Agenda item

Statement by the Leader

Minutes:

The Chair invited the Leader of the Council, Cllr Taylor, to address its plenum:

 

My last year’s statement concluded with the hope that by now Eden and EDC would be less dominated by Covid19 than both 2020 and 2021 had been, and that this report I’m delivering now would just celebrate EDC delivering great services and facilitating increased prosperity and wellbeing to everyone living and working here in Eden – along with progress improving biodiversity and reducing our carbon footprint.

 

But can I do that? Well, yes, to some extent. I do have to talk a little about Covid, and also about what EDC has achieved in 2021 - 22, what can be done in the last year of this administration in EDC till 2023, and in particular affirm that we can, all 38 of us, use the year ahead to ensure that Eden is an equal partner in the new Westmorland and Furness Unitary Council, even though we don’t get a namecheck, and even though we are so few. We are not far away: we are here. We are definitely here.

 

I apologise that this will be rather lengthy. I really want to reflect, to look ahead, and particularly to take the opportunity to record our gratitude to our Council’s officers. They have gone beyond the call of duty and improvised their way through the extraordinary demands for the last two years and more. The uncertainty of the way ahead must be very difficult:  thank you all, for your continuing commitment to public service and for the generous use of your talents and energies for the people of Eden. It does not go unnoticed. 

 

So first, Covid.


While the lifting of Covid restrictions should mean society is ‘back to normal’, people still get ill; difficulties are now hidden and help less available. Additional challenges proliferate:  the ‘cost-of-living crisis’, especially escalating fuel and food costs, instability in the supply chain, and unfilled vacancies in many sectors, the war in Ukraine, all raise the volume of the ambient stress level for everyone. We may be, allegedly, ‘living with Covid’ but things are not really back to normal at 
EDC and beyond: we’ve forgotten what normal is, and the everyday support mechanisms generated by people working together, sharing tasks, solving problems, has still not returned. Humans are social animals and isolation isn’t good for us.

 

So it is to the greatest credit of our officers at EDC, therefore, that I am able to confirm that over last year they have indeed both delivered great services and increased prosperity, environmental improvement, and wellbeing. Some examples – and if I have missed something critical, let me know and I will remedy the matter:

 

Our ‘Revs and Bens’ people effected the distribution of over £3m in hardship payments ,  while the Finance team, with the help of many hands on decks, disbursed the astounding total sum of £56,627,351.70  in Covid business grants. While this money did indeed originate from central government, there was considerable work and complex diplomacy in distributing it.

Our environmental health people continued to provide a nationally leading track and trace service; housing delivered the ‘everyone in’ policy and managed a many fold increase in people needing temporary accommodation. EDC’s own hardship fund has helped many families, children, carers, and people in difficulties as a result of the changes in their lives brought about by Covid. Licensing sorted out ‘opening up the high street’ and facilitated businesses of all sorts trading in new ways appropriate to social distancing – and other rules.

 

Moving away from Covid, the sustainability team have launched the ‘Greening Eden Businesses’ scheme, saving businesses money as well as reducing carbon emissions, while the COP26 Fund for community-led  environmental schemes is open for business.

 

Community health and wellbeing, town centre regeneration, and economic development come together in an arts and culture strategy and investment which will deliver benefits into the long term future.

 

Millions of pounds from the government’s Green Homes Grant scheme has gone into insulating houses, and providing low-carbon heating systems, reducing fuel bills and carbon emissions.

 

The new ‘My Account’ digital system allows residents efficiently to sort out their own transactions with us.

 

We are proud of Eden’s progress towards constructing an economic development strategy which with your permission chair, Councillor Robinson will say a few words about.

 

The Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Robinson:

 

Members, we are the first administration to commit £780,000 of investment to drive, deliver and lever in other funding from local and strategic partners with a particular focus on aligning with the Governments Levelling up and Shared Prosperity agendas in terms of focus on Place, People, Business and Skills.

 

Our Economic Prospectus has the overarching vision and direction of travel with 14 work streams across a range of themes which will shape and drive delivery through a number of programmes and projects.

 

We have received over ninety expressions of interest from across the district with a wide range of projects. These will now go through a selection process to identify which meet the alignment and timescale the government requires.

Inspiring Eden captures the Councils ambition to place a particular focus on being a centre of rural excellence that uplifts, diversifies and modernises the rural economy as an exemplar for rural living in the 21st century.

 

Inspiring Eden will seek to embed sustainability principles across the economy and within communities in a drive to achieve zero carbon living within a generation.

 

Inspiring Eden recognises the importance of arts and culture in improving the quality of experiences and lives of local communities, businesses and visitors alike, and to this end the arts and culture will form an important cross cutting theme in turning the Inspiring Eden ambitions into action on the ground.

 

 The Leader continued:

 

The future, so what’s the plan for the year ahead is there for all to see in the MTFP, and indeed at any time you can see details of everything EDC is up to in the new performance monitoring system – thanks and admiration to the officers for constructing and maintaining this system which offers new transparency for all our business.

 

At this point I would like to thank any EDC officers who have left or retired over the past year – wishing them all the very best for their future – and, of course, to welcome new starters.

 

It will not have escaped anyone’s notice that this is Eden District Council’s last Annual Meeting. Local Government Reorganisation has taken up a lot of everyone’s time, imagination, resources, and vital spirits over the last year.

The Consultation on the various proposals for the unitary local government, the 7 Cumbrian authorities submitted in response to the Secretary of State’s earlier ‘invitation’ concluded on the 19th April last year.  So at the last AGM we were in limbo: but on the 21 July came the announcement: 2 unitaries on the allegedly East/West geography.   Legislation to effect this was laid in Parliament on the 24th January this year, at which point our stellar elections team really stepped up, facilitating the system of wards and councillors which members were pressing for. The team also held their nerve waiting and waiting for the legislation to come into force, which it finally did a mere ten days before the absolutely final date that the necessary elections could be announced. And of course the entire election process, new wards, new authority, new everything, was flawless. Thanks to all.

 

So what lies ahead? In July last year the then Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick alighted upon this ‘East West’ unitary proposal – which, just to remind people, immediately lost us our Chief Executive and created yet more work and stress for everyone at EDC. That’s another story, but one with an eventual happy ending as Ian Frost stepped into the breach before we all succumbed under the additional work for LGR as well as EDC’s business as usual.

 

So back at the Secretary of State, he justified this ‘east west’ choice in the following way:

…. having regard to the size and geography of Cumbria, including the geographic barriers of lakes and mountains, and the rurality of its population, I have decided that it would be more appropriate to implement the East West unitary proposal,

 

Maybe history will reveal why such blindingly obvious geographical facts as lakes and mountains led to the E/W decision rather than any other; however the choice is justified by the Secretary of State, as facilitating the desired outcome of LGR, which according to the Secretary of State – 

Allow[ing] for more localised decision making, which could be important given the geography of Cumbria.

 

I emphasise that the only justification he submits for doing what has been done is that this unitary offers localised decision making, against a background of the needs of rurality.

 

So I propose we pick this up. This is what’s supposed to happen – it’s not going to happen by itself – it’s up to us to make it happen frankly, because only we care.

 

The Secretary of State recognised rurality – which is our condition here in Eden - and intended that there would be localised decision making. He did not say what form it would take. Establishing that form and how it would work is extremely difficult in the abstract, in the general. But we’re not abstract, we’re not the general, we’re this place, we’re these people. We’re these 38 elected members, we’re all this multiplicity of parishes and meetings and communities. We have actual problems that we can solve. To some extent we’ve had local decision making and service delivery - it’s called Eden District Council.

 

So the year ahead, I hope that all 38 of us, owe it to the future to find a way so that local decision making continues. You have my absolute commitment to this; that local decision making, service delivery and accountability, are more, not less effective, especially as County Services are redesigned and more of them will be delivered from here.

 

You may know that I am the portfolio holder for Sustainable Communities and Localities, for Westmorland and Furness, and so I am responsible for effecting such a picture across the whole unitary.

 

It’s not going to be easy.

 

But here in Eden I hope we 38 can prototype something that is good, with our parishes and our communities, so we leave the place better than we found it.

 

There will be further opportunities over the next year to review our 48 year history and celebrate our achievements.

 

So to finish, I’d just like to initiate the celebratory year proposing and indeed conferring a new honour: so following the House of Commons, I propose we recognise the Father of our House, a councillor who has served EDC and his community since 1995 – so I hope, Councillor Sawrey-Cookson, that you will accept this title, as Father of our House, which I fear comes with no privileges or honorarium, only with our admiration and our thanks.