Open letter to Derbyshire – 24 March 2020

I wanted to put pen to paper to say how proud I am to be the Leader of Derbyshire County Council, proud of our staff and proud of our residents who always pull together at times of crisis to ensure we will come out of the other side of this an even stronger community.

This is not the first time in the last 12 months I’ve expressed my pride when Derbyshire County Council staff and Derbyshire folk have responded to a crisis – we’ve seen more than our fair share; Toddbrook Dam at Whaley Bridge, the floods in November that impacted on many communities and businesses, and the recent storms in February that saw even more impacts on residents. 

The Covid-19, global pandemic has arrived in our communities triggering the largest peacetime response ever mobilised – not just here in Derbyshire, or nationally – but globally.  Watching the global community react, sweep into action, come together and fight this scourge has been humbling. 

All of our colleagues, and the public sector as a whole, are working incredibly hard to ensure we respond to this emergency in the best way possible.

At this point I must say a huge thanks to all out there on the frontline: doctors, nurses, social workers, care workers, teachers, classroom support workers, cleaners and indeed everyone that plays a vital role in keeping residents well and ensuring we are as safe as we can be.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement this week of much stricter public measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus. There really is no other choice. People really need to take heed of this and follow the rules as established by Government, for the sake of our NHS, our country and our communities.  There has never been a more important time for the residents of this great county to do the right thing and show Derbyshire spirit.

And unless we all follow the advice of Public Health and doctors working on the frontline – to self-isolate, socially distance ourselves and practice good hygiene – then we could see some dark days ahead. It is imperative we take COVID-19 seriously to protect Derbyshire residents.

This weekend we took the difficult decision to close our country parks due to the high numbers of visitors making it impossible for people to stay a safe distance apart. Uniquely, Derbyshire and the Peak District are visited by day trippers from major conurbations and cities that surround us. Normally we’d welcome them with open arms. But in the current crisis we simply cannot.

We have also welcomed the decision from a public health point of view to close all schools, but we know how challenging this is for many parents and we’d like to thank them too, and recognise the difficulties this will pose for many. We’re currently working closely with schools to do what we can around this situation, supporting their work to ensure provision is available for the children of key workers.

As cases climb higher in the UK the experience from elsewhere tells us there will be increasing challenges and we must be ready for them, so I want to reassure you that Derbyshire is ready to face this, working with partners across the public, private and voluntary sector including charities large and small.

I also wanted to touch upon some of the things we have done as a council as this virus continues to spread and disrupt normal life in Derbyshire.

A key part of what we are trying to do is to reassure people that during these extraordinary times, when every sinew of community effort needs to be stretched to ensure our communities, residents and vulnerable people get the support they need, that we are working together as a community.  We will pull out all the stops, financial or otherwise, to ensure we can support communities, charities and groups in any way we can that in turn support our residents.

To that end we have set aside an initial sum of £1m to provide support to Derbyshire businesses and residents. 

Of that £100,000 has gone to support all of Derbyshire’s foodbanks via Foundation Derbyshire, which has good links with many voluntary sector organisations throughout Derbyshire. 

There will also be support for businesses as they struggle to pay bills and wages as their revenues slow down, and we will support individuals and families who cannot pay household bills or meet other financial obligations for reasons related to the pandemic.

We have established the “Covid-19 Community Response Unit” that will bring agencies and volunteers across the county together and support residents and businesses as they tackle the infection and its effects.

The Unit will work with other Derbyshire councils and agencies including the voluntary sector to enhance support for people across the county who are experiencing hardship related to the virus.  Effectively it will be a hub for coordinating efforts across Derbyshire and ensuring people are well and safe. We have started the call for volunteers for the Community Response Unit.

One final thing we are doing is working closely cross party, perhaps in an unprecedented way in Derbyshire, and discussions with the Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Paul Smith have been excellent and this should absolutely be the way political parties work when facing a crisis of this nature – together but with real challenge and real support to direct the efforts of the county council.  We will absolutely continue to work this way with the opposition during these challenging times.  This isn’t about Party politics – this is about supporting residents and business in Derbyshire as part of a national and global effort to beat Covid-19 and its effects.

We will get through this but we’ll need to work together, look out for each other and make sure we all have each other’s backs.  I hope it won’t be too long until our efforts are turned to getting Derbyshire back on its feet and restoring business as usual.

Councillor Barry Lewis

Leader Derbyshire County Council

COVID-19 Community Response Unit

There’s never been a more important time for us to all work together as we face this unprecedented and difficult time.

We’ve now launched our COVID-19 Community Response Unit which is already working to bring agencies across the county together to support residents and businesses as they tackle this virus and its effects.

We’ve also set aside an initial £1m coronavirus fund to help support vulnerable residents and affected businesses, and have welcomed the Government creating a £500m hardship fund, which local authorities will be able to tap in to.

My main messages at this time are that we must pull together, help our neighbours, friends and vulnerable people in our communities, and that support is available for our residents and businesses to help us all get through these uncertain times.

Tackling Climate Change Together

We’re here at County Hall in Matlock to explore how we can all work together to help tackle climate change.

More than 150 people have gathered from organisations ranging from local businesses to housing developers, councils and other public bodies – which is really great.

I hope they will all be inspired and challenged by the brilliant range of low carbon initiatives we’ve been hearing about today so that they can look at ways in which their own organisation can support the climate change agenda in Derbyshire.

