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.

Providing the best outcomes for children and young people in care

It is no secret that we have a vision for Central Bedfordshire to be a place where people can prosper, a place to be proud of and a place to call home.

One area where we have been making great strides to ensure this is a reality is within our Children’s Social Care Services. This includes vital services like our social work teams, fostering and adoption, early help, children’s centres, youth support services and our court teams.

Our aim is to ensure that families receive the support they need as early as possible, and in circumstances where we need to provide care for children and young people, that they aren’t just given a roof over their heads, but opportunities to develop and thrive in the future.

Earlier today, Ofsted published a report following an inspection of these services. It focused on the experiences of children who need help and protection, and the progress of those who are in care, or who have left care.

I am delighted to share that we received a ‘Good’ rating, and the inspectors note that they had seen improvements across the full range of our social work practice. This is especially impressive given the challenges we have faced during the pandemic, and I am delighted that we have not only sustained the quality of some our services, but improved others at the same time.

It was especially pleasing to see the support provided to foster carers and care leavers described as excellent, and the progress made by some of our unaccompanied asylum-seeking children described as hugely impressive.

The inspector also makes several references to how we are not only looking after children who are vulnerable, but we are also working collaboratively with partners to ensure that they have the best outcomes later in life, with care leavers supported with their accommodation, leisure, work and training, health and mental health needs.

The report follows our recent ‘Good’ Ofsted ratings secured by our children’s homes – Number 32 in January, and Maythorn and Kingfishers in July. I am really pleased by these outcomes, but I am also mindful that there is even more we can do and there are other parts of our services that aren’t up to this standard. We continue to work to improve all of our services and learn from the vital feedback we received from regulators like Ofsted, as we work to achieve our vision.

You can check out the Ofsted report here.

Further information about our services for children, young people and their families is available on the children and young people pages of the council’s website.

Setting the council’s budget and investing in services for the future

January and February in the Council is budget setting time.

It’s never an easy task. Our services are mainly funded by Council Tax and business rates. We spend over £400million providing hundreds of different services, many of which everyone uses; road maintenance, household waste collection and recycling, maintaining parks and creating new walking and cycling routes in the countryside, running libraries and leisure centres.

We also provide very important services that only some people use such as child protection and adult social care. Approximately two-thirds of our budget (and therefore effectively a large part of your Council Tax) pays for these critical services which support some of our most vulnerable residents.

Demand for these services is increasing so next year we need to put more money into providing care for older people and adults with disabilities, providing additional support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and children who need our protection.

Focussing on efficiency

As demand for our services increases, we need to look for ways to make your money go further. Next year we plan to reduce our costs by over £9million.

These include:

  • getting involved as early as possible with children, families or adults who are vulnerable (because of ill health, disability or risk of abuse or neglect). By doing this, we can help them to avoid needing more support in the long term, which provides much better outcomes and saves money
  • modernising care services for older people and adults with learning disabilities, so we provide care as close to home as possible, as well as services that will promote independence and reduce reliance on social care
  • improving access to our online services, automating our processes and streamlining how we work to reduce our operating costs whilst still providing traditional means of access to the Council for those without internet
  • building on home-based working that has been necessary and successful during the pandemic, so we spend less on offices, printing and travel costs.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to meet the pressures we face which means Council Tax will need to increase.

Council Tax

Realising this is a difficult time for many people we are keeping the increase to the minimum possible and propose to increase general Council Tax by 0.95% and a 1% increase specifically for adult social care.

Investing in services for the future

Aside from the services that your Council Tax helps to fund, we also have ambitious plans to invest in new schools, roads, care homes and leisure centres. These are funded through borrowing and grants.

We’re proposing to invest £240million next year on a range of projects including:

Schools – maintaining school buildings, completing the build of the new Houstone School in Houghton Regis, refurbishment of Sandy Secondary School and expanding other schools to accommodate more pupils.

Roads – the new M1-A6 link road and new Arlesey relief road, a new transport interchange at Flitwick train station and changes to the Clophill roundabout to improve congestion.

