Looking at the current rate of Covid infections in Eastbourne, I find that there have been 167 new cases confirmed within the past 7 days. This is much higher than 12 months ago, when we were heading for the second lockdown. The difference of course is that the impact has lessened. This time last year, we were all hoping that a vaccine would be found, which would help to combat the effects of the pandemic and now, just a year later, three quarters of local residents have received at least one jab. This is a remarkable feat and credit must go to everyone who has helped to make this possible. It does not of course mean that the danger from Covid has gone away. There are currently 33 local people in hospital and 3 people have died from Covid in the past week. So particularly with winter coming, when more people will be gathering at indoor events, we must resist the temptation to be complacent. It has been good to enjoy additional freedoms again, let’s make sure that we remain alert to the risks.
During the Covid pandemic, the Government took the positive decision to pay an additional £20 per week to those in receipt of Universal Credit. That scheme is due to end on 6 October. Currently, just over 10% of people in Eastbourne receive benefits and with the impact of Covid still with us, gas prices soaring and the new National Insurance rates coming into effect next April, I hope that even at this late stage, the Government will rethink and continue to make these payments in order to help those most in need.
From the 13th-17th October, a spectacular new musical makes its world premiere at The Congress Theatre. Based on the Disney classic, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” will take to the stage. Be prepared to enter a world of magic and fantasy as you witness the adventures of three orphaned children, evacuated from wartime London. The Congress has a reputation for having staged some exceptional shows and I am sure that this will be another.
I am sure that there must have been much excitement at Westminster last week, as Boris Johnson reshuffled his Cabinet. As the dust settles on the changes, we will be looking to see what differences these will bring. Personally, one of my hopes is that the change from Robert Jenrick to Michael Gove as Housing Secretary, combined with Conservative discontent following their defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, might bring about an end to the disastrous Planning Bill. I wouldn’t want you to misunderstand me, I am not a great fan on many of the current planning rules. I especially dislike the fact that appeals are determined by the Planning Inspectorate, which is based in Bristol, instead of local people who know the town, but I believe that changes in the Planning Bill would put many green spaces at risk and allow much building to take place without requiring planning consent. This is clearly a fear shared by many around the country and we now wait to see how Michael Gove will address his new responsibilities.
I was speaking to former Mayor and Eastbourne Walking Champion, Gill Mattock at the weekend. After last year's disappointment, Gill is delighted that, with the help and support of the Events Team, she has been able to deliver the annual WalkFest this year. Now in its 8th year, the festival offered a varied programme of over 70 walks over a period of 10 days and was blessed with mostly good weather.
The walks have attracted local residents and visitors alike, who have all enjoyed being guided by an enthusiastic team of volunteer Walk Leaders. Gill asked me to pass on her thanks publicly to all of them - they give up their time to share their specialist knowledge and love of the town or countryside with other walkers and without them there would be no festival.
Gill is dedicated to promoting walking in all its forms in the local area. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter where she gives advice about walking safely, highlights walking issues or where you can just follow her exploits.
Following the success of the road closure on International Car Free Day September 2020, Upperton Councillors are working with Gildredge House School parents, governors, pupils and residents to hold another car free event on Wednesday, 22nd September.
This will again coincide with International Car Free Day 2021, as well as taking place during the Eastbourne Walking Festival. Upperton's councillors and team are looking to close the same section of Compton Place Road as before (between the junctions with Park Close and Beechwood Crescent) between 07.45hrs and 10.00hrs.
Whilst vehicular access will still be maintained to the school during these hours (via Paradise Drive end), it is hoped the road closure will encourage more pupils and parents to walk, cycle or skate to and from school.
This is a further step towards the creation of a permanent School Safe Zone, which would restrict access for vehicles during pick-up and drop-off times every school day, creating a safer, healthier and more secure environment for all.
Along I am sure with most people in the UK, I was transfixed by the performance of Emma Raducanu in the US Open. This was an incredible performance by the 18 year old. She became the only person ever to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament having entered as a qualifier and she did so without losing a single set. Emma has given British tennis a real cause for celebration. I know that it is still a long way off but I really hope that she will compete at Devonshire Park in the pre-Wimbledon tournament next summer.
It is good to see that the much-loved Eastbourne Sunshine Carnival is returning this coming Saturday. Covid meant it was cancelled last year along with so many of Eastbourne’s fantastic events and then it was delayed from its usual time earlier in the year, but I’m delighted to hear from its Patron, former MP Stephen Lloyd, that it’s back at the weekend. Starting at 2pm from near the Western Lawns, the parade will proceed along the seafront to Princes Park. There will be various entertainment spots along the route beforehand, so do bring along the family to join in the fun.
I would like to thank all the volunteers and the carnival entrants for stepping up this year. We all know it’s been a rather bleak 18 months, one way or another, so let’s welcome back the carnival in the way Eastbourne does so well. Please give generously to the bucket collectors - as half of the money raised goes to the charities taking part. The other half goes toward the running costs for next year’s carnival.
Stephen also tells me that the procession will be led by an open-topped bus, generously supplied by Eastbourne Sightseeing Tours. It will be emblazoned with banners thanking all those frontline workers and community volunteers who gave their all to look after our town during the pandemic. Covid Heroes all!
At the July meeting of the County Council, I questioned the award of contracts to an Essex based company to transport vulnerable children to and from school. This contract had formerly been with locally based taxi companies and so the change would be moving money out of our local economy, but far more importantly the children, many of whom are autistic, had established a trust in the routine that they had with their current driver and I was concerned that a change could cause them distress. I also asked whether due diligence had been conducted with regard to the new contract and was assured that it had. It is therefore extremely concerning to hear last week, just before children were to return to school that the company concerned did not have enough vehicles and as a result would be unable to fulfil two of the contracts which they had been awarded. When the Council next meets, I will be questioning how this could have been allowed to occur.
It was good to hear from Compass Community Arts this week and learn about their “Delights of the Garden” project. They have been working with partners to create works of art, including painting, drawing, prints and sculpture and temporary interventions inspired by allotments at seven of the allotments in Churchdale Road. There is a launch event at 18.00 this Friday (10th September) and open days when these works of art can be viewed will take place over the next three weekends (Friday-Sunday) between 11.00-16.00. I will make sure that I call round to see them.
The nights might be drawing in but it is still warm enough to attend outdoor events. The darker evenings see the return of the ever popular 1812 nights at The Bandstand every Wednesday evening. The evening provides a proms style concert with many favourite tunes and concludes with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture accompanied by a spectacular firework display to represent the sound of the cannons. This is a spectacular event and worthy of at least one visit each year.
Eastbourne & Willingdon’s Liberal Democrats have slammed local Conservative MP Caroline Ansell’s choice to break their promise to the electorate and vote for a 1.25% rise in National Insurance.
The changes, which go against the Conservatives’ manifesto promise not to raise taxes, will mean hard-pressed local families and small businesses will be left paying hundreds of pounds more in tax each year.
Caroline Ansell was one of the 317 Conservative MPs to support the plans. Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the government plans, arguing that they fail to fix the ongoing social care crisis and will fall disproportionately on the young, the low paid and small businesses.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for a cross-party agreement on social care, to find a long-term solution to funding high-quality care for everyone who needs it.
Commenting, Liberal Democrat Leader of the Council, Cllr David Tutt said:
“Caroline Ansell stood on a clear promise at the last election not to raise taxes, including National Insurance. Now they have voted to break that promise by hitting hard-pressed families and small businesses in Eastbourne & Willingdon with a tax hike at a time many are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
“The people of Eastbourne & Willingdon deserve better than this. They need an MP who they can trust and who will fight for a fairer deal for our area.
“Unlike Caroline Ansell the Liberal Democrats opposed these unjust plans in Parliament. We have been clear about how to fix the social care crisis in a fairer way, instead of hiking taxes on those who can least afford it.”
Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey MP added:
“The Tories have gone from being the party of low tax to the party of broken promises. Conservative MPs have shown that they can’t be trusted and are taking people for granted. It’s little wonder that voters around the country and across the Blue Wall are turning to the Liberal Democrats instead.
“We want to see cross-party talks on how to fund social care in a fair and sustainable way, along with urgent action to fix the staffing crisis in care homes and give unpaid carers the recognition they deserve.”
Liberal Democrat councillors joined parents in expressing dismay at the collapse of parts of the home to school transport contract. Cllr David Tutt, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group explains:
“The Conservative administration that runs the County Council decided to re-tender the contract for home to school transport. The Canterbury based company who won the contract could then not deliver two of the routes as they apparently had insufficient vehicles, drivers and passenger assistants or any backup vehicles in the case of a breakdown. Two parts of the contract then had to be cancelled leaving parents in the lurch.”
County Councillor Sarah Osborne adds:
“This shambles has left parents, including parents of some of our most vulnerable children, faced with uncertainty and confusion at the start of the school term. We have heard that some children were not collected at all. Our children have been through enough disruption in the last year without this inept contract management. The Conservatives need to sort this out as a top priority.”
As many as 10,610 hard-pressed families across Eastbourne face being left worse off when the government ends the uplift to Universal Credit next month.
New data from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation exposes the true nature of how badly some areas will be hit by the £20 Universal Credit cut, which is opposed by Eastbourne & Willingdon Liberal Democrats.
