Voice of the Leader: May

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, who put others before themselves! THANK YOU TO OUR WASTE TEAMS AT MEDWAY NORSE FOR KEEPING MEDWAY CLEAN AND HYGIENIC.

So, the coronavirus pandemic moves on. The number of daily deaths has fortunately decreased, which is absolutely no comfort for family and friends of those who have tragically passed on.

At least there is a degree of clarity in the reported numbers, as when we were running at death rates approaching 1,000 a day there was a feeling that these were merely the deaths recorded in hospital. Now the numbers are being reported as all encompassing.

There are of course time-lags in reporting. It is no coincidence that reported numbers fall each weekend, only to climb again once we get into the following week.

Despite the ongoing crisis there has been some very limited relaxation, with the message of STAY AT HOME being modified to STAY ALERT. Some of the territorial restrictions have been lifted, whilst there has been more latitude shown for those engaged in recreation and sport. Team activities are of course still very much in lockdown although we are hoping for better news after 1st June.

In Medway my original stance of maintaining as close as possible to business as usual was no better evidenced than with our tips. Whilst the rest of Kent shut its household tips we kept our running until advised by the police that these were not essential journeys.

Last Friday saw us, in alignment with the rest of Kent, reopening our tips. But doing so in a controlled manner that mandated online booking, allied to safe distancing requirements to protect both workforce and public.

The rules set out by government relating to tips are clear: only go to the tip if your waste cannot be safely stored at home, or disposed of in another way. How these requirements sit with the queues we saw over the first days of opening I am not sure!

Medway Council designed the booking system for the whole of the county, and it worked well enough if you did not mind waiting for long periods to get to book a slot. Personally I went online to book at 8pm on Wednesday and it took me less than 10 minutes, even though I was experimenting and cancelled the transaction at the final stage.

Improvements will be made to the booking system in order to ensure it does not block access to the rest of the website. Until the booking system is refined we are only able to operate with the Hoath Way site in Gillingham together with the Capstone site. Cuxton will be open as soon as we can achieve that without excessive queuing. But in the meantime it seems us Brits just love to queue!

Business as usual takes many forms, and it is worth rehearsing just what Medway Council has been doing during such difficult times. As one of the designated First Responders in such an emergency the council’s legal responsibilities have been many and varied, with the initial emphasis of course on savings lives.

Saving lives meant working with the NHS and other First responders, being an integral member of the Kent Resilience Forum, and ensuring that people had the support they needed. Part of that was our response in helping those that could not get out and about for themselves.

Vital amongst those are people in the government’s ‘shielded’ category, of which there are over 6,000 in Medway.  Those include people with underlying health conditions, and those over a certain age. In many cases a significant proportion of those met both criteria.

Social workers visiting both children and families, and adults in their own homes, thereby potentially putting themselves at risk, have been a key component of the council’s continuing work. Safe working practices have been put in place and these are working well.

Amid much talk about when children will return to school, most people will have missed the fact that most of Medway’s schools have remained open throughout. This has been principally to support key workers by having their children at school while they work on our behalf, however children with special needs have also featured prominently in this unsung area of work.

We take many things for granted in Medway. Which means that the street lights have been maintained, and the road repairs have continued much as before. In fact the reduced amount of traffic on the roads has allowed some work to be carried out which might otherwise have been left until later in the year.

Then there are the services which we all notice. Grass cutting ceased during the early weeks of the lockdown, but once the furlough period was over after 4th May the crews were out again restarting the process of keeping Medway looking neat and tidy.

Something which did continue unabated was our superb waste collection services. The weekly collection of all our household waste continued throughout – even though some would have had us drop back to three-weekly collection!

Collecting our waste every third week might be the sort of service standard some aspire to, but not us. Our waste collection teams at Medway Norse who do so much good work are undoubtedly among our heroes!

Fortunately this is recognised by the people of Medway, with a great deal of justified praise being heaped on the heads of the waste teams. During the lockdown collection tonnages have increased by 25%, which is a further testimony to how much this weekly collection service is valued.

As part of our all-round service on the waste front we have also continued to provide the bulky waste service without interruption. The one glitch being our contractor stopped taking away ‘white’ goods – fridges and freezers – although that service has also since resumed. 

Putting the people of Medway first has never been more important, and demonstrates that this administration cares!

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

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