Pushing for better care, locally

We know how important access to local health care is to our residents. Central Bedfordshire has a growing population and it is imperative that the provision of health services grows at a similar rate.

Planning healthcare provision both in the community and in hospitals is the responsibility of the NHS. 

Realising the need for better resourced primary care, Central Bedfordshire Council agreed a joint ambition with the local health service (CCG now replaced by the ICB) to build five health hubs across our area. Integrated Health and Care Hubs can include primary care services such as GPs, and also other services that need you to attend hospital.  There might also be pharmacy, physiotheraphy and social services, resulting in better joined up care for residents locally and also a reduction in the pressure on hospitals.  

The Council is building the first hub at Grove View in Dunstable which is due to open this Spring.  We have aspirations to build more hubs across our district including Leighton Buzzard, Houghton Regis, Biggleswade and West Central Bedfordshire. Discussions about Biggleswade were well advanced but have recently made little progress.

The Council can help construct the hubs but only the NHS can provide the GPs and other medical staff.  It was therefore very disappointing to hear that the local NHS (the Integrated Care Board) has not allocated any of it primary care estates budget to the hubs, although the ICB says they will look to see if any alternative funding streams might be available. 

We will continue to lobby the ICB, NHS England, MPs and Ministers to highlight the immediate need for additional primary care facilities in our area.

No increase in Council Tax for residents in April

Central Bedfordshire Council is consulting on its draft budget for 2023/24.

The Council’s Executive is recommending no increase in its part of the Council Tax* for the next financial year. We are all very aware of the financial pressures our residents are under as inflation and the cost of living continues to rise. Even though the Council’s running costs have also risen and demand for our adult social care and children’s services continues to increase, careful budget management over several years means we have been able to keep Council Tax at its current level.

We will not be cutting services or investment in projects such as roads, schools, leisure centres and care homes.  There will be increased spending in some areas including care for older people, adults with disabilities, support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and children who need our protection.  Green waste collection will remain free in Central Bedfordshire and we have no plans to move to three weekly household waste collection.

We pride ourselves on excellent financial management and planning which has provided protection against the impact of a huge increase in inflation.  We are always looking for ways to deliver our services more effectively and we will be using some of our reserves (savings) so we will not be raising our share of Council Tax next year.

Please have your say by 24 January 2023 at www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/budget

Paper copies will be available in our libraries and you can request a paper copy by calling 0300 300 8000. 

* Your Council Tax bill includes Council Tax that pays for Police, Fire and your Town or Parish Council, these organisations set their own increases and if they raise their share of Council Tax your bill will increase.

Season’s greetings

Traditionally, Christmas is about spending time with family and friends – but using our time to support others is perhaps the true spirit of giving at Christmas.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all volunteers in our communities who give up their time to help others, particularly over the festive break. Whether you’re checking in on elderly neighbours during the recent cold spell, volunteering more formally or fostering children who cannot be with their birth families, you are making a difference and contributing to making Central Bedfordshire a great place to live.

Whether you observe Christmas as a festival or take the opportunity to celebrate this time of year in your own way, I hope you can spend time with those dearest to you, and I wish you all the best for the upcoming year.

Cllr Richard Wenham

Tackling climate change

Earlier this month (November 2022), the COP27 climate change summit took place to review progress and decide on new commitments to tackle the climate emergency.

As a Council we are choosing sustainable energy sources, using LED streetlights, building new schools and care homes to the latest sustainability standards to reduce our carbon emissions.

We also have initiatives to improve the natural environment. From the last tree planting season, 18,500 new trees and shrubs were planted and over 3km new hedgerow laid. Soon, we will be planting our first Tiny Forest projects. The size of a tennis court, Tiny Forests are dense fast-growing native woodland, planted to improve areas of urban tree population and help connect communities to nature in their area.

We’re also helping our residents to be greener. We’re creating more walking and cycling routes, providing free trees to residents and local organisations, creating 48 new electric vehicle charging points and have launched Solar Together, our first group-buying solar panel scheme.

We can all play our part in protecting the climate by reusing where we can and otherwise recycling. Central Bedfordshire Council provide extensive recycling options for our residents, but our recent analysis of bins shows that 70% of what we put into our black bins could have been recycled, either in your recycling bin, food or garden waste bins or at one of our Household Waste Recycling Centres. We’re encouraging everyone to “bin better”.

Our ‘Bin Better’ campaign, including a new online tool at www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/binbetter can help you decide which items can be recycled into the appropriate bin.

Helping residents this winter

In April I spoke about how Central Bedfordshire Council continued to support residents with the rising cost of living.

Last year we supported over 9,000 vulnerable households with food, energy and water bills using the Household Support Fund. We’ve continued this support over the summer and further funding has been made available to help residents through the winter.

We’ve used some of this funding to support local food banks and our new Ward Councillor Grants are being used to support a variety of voluntary organisations.

Recognising the pressures facing our residents, the Council has just agreed extra funding for the voluntary sector and Citizen’s Advice so they can help more residents.  

We’re also setting up a crisis fund to be administered by our Children’s Centres to provide emergency assistance for families facing hardship.

Our libraries will be open to all as ‘Warm Spaces’ where people can access free Wi-Fi, computer use and study space.

We’re currently consulting on improvements to our Council Tax Support Scheme which, if agreed, will provide more support to those on low incomes by reducing the amount of Council Tax they pay. No existing claimant will receive less support than at present.

At a time when people are struggling with the rising cost of living, it’s more important than ever that people are getting the support they’re entitled to.

Nationally we know there are millions of people who are entitled to but are not claiming Pension Credit.  It is an important boost for older people with a low income and can provide access to a wide range of other benefits, including help with council tax. Anyone over 66 years of age can check their eligibility and apply, visit either www.gov.uk/pension-credit or call 0800 99 1234.