It was also good news that a further £1 billion will be made available for local councils to be able to help support households facing hardship - in Buckinghamshire this means that our ‘Helping Hand’ programme can continue to support those struggling with the cost of living. Overall, I am very pleased that the general theme is that the most vulnerable have been protected as much as possible, with benefits and pensions rising with inflation.
We also heard that more money is being proposed for adult social care while planned reforms are delayed – this does provide some help for councils to meet this immense cost burden. However, we will need to see the details of what this means in practice for Buckinghamshire and how much of the extra money is expected to be raised via local Council Tax.
Overall, we are continuing to digest the implications and impacts on our own budgets and uncertainty around financial pressures remains for all councils, not just here in Buckinghamshire. We know that with inflation at a 41 year high and with demand and costs rising very fast for all aspects of social care, our Council budget remains under severe pressure. We also recognise that household budgets remain a big concern and we know this is a very worrying time for many people.
How to access help – and the Children’s Christmas gift appeal
I recently visited one of our local Foodbanks in High Wycombe. I was very impressed with the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Trust. They stressed how much they rely upon the council’s Helping Hand team to refer people to them. I know I regularly mention how to access support in these updates, but it’s such important information that I can’t say it enough; if it captures just one more person or family that can be helped then it’s worthwhile.
If you are struggling, there is help and support available through the council’s ‘Helping Hand’ programme. This is for all households in Buckinghamshire that are experiencing hardship. Please just pick up the phone or drop us a line – the team will look at your situation and offer the most suitable support that addresses your needs.
The Cost of Living advice has been pulled together in one place on our website so please take a look if you need it or pass this information onto anyone else you know of who might need some extra help. These pages include the detail of how to access the Helping Hand service.
If you think someone you know needs to access this information please tell them to go to our website and they will see the link on the homepage.
The website also outlines ways in which people can offer their time, help or make a donation – food or financial.
If you want to make a financial donation, please go to the Heart of Bucks website and donate to our crisis fund, set up in partnership with them. The money is going directly to people in your local communities who need it most.
I’m so proud to be able to say this fund now stands at nearly £130,000 – testament to the generosity of the people, organisations and businesses in our county. It also shows how we are all working together making a difference – the council, local charities, local organisations and businesses, all with the common goal of doing what we can to help local people.
Children’s Christmas present appeal
We are all feeling the pinch and some of us might be taking a different approach to Christmas and gifting this year - also with the environment in mind. It remains the case though that for some of the most vulnerable children in Buckinghamshire, they will go without this Christmas. The annual Christmas Present Appeal, run by charity Inspire Bucks, has perhaps never been as important as this year. Often, the generous gifts and donations are the only way some of the most vulnerable children in Buckinghamshire will get a gift this Christmas. Therefore, if you are in a position to do so, please do consider making a donation to the fund – this will go directly towards buying a gift for children the council’s social services teams work with, making sure gifts go to those most in need who otherwise would miss out.
Last chance to have a say on our spending plans for next year
As I’ve also said, we are in the process of setting our budget for the next financial year and it’s exceptionally challenging within the current economic context of uncertainty and high inflation, which of course mean the costs of providing our vital services - like looking after vulnerable adults and children - have also risen sharply.
It's therefore more important than ever you feed in your views on our plans for next year’s spend. We’ve had our ‘Money Matters’ survey live for some weeks now and it closes this Sunday (20 November) so please, if you haven’t already, do take part using the link above. It takes less than ten minutes for you to provide the extremely important input on how you want your money spent locally. These views will all then be considered as part of the budget setting process.
Water pollution in Buckinghamshire
To close, I do want to draw your attention to two more important pieces of news, both linked to our local environment.
First, the recent work of our Transport, Environment and Climate Change Select Committee – they have undertaken a rapid review of water pollution in Buckinghamshire’s chalk streams and rivers. These are, of course, rare and precious watercourses that must be protected. The review was commissioned after fears about an increase in discharges into our watercourses and the potential impacts of HS2 works on the chalk aquifier beneath the Misbourne Valley. It found that the biggest contributor to water pollution in our area is the water industry, followed by run off from roads that carries pollution directly into water courses. The review makes a number of recommendations to improve this position and I urge you to take a look at its findings on our website.
We will work very hard indeed to hold both water companies and the Environment Agency to account over their responsibilities in improving water quality for us all.
More funding for Electric Vehicle charging points in Buckinghamshire
Some great news - we have been successful in our largest ever single funding bid for money to increase the number of electric vehicle (EV) charging points in Buckinghamshire. We have successfully secured £400,000 from the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles which allows us to make a big push forward our target of 1,000 EV charging points in the county – it means we can put in a further 129 EV bays and our team will push forward with this work at the earliest opportunity. It’s another example of the extent of the work we are doing to tackle climate change here in Buckinghamshire – and is timely good news when COP27 brings into sharp focus again the global climate challenge we all face.
Please stay safe and well, and I’ll write to you again with further updates before Christmas.
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council