Stay alert, control the virus, save lives – and keep social distancing

Yesterday saw our secondary schools re-open to pupils in years 10 and 12.

Like our primary schools, they have been busy carrying out risk assessments and putting their plans in place over recent weeks. The government has advised that because these pupils have important exams next summer, they should have some face-to-face contact with their teachers, before the summer holiday, whilst also continuing to study at home with work provided by the schools.

Yesterday was also the first opportunity for many of us to return to our town centres to shop for non-essential goods. In the main, it seems people have been observing the social distancing rules.  I am sure it will take us a while to get used to the new way of shopping, but it has been good to see retailers making their shops as welcoming and safe as possible, and more people wearing masks, and personally I hope many more will do so.

This step in the relaxation of lockdown is so important to our recovery; we need our retail centres to help start the economy moving again.  As part of the Council’s Economic Recovery Plan, we are providing as much support as we can to local businesses and retailers.

Our pubs, cafes and restaurants have been closed for over 13 weeks, although some have been offering a takeaway or delivery service.  We await more specific guidelines on how they will be able to safely re-open and help us get back to enjoying drinks and food in what we hope will be vibrant town centres.

On another matter, we have to remember that the climate crisis has not gone away.  Climate change continues to be one of the biggest threats to our environment and society. The pandemic has been hugely disruptive and challenging.  But it has given us a moment to pause and reflect on what kind of future we want for the West Midlands and what ‘prosperity’ means.

Working with others across the West Midlands region, we have now developed a blueprint – WM2041: A Programme for Implementing an Environmental Recovery’.  This plan for a green recovery builds on our existing commitment #WM2041 to make the West Midlands carbon neutral by 2041. It was discussed at the West Midlands Combined Authority Board held on 5 June.

It sets out how the West Midlands can rebuild its economy, in a way that drives green and inclusive growth.  It is important that all the region’s diverse communities and its environment can benefit from the post-Covid-19 recovery, not just economically, but also socially and with an improved environment.

I mentioned in a previous message our participation in a sub-regional Beacon programme with Coventry, Warwickshire and West Midlands Combined Authority – part of the Government’s new £300 million Test and Trace plan. Working together we will have a sub-regional Outbreak Control Plan in place by 30 June.  This will help us to both prevent and control infection as well as target those vulnerable people and high-risk settings.

I can report that our approach is already operational. We will link closely to the regional testing programme, to use local and national data (from the new Joint Biosecurity Centre) to swiftly test and contact trace, and put in place local outbreak management measures, to contain outbreaks at the earliest stage.

We already have in place a multi-agency Solihull Health Protection Board which will be responsible for our own borough Outbreak Control Plan.  This will allow us to respond to any outbreaks in a way that meets our specific local needs.

Another big step towards a new normal will be the first ‘virtual’ Full Council on 7 July 2020.  Council meetings have been held by video conferencing – indeed some of us have to spend a great deal of our time at meetings in this way.   Cabinet decision sessions have also continued, but this will be our first attempt at bringing the whole Council together to discuss, debate and vote on matters, as we normally do.

I know this is new territory for many of my fellow councillors.   I will miss being in the Council Chamber, but we need our democracy to meet the challenge of the coronavirus and use technology to create a virtual Council Chamber.

I’m sure many residents will be pleased to hear that all our libraries will be open for book returns from 10am – 1pm on this coming Saturday 20 and Thursday 25 June.  This service is only about dropping off books and residents must observe social distancing; regrettably, there will be no opportunity for contact with library staff.  This is part of our preparations for rolling out a ‘click and collect’ service starting on 6 July. More information here.

Finally I’d like to pay tribute to one of our younger residents, Sophie, a six-year-old pupil at Peterbrook School. When the coronavirus lockdown started, her family set up portal systems to keep in contact with their extended family, and used some of this time to write some stories.

The family met at 4pm every day to think of some titles; then Sophie and her grandad would meet at 6.45pm to write them. They are selling the book that they have written to raise funds for the NHS: you can buy it here.

Well done Sophie for using the lockdown time to be creative.  She has turned a difficult period into a positive experience and inspired by Captain Tom Moore, is raising funds for the NHS.

Stay alert, help control the virus, save lives – we don’t want a second spike!

Please take care

Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council, 16 June 2020