Update from Labour Group Leader on Colchester Borough Council, Cllr Tina Bourne
In the past fortnight where we have seen more relaxing of lockdown, initial responses to the first week of Track & Trace and the long-awaited obvious announcement that primary schools will not be opening to all pupils in July – it would seem that the government feels everything is sorting itself out. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that for most people COVID Recovery seems a long way off.
Labour councillors are still involved in supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, the initial cries for help have been temporarily solved through the excellent support provided through One Colchester (CBC’s equivalent of a Health & Wellbeing Board). What we are working on now is how to move those experiencing food poverty, housing instability, family isolation, job insecurity, and all other debilitating factors into a more equal, just and caring local framework of wraparound support. Labour has 11 out of 51 councillors, a minority, in a joint administration with 12 LibDem councillors, which is still a minority. There are decisions we need to make in the coming weeks/months that are going to be challenging. The scale of previous cuts to Council funding, the lack of income for councils over the past 3 months and the expectation of the vocal public and lobby groups all have to be weighed up. We cannot lose sight of the non-vocal vulnerable. As councillors we give support to all residents in our Ward – whether they vote for us or not. A good number of the most vulnerable residents do not vote Labour – they don’t vote for anyone, and they have never voted. When you are existing from day to day, voting is not a priority. But it is our job as councillors to give these residents a voice and help to change the system so that they may feel that society has not left them behind. Then they may feel that their vote counts for something.
Last Monday the town centre changed, perhaps for ever. You may have seen the new signage, the press releases, or the temporary barriers installed to widen the paths and provide cycle lanes. A £250m emergency Active Travel Fund recently launched by the government is funding these travel improvements. These are Essex County Council plans, short notice brought on by the swift announcement of the opening of retail centres and shops for 15th June. Labour councillors have lobbied the county council on the details and continue to do so. We broadly support the changes, in the interests of public health and social distancing, but we are also strong supporters of and instigators of the Climate Emergency motion that the council adopted last year. We will press for more improvements to cycle routes in and around the town centre, and ensure that these temporary barriers lead to more permanent segregation of pedestrian and cycleways that are in keeping with the historic core of the town centre.
Yesterday I joined a Zoom meeting with the CLP Executive officers. It is good to be part of a CLP that is thinking of innovative ways to keep members informed and involved. The Women’s Forum and Branches are starting to have virtual informal meetings so that members can keep in touch. Our digital strategy encompasses the CLP and Labour Group, a positive move where one complements the other. As a group of councillors we are reaching out to neighbouring Labour Groups so that we can ensure that work on the peripheries of the borough are not detrimental to our neighbours and vice versa.
Wishing you a safe and productive week ahead.
Leader of the Labour Group, Colchester Borough Council