Celebrating the Jubilee

An extended bank holiday weekend is approaching to mark 70 years of the Queen’s reign.

To celebrate this unprecedented anniversary, events and initiatives within our community, as well as nationally, have been taking place throughout the year.  This is culminating in the holiday from Thursday 2 to Sunday 5 June which provides an opportunity for communities to come together to celebrate this historic milestone.

You may have already seen posters in your local community or received an invitation through the post notifying you of an event in your area.  You can also discover events taking place near you on the Platinum Jubilee Map and also submit details if you are hosting your own event.

Town and Parish councils across Central Bedfordshire have events planned, including Houghton Regis which is holding a free Jubilee and Beacon Lighting event for the community, a Jubilee Laser show in Flitwick, a Firework display in Leighton-Linslade and a Big Jubilee Picnic in Barton-Le-Clay.

Across the country, trees have also been planted as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC).  I was delighted to join a tree planting event at Jubilee Wood in Biggleswade led by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Helen Nellis, last October. The idea is to increase and protect the native tree cover and create this ‘special gift’ for the Queen.

The Council has held several tree giveaways and the response was fantastic. Hawthorn, birch, and maple field trees were handed out; over 16,000 trees have been planted and over 1,000 metres of hedgerow across Central Bedfordshire.

If you want to get involved, it’s not too late.  In line with the tree planting season, the Council are going to be giving more trees away in the Autumn.

I wish you all a relaxing Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend.

Standing together with Ukraine

Central Bedfordshire councillors unanimously backed a motion to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and unreservedly condemn the unjustifiable and illegal actions of the Russian state, in invading Ukraine and deploying alarmingly brutal military tactics.

It’s not often that politicians from all parties unite on a cause and this was one such occasion. Since the start of the invasion, the apparent escalation of tactics is appalling and it’s very hard to take in the terrible scenes coming out of Ukraine on a daily basis.

The motion was an opportunity to publicly acknowledge and thank our residents who have responded to the plight of the Ukrainian people with enormous generosity and kindness. It is amazing that so many have offered their homes and others are supporting through local community groups and donating to charity.

We all share the sentiment that we should do all that we can to welcome and support those arriving in Central Bedfordshire. The Council have set up a dedicated liaison team to support refugees and residents, who have offered their homes through the Government Homes for Ukraine scheme and we will work with our local community groups and voluntary sector, to provide the wrap-around support that will help those who have had to flee their home country resettle here.

The community response has been truly remarkable and an uplifting reminder of the good in the world. I know our communities will continue to do everything they can to help Ukrainians feel welcomed.

If you have offered your home through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, there’s lots of information on our website.

If you want to donate, the best way to do this is to donate to Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). DEC brings together 15 charities, and your donations will help DEC charities provide food, water, shelter and healthcare to refugees and displaced families.

Helping residents with the rising cost of living

Household budgets are being squeezed more and more as energy, fuel, inflation and food prices continue to soar. Its important everyone knows how to access support if they are struggling.

Every household in a Council Tax band A-D property will receive a one-off payment of £150 to help with energy costs. If you pay Council Tax by direct debit this will go directly into your bank account. If you don’t pay by direct debit the Council will be in touch with you to explain how your payment will be made – you do not need to contact us.

The Council has helped 9,000 vulnerable households with food, energy and water bills using the Household Support Fund. This includes over 12,000 supermarket vouchers for households with children eligible for free school meals to support with food costs during school holidays. We’ve also used some of this funding to support local food banks. 

A second round of the Household Support Fund has been announced and councils will be able to give more support to pensioners through the updated scheme. More information will be available later in the year.

We also fund three local Citizen’s Advice organisations which provide impartial financial management advice, debt advice and help make sure residents apply for the different benefits they might be eligible for.

If you are starting to struggle with paying your rent or mortgage, get in touch with our housing team who can advise you. Don’t wait until you are at risk of becoming homeless, the sooner we can help you the better.

You may also be able to get help with your Council Tax. Although we have tried to keep Council Tax increases as low as possible, we continue to protect those residents on lowest incomes, so those most in need pay no or very little Council Tax.

This year is set to be tough for everybody, especially those on low incomes and Central Bedfordshire Council will continue to support you in any way we can. If you are struggling, please contact us or one of our partner agencies for advice and support.

Helping people live their best lives

Following the turmoil of the pandemic and its impact on local people, communities and businesses, we have renewed our commitment to make Central Bedfordshire a great place to live and work, for everyone. 

Our new strategic plan outlines our areas of focus for the next five years. One of our guiding principles is Fairness. We will create opportunities for everyone, lifting people out of poverty, and putting safeguards in place to avoid people slipping into poverty so everyone can live their best lives.

We’re already making great strides to ensure this is a reality in the services we provide to children. 

In 60 of our schools, we have been running a programme to provide extra support to disadvantaged children both in and out of the classroom, to help them achieve the best possible grades. We’ve also been supporting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families with access to early years education. We know Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children can often have a disrupted education. We are helping these children with their learning with the intention of them continuing into secondary education.

Outside of education, we are working with hundreds of children who have not had the best starts in life and cannot stay with their families and we become their corporate parents. In those situations, we pride ourselves on being more than just a local council providing a roof over their heads – we work hard to nurture their talents, setting them up to live successful lives. You can read more about this in my previous blog.

We are investing in services to support adults too, and we have recently extended our community catalysts programme for a further three years, which supports small business that are aimed at delivering personalised care and support services.

We know there is more we can do to address poverty and inequality so over the coming months we will be considering what else we can do. We will help all of our residents, including those who come to Central Bedfordshire after fleeing their own countries because of war. In these worrying times, we all want to help. The council stands ready to support refugees to resettle and rebuild their lives. Central Bedfordshire is a great place to live and work – for everyone.