Dear resident We continue to work hard on welcoming those fleeing the dreadful warfare in Ukraine as part of our ‘Helping Hand for Ukraine’ scheme at the Council. All the latest updates are available on our website along with how you can offer support, including our financial appeal. Nevertheless, I’m conscious my most recent updates to you have been dominated by this crisis, and rightly so, but I’m also very aware there are other important topics and issues to update you on too, which this email aims to do. Bills and support for households We know the energy price changes have now taken effect for the majority of residents and that this has further increased the pressures on household bills. We’re all struggling with the huge global hike in fuel, gas, oil and electricity costs and, for some, it places household finances in a really precarious position. I wanted to outline the various ways you can seek help if you’re worried about money. The Council’s ‘Helping Hand’ team is available if you’re suffering severe financial hardship. We’ve pulled together the various ways the team can help if you’re struggling with buying food or paying bills and this information is on the dedicated ‘Helping Hand’ pages on our website. Even if the team can’t directly support you, there is other information on these pages about how and where to seek help. I am particularly pleased that the Government has announced extra Household Support Fund money for councils to help us provide the assistance that residents in financial crisis need. The Buckinghamshire Online Directory is also a great source of information on where to find help and support, as is the Buckinghamshire Family Information Service and finally, I would also recommend contacting Citizens Advice Bucks if you need further advice and help – they have a wealth of expertise in advising on money matters and other issues.
Council Tax bills With 82% of our costs now funded through Council Tax, we too aren’t immune to the rise in costs and how much we now have to pay to provide essential services to residents. That is why we have worked hard to keep the increase that pays for our main services down to 1.99%. Likewise, social care for adults and children will cost in the region of £300 million alone next year. So, while adult social care costs are rising by at least 5%, we’re only increasing the Adult Social Care precept (the money in Council Tax revenue specifically set aside for this) by 2%. I think that in difficult times this is the right thing to do. We have worked hard to balance this rise in our costs against the pressures households are facing from increased bills with the Council committed to finding some £47m in additional efficiencies and savings to help balance the books. I know for many, you may still be worried about how to pay your Council Tax bill so please, can I urge you to get in touch with our team if you do have concerns about this. They can look at what options and help might be available to you and the details can be found on your bill and here on our website. We are hoping the national £150 rebate will be paid during this month to residents in Bands A-D. Updates are on our website. We are also finalising a further scheme to help those in severe financial need in Bands E-H too – so again, please check the website where we will post details of eligibility as soon as we have them.
HS2 and East West Rail
We know the disruption and damage caused by both of these works continues to impact on the daily lives of many residents, especially those who live or travel close to the main construction sites. We relentlessly lobby both firms on behalf of residents to do the best we can to mitigate the dreadful impacts being felt – from road damage, to noise, to road closures, to hugely increased HGV traffic.
We will never stop holding HS2 to account for the commitments and assurances they have given residents in Buckinghamshire. Recently the Cabinet Member for Transport, Steven Broadbent and I met with the HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson. We were very clear about the problems with engagement by HS2, the damage to our roads by HS2 vehicles, the environmental damage, the inappropriate design of many structures along the route and the poor restoration of key sites.
We have also hosted a number of significant visits recently. Sir Mark Worthington, Construction Commissioner for HS2 Ltd spent a day in Buckinghamshire hearing first-hand from residents and parish councillors in the north of the county about the significant disruption construction is causing to their daily lives. I met him personally afterwards, along with Deputy Cabinet Member for Transport, Peter Martin, so we could reinforce our residents’ views and to raise a number of additional concerns that we, as a council, have with the project. Steven Broadbent also met Rail Minister Wendy Morton on the same day to discuss how EWR can improve their engagement with residents and management of the project to ensure considerate construction.
Local politicians also met with the new HS2 Client Director Rohan Perin, who toured the villages of North Buckinghamshire with Greg Smith MP to demonstrate the devastation that both projects are causing.
East West Rail will bring much clearer benefits to Buckinghamshire so, unlike HS2, we broadly support the project here at the Council; this doesn’t stop us however forcefully making the case to mitigate the impacts of construction on residents for this project too.
You can contact the Council’s designated HS2 marshals with any concerns, using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. We send out a separate monthly email update solely on issues relating to HS2 – if you would like to receive this, please email us at the address above.
I know Covid continues to impact and there are high numbers of staff absences in schools and workplaces across Buckinghamshire. As ever, please make sure you’re familiar with the current government guidance so we can all do our bit to try to lessen the chances of catching Covid.
I’d also like to remind you that the spring booster vaccine campaign is now underway. People aged 75 and over, care home residents and people aged 12 and over with a weakened immune system are all eligible for another vaccine – there’s comprehensive information about the spring booster programme on the Government’s website. To book, visit the national booking system on the NHS website. There’s also guidance here on how long you need to wait if you’ve recently had Covid.
It does feel like there’s a lot of bad news around at the moment but I do want to end on a brighter note! You’ll most likely be aware it’s Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Year and the main celebrations across the extended Bank Holiday in June (Thursday 2 June – Sunday 5 June) aren’t actually that far off now! We’ve produced some special Jubilee Activity Packs that are now available to download from our website – here you can also find the details of other events and activities planned, as well as the wider initiatives to mark HM The Queen’s 70 year reign.
We all thoroughly deserve a good celebration and we’re keen to encourage local communities to take part and hold events over the June Bank Holiday. We have waived the fees associated with temporary street closures to help with this and you can read the Council’s Jubilee Street Party guidance on our website.
Finally, a quick reminder to check our website for bin collection changes over Easter. I hope you enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend and please remind anyone else who’d like these updates to sign up via our website at www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/signup
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council