Annual State of Tendring speech made by Tendring District Council Leader Councillor Neil Stock OBE at full council on 15 September 2020.
Chairman, Councillors, and members of the public, I am proud to present to you this year’s State of Tendring address. When I first started preparing this annual statement earlier in the year, we were in very different times. My original wording included reflections on the General election, which had taken place just a few weeks previously, but which now seems such a long time ago.
As you will all recall, there were a number of changes in the May 2019 District Elections and for some this is their first time as a District Councillor – and what a baptism of fire you have had! This has been a hugely challenging time for all Councillors; never has there been such a change in the way in which we work. Whether it be the way we communicate with our residents, the way meetings are conducted via virtual meetings or directing the focus of the council which has significantly changed. The Government, you will recall, had to make emergency legislation just for it to be legal for us to meet like this, as previously it was unlawful to do so.
Being a Councillor is both a rewarding and a privileged form of public service. We are all in a position to make a difference to the quality of people’s daily lives and prospects. That has never been more true than now and I know how much effort we have all been putting in to support our communities and our vulnerable residents.
I keep returning to Community Leadership which is at the heart of the Council’s priorities. I think that we will all agree that our Council has shown superb Community Leadership during this pandemic. We lead the way in Tendring with innovative solutions and a ‘can-do’ approach, as we aim to support and improve the lives of our local residents and our businesses.
A few months ago new responsibilities brought about by the Covid epidemic landed in Tendring and quickly saw the teams rally round and implement a whole new approach to safeguarding and supporting those people who were now identified as being especially vulnerable across our District.
This required the dynamic set up of some virtual teams, new IT solutions to support their work, redeployment of officers to unfamiliar roles, whilst also maintaining key local services and responding to the needs of our residents during the pandemic.
We needed to have an understanding of government expectations and of the county-wide pandemic repercussions. This included the distribution of grants for businesses and playing our part in the delivery of urgent food parcels and medicines for those who most needed them.
We redeployed a whole team to set up the Community Hub phone lines to co-ordinate the magnificent efforts of community groups. Significant effort was invested in co-ordinating volunteers. The teams worked with more than 70 local groups, capturing what support they could offer, setting up a two way system of sharing information and tapping into a rich talent pool that in turn could be deployed where we received requests for assistance.
These numbers were supplemented by Essex Welfare Service volunteers of which there were around 100 and the Tendring proportion of the 400,000 national NHS volunteers who offered their support. It was inspiring to see that we had more than enough assistance to meet the requests for help we received.
The TDC teams under Operation Shield worked really hard on the helplines, handling the incoming calls from people who needed our support, the lines are still staffed from 10 – 3pm during the week. Having taken over a thousand incoming calls to date, the variety of enquiries has ranged from the ‘Well but worried’ in the early days to recently some people who have been impacted by some truly tragic and traumatic circumstances.
Human Resources and Communications really stepped up to support the teams who were working their hardest to support our residents. Assistance in the way of helpful well-being advice, regular briefings from across the Senior Management Team, ‘Vlogs’, cake-making competitions and online fitness classes all assisted in making sure the teams had a ‘warm arm of support’ wrapped around them during these extraordinary times.
Initially those in the especially vulnerable group in Tendring numbered around 500, but this quickly expanded as information from Public Health England and the NHS was shared with us, currently there are over 8,000 of these ‘Cat A group’ community members in Tendring and of these 1,300 have requested support in the shape of food parcels which are delivered directly and accessed through the government process.
Op Shield teams have made over 3,000 outgoing calls to these residents to ensure they had the basics at hand in the shape of food, medicine, and other household essentials. Where we could not get hold of people on the phone, which of course was especially troubling amongst the vulnerable groups, we made sure that we conducted physical visits to people’s homes to personally check on their welfare. All the while, of course, maintaining social distancing.
The teams assisted with setting up two Hubs, one in Dovercourt and one at Clacton Leisure Centre, receiving an initial delivery of food, repackaging items and liaising with charities and community groups who distributed them locally. These locations developed into sites when the army set up temporary Covid testing sites, again the support and facilitation by Op Shield teams at these locations was well received and brought reassurance that local testing sites were on hand for those who needed them.
Supported by donations from local supermarkets the TDC Op Shield teams continues to work closely with a number of food banks assisting them with a variety of measures to support those who need extra help, including assistance to secure additional grant funding.
This forms a very small part of the wealth of fantastic local effort displayed across Tendring where the Great British spirit of resilience, determination and good neighbourliness has been very much in evidence in our communities, bringing about a safety net for those who needed additional help.
Unlike some neighbouring areas there was no reduction in core service here in Tendring. We received numerous reports of good news stories in support of our waste services, including letters of thanks, cards and a clear resounding cheer and a clap for their support during the crisis, they are truly recognised as key workers.
Acknowledgement of the challenges and the resilience shown across the Tendring Care Line teams over the current period also deserves a mention for their sheer determination and dedication to deliver and improve the service. The team used the opportunity to move to a new fully digital platform, this means that data in support of the care of our 3000plus residents who use the service is improved, along with significantly reduced call waiting times - most are picked up in under 30 seconds - and the service can now be fully serviced remotely.
The needs of some very vulnerable people, both in the high risk groups and also in those who make up the numbers of over 65s or people experiencing particular health issues have been brought into close focus. Recent figures show there were as many as 43,000 people in these groups in Tendring. We are working with Essex County Council and supported by Rethink to deliver 200 smart devices to local residents, assisting them in becoming more independent, combating social isolation and giving dedicated support, especially whilst shielding.
We have made some considerable leaps forwards and have overcome some significant hurdles and complications whilst managing the Covid crisis, however the problems and risks posed to the wider community have not gone away, it could be with us for a considerable period of time.
Challenges exist in the area of Track, Trace and Isolate; what would a ’Smart Lockdown’ mean for Tendring? What safe and sensible steps can we all make to ensure that our District remains open for businesses and leisure activities whilst still being able to rapidly scale up activity on the ground if that is required?
Looking forward, I want our Council to adopt a Back to Business approach. There are a number of different perspectives, including the Council getting back to its own business with the opening of leisure centres, our theatre, weddings and the myriad of other services for which we are responsible and deliver. Officers are working hard to prepare for customers to return with provision for social distancing. I have already worked with officers to develop a cleaning programme for our town centres. Our seafronts teams started back early this season to support visitors and residents alike and, incidentally, they have already saved one person’s life. I also want our Back to Business programme to be focused on supporting our businesses getting back to work and kickstarting our economy. We have a number of projects with funding allocated. I want these to be brought forward and seek where possible to use local businesses to support the resumption of our economy. I also want to see us have another business week as we did last year which would support the Back to Business programme.
I have been meeting with some local tourism providers as I want to see us hold a Spring festival to Celebrate Tourism in Tendring. The government has been talking about an additional Bank Holiday at some point, so that could be a great timing opportunity for such an event. I would love to be able to create the opportunity to extend the tourist season, like Blackpool does so well with its winter illuminations.
Looking back before COVID 19 we should also be proud of what we have achieved against a backdrop of year on year financial challenges. We have shown that we can rise to these challenges, through sound financial management which has sustained us when we had the challenge of COVID.
At the beginning of October 2019 our Council hosted its first Tendring4Growth Business Week. This celebrated the success of Tendring’s businesses; encouraged business networking; promoted innovation and growth; and gave job seekers employment opportunities in the district. The week included two anchor events with the Tendring Jobs and Careers Fair, and the Tendring Blue Ribbon Business Awards. It also included a variety of topical seminars focussed on subjects including: Clean Energy; Women in Business; and Innovation and Free Enterprise.
Our first new homes in Jaywick Sands are nearing completion; I was very proud to be able to show them to the Housing Minister very recently and he was clearly extremely impressed; Tendring District Council is building some of the finest quality new council houses in the country – and they definitely have the finest views! This is another important step along the road of working with the community to rejuvenate Jaywick Sands.
In June 2019 a refreshed strategic plan for Dovercourt Town Centre was approved. The Plan identifies development opportunities and a range of public realm improvements that would help transform the appearance and prosperity of the town. With over twenty key regeneration projects (the Dovercourt Twenty), the proposals will transform the image and quality of the town, with the express purpose of attracting residents and visitors to the centre, thereby reanimating the town; re-establishing its vibrancy; and encouraging private sector investment. The Plan demonstrates that there is significant market failure in relation to investment and it is my firm belief that the Council has a critical leadership role to intervene in to put Dovercourt back on an upward trajectory and to secure its renaissance.
Some celebrations have also been delayed such as the Mayflower 400. We have worked closely with partners to create a myriad of great events and those celebrations will now take place in 2021.
As part of the Council’s support for local businesses, and its plans to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing to the New World, the Council has recently launched its new £20,000 Business Improvement scheme, which is aimed at improving the external and internal appearance of business premises in Dovercourt and Harwich. A recent award went to a business near the Pier in Harwich. The owner said: ‘This has come at the perfect time…I cannot wait to get started’.
As Members will know our Local Plan is progressing and the final examination of Section 1 was completed in January of this year. In partnership with Braintree and Colchester Councils we pursued a plan which was recognised as pioneering and innovative and which sought to deliver our economic growth and housing ambitions, and indeed responsibilities, in a strategic and sustainable way which will protect our communities. As you know, the Planning Inspector has given us draft feedback which basically says that he is very impressed with our part of the Plan, but requested that Braintree and Colchester remove the two Garden Communities to the west of Colchester.
Central to the Local Plan is of course the North Essex Garden Communities programme. Working with our partners in the North Essex Garden Communities programme we have attracted £100million Housing Infrastructure Fund, or HIF funding as it is known in short. This will deliver a new road linking the A133 on the Western edge of Tendring to the A120 and is an integral part of our plan for a new Tendring Colchester Borders garden community.
Building on from this we have also worked with our partners to develop a North Essex Economic Strategy to ensure the area can rise to the economic challenges and opportunities we jointly face building on North Essex’s location and its connections locally, regionally and internationally, but also the current skill base and community networks across the area.
A good quality affordable home is essential for individuals, families and communities to thrive. They provide places of safety and security but are also key to ensuring that our children have somewhere to do their homework, health inequalities can be rebalanced, and families can put down roots. For this reason, the Council is investing in delivering 200 more Council homes and is working with developers and investors to ensure that affordable really does mean affordable. Some of this new development is already taking shape with 10 of those new homes already being completed in Jaywick Sands and a new generation of the first in the UK Gifted Homes being lived in across Tendring with many more in the pipeline. The Council is also working hard with Government to find innovative ways to both improve the quality of privately rented homes but to also ensure that tenants get a good deal – again an example of Tendring leading the way in making real change happen.
I am delighted also to include positive news regarding the future of Clacton. The Love Clacton vision and brand has received major support from Government and has formed the basis of a successful bid to the Future High Street Fund. Working with local business leaders and key partners from health and Essex County Council, a development grant of £150k has been awarded from the Government as part of a successful stage 1 application. We are now progressing the final stage 2 bid which will seek to attract unprecedented levels of investment into the town centre with the aim of providing more homes, new jobs, improving access for all and creating an offer that provides a prosperous future for Clacton.
We are aiming for a programme of £20m investment from the public sector which in turn will facilitate even greater private sector investment. I am sure you will agree that this is a highly ambitious approach but one which epitomises our Council’s positive approach to addressing challenges. The work is paying dividends already as I recently welcomed senior representatives from Government and national health bodies, along with members of the House of Lords, to Clacton to garner support for a major transformational approach to address poor health and deprivation in some parts of the Clacton area. To a person they found Clacton to be full of potential but recognised that there needs to be a step change in how to address underlying issues. We discussed the huge positive impact that relocating a government department to Clacton would have and are now committed to working together further to move this forward, and following on from that meeting, just last Friday the Chief Executive and I welcomed the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, to the Town Hall. He came to Clacton, not to talk about COVID, but to spend the day meeting local groups and residents and discussing what can be done to improve outcomes and life opportunities for people here. We look forward with great anticipation what may come of that trip.