Climate change is an issue which faces us all and everyone needs to play a part if Derbyshire is to become a net zero carbon county in line with Government targets by 2050.

The county council is already taking steps towards becoming carbon neutral and we’ll do all we can to support other businesses and organisations across the county to do the same.

Drastic action is needed and hopefully today will be the catalyst for radical change.

Coronavirus in Derbyshire

I’m sure you will be well aware of the coronavirus which not so long ago seemed like something that was happening a long way from Derbyshire and probably wouldn’t touch our lives in any major way.

Unfortunately I can tell you that we do now have a confirmed case in Derbyshire.

I can’t say too much about the case, that’s in the hands of Public Health England. But what I can say is that all agencies including the county council and its public health staff are working very closely and extremely hard to contain the virus and keep us all safe.

I must emphasise to all our residents that the risk remains low.

If you’re worried, there’s loads of information on the NHS website – go to www.nhs.uk/coronavirus

And, we’ll be keeping the council’s website up to date with the latest information too at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/coronavirus

Derbyshire County Council Leader Councillor Barry Lewis talks about the effects of Storm Ciara on Derbyshire, the efforts to keep the county moving and the big clear-up.

Our teams have been extremely busy over the weekend dealing with all that Storm Ciara has thrown at the county.

Crews were out in the full force of the storm, working through high winds and torrential rain after reports of more than 100 fallen trees, 40 flooding incidents and a rock fall.

As you’d expect, we prioritised clearing the major roads which were affected first in an effort to minimise disruption and keep the county moving.

I’m aware there are still a few trees down which are affecting smaller, rural roads, so please bear with us – we’re getting to them as quickly as we can.

The water is subsiding but there may be the odd patch of standing water in some places, so please take care if you’re out and about and please don’t take any chances.

It’s too early to give a cost to the damage done, but unfortunately we’re expecting to see the number of potholes increase, so please make sure to report them if you see one. You can do this easily on the council’s website

I’d like to say a huge thank-you to everyone who was involved – all working extremely hard in very difficult conditions – to keep the rest of us safe.

Many thanks.

Council Leader Councillor Barry Lewis on this year’s budget and a low council tax proposal to support adult social care services

Being at the helm of a one billion pound organisation is a huge responsibility – especially when it’s your money as a Derbyshire council tax payer that we’re spending.

That’s why we work extremely hard all year round to ensure we spend your money wisely, where it’s needed most, funding high quality, vital services which people rely on.

Balancing the books is not easy as demand for our services grow – in particular for older and vulnerable people and children. Our budgets are under huge pressure and the money we have must go further every year.

As we come to set our budget for this year we’ve looked closely at the priorities you’ve highlighted in our recent residents’ survey, and we’ll do our best to deliver.

Our top priority is keeping council tax as low as possible so that we don’t add pressure to already stretched household budgets.

That’s why this year we’re proposing the lowest council tax rise for five years.

This two per cent levy is known as the adult social care precept – and the full amount raised from this – about £6.7million – will go directly to services for older and vulnerable Derbyshire residents.

There will not be any additional rise for other services – making this one of the lowest council tax rises in the country.

We’d love there to be no increase at all – but we believe this is the right thing to do as it will help to fund and protect these essential services.

To not take this levy may disadvantage us when it comes to future Government funding for adult care.

If agreed, the increase will mean an extra 40 pence per week for the average band B household.

We’re in a better position than we’d expected for the year ahead thanks to extra social care and special educational needs funding from Government.

But we must still save almost £19million in 2020-21 and over the next five years the savings target is nearly £65million.

It’s not an easy task, and we’ll be continuing with our call on Government to ensure Derbyshire gets its fair share of funding compared to other parts of the country.

There’s a lot to be positive about though, and the budget we’re considering is strong and will stand us in good stead for the years ahead.

We’ll continue to work hard to deliver best value for money for all our residents and aim to work even more closely with our district and borough colleagues and our communities.

This has to be a joint effort – and if we all work together we can continue to protect the services people rely on, look after our most vulnerable and ensure our communities continue to thrive.

Working together to tackle key issues

There’s no doubt our climate is changing and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent.

This isn’t something only experienced in Derbyshire, or indeed the UK. But in recent months our county has found itself at the sharp end, leaving myself and others to wonder what next, where and when?

Clearly action is needed on an unprecedented scale. By 2032, we intend to be carbon neutral in terms of our property, street-lighting and fleet. But there‘s a far bigger challenge facing us. The council’s own carbon footprint makes up just one per cent of emissions from Derbyshire as a whole. And this is where we intend to grab hold of the nettle and strive to make a real difference.

By teaming up with our district and borough council colleagues and Derby City Council, we intend to put politics aside and become leaders in the field when it comes to working with communities and businesses to support them to bring about change.

Climate change is an issue which faces us all and I’m pleased to have met with Leaders from other councils in Derby and Derbyshire on Friday. Not only do we agree this is an issue we can and should all be working together to address, but we agree there are other issues we could tackle by sharing expertise, experience and working more closely – to improve the lives of Derbyshire residents and potentially save money too.

This is the dawn of a new era for local government in Derbyshire. I’ve said before we need to keep an open mind as to what the future of local government may look like to deliver more cost-efficient services for residents.

We hope to show central Government a new way of working to be held up as an example for other councils to follow and a new model for attracting more government funding into the county without the need for overly bureaucratic reforms.