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Leader's Response to Coronavirus

Published Thursday 20 August, 2020
Last updated on Tuesday 22 September, 2020

I would like to thank everyone in Swale for responding as a community to the Government’s call for social distancing, to protect the NHS and to save lives.

It requires tremendous self-discipline at a time of great anxiety when the support of others is so vital.

I would like to share with you my pride at the way our council officers are adapting to new challenges and the way people in the community are rallying to help each other. I would particularly like to say thank you to the many heroes keeping us going - in the NHS, in social care, collecting our waste, keeping our supermarkets going, teachers, postmen and women and many others in key ways.

This is no time to be undermining those responsible for making key and difficult decisions. If anyone at national or local level seeks to exploit our crisis for political ends, it will be they who pay the price, not those they try to weaken. There will be a time to learn lessons, but this is a time for pulling together.

The Government makes key strategic decisions but it is local councils who have to deliver. The Government called on us to set up Community Hubs to help vulnerable people and we have done that.

The first priority is the protection of the Government’s “shielded” population, people so much at risk that they must isolate for at least 12 weeks.

Food and medicines are getting through to them but the Government asks us, in our own way and with our own funding, to respond to a wider group of people who will also be vulnerable in the current circumstances. The council has provided extra funds for foodbanks and for citizens advice.

The Government instructed us to get all rough sleepers accommodated and we did that. However, we know that new challenges will present themselves and that homelessness is growing. We have dedicated staff in the council working very hard to deal with these issues.

The Government also calls on us, even while taking on new duties, to do our best to keep our usual services running as normally as possible. Most critical, of course, is the collection of our waste. We are working daily with Biffa to keep the service going and I would like to thank everyone for understanding the scale of the challenge as operatives begin to call in sick. We have to prioritise and we have now had to withdraw the collection of garden waste.

I hope the community will understand that, like all our colleagues in local government, we are already facing serious financial issues. Income is seriously reduced whilst spending has to increase. I hope it is understood too, that when we collect council tax it is only 10% that we retain for our council, whilst the rest goes to the County Council, who are providing vital care services, to the Police, Fire and Parishes. We have to pass this on. The Government call is for us to spend now and reconcile later, but all councils have to be able to sustain their cash flow.

I am 75 years old. There has never been a moment like this before in my lifetime. This is an awful crisis, for our health and wellbeing and for our economy. It requires courage and unity of purpose but we must win and we will.

Our first priority is this fight, but we need to look to the future too.

When this is over, there will be work to do, getting back to normal but also continuing with the community improvements that we want to deliver.