Leader of Solihull Council, latest message

Stay alert, control the virus, save lives – and keep social distancing

Another fine bank holiday and for the first time in 15 years I was on my bike and tackling the Knowle bends.

When out and about doing my essential shopping, it was good to see that people were, in the main, socially distancing in parks and open spaces.  Whatever changes to guidance may bring in the next few weeks and months, it is likely that the principle of social distancing will remain in place.  It’s only by following the distancing rules that outdoor markets, car showrooms and shops can open safely in the future.  Until we can reduce the number infected to single figures, we will all need to get used to maintaining our distance from each other.

As part of the UK’s approach to controlling the virus, we will be involved in the roll out of the Government’s new £300 million “test and trace” work along with Warwickshire County Council, Coventry City Council, and the West Midlands Combined Authority.   We will be given funding to develop tailored outbreak control plans, working with our local NHS and other stakeholders: especially plans that focus on identifying and containing potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools.

At the moment, we are working through the details, but we have the public health expertise from our professional teams, experienced in how to deal with food poisoning, flu and other infectious disease outbreaks.  Once we can quickly isolate those with the virus, we can stop it spreading.  It will mean we can start to accelerate our recovery plans and hopefully get more and more people back to work.

As I have made clear in interviews, the Council remains committed to getting education going again; our main concern has been, and always will be, the safety of our children and staff. By following advice and guidance, and by talking and listening to our head teachers and unions, we are now in a position to safely begin to welcome back more of our children from 1 June onwards.

The exact timing, as well as how schools will begin to do this, will vary according to their individual risk assessments. Over the Bank Holiday weekend, we also had the announcement that secondary schools can begin to welcome back year 10 and year 12 pupils from 15 June. Secondary schools had already been working towards this date, so we will be supporting them with this new development.

I hope parents and staff at our schools will be reassured by all the measures put in place to make it safe for our schools to accept more children. Continuing to observe social distancing in our normal family and working lives is vitally important to protect schools in this next phase. This is all dependent, of course, on the Government’s assessment of whether its five key tests have been met, including whether the transmission rate of the virus (the R number) continues to be below 1 – we expect confirmation either way on Thursday this week.

Last week saw the announcement of the new antigen test and the promise of a ‘quick result’ test. These factors, along with the roll out of the test and trace programme, will begin to build confidence that hopefully will allow the government to begin a progressive relaxation of the lockdown.

One thing that many people have talked about is the outpouring of kindness during these difficult times. Here in Solihull, we have been working with voluntary organisations, small and large, who have done an amazing job to support our vulnerable residents.

Thousands of people have been helped to access support services, food deliveries and shopping. We’ve also worked together to tackle isolation, providing people to chat with too. We have witnessed a huge surge in people supporting their communities and neighbours with charities reporting increases in membership beyond their expectations and small local groups springing up across the borough.

I know our community development team has been supporting the many community groups that have been set up by our residents on a voluntary basis. We hope that whatever the future brings, our support groups and expressions of kindness towards each other remain.

And for any existing or new community groups, we also have Solihull CAVA (Community and Voluntary Action), who we commission to provide independent support to the volunteers, groups, organisations, enterprises and charities, who are working to strengthen communities across the borough.  CAVA publish a monthly Solihull newsletter which is packed with advice guidance and support, well worth subscribing to, just tick the Solihull Communications box in this form.

Although there have been many acts of kindness during the pandemic, sadly we have also seen an increase in cases of domestic abuse.

Locally, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid have told us that many of the women they are supporting are trying to manage, but that they want to leave their relationships when lockdown ends. To provide more support for women in this situation we are giving an additional £60,000 funding to bolster up our existing specialist domestic abuse team. This will pay for two new members of staff, which will help us to respond quickly and support local women and their families when they are in need. You can find out more about this here.

Solihull Council has made the decision to provide some financial support for those people working on the frontline, supporting our most vulnerable residents.  We have set up a special fund to support care workers who are experiencing financial hardship during the Covid-19 crisis.  We are working with the Care Workers’ Charity to ensure that the grants go directly to the people who need them, you can see more here.

Just remember, we are still in the grip of a pandemic.  We still need to socially distance, to wash our hands frequently and to isolate ourselves if we have any of the symptoms.   The message remains the same…

Stay alert, help control the virus, save lives – we don’t want a second spike!

Please take care

Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council, 27 May 2020