I do recognise, however, that there does need to be shorter term action and this Council, along with partners, has invested in more enforcement staff to address anti-social behaviour, and we will be doing more to promote the Love Clacton brand including the creation of a new bespoke events space in the centre of the town. These are in response to feedback from town centre businesses and I am hugely grateful for their support and commitment to working together to build a great future for what I believe is the best large seaside town in the East of England.
Moving onto Leisure, our Princes theatre has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor, as a five-star rated venue and also venue of the Year 2019, for the British and Irish Boxing Authority Awards. Before COVID, the range of theatre activities continued to grow including wedding celebrations, concerts, shows, alongside business events, including the annual Blue-Ribbon Awards. The list goes on! Once again in 2019, the pantomime broke previous year’s box office sales. When the theatre can reopen, I know we will see those programmes grow. We are already seeing interest about future wedding dates.
Despite the current COVID issues, tourism continues to be a key priority for the Council, we continue to plan for next year, invest in and grow our vibrant event programme, including Beside the Seaside Festivals, the British Rally Championship, the Tour de Tendring and the nationally recognised and multi award winning Clacton Airshow.
On 6 August 2019 the Council made a bold decision regarding Climate Change; we declared a climate emergency. At this time, I put forward a motion that was backed by Councillors from all parties. This motion commits the Council to preparing an action plan for consideration by councillors with the aim of making its activities carbon neutral by 2030. I am pleased to report that this work is being led by Councillor Coley and is progressing through a cross-party working group and an analysis of the Council’s own carbon footprint is currently being established. Already new woodlands are being created across Tendring.
Don’t just take our word that we are achieving success, there are plenty of examples of national recognition The Council has achieved Green Flag awards for its open spaces, Blue Flags for its beaches, a national Safer Parking Award and a Silver Accreditation Award for its work with the military. The Council has also been ranked in the Top 20 national employers for apprenticeships. We are very proud of Career Track as it supports many young people in Tendring with apprenticeships in local businesses and the Council. It has been a talent pipeline for many of our professional Council Officers today. These awards celebrate our initiative, hard work and dedication to improving services and public places.
We also held our fifth Tendring STARs event for staff, recognising the professional and in many circumstances the exceptional contributions of our staff right across the Council. The event was held in the Princes theatre and it was a pleasure to see so many volunteers and partners who work alongside the Council, also recognised for their contributions to the District. The Council’s ‘artists in residence’ band 10DC, also took to the stage and performed. As you will be aware, they are another fine example of Tendring’s talent.
Our Community leadership work continues to expand and fits into three key strands namely health, education and community safety. Our CSP hub is recognised as a beacon of best practice, with improved perceptions of safety in the community and investment in community safety. In 2019 we took the decision to bring the Community Safety Partnership together with the Health and Wellbeing Board. Many of the solutions relating to crime can be found through health as the police estimate that at least 1 in 4 criminals has a mental health issue.
We do still have a considerable challenge, the decline in seaside towns is well recognised and Clacton and surrounding areas are suffering. The District has the lowest life expectancy rates across Essex, highest rates of dementia, highest levels of long-term mental health, the highest levels of child poverty and the highest levels of adults with no formal qualifications. This is the reason why the Council continues to keep community leadership at the heart of the Council and everything we do; it is also the reason this Council has to be the best council in Essex – we have the biggest challenges and the greatest issues and our council simply cannot afford to be anything other than outstanding!!