In the report and across the country, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that the Universal Credit cut alone could force 500,000 people, almost half of them children, into poverty. Their breakdown shows that some 10,610 families in Eastbourne will be harmed by the government’s uplift cut, with 5,400 families with children in Eastbourne being affected adversely.
Responding to the data, David Tutt, Liberal Democrat Leader of the Council said:
"Eastbourne has had to pull itself through this pandemic, while dealing with this incompetent heartless Conservative government, this cut will do untold damage to so many of our local families.
"There is no question that Government has to reverse this needless cut and support normal working people here. Eastbourne’s Liberal Democrats are calling for the Universal Credit uplift to be made permanent."
Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain MP added:
“Just as we begin to hope that Covid is being tamed in the UK, the Government is ripping support from millions of families across the country. We cannot have a full recovery if families are struggling to make ends meet.
“The Prime Minister's claim that he wants people to live by their own 'efforts' rather than 'welfare' shows how out of touch he really is. With almost half of those receiving Universal Credit already in work and with many having young families, this cut will leave parents and their children behind despite their efforts."
For the past couple of weeks, the news headlines have been dominated by the heart wrenching scenes from Kabul airport, as thousands attempt to leave Afghanistan and Taliban rule. Many of us have felt helpless as we have watched pictures of people who have supported the efforts of our Government over the past 20 years, desperately struggling to flee their own country, due to fear of possible action that will be taken against them by the new regime. Here in Eastbourne, we are in contact with the Home Office and will play our part in their resettlement plans. A few people have contacted me to say that they would be willing to offer a room in their home to an Afghan refugee. My current understanding is that whilst these offers are appreciated, what is actually needed at present are large properties that can house families of 7 or more. If that situation changes, I will post an update in The Herald.
July and August might not have produced either the warmest or sunniest of summers on record, but just to be free of most of the Covid restrictions that had been dominating our lives, the freedom to get out again was enough to give a lift to our spirits. As we move into September, children return to school and that was the trigger a year ago which led to the second lockdown. This year, hopefully things will be different. Although the number of Covid infections continue to increase, the fact that the majority of us have now been double jabbed, means that a smaller percentage of those infected need hospital treatment. The Government’s attention is now turning to the provision of booster vaccinations. Starting with those who are most at risk of serious disease or seasonal flu, the booster programme looks like being launched this month.
If you are looking to keep fit, the Eastbourne Walking Festival will be taking place later this month. Bookings are already underway and details can be found on the Visit Eastbourne website at https://www.visiteastbourne.com/walking-festival. A good warm up for this would be to join the accessible family walk this Saturday 4th September along the seafront. With sports activities along the way, why not bring a picnic lunch, have a go on the Smoothie Bike and eat together on the Western Lawns. The route will be from Western Lawns along the seafront to Helen Garden and back. The route is accessible, with accessible toilet facilities at Helen Gardens. Booking details can be found at https://www.townereastbourne.org.uk/event/stepping-forward-a-day-of-outdoor-activities-for-families/
Stay safe and enjoy summer!
With the rules surrounding Covid restrictions constantly changing it can be a challenge to keep up to date. The latest updates came into force on the 19th August and concerns travelling to the UK from countries on the amber list. Whereas before this date you would have needed to quarantine, this is no longer the case, provided that:
- you have been fully vaccinated
- take a Covid-19 pre-departure test
- take a Covid-19 test on or before day 2 after you arrive in England – the arrival day is day 0
So, travelling overseas appears to be becoming easier, but with infection levels remaining volatile and new strains of the virus emerging, I will be staying in the UK for the foreseeable future.
Do you use the buses or would like to if there was a better service? Then you might like to respond to the consultation being run by East Sussex County Council in conjunction with the bus operators. It aims to establish a “Bus Improvement Plan”. People often say to me that they would like to see better bus services, whether that means different routes or a more frequent service. So, if you believe that public transport is important and would like to make your views known, spare a few minutes to complete the survey, which can be found at: consultation.eastsussex.gov.uk/economy-transport-environment/bsip
Have you been wondering what to do this Bank Holiday weekend, if so, why not attempt a new sport? The Eastbourne Festival of Accessible Sport is a brand new event to showcase all of the accessible sports that are available locally. Taking place at Princes Park on the 28th and 29th August this free event is being organised by Defiant Sports and Eastbourne Access Group. It is open to people of all ages, abilities and disabilities, more information can be found on their website https://defiantsports.org.uk/ If however you prefer to sit down and be entertained “The Play that goes Wrong” opens at The Congress Theatre on Bank Holiday Monday and runs until the 4th September. It looks like being a great show with a good laugh guaranteed.
Stay safe and enjoy summer!