Leader’s New Year message
‘Firstly, can I take this opportunity to wish readers a very happy and prosperous new year. As we say goodbye to 2019, we remember the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two, the birth of another royal baby, the hot summer, our World Cup cricketing success (and so nearly in the rugby too!) and of course the first December general election for nearly 100 years. We also remember the two young people so tragically killed by terrorism in London during the Fishmongers’ Hall terror attack in November –a tragic loss.
Over the last year, the County Council has continued working hard to deliver improvements right across Buckinghamshire. For example, we’ve invested in new road schemes, including the A4 cycleway, changes to help reduce congestion on key routes and safety improvements from Princes Risborough to High Wycombe to name just a few. We’ve also spent over £20 million on improving our roads and reducing the number of potholes, although I’m the first to admit that the three months of almost unending rain is doing a lot of new damage at the moment.
By working closely with the community, we’ve secured a new future for Thrift Farm, our unit for people with special disabilities, near Whaddon, with two local organisations taking on its operations; we’ve continued our investment in education and new schools with young students achieving some of the best GCSE and A-level results in the country and over 90% of our schools rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted; we’ve opened a brand new children’s home and refurbished Aylesbury Library, which saw 9,000 people through the doors in the first fortnight. The fantastic work carried out by our fly tipping team was also featured in Channel 5’s first series of ‘Grime and Punishment’. It’s been so successful that they’ve been back filming with us again, so look out for the second series in 2020!
On sustainability issues, we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions as a Council by 41%, well ahead of the 30% voluntary target set by Government in its Clean Growth Strategy and we’ve committed to playing our part in the UK’s 2050 net-zero carbon target.
We’ve also spotlighted numerous campaigns including supporting carers, providing additional help for people to improve their mental wellbeing; increasing the number of foster carers and those looking to adopt. We’re also into the second year of our nationally recognised ‘Better Lives’ initiative, designed to help those who are more vulnerable to access that extra help and support they need. Staying healthy remains hugely important, so the council has actively promoted regular exercise, quitting smoking, cutting alcohol consumption and encouraging winter flu inoculations. Looking forward, we’ll continue working with the NHS to make health and social care less complex to use for those who need it. We’ve also introduced new measures to combat blue badge misuse across Buckinghamshire with a series of successful prosecutions throughout the year.
Back in June we helped celebrated Armed Forces Day with a magnificent free event at Wycombe Air Park. Thousands turned out to lend their support to all those in the forces past and present who keep our country safe. We also held our second ‘Access all areas’ event at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, bringing together the wide range of support and services available to help people with a learning disability and autism stay as fit and healthy as possible
But of course, there have been challenges, too. For example, reluctantly bringing in charges for non-household waste at our Household Waste sites, some operational difficulties with home to school transport provision, the introduction of our new family centres to better support those most in need and the steady progress we are making with Ofsted to improve our children’s services, However, by far the biggest challenge has been the growing impact of HS2 construction and the inevitable destruction and chaos it is bringing right across the County. We’ve resolutely maintained our continued opposition to the whole scheme but also, where advanced works have started, we’ve tried to secure the best possible mitigation measures should the project go ahead. I’ve personally written to both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Prime Minister on a number of occasions asking that all work should stop immediately until we know the new Government’s response to its Oakervee report and can only hope that they finally see the clear flaws of such an expensive and unwanted scheme.
And of course, the coming year will see history made as the current County Council and four District Councils across Buckinghamshire come together and the brand-new Buckinghamshire Council opens for business on 1st April. One single council responsible for providing all major services across the County, sweeping away confusion for residents, removing duplication and bringing all local services together. Plans are already well-advanced and everyone transferring into the new Council is looking forward to serving all Buckinghamshire residents and improving the services they receive.
As part of planning the new Council, we’ve been determined to ‘get local’ with information, advice and support down at town and even village level where its closer to people. As a result, 17 new ‘Council Access Points’ will be introduced across the County. This means residents will be able to get face-to-face help on the spot from staff and in some locations be able to discuss more complex issues. This, together with improvements like a single telephone number and website begin to signal just some of the improvements to come. It’s an exciting time and there will be lots more information coming out to residents in the coming weeks.
Lastly, may I also thank everyone who donated gifts to our 2019 Christmas present appeal for disadvantaged children, young people and care leavers. In total, hundreds of gifts from toys and games to clothing and electrical accessories were given to young people and opened on Christmas day. This was a magnificent achievement and a real testimony to the generosity and kindness of the people of this wonderful county. From the bottom of my heart on behalf of everyone at Buckinghamshire County Council a big ‘thank you’ and all the very best for 2020.’
Leader, Buckinghamshire County Council