End of year message from Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council

As 2022 draws to a close, it seems like an opportune moment to pause and reflect on the past year, as well as to look ahead to what 2023 may bring for us here in Buckinghamshire.

We know that 2022 has continued to challenge us in a multitude of ways. Times are hard right now, with all of us feeling some impact from the cost-of-living pressures. As a council, in addition to maintaining and continuing to improve all our services, we are focusing a large part of our effort on supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Earlier this year we welcomed the news that more support was being targeted nationally. The Government’s Household Support Fund has helped us to continue to develop our local Helping Hand service which is channelling support directly to our residents facing the greatest hardship. It has allowed us to provide food vouchers for pensioners and families on low incomes and to fund schemes like our HAF (Holiday Activities and Food) programme giving young people who have free school meals, access to free activities and clubs during school holidays.

We are ever grateful for the additional support provided by our partners and the outstanding voluntary and community sector we have here in Buckinghamshire. I have also been overwhelmed by the donations made to our crisis fund that we set up earlier this year, in partnership with Heart of Bucks. More than £180,000 has now been donated, an incredible amount of money which will be used to help more people locally.

I am not surprised by the generosity shown by local people. You only have to look at the response we have had to requests for support for our families escaping turmoil in Ukraine and Afghanistan to know how inclusive and welcoming people in Bucks can be. I would like to say a personal thank you to everyone who has helped in some way.

None of us knows what the future may hold but we do know that we face some very tough decisions early in the new year when we must set our budget for 2023/24. Shrewd financial planning has placed us in a better position than some, but we know that with costs continuing to rise and pressures across all our service areas, we are going to have to look very hard at how we prioritise our spending to fund our essential services and continue to make improvements going forward.

Despite these financial constraints, we are committed to continuing to deliver on the promises we have made to our residents. One of our key focuses is on addressing the impacts of the climate crisis at a local level. We have made great strides this year including planting thousands more trees, expanding our network of electric vehicle charging points and encouraging greater use of more sustainable modes of transport by extending our e-scooter trials, introducing a new on-demand bus service and improving a number of our active travel routes across the county.

Our programme of work to invest in our roads has continued apace this year. We are injecting £100m into an array of repairs and improvements which will benefit all our local communities. This work includes embarking on another round of drain clearing, using innovative technologies to repair roads and pavements and introducing new and improved means to increase road safety.

These works sit alongside ongoing efforts to bring about improvements in other areas. This includes bringing our Children’s Services Ofsted rating up towards Good and continuing to clamp down hard on those who blight our local countryside by fly-tipping.

Earlier this month we took the first step in progressing our ambition to create equal opportunities for everyone in Buckinghamshire with the launch of our Opportunity Bucks initiative, our local version of the Government’s Levelling Up programme. Our aim is to buck the trend of poorer outcomes around health, work and education in some of our communities and ensure residents are able to access the same level of opportunity regardless of where they live. It will be a long-term programme, but we are investing funds, focusing on key areas and working closely with partners to ensure its success. We will keep you updated on progress and developments over coming months.

Whatever your plans over the next few weeks, I hope everyone is able to enjoy spending some time with loved ones.

I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas.