Voice of the Leader: July

Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett

THANK YOU TO OUR WONDERFUL NHS STAFF, OUR SOCIAL WORKERS, AND ALL OTHER KEY WORKERS for keeping us safe during a time of an unprecedented world-wide pandemic. 

As I write this column on 1st July it is revealing to reflect on the last few weeks, and consider some of what has been happening. Crucially to consider how people have been reacting to the ongoing understandably cautionary tone coming from government as we all seek to contain the spread of infection. 

In the main it seems as though most people have behaved responsible, thinking of their own health, and mindful of the health of others by following government guidance on social distancing in particular and also personal hygiene. There have sadly been exceptions, which I will come on to later.

The days ahead will be particularly important as from the 4th of July there will be a widening of business openings, including bars and restaurants. I look forward to visiting one of my favourite restaurants on 15th July on its reopening night, and considering the reduced number of covers available am very happy to have booked a slot.

This then will be an opportunity for people to socialise more than over recent weeks, and to enjoy a drink or a meal in a controlled environment. This should serve to lift general morale, and clearly signpost that we are heading ever closer to the return of normal life.

As we take advantage of the reopening of more businesses it is crucial that people react appropriately, following any instructions from individual premises relating to social distancing. It is in the interests of all that we do this, if the reopened businesses are to remain open and Medway is to continue its journey towards normality.

The recent reopening of non-essential retail was by any measure a success, and a great deal of work went into to making that the success it undoubtedly was. At Medway Council we had a vital role to play in ensuring that the public realm was able to support businesses themselves.

Of course ultimate responsibility rests with individual owners once people are actually on their premises. However the council had, and indeed still has, an important role to play in terms of advising, supporting and assisting businesses to reopen safely.

At the council we had already provided financial support to business, not least through the government business grant scheme which allocated over £39 million to Medway. To date we have distributed more than £34 million to over 3,000 businesses, with the process ongoing as claims continue to arrive.

In addition there is a smaller, but very important, discretionary scheme with distribution of over £1 million occurring over the next few days. Following which there is a scheme to assist the self-employed, and that will be rolled out over the next couple of weeks.

Over 10,000 households in receipt of council tax discount have further benefitted from our Hardship Fund.

As I have said before, and make no apology for repeating it here, I cannot praise highly enough our waste collection and disposal services. This has seen our cutting edge weekly waste collection service continue throughout the pandemic; our bulky waste service has continued; whilst out tips have reopened.

Our tips reopened offering a once a month service to residents. Due to assessing demand this has subsequently been changed to a once every two weeks offer, and is being well used by residents. Interestingly, despite the closure of the tips for a number of weeks, fly-tipping rate fell by 4%. 

Perhaps that was due to kerbside collections increasing by over 18%. Which to me means that Medway residents continue to behave in the way with which we have become accustomed  – that is taking account of each other and also the environment.

In terms of caring for others the council has certainly led the way with over 105,000 meals being delivered to people across Medway who have been in need of support in one form or another. To this we can add the wide-ranging support being given by the voluntary network of organisations and indeed very many individuals.

During this pandemic we have seen the very best from the people of Medway. Thoughtful, caring, and largely willing to go the extra mile to help others. It is at times like this that I am proud to be Leader of Medway Council, and also a focal point for the good people of Medway.

However there are the exceptions to which I referred earlier. Prime amongst these have been the mass demonstrations in London and elsewhere which through our television screens we saw the complete disregard for social distancing, as well of course many acts of criminal damage, hooliganism and outright law-breaking including unacceptable violent attacks on the police.

Add to that the widespread use of public transport, again with no apparent regard for social distancing, to get to and from demonstrations and it would be little surprise if the number of infections being reported increased.

Then of course there have been the unedifying scenes of people flocking to beaches in such places as Bournemouth and Southend. Not content with clear breaches of government advice, far too many people it seems decided to leave their rubbish behind for others to collect!

This morning I appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live in the wake of the announcement that Leicester is in lockdown. The situation in Medway and Leicester could not be more different, as I have so far seen no evidence that the situation in Medway is deteriorating.

Inevitably there are nuances around this. With the increase in testing nationwide it is always likely to reveal an increase in the number of cases being reported.

Here in Medway there is of course no room for complacency, and it up to all of us to remain vigilant in following government guidance on social distancing, hand washing and where advised to wear personal protective equipment. Remain sensible. Stay Safe!

Alan Jarrett is the leader of Medway Council, leader of the Medway Conservative group, and councillor for Lordswood and Capstone.

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