Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, delivered her latest Report to Council at the meeting on 11 February 2021:
Covid update and vaccination progress
Covid continues to dominate life in general and indeed the discussions I have with partners and other councils. You as councillors have been receiving my weekly reports with data gleaned from the updates which Oxfordshire council leaders and other partners receive from Public health, NHS and others. Covid cases and the numbers of those in hospital are fortunately falling but they are still very high. And some people are having longer stays in hospital often because treatments are getting better which is good but needs resourcing.
As mentioned in my December report our Chief Executive, Mark Stone, chairs the Vaccination Cell for Oxfordshire and we are all proud that Oxfordshire was so quick to start vaccinating our residents. It is frustrating that the government is compensating for the lack of vaccine supply by diverting doses to parts of the country who are further behind than Oxfordshire so that in some weeks, local Primary Care Networks have been left with no vaccine to administer. When they do have it our residents have a reasonable choice of where to go for their vaccinations.
Despite the challenges created by the inconsistent supply, we should meet the government target to offer everyone in the top four priority groups their first dose by the middle of this month.
While progress on vaccination offers hope, we of course need to maintain compliance with the social distancing and lockdown rules. Vaccination is only one of the measures required to get us back to some sort of normal. A well-functioning Test and Trace system is also vital. The national test and trace service has significant limitations, but locally, once again, we are stepping up to improve access to testing. The Beacon in Wantage community testing site has been operating since Monday. The team manager and several other staff members come from the South and Vale workforce although the longer term plan is for others to run the testing centres. Thank you everyone who has been involved from this council, our partners and volunteers. It is an amazing team effort.
Our teams are helping businesses survive and adhere to the guidelines. They are making businesses aware of the financial support packages that are available, some of which we’re administering and some of which are done by Capita, and providing other advice. Indeed there have been several emails from businesses praising our Business Support team for helping to keep businesses afloat. The team has a very comprehensive and useful website at svbs.co.uk if you know of any local businesses needing help. Again, my grateful thanks to all of our officers involved and especially to those who have been working long hours on this.
Business as usual
With around half of our officers working on covid tasks, and others juggling childcare and home learning with council work, capacity is incredibly stretched. Despite this we continue to progress corporate priorities such as recruiting two new climate lead officers to deliver on our Climate change aspirations.
And, despite Covid, this council remains one of the top performing councils in the country for so many services; including recycling, homelessness prevention, planning enforcement and housing delivery.
Thank you to those who pragmatically supported the proposed budget this evening.
As you know we only have government spending lined up for one year and New Homes Bonus for one more year. Thanks must go to those involved with producing this budget with very little time available especially Simon Hewings & team and Cabinet Member for Finance Leigh Rawlins. It is good to note that in addition to coping with Covid and delivering business as usual, we have been able to make provision for continuing to deliver on our corporate plan for our district and its people.
As you will know from the amount of rain we’ve had and from views of our very full rivers and soggy, waterlogged fields, flooding has been a problem in some places. Because our council has been quite strict over many years on not building in flood plains we have not had too big a problem with homes flooding from high river levels. But we have problems in several areas with ground water getting into sewers and hence causing flooding from excesses bubbling out of waste water manholes. I have been talking to Thames Water this afternoon trying to assess some of these problems some of which have been around for several years. But I hope now that Thames Water have plans to deliver improvements in the near future.
Elections planning for May
We are assured that elections will go ahead on 6 May. We are left with the problems of ensuring they are run in a Covid safe way. The Community Governance and Electoral Issues Committee will be considering the emerging plans at the meeting on 16 February.
Any thoughts that I may have had that things would calm down this year have completely gone. As you can see from today’s agenda and what is going on in the country we have had a very busy start to 2021 and that looks like continuing. But I think we have done very well as a district to also cover and address many other things whilst working to address Covid, vaccinations and testing. It is really good that we have our excellent Corporate Plan in place, that we have budget to deliver in accordance with it so we can look forward to further progress.