The Leader of Essex County Council, Cllr Kevin Bentley, has written an open letter to Essex Residents reflecting on what the Council has achieved since May 2021 when he became Leader and his aspirations for the coming year and beyond.
We began with our 100 Day Plan, which evolved into Everyone’s Essex: Our plan for levelling up the county. Everyone’s Essex provides the foundations on which we will renew the county after the pandemic, close inequality gaps, and ignite ambition.
It outlined four strategic aims: for a strong, inclusive and sustainable economy; for a high-quality environment; for health, wellbeing and independence for all ages; and for a good place for our children and families to grow. This is what we want to achieve for Essex.
Covid-19 and how we responded
Through the pandemic we and our partners have focused on reducing transmission of the virus. This has meant supporting you in lockdown, protecting the vulnerable, monitoring cases, promoting vaccinations and regular testing.
In the last week of December, the number of new cases in Essex averaged almost 4,000 per day, with the number of patients in hospitals also increasing. We will continue to support you whatever challenges Omicron brings.
A Strong, Inclusive and Sustainable Economy
In 2021 we received £42m from the Towns Fund for Colchester and Harlow, as well as £4.4m from the Community Renewal Fund. We have created over 600 new roles as part of the Kickstart programme, set up a new opportunities portal and created or safeguarded 120 jobs and 280 businesses through our Backing Essex Business Support Service. Our new Arts and Cultural Fund offers £1m in grants for groups who already do so much to make Essex special.
In the next year we will also put more than £120m into our town centres, £100m into economic renewal and develop both a skills plan and a growth strategy. Our approach will create more than £1bn of investment into the county and support thousands of new jobs.
High Quality Environment
In 2021 the Essex Climate Action Commission released its Final Report and we unveiled our £200m plan on climate action. We launched a £500k fund to support community action on climate change, launched our Library of Things, secured £6m for Green Homes Grants and £17.3m for the Sustainable Warmth Fund. We are building Net Zero schools and installing low carbon improvements across our estate.
We will extend the work of the Commission beyond 2022, starting the first ever net zero Essex Housing development at Hargreaves House and making sustainable transport a much more attractive choice through Bus Back Better, e-scooters and new infrastructure. We will lead a behaviour change across Essex, encouraging and providing better alternatives for people to travel and live more sustainably.
Health, Wellbeing and Independence for All Ages
We have supported our care market through the increased pressures of Covid and beyond with tens of millions of pounds of funding. We continue to be class-leading in supporting our own social care staff, this year achieving Social Work Employer of the Year.
In the coming years we will develop our approach to prevention and early intervention, improving our support to carers and our quality of practice. We will launch a Centre for Excellence in Care.
A Good Place for Children and Families to Grow
In 2021 we unveiled our Plan for Working Families, invested £1m in our Education Excellence Taskforce and reached 17,000 children through the summer reading challenge. We also produced a new Vision for Libraries. We launched our new commissioning strategy for domestic abuse, underpinned by £2.8m of funding, and launched the Essex Safety Advisory Group.
The Safety Advisory Group will deliver a series of initiatives this year to help make our streets safe. The Education Taskforce will deliver the Year of Reading, and Essex will launch the Early Years Strategy and a new strategy on corporate parenting. Most importantly, we have this month launched our Levelling Up White Paper.
Levelling Up Essex
We need to widen opportunities across Essex, so that more people can fulfil their potential. Levelling up is all about finding ways to support this.
We have launched a series of new initiatives: a £500,000 Community Challenge Fund; a financial wellbeing programme; a Family Friendly Employers Charter and continuation of the Essex Holiday Activity Clubs over the next three years. I am very proud of this work, led by Deputy Leader Cllr Louise McKinlay.
Personally, I have begun 2022 with renewed hope for the future of Essex and the wider world. I am immensely proud of the work we are doing to improve this county, and to provide opportunity to as many of you as possible.