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Lessons from Lockdown

July 6, 2020 1:44 PM

Lib Dems now hold the balance of decision-making in Spelthorne

Lockdown in Spelthorne lessons (Matt Seymour on Unsplash)Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Sandra Dunn considers what we have learned so far from this crisis

Do you have something to say on this? Let Sandra know your views

As lockdown eases here in England, we support the calls from the national party for an independent enquiry into how the government has handled the current crisis. Part of this will involve the role and an assessment of Local Government. Therefore, as Group Leader of the Spelthorne Liberal Democrats, Sandra Dunn writes on some of the lessons from Spelthorne Borough Council. Rather than talking about the Council's response in full (details of which can be found here), she looks at how we can take some of the positives and negatives of the changing world in Spelthorne.

Reaching the Vulnerable

Without the Day Centres and usual support networks, we must congratulate the way in which the Council has been trying to support those the council provided services for before the Covid-19 pandemic. The reaching out to other vulnerable groups and those isolated individuals also has done a lot to help those in need. As well as supporting the homeless, the council secured emergency accommodation for those affected by the increase in domestic violence amongst other spikes that have emerged.
Strategies on homelessness, housing and Surrey's consultation on Childrens' Centres were all due to be considered during this time. They now need to be reconfigured and consider the new normal going forward.

A Boost in the Voluntary Sector

Spelthorne does not have the reputation for strong voluntary networks that can be found in other neighbouring areas.

However, at a time of crisis, the voluntary sector has stepped up and supported the local communities.

In Sunbury, we've had better-established volunteer networks than in some, but the scale has increased and the way in which the Council has worked with them has been vastly improved. Cllr Tom Fidler has been volunteering at St Saviour's Community Foodbank which, with other foodbanks, have provided the equivalent of 260,000 meals to those in need. He has been helping them to secure some additional funding, ensuring they got improved bin collection in line with the demands put on them.
But most importantly we must thank them! The team there, and those in mutual aid groups across the borough do amazing work and we must do our best to support their efforts as part of our responsibilities in the Council. The feedback we have had is that the relationship has greatly improved and the funding provided by the council has been of great help. We must ensure that we continue this beyond the crisis.

Embracing a digital future

The Council meeting on the 25th June was viewed by over 800 people, which is a massive increase on the number of residents attending council meetings. Spelthorne has lagged behind many other local authorities in the way in which it has engaged digitally but this has shown how people do want to engage with local democracy.
We believe that we need to invest in technology to improve the quality of digital broadcasts of meetings which will allow more residents to know more about the workings inside the council. Furthermore, from a councillor perspective, we will also look at how Working Groups can become digital and encourage the remote working dynamic for Council business going forward. The Council have also held numerous councillor briefings so we are better aware of business across the council. We strongly believe these should continue as standard practice for the council to improve transparency and to ensure we can communicate the work of the council effectively to residents.

The future for two-tier authorities

We are hearing about plans for a Government White Paper on Unitary Authorities. We have been challenging Surrey about the reopening of the Eco-Park and about the rolling out of testing. In fact, Spelthorne has been delivering on protecting the Category A at-risk groups on behalf of Surrey. In the last few days, we have also begun discussions about improving the pedestrian and cycling routes which is crucial in improving residents' wellbeing and the environment. There has to be an improved working relationship between Surrey and Spelthorne in the short term, but we also must start considering our long-term futures. Our Middlesex location provides unique challenges and opportunities unlike other parts of Surrey.

It is vital we find a solution that works for residents and ensures a sustainable and better future for all.

In other releases from the Spelthorne Lib Dems you will see how we have been feeding back residents' concerns about fly-tipping, local monuments, planning, bonfires, the EcoPark amongst many others, but we have lots of work still ahead.
From times of great difficulty and sadness, we can find positives, but we cannot look through rose-tinted glasses. We need to be prepared for the economic impact on people now made redundant following the financial downturn from this crisis. Furthermore, our thoughts are with those that have lost family or friends during this time.

We need to be ensuring our local businesses who have been adapting brilliantly during this time, can thrive and we must support them or risk losing them.

We also must remain vigilant and aware in case of local spikes in Coronavirus cases to come.
We will work hard to support local residents and businesses through these difficult times, but we need you to get involved and keep engaged with us to ensure we are acting in the residents best interests.
We have a major role in Council business at the moment, largely holding the balance of decision-making, and it is crucial we hear from as many of you as possible.

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