I normally start my Christmas message by saying what a busy year it’s been and highlighting some of the reasons why.
But I think we’d all agree this year has been far from normal, and to say we’ve been busy doesn’t really cover it.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on our lives – more so than anyone could have envisaged when the first case in Derbyshire was reported back in February.
It’s obviously affected how we run the council and its services and we adapted quickly and well to the new circumstances and ever-changing situation, working closely with partners across the county.
We’ve pulled out all the stops to help and support our residents, making £1 million emergency funding immediately available to support households and businesses, and setting up our Community Response Unit to reach the most vulnerable and channel all the help offered by amazing volunteers.
Our £15 million Covid-19 Recovery Scheme has been running since late autumn, and will help to support businesses and save jobs, and we’re also running the Government’s covid winter grants scheme, making sure that families needing extra help over the next few months have access to vouchers to ensure no child in Derbyshire goes hungry.
I think we all applauded when we heard a vaccine was ready, and its roll out now is the key to us all getting some normality back. I understand some people are anxious but it’s the only way we can retrieve our lives, keep our loved ones safe and not put others at risk.
The vaccine rollout will take time, and our residents can rest assured that we will continue with our vital work to support households and businesses where we can for as long as is needed.
We are proud to say that we are ahead of the curve with community testing, being one of the first local authorities to be approved to carry this out. Along with the vaccine rollout and local tracing it’s another critical step to getting our local economy working again and our lives back, and I’m proud we’re taking the lead. This will be done in stages across the county and in time could also help us move down to the lower tiers of restriction, which we’re so desperate to do.
We know our hospitality sector and the tourism industry as a whole is being hit particularly hard, and we’ve called on the Government to provide more financial support and help to pull them through.
While the pandemic has dominated, we certainly haven’t taken our eye off the ball with other important work, and there have been some fantastic achievements over the past 12 months.
We’ve seen the opening of the new £10 million Ada Belfield Care Centre in Belper, which is now home to residents who waited patiently to move in while it was used to care for people recovering from covid-19. And on the same site we opened the wonderful new Belper Library, demonstrating our commitment to our library service now and in the future.
Our drive to ensure the best care for older people will also clearly be demonstrated when building work starts on the £13 million replacement for Hazelwood residential care home on the former Bennerley School site in Cotmanhay in the new year.
We’ve approved more than £11million for work on schools this year including improvements and maintenance which will see new windows, doors, heating systems and roofing. We’re funding the expansion of Glossopdale School and spending £1.2million on expanding John Port Spencer Academy in Etwall. We’ve also recently celebrated the opening of the new £5.3 million Highfields Spencer Academy in Littleover.
Our library service has worked wonders during the pandemic to reopen all 45 libraries and reintroduce the mobile library service safely and within the restrictions, and during lockdown staff continued to develop their extensive digital offer including access to online activities, events and eResources. Other teams have embraced digital working, with services such as Live Life Better Derbyshire now being delivered online.
And backing positive initiatives like the ShopAppy scheme, which has seen 250 local businesses register in recent weeks, and ensuring businesses know where to go for support, will also help us to weather the storm and help the county bounce back.
In the autumn we announced we’ll be spending more than £40million on improving roads and pavements across the county in the next 18 months, as well as a further £12 million on routine maintenance. We successfully bid for an extra £5 million for works on the A6 and we’re making good progress on plans for the Ashbourne by-pass, with an online consultation now completed for people to have their say on three potential routes.
One of the highlights of the year for me, which unfortunately couldn’t be marked in the way it was planned, was the opening of the Buxton Crescent, which has certainly been worth waiting for. I have been lucky enough to visit and have a guided tour and the work that has gone into it is stunning. A real jewel in Derbyshire’s crown.
We haven’t let coronavirus stop us from marking important milestones this year either, with online events marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and a socially-distanced Remembrance Day event at County Hall.
As the vaccine is rolled out and life begins to return to normal, we will carry on with our ambitious plans for the county, our residents, our environment and our economy.
Devolution will be high on the agenda, and we have outlined our approach in our Vision Derbyshire plan, liaising closely with our district and borough council partners on a new way of working together.
We’re also reinvigorating plans for the Festival of Derbyshire, put off in 2020, and now planned for 2021.
And our work on climate change will continue at pace as we strive to meet the targets we have set ourselves as an authority and for the county as a whole.
I’d like to thank all our residents for the resilience and amazing Derbyshire Spirit you have shown this year and I’m confident we can look to the future with optimism.
It’s not over, and we still need to ensure we are following the guidelines and restrictions and listening to the latest safety messages. I know this will be especially tough for many due to the recent changes over Christmas. We know there will be difficult times ahead too, but together we can do this and we will get our county back on track.
Have a Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2021.