“Actions in 2021 need to speak louder than words.“
East Devon District Council leader Paul Arnott writes about the challenges ahead.
So here we are, Christmas has come and gone and we are hurtling towards 2021. It all feels like we have been on a bumpy spaceship ride across the solar system, can’t quite now find somewhere to land, and despite this have to fly on for another year in the slightly damaged craft we’ve been steering since March.
The patch of this country which I feel responsibility for – East Devon – faces the same extremely tough questions as the rest of the nation. Schools – open or close? Vaccinations – do we have the capacity, and is it going quickly enough? Food – supply chains are holding, but more and more people are genuinely going hungry. How can we all expand and co-ordinate campaigns to help?
Sports and Leisure Centres – ours have been hammered by Covid-19, and everyone wants to support them. But with one a quarter million pounds of district council money needed to support them up to Easter, can we afford to, when the government is only helping us to the tune of a quarter of a million? That’s a £1 million shortfall.
What about climate change? The clock is ticking, but can we move fast enough to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and move to greener energies? What more must we do to conserve our local environment?
And that’s before we start to worry about the local economy. Most people want to work to support themselves and their families, and to fulfil their potential. Yet we are looking at an awful contraction of the economy this year, and for many new jobs will not exist. So how do we get our heads together to support new endeavours and to skill up and train our local people?
Where, too, will we all live? The need for genuinely affordable, attainable homes is more marked than ever. How do we structure our strategic planning efforts at the district council to put this at the forefront of our efforts? Could we use publically owned land, should we go into partnerships with small or medium building companies to deliver it, and perhaps also encourage self-building? Or are we doomed to have massive developments pushed upon us against our will by stock market listed developers?
What will next year’s tourist season look like? If vaccination has been rolled out to cover most people by June, will we have an amazing three and four months of greater visitor numbers than ever? And can we cope with that, do we have the vision and the joined up infra-structure?
If anyone is interested in what keeps a council leader awake at night, I offer you the above for starters.
But in spite of it all, I have always been a glass half full person. For good things to happen, however, there are two crucial words we need our ruling government class to abide by – Good Faith.
National politicians of the governing party have made a series of promises on the Brexit-dividend, a Green-led economic recovery, a vastly better-resourced National Health Service. On the basis of those promises, just over a year ago the Prime Minister was given an eighty seat majority in the House of Commons.
Those voters were not stupid – they put a cross on the names of Simon Jupp, Neil Parish and Mel Stride (our MPs covering various parts of East Devon) in Good Faith. We all understand the extraordinary headwinds of the year just gone, and how some shocking mistakes were made from the man at the helm.
Our MPs, however, are meant to represent our needs and views to the national body politic. I have no reason to doubt that all three men are characters of Good Faith. In 2021, in all of the issues above, I will be seeking confirmation of that in the interests of the people of East Devon.
Actions in 2021 need to speak louder than words.