We seem to be facing the winter months with much uncertainty when it comes to covid and the ramifications of Brexit.
One thing seems to be inevitable, however – we will be facing a winter with rising fuel costs.
This is a major problem for our communities, especially as they are still counting the costs of the pandemic. Lots of households have seen a reduction in income – regretfully with the £20 loss in universal credit, eviction from rented properties and significant rises in rental costs to make homes unaffordable. All this coupled with uncertainty in the job market and the end of the furlough scheme.
The challenges are all too real – and for many the challenges are getting worse. As ever, it is the most vulnerable people in our communities who are hit the hardest. Low-income households will have to make the impossible decisions between eating and heating, as gas and electricity prices go literally through the roof.
As we emerge – hopefully – from Covid, there are long standing issues which are putting pressure on people, and on local services.
I know my inbox is always full of people contacting me with different questions on topics such as benefits, council tax and education, as well as issues with planning, enforcement, and environmental health issues.
Issues with rubbish collections are thankfully starting to improve as Somerset Waste Partnership are actively recruiting new staff. I know many people were relieved to see the re-start to the garden waste collections.
We are making progress when it comes to addressing the climate emergency.
Barack Obama famously said, “You get the politicians you deserve,” and whilst there is a lot of truth in that statement, I would add onto the end – “but let’s be kind.”
The reason I say this is that recently there have been some stories in the local media relating to Mendip councillors who were temporarily in arrears with their council tax payments. I know that in the grand scheme of things this is not a big story to most of us. But alas, there are always those who like to cause trouble and upset, especially to those in the public eye.
We live in a most beautiful part of the world – you have heard me say that many times! Little wonder people want to visit Mendip. We have so much to shout about. The rich, unique, natural landscapes of the Mendip Hills and all they have to offer, is just one example. A delight for walkers, cavers and climbers. Our main towns too of course, offer diverse attractions.
While staycations will have brought extra footfall to the southwest region, there is no hiding from the fact that tourism has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
If we are serious about recovery in our area, if we want to build back better, we must deliver financial support packages and offer practical help to our crucial visitor economy.
When it comes to how local governments work for their residents in Somerset in the coming years, there are changes afoot. The four district councils and the county council will be abolished, and a new unitary authority will be set up to cover the whole of the county in April 2023.
There’s a lot to do, but Mendip staff and councillors, alongside our colleagues across Somerset, will be working hard to ensure services are delivered seamlessly to our residents and communities, during the transition.
The Covid pandemic brought residents and local organisations closer. People reached out, and pulled together. Something seemed to switch. No longer was there a focus on ‘individuals’. It was all about ‘community’. I witnessed that first-hand.
Parish Councils, and those who serve on them, certainly played their part during his recent national crisis. They were front and centre – protecting their people and the places where they lived. They were perfectly placed to do so, being at the heart of our communities.
From time to time I’m asked, ‘what’s the purpose of Mendip District Council?’ In response I say, ‘to protect the vulnerable, and keep our communities safe.’ Because that’s it, in a nutshell.
Now if I’m honest, I don’t get asked about our purpose or our services quite as much as I used to. The Covid crisis has brought people closer to their Council. Many businesses and community groups have contacted us directly during the past 18 months to access business grants, or to seek help with household finances, emergency food parcels and medical supplies. Residents have visited our Council campus in Shepton Mallet in person, to receive life-saving vaccinations – and still do so today.