the Labour Group on Colchester Borough Council