Cllr Darren Rodwell, Chairman of Local London and Leader of Barking & Dagenham Council reflects on a challenging 2020 where councils stepped up support for residents and businesses.
“While the pandemic challenged and interrupted so many aspects of our lives in 2020, it also forced us to think differently and respond in unprecedented ways.
Our member boroughs reacted to the national pandemic with resilience, creativity and compassion rapidly setting up new services to help vulnerable people shield by providing food and provisions; re-deployed staff to support the emergency; distributed millions of pounds in grants to businesses; found accommodation to protect the homeless; sourced PPE for the NHS, and worked flexibly in multiple ways to support communities and keep local services going.
While the health service is rightly lauded for the work it has done, local authorities, staff and councillors in east London have stepped up too for residents.
Our programmes continue to make a difference
At Local London, we have also played our part in supporting those who need it most.
Work and Health Programme
Our flagship Work and Health Programme, which primarily supports people with long-term health conditions and/or disabilities to get into work through 1-2-1 employability support, adapted to the pandemic by offering its services remotely.
In November, we launched the Work and Health Programme JETS scheme – which provides support for those made unemployed by the pandemic to find work. JETS is already proving successful with over 1,200 local residents starting on the programme in its first six weeks. Eventually, it will help 10,000 people to get back on their feet again.
Our LEAN East programme – is thriving. We are supporting careers leaders in 150 secondary schools, colleges and PRUs across nine boroughs to improve the quality of careers provision, and matching schools with employer volunteers to help them to prepare young people for careers and work. The GLA’s annual LEAN report mentions the ‘incredible progress’ that LEAN EAST has made, and our schools are performing above the London average against the national Gatsby benchmarks for good careers provision.
Business support webinars
We have also worked hard to support our business communities in 2020 by delivering practical events and webinars to support recovery and preparations for Brexit. In 2021, we will be launching a new programme to support businesses to introduce or develop the use of digital technologies in their businesses. This will assist many small and medium-sized enterprises to recover and prosper.
Putting our case for recovery in front of Government
One of Local London’s key roles is to speak up for people, communities and businesses in East London. The Government talks about levelling-up the north and south of our country because they think London isn’t affected by deprivation. That simply isn’t true. We know that had the UK remained in the European Union, our part of London would have qualified for a funding package worth £1 billion to help us catch up because we are one of seven regions in the EU’s ‘less developed’ category. It means we have similar levels of deprivation to parts of the north, like Teeside and Lincolnshire, and areas in Scotland and Wales, which have also declined.
The pandemic has made many of our challenges harder, and we have worked hard this year to make Government ministers aware of our case for replacement EU and levelling-up funding. We will keep fighting in 2021 to ensure our voice is heard and we don’t fall even further behind.
The Thames Estuary launched as Britain’s best growth opportunity
Local London is part of the Thames Estuary, and in July, a new plan to realise the enormous potential of the Estuary by supporting, promoting and enabling a massive range of infrastructure, technological and cultural projects, was launched.
Everything from improved transport hubs, river crossings, roads, rail, ports and airports to super-fast digital infrastructure, innovative business parks and world-class theme parks is part of this vision. It will all be backed up with strategies around skills, employment and housing so people can genuinely access the new opportunities which emerge, and with emphasis on environmental improvement and ‘good green growth’ wherever possible.
Indeed, the environment is at the front-and-centre of the plan. It will explore how more freight and passenger traffic can be taken off our roads and onto the river, and enable hydrogen production technologies and cleaner power to fuel the Estuary’s industries. It will also catalyse a Great Thames Park so people can enjoy its cleaner air and gorgeous spaces.
Led by Estuary Envoy Kate Willard OBE and a board made up of talented, globally-renowned innovators from industry, technology, infrastructure, transport and politics, this project will create jobs, housing and put this place firmly on the map in 2021 and beyond.”