Dear resident, I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to start by focussing on the weather, given the very wet autumn conditions we are experiencing so far this year. I know that many parts of the county have been impacted by flooded roads, parks and property. Our highways teams alongside the police have responded to many call-outs during these wet spells in recent weeks, assisting with sandbags and road closures where needed.
We have also worked hard in recent years to clear every one of our 85,000 gullies across the county to ensure these are free to do their bit to take excess water. Unfortunately, some of the downpours we’ve experienced lately have meant drains and gullies have become overwhelmed and local land has been unable to absorb the water running off the roads and pavements. We know the ground is already extremely wet as we approach another few days of unsettled weather so I want to urge you all to take a look at the advice on flooding on the council’s website to see what you can do to be ready for wet weather and how the council can help if you need it. Winter support Now we are starting to experience some colder weather the heating is going on in some homes and I know there is still a lot of anxiety about how to meet energy costs and pay other bills over the coming months. We have a dedicated ‘Cost of Living’ section on the council’s website that offers advice on a range of topics, from energy saving tips to avoiding damp and mould - and you can also find out whether you qualify for a ‘cost of living’ payment from the Government. For people who need more support over and above information and advice, the council’s Helping Hand service exists. We’re using £4.8 million funding from the Government’s Household Support Fund to run this service which is proving a huge help to our residents. We have managed more than 5,000 applications for help since April this year. If you’re facing need you can call Helping Hand on 01296 531 151 or make contact online and the team will try to find the best solution for you, whether that’s pointing you to support that is available in your community, providing direct support for if you are struggling for warmth or food or providing assistance with essentials if you are experiencing significant financial difficulties. Helping Hand is offering digital food vouchers to eligible children during the winter school holidays, and there’s also the council’s HAF (Holidays Activities and Food) programme funded by the Department for Education that provides free activities and a healthy hot meal for eligible children and young people during the Christmas school holidays. I was delighted to welcome Mims Davies MP, Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression to Buckinghamshire recently, to show another Household Support Fund project at Bucks New Uni where the money is being used to make up meal bags for students.
Arif Hussain, our Cabinet Member for Communities, and myself met Mims Davies MP (middle) and Steve Baker MP (right) at Bucks New University along with Paul Morgan, Pro-Vice Chancellor at the university (left).
As well as finding out how to access support we get a lot of offers from people wanting to help - whether that’s donating food, money or time or seeing what volunteering opportunities are available. It makes me so proud of the continuing community spirit in force across our county and if you are in a position to help, you can also find out more about volunteering and donating at the same place on our website. This includes information on how to make a donation to the Heart of Bucks Together Against Poverty Appeal - this money goes directly to local people who may be struggling. Our finances I also wanted to provide an update on the council’s financial position. Many of you may have read that some other councils, notably Birmingham, have issued what is called in local government jargon a ‘Section 114 notice’. This effectively means that they are almost bankrupt! The good news is that Buckinghamshire Council is not in that position. Through careful management and financial control, we are currently able to cover our costs. However, as I have written before, our finances are under enormous pressure. This is due to increased demand or costs for four main services we provide to the most vulnerable: temporary accommodation if you are homeless; Children’s Services, particularly child safeguarding; caring for elderly or disabled adults and providing home to school transport for children with special needs. These are very big and expensive areas of council expenditure. This year we are likely to over-spend our budget but will be able to cover this from money specifically put aside against such a risk. Next year however the situation is much more challenging. We are faced with further big cost and demand increases and our income in recent years has risen far less than inflation. The four areas I mentioned we must legally provide and we are inspected on them by the Government. Therefore, we will have to continue to make big savings across all the other services we provide. These are inevitably the very services that most people use and value. I will keep you all posted when we have a budget to propose but I am expecting some very tough and difficult decisions will have to be made. Keeping our high streets attractive places to visit I’m often asked about our many town and village centres. Most of these are thriving with all or most shop and office units being used. However, some are seeing more vacant units as shopping moves increasingly to the internet and more people work from home. It is important that we keep our town centres vibrant. This means helping them to change and adapt. At Buckinghamshire Council we are looking at ways of working with local businesses, retailers, and colleges and universities to help keep our towns great places to visit. Our initial focus is on Aylesbury, High Wycombe, and Chesham as these are our biggest towns. Find out more about this on the council’s website. Teach in Bucks We always need great teachers in Buckinghamshire - it’s a hugely rewarding career with many benefits. I just wanted to let you know that if it’s a career you might be considering, or if you know someone who is, that we have a ‘Teach in Bucks’ recruitment fair at Buckinghamshire New University in Aylesbury on Saturday 18 November from 10am-3pm. There’ll be representatives from local universities, teacher training institutions and the Department for Education Advisors all on hand to answer any questions and provide any information you might need. Promises to be a great event so do let any budding teachers know it’s coming up! Ticket registrations can be made here. Autumn is definitely here! Before I sign off, there are just a couple more reminders. Firstly, with the clocks having gone back this weekend we now have the shorter days and darker nights ahead. Without ‘teaching you to suck eggs’ there are a few sensible safety actions we can all consider:
It’s an obvious one, but wearing brighter clothing, especially for younger and less able people, is really advisable to make you more visible to traffic and other road users
Check your car headlights are in working order and, before the temperature really plummets, you could check the ‘winter driving’ advice on our website
We’ve not got into the full swing of gritting yet, but have been out once so far this year - you can read more about our gritting routes on the council’s website.
Do watch out for our marvellous team of School Crossing Patrollers and take extra care during the darker mornings and evenings; we do see an increase in ‘near misses’ at this time of year so please be extra mindful around our schools and residential areas
Yours, Martin Tett Leader of Buckinghamshire Council