Green shoots of recovery?
In the West of England, as in the rest of the world, we are facing a climate and ecological emergency. I am proud of the work that is being done in our community to tackle climate change, but if we are to meet our commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, we need to move fast.
With the expertise and technology we have in the West of England, I firmly believe that it is possible to reach our targets. We will need to be methodical, analytical, courageous and honest, but rising to this challenge presents opportunities for a better quality of life for us all. From improving air quality and health, to the wellbeing benefits of access to outdoor space, it is clear that investing in our environment is both necessary and important.
The climate emergency threatens to permanently change our way of life, yet there is much to be optimistic about. This year the UK hosts the COP26 climate summit, with countries from across the world coming to the UK to discuss climate change. I want the conversation to take place here in the West of England too. As Metro Mayor, I will convene a series of discussions and roundtable events to put the West of England on the map and reaffirm our commitments.
Tackling climate change and protecting our natural environment requires a proper strategy. As Metro Mayor, I will establish a Green Recovery Fund to invest in programmes that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions while creating almost 23,000. I want to see serious investment in home retrofitting, tree planting, walking and cycling infrastructure, electric car charging, flood and drought defences, and renewable energy.
To protect our natural environment I will ensure our housing and transport plans work alongside nature rather than against it. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have emphasised the importance of access to green space, and the inequalities in access to the outdoors. As Metro Mayor I will protect rural and urban green space, and improve walking and cycling links so that we can all enjoy the outdoors. I will promote biodiversity through creating wildflower meadows and planting trees.
I recognise that this is a big task, but I am ready for the challenge. 2021 will be a pivotal year for the climate, so let’s use this opportunity to celebrate how the West of England is leading the way in combating climate change, and in doing so, making the lives of our residents, our young people, and our future generations, better in so many ways.
Education, Education, Education
The chaotic way in which the latest Covid measures have been introduced shows the sheer incompetence of this Government. Just take a look at the way they have handled, or should I say, mishandled schools! Frankly, is it any wonder that throughout the West of England – South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset, and Bristol teachers, parents and students are up in arms?
We can now see why. The minutes of the SAGE meeting of top scientists who advise senior ministers gives the game away. They told the Government before Christmas (22 December) that they needed to close schools to contain the virus. The Government chose to ignore this advice and we all know where this has led.
Over Christmas schools were desperately trying to set up the virus testing measures demanded by the Government. Unfortunately, the Government’s plan and timescale was one that local heads have told me they believed was unrealistic. There was even talk of bringing in the army, of recruiting volunteers and using school support staff – none of these dedicated groups had the necessary training for this.
Despite the warnings of SAGE to Government, the Prime Minister has since said there was there was “no doubt” in his mind that schools were safe; furthermore, he urged parents to send their primary aged children to lessons on Monday morning for the start of the first new term of 2021. This lasted just one solitary day.
Now all schools are shut again to the vast majority. Our teachers were expected to switch magically to remote teaching overnight. Parents were meant to have childcare sorted within just hours too. This Government is detached from the reality of most people’s lives and this partly explains their perpetual series of blunders. If these serious mistakes were occasional, we would accept that in a crisis not everything can be perfect. But alarmingly, these errors have become an unwelcome pattern with what we now know have serious consequences.
The Government has also come to the conclusion that A-levels, GCSEs, and finally, BTEC exams needed to be cancelled – again a decision that could have been made so much earlier. Of course, there was little detail on how exams would be replaced meaning more uncertainty for pupils, parents and staff. Indeed a student from my old school, The Ridings High School in Winterbourne, was quoted by the BBC about the effect of slow government decision-making on students’ mental health.
I have constantly been impressed by the resilience of West of England teachers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. But more support is now urgently needed from this Tory Government. They have just made a commitment on digital devices. This must be better than their previous promises on laptops which didn’t materialise. Ofqual figures indicate that up to 24,000 West of England children can’t get online for lessons.
There also needs to be a clear strategy to vaccinate all teachers and support staff. Their role places them at significant risk from Covid and they must be kept safe. It is also vital they are looked after if children are to be able to return to the classroom as quickly as possible.
Too often during this pandemic, young people have been an after thought for this Government. Now we are right back to where we were nine months ago – schools closed, exams cancelled and dismally poor Government leadership.
Despite so many people’s sacrifices, we are no further forward. The Government must get a grip. Our pupils and our country deserve better; the nation’s future rests on the shoulders of these current younger generations.
A radical plan for dementia
In the West of England area I estimate there are at least 15,000 people with dementia, a figure that is set to double in just 20 years’ time. And for every person with dementia an entire network of family and friends are left to pick up the pieces. That means at least 100,000 people in our area will be on the dementia ‘frontline’ – about 1 in 10 of us!
I believe that every level of government from the Prime Minister down to local parish councillors have a responsibility to support dementia patients and to plan for the future to make life as good as it can be for those affected.
Here in the West of England we have the opportunity to start to put things right. As Metro Mayor I will take the lead in ensuring that there is the necessary housing stock to allow support and dignity for those suffering with dementia now, and the future, and to help these individuals to stay in their homes where they feel happiest and safest, for as long as possible.
Family members need support to recognize the changing needs of the person being cared for and allow families to care for their loved one at home for as long as they wish and feel able to do so. They also need to have a life beyond caring – including the opportunity to work and travel flexibly – so their dignity and quality of life are also respected.
Our housing stock needs to be designed to recognize the health needs of people suffering from dementia and other disabilities.
As Metro Mayor, I will institute a full assessment of the West of England’s dementia needs and how house design, transport, and flexible ways of working etc. can best address the challenges identified.
This may also include the recognition of house designs that allow for external respite support to stay over at the most demanding times, and that ensures new home layouts, say to install a lift, can be easily undertaken at a later date. It could mean new house building being modular in design to easily allow the internal layout of homes to be adjusted to meet changing family needs.
The everyday health requirements of the person being cared for are paramount – particularly in the last years of their life. Needs such as physically getting to the toilet, really easy wheelchair access, good showering space, and easy house maintenance and room cleaning etc. need to be properly planned for as homes are being built, rather than as very expensive and often less good, adaptations later on.
I believe that a civilized society for those that need care, or who provide it, needs planning decades ahead. This doesn’t just mean we avoid letting down those who need us most, it also makes good sense financially for it is the most efficient use of taxpayers’ money as we face the challenge of a rapidly aging population head on.
I believe that planners, developers and builders must recognize their social responsibility in the 21st Century. And as Metro Mayor, you can be sure I will be ensuring this is the case for the sake of all our people and their communities.
If you believe the plans I have set out above are important, please support me to become Labour’s Metro Mayor candidate. Together, we can really make a difference when it comes to dementia.