To support our young people across Tendring, the Council has successfully secured funding to support 20 schools in the District to develop their own wellbeing hub, which operate outside of school hours providing support for children, alongside parents and guardians. Into University opened its doors two years ago and is going from strength to strength and has provided support for in excess of 1000 pupils. However, some schools in Tendring are struggling and some have been rated as unsatisfactory. Again, the Council rises to this challenge offering support to colleagues at Essex County Council, Headteachers and other education partners through the newly formed Education Strategic Board, which has created specific themes of work, such as the recruitment and retention of teachers and pupil absence.
The Council continues to strengthen our links with the armed forces and have a substantial work programme in place to support citizens moving from the military into civilian life. This includes offering mentors to exmilitary personnel who come to work for the Council.
We focus on support for the most vulnerable in our society through the mental health hub and working closely with CVST, CAB and many other community organisations.
Whilst achieving all of this there have been numerous budget challenges and the Council has to consider different ways of working. The Council has already made significant savings in recent years, without any significant loss of services. It has adequate reserves and our council tax is low. I am pleased that there was great support for the Council’s budget this year, with ideas from Members from all sides being agreed on the night.
We have also gone through changes in the senior management structure and I am sure you will join me in welcoming the Assistant Directors to their new roles. I do think that the new management structure has bedded in exceptionally well and helped us to address the myriad of challenges they have faced.
Not only do we all recognise the great work and commitment that is demonstrated every day by our officers and staff, but just last week this council won a top HR award. Up against stiff competition, not just from other local authorities but also the civil service and the Bank of England, we were finalists in three different categories, and we were announced as winners in the Best Employer and Trade Union Partnership award. Very many congratulations to all our staff, to our HR department and to UNISON, as well as to our HR committee chairman and members who I know all take their responsibilities extremely seriously and work diligently on behalf of us all.
The annual state of Tendring statement is traditionally a round-up of all that has been going on over the past year, but of course we always have to look forward at what is coming up on the horizon and I will take just a couple of moments to mention Local Government Reorganisation (LGR). At the General Election in December the government secured a large majority, with a manifesto commitment to publishing a devolution white paper setting out how it intends to hand power down from Whitehall to local government in England as part of its efforts to level up the economy.
This builds on the large strides that have been made in the last decade that have seen devolution to some of our largest cities and would extend this to the whole of England. We know that a White Paper is being published in the Autumn entitled Devolution and Recovery and the government’s intentions seem to be fairly clear that for us in Essex this will see an end to two-tier government, and instead the introduction of Unitary Authorities, a directly elected Mayor and a Combined Authority, acting like a board of the Leaders of the Unitaries with the Mayor.
Obviously we will have to study the White Paper when it is published, but whatever happens I consider it my duty to try to ensure that whatever happens, the residents of Tendring get the best possible deal and the best system of government that can be delivered. It is quite clear to me that Tendring District Council is the best functioning local authority in Essex, and indeed probably way beyond. It is imperative that whatever speculation there may be about the future we all continue to ensure that this council continues to perform at the highest level and continues to deliver for our residents in the way that we have been. LGR has the potential to be a massive distraction from the “day job” of delivering for our residents and we must all strive to ensure that we do not let that happen. I have a meeting scheduled tomorrow with all Group Leaders where I shall be discussing this issue further with the aim to make any changes to local government in this area as effective and efficient as is possible.
And so, Chairman, to conclude COVID has been a massive challenge for the Council and I think that we would all agree, the Council has done a magnificent job in stepping up and leading. I want to thank all our officers who have managed the COVID challenge through this difficult time whilst continuing to deliver our services.
We also continue to face many challenges which we cannot tackle alone. So, we have worked with our partners, including the business community, public sector and voluntary services to make a difference to people’s lives. I am grateful to you, our Members, for the way in which you proactively support services and initiatives across the District and contribute positively to address issues and problems as they arise.
There will be difficult decisions to make; it is likely that we will have to look at different ways of delivering services and that will not be easy. We will see our meetings and communication continue to be different, which is a challenge.
We are a Council that dedicates itself to the needs of residents. We listen and create Tendring’s community together. I have a very strong belief that together we can get so much more done with relentless positivity about our district and opportunities whilst always recognising and acknowledging our challenges.