Hello… Steve here.
Is 2020 over? Nearly.
Welcome to another newsletter. This is the first for a while (apologies; so much going on). I’m looking forward to slowing down a bit over the Christmas period - but won’t be falling asleep. At least it looks like the grim rain will be replaced by a few days of cold, brighter weather.
I know that new Christmas restrictions is the present no one wanted and many people will find it very difficult. I do believe the tier system is necessary (although still a confusing patchwork of rules), but finding solutions to pandemics depend on us all caring for the people around us. Back in the spring I predicted that a recurring cycle of contentious lockdowns and partial recoveries will become a feature of our lives for at least another year. Unfortunately, that has come to pass, and once again we need to pick ourselves up and muster the resolve and solidarity that we saw in the spring.
Our NHS needs our support. If you use Twitter it is definitely worth following Robert Pearce. His regular tweets give an insight into his role as an ICU doctor.
In short: it’s real; we need to take it seriously, and watch it closely, and it will likely make life harder; but it’s not panic stations.
I recognise that this is all taking a heavy toll on all of our lives and everybody has a different comfort level. People seemingly have different interpretations of what constitutes “following guidelines”, which I know can cause some strain - even between family and friends. This is the official guidance for the Christmas period and what you need to know about forming a Christmas bubble. If you are going to have a gathering on Christmas Day, keep your Christmas bubble as small as possible (“two other households is a maximum, not a target”), and it is important you take extra precautions before and after Christmas Day.
Of course, outside of Christmas Day, in North Somerset we’re currently in an area of Tier 2 (High) local restrictions. As I write this, I think it is highly likely we could move up another tier as early as Boxing Day.
School and nursery closures led to children regressing in basic learning and social skills after months at home. It’s still too early to say whether the latest variant could alter the role schools and colleges play in the pandemic and interrupt learning still further. While mass testing in those settings is important, in my view it is indefensible for the Government to have landed this on schools without any consultation with the profession… and on what was for many the last day of a very difficult term. As the National Education Union put it…
The Government is asking secondary school leaders to contact, train and deploy an army of volunteers to administer testing to the whole of England’s secondary school population. Armed with a 30-minute training video they are being asked to administer tests to adolescents… [and] the problems are compounded by the findings of the BMJ that half of positive cases are missed if the tests are not done by trained medical personnel.
It’s not all bad news.
Over the past 7 days, staff at Mendip Vale Medical Practice have worked tirelessly to complete the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination programme in our area. Over 2,000 vaccinations have now been safely administered to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. It is important that you do not contact the GP surgery directly about an appointment; they will be in touch with you as soon as you become eligible - following the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come
I must give some credit to the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, who has penned a hand-written letter of thanks to all those who work in local government. Given that we’re at a critical stage in the annual budget-setting process at North Somerset Council, my other thought was ‘if only these fine words could be backed up with deeds’. Councils have again received a one year ‘rollover’ settlement and the Spending Review also assumed that council tax bills will rise by 5% next year. This will place the financial burden on households in what will be another year of economic uncertainty.
Outside of health… real-terms public service spending was cut by 20% (25% per person) over the decade to 2019−20. This has been the longest sustained squeeze on public spending on record. - Institute for Fiscal Studies
Photo with permission - Mia Trudgian
In my election manifesto back in May last year I said we needed to get serious about making our villages safer places to walk and cycle around, so I’m very pleased we’ve put forward ambitious plans in our draft Active Travel Strategy, which is out for consultation until 15th January.
Within the strategy is reference to a package of Pedestrian and Cycle Zones to significantly alter the status quo of roads and create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists on streets around some of North Somerset’s schools. I shared plans for Stowey Road on the ‘Yatton Community’ Facebook group. I expected some resistance, and there are of course many common objections to schemes such as these. The comments of Facebook turned toxic (unless you like ‘doomscrolling’) but the two dozen private messages and emails I received were much more positive. The Government has advised councils to push ahead with traffic reduction schemes and the Council was awarded extra money by the Government due to our strong bids and ambition.
We are also committed to delivering the long-awaited improvements to Yatton High Street within the strategy, and I hope to be in a position to share the plans (which will go out for public consultation) in the next month or two. This will include a 20mph zone from just south of the Wemberham Lane mini-roundabout… through the centre of the village and up to the Claverham Road mini-roundabout.
I also want to congratulate the wonderful Strawberry Line Cafe, which celebrated its 10th anniversary on 10th December. One of Yatton’s gems!
Naughty or Nice?
With an outline planning application for up to 95 homes on land at Rectory Farm expected next month, I’ll give a full summary on all the current and expected major residential development proposals next time.
By way of a quick update, the resubmitted Stowey Road application is still being considered by planning officers. There remain some material policy objections - and also the reasons for refusal at the planning appeal inquiry 3 years ago.
Links worth spreading
Online shopping has risen to 40% of retail - writes Benedict Evans
The pandemic has also changed what we buy - driving up lager sales but wiping £180m off makeup - The Guardian
Published back in August, but another insightful read - When It Comes to Covid-19, Most of Us Have Risk Exactly Backward - New York Times
Local authorities have received only about 6% of COVID funds earmarked for the public sector (£6.5 billion). The in-depth findings of the Tortoise Inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic is well worth a (long-ish) read.
Waste, Negligence and Cronyism: Inside Britain’s Pandemic Spending - New York Times
In September, councillors decided to terminate the Biffa recycling and waste contract early. Since then I have chaired a dozen meetings of the working group, which oversees the establishment of the new local authority trading company that will run the service from 27th March.
Christmas means that recycling and waste collection dates will change slightly to allow for bank holidays. You can also download your new recycling calendars to stick to your fridge (well, I do anyway).
Remember to place wrapping paper recycling with your flattened cardboard recycling - but please remove all tape and decoration first. Metallic, foil, plastic-lined or ‘shiny’ wrapping paper is not recyclable.
Thank you for all your support this year.
Merry Christmas from my Christmas bubble to yours.
Be kind whenever you can (which includes not nabbing all the best Quality Street) and see you on the other side.
‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ - Shelley