Leisure – new leisure centres at Houghton Regis and Leighton Buzzard as well as improvements to leisure provision at Sandy and Rights of Way.

Health – building the new Integrated Health and Care Hub in Dunstable and new care homes in Leighton Buzzard and Flitwick.

Tell us what you think

Before a decision on the budget is made, we want to hear from residents and businesses. You can give your feedback online at www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/budget2022 or pick up a leaflet in your local library and respond before 31 January.

Managing from the ground

One of the favourite parts of my job is getting out and about and understanding more about our communities first-hand. I really enjoy meeting residents, looking at the impact the Council’s work has had and identifying opportunities where we can do more.

I recently visited Downside in the Manshead area of Dunstable with colleagues from the Council’s Housing Service, and Councillor Eugene Ghent, Executive Member for Assets and Housing. Downside is a stone’s throw away from Dunstable Downs, but it is also one of the parts of Central Bedfordshire where we have the greatest opportunity to improve people’s lives and the community where they live.

During our visit we came across a number of opportunities to enhance the area over the next twelve months. Firstly, we are going to refurbish the two play parks in Downside with new equipment. I enjoy spending time outside with my grandchildren, and I know how much of a difference it will make to the families there to have updated play areas for their children to enjoy. Additionally, over the next few months, we will be cutting back vegetation and removing weeds and moss in communal areas of our council-owned properties, as well as tackling outstanding property maintenance issues.

We are always keen to hear from residents about what else they might like to see, so please do contact your local councillors with your suggestions. You can also share your thoughts through our Growing Greater Neighbourhoods survey, which closes at the end of January.

These efforts build on the public safety work we are doing in partnership with Bedfordshire Police in this area. In September we hosted a Safer Streets event (pictured) to share crime prevention information with local people and we launched a wider programme of safety improvements. We’ve handed out smart water kits to residents so they can mark their belongings, and offered two-way radios to local businesses so they can contact the Council’s CCTV room quickly. Looking ahead, our Safer Neighbourhoods team will be installing CCTV cameras in the area, and we’ll be improving lighting to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Investing in areas like Downside is extremely important for me and is part of the Council’s wider efforts to prevent people from being left behind or slipping into need in Central Bedfordshire, something which has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Last week the Council’s Executive committed to creating a councillor taskforce to look at fairness and enhance the Council’s efforts to reduce deprivation, and I was delighted to see that the motion was unanimously supported.

I want people to have pride in where they live, and I will be returning to Downside to see how the improvements are coming along.

Small Business Saturday – Love Local

Local businesses across the country, including here in Central Bedfordshire, are looking forward to this Saturday (4 December).

Now in its ninth year, Small Business Saturday has become a calendar staple since its humble roots. It started as a grassroots campaign to encourage people to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their area.

The campaign has grown in popularity and in light of the ongoing pandemic, people appreciate the important contribution small businesses make to the national economy as well as being at the centre of our communities. Many local people depend on their local businesses and vice versa.

Last year the campaign achieved record-breaking success with an estimated £1.1 billion spent across the UK on the day.

The way people shop has changed massively over time, from individual greengrocers, butchers, and bakeries to the arrival of supermarkets where everything became available in one place. Convenience and speed are important for many shoppers now and whilst online shopping is now used by many, it is important to remember that local businesses can offer the same level of service, local produce and keen pricing.

2021 has proved to be another challenging year for the retail sector, making it vital for people to support small businesses in any way they can. Supporting businesses is a priority for the council and we have recently extended our Business Support Programme to offer more schemes for local businesses. Working with Cranfield University and SEMLEP we are running innovative programmes for businesses helping them to grow or recover.

As a customer, we each can help to maintain our independent businesses. I encourage you to buy local not just this Saturday but throughout the year.

There are many ways you can show your support for Small Business Saturday. Leaving a positive review or sharing a social media post can help boost their profile in your area.

Small Business Saturday has created an online tool to help you find a small business in your area.

Let’s all support our local businesses this Saturday and whenever we can!