“I am proud of our county. This has been an extraordinary year so far, but our sense of community has never felt stronger.
The year so far has thrown challenges our way that have affected us all. Just as many residents and businesses were starting to get back on their feet following extensive flooding, the coronavirus has greatly impacted our people and our communities, as it has across the country and the world.
I would like to pay tribute to the many people who have been at the front-line of helping others and keeping our essential services functioning during this difficult time. Health and care staff, the emergency services, council staff – around 200 of whom have been redeployed into new community-response roles - supermarket workers, postal workers. I know I cannot capture everyone here, but on behalf of us all – thank you.
I would also like to make special mention of the thousands of people who are supporting their neighbours and local communities, giving their time selflessly to support others who would find it tough to stay at home without additional help. The council’s Talk Community team have been working tirelessly to co-ordinate these efforts - with the help of volunteers there have been more than 1,500 deliveries of essential food and medicine, ensuring that the most vulnerable receive the support they need.
I hear many stories of wonderful acts of kindness by individuals who are reaching out to keep others safe and well. We must, when this is all over, maintain our increased sense of community, which will provide much-needed resilience for the future.
As is the case with every region, it is clear that the Herefordshire economy faces challenging times ahead. The council’s finance and economic development teams have been helping to ensure thousands of local businesses are aware of and receiving the financial support that is available.
As we look towards recovery we have in our county agriculture, food processing and the security industry - three activities which are essential. We also have, in tourism, hospitality and the arts, activities which I am sure will bounce back quickly when the lockdown is lifted – Herefordshire’s outstanding natural landscape, quality of life and culture offer fantastic opportunities for ‘staycations’. We are also a county with a large number of smaller businesses. The entrepreneurial spirit of those who created and continue to sustain those businesses will help us to come through.
The council will be making every effort to minimise the impact where we are able. We will need to continue to invest in areas which benefit long-term employment growth and skills development, and encourage people to visit our beautiful county and buy locally. Our agenda to source locally will also be accelerated.
But it must be recognised that council finances will also be under extreme pressure. Although the government has provided some funding towards the costs of responding to COVID-19 it will not cover all of the additional expenditure incurred in keeping our residents safe, and this is at a time when income from all areas is set to decrease as services are paused due to the virus. Your council tax will continue to fund the essential services we all need day-to-day and to support the most vulnerable, however there will be tough decisions on council spending ahead as we may need to reprioritise our spending plans to support the county’s social and economic recovery.
There is no doubt that the next few weeks and months ahead will be a bumpy road as we all try to get used to new ways of living our daily lives in a constantly changing environment. We can expect social distancing to continue but I do not anticipate this being a smooth transition from one state to another. The council will be looking to central government to introduce measures in a way that people can understand, and that enables councils to provide the safest services that best meet the needs of local residents and businesses.
Please continue to do all you can to stay safe and well - stay at home, keep washing your hands and respect social distancing. These are the most effective things we can all do to protect ourselves, our family and friends and all those around us.”
Councillor David Hitchiner, Leader of Herefordshire Council