Hello. I offer a very warm digital welcome to the new mayor and a huge thanks to Will who has done so much for his chosen charities in the last 12 months. I still find the Grenfell silence as poignant as ever, especially as we approach the third anniversary, and I thank the Mayor for leading us in those important moments. I wish Gerard the very best for the year ahead – the Mayor has an even bigger role over the next twelve months, as we continue to work together during this pandemic
Mr Mayor, let me start by saying a huge thank you on behalf of this entire Council. A thank you to residents, to communities, to volunteers, to charities, to the NHS, to our own Council staff, to key workers and essential workers, to councillors on all sides of this digital chamber and to our businesses and business leaders.
This borough has stood up to Covid-19 and we have shown patience, fortitude and displayed what this borough is all about - looking out for each other, caring for each other, working together.
Covid-19 has impacted all of us. The health pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis has had an effect on London like never before. It has been the toughest of times, and the stark reality is that 167 people have died here in Kensington and Chelsea.
I would like, if I may, to pause for a moment to pay our respects and reflect.
Covid-19 has taken lives and it has taken livelihoods. High Streets closed, markets stopped, shops and businesses ceased operate. We could no longer see our families and hug our loved ones. But there are positive signs that London is emerging out of the first stage. Cases and fatalities are starting to fall, but clearly there is a long way to go, and we won’t know the full impact for months or maybe even years to come.
I am proud of the way that this borough has responded. We have kept critical services going and created new ones in just a matter of days or weeks. We have:
- Called nearly 6,000 people to offer help and support. This includes thousands of calls to those who are shielding and being supported by our new Hub
- Put in hundred of thousands of pounds for those who need emergency financial support, and distributed millions to businesses to help them survive
- Supported people to pay rent, pay council tax, and meet their short term demand
- Helped food banks and the delivery of food to those that need it most
- Relaunched our Library Services to help tackle isolation, loneliness and to make sure people have access to online services
- Provided activity packs for children not yet at school, including musical instruments, laptops, and study guides
- And we have started to transform our streets, so they are Covid-Safe, and social distance friendly. This is critical for when we reopen the borough to residents and visitors.
This is a lot. And it has been done very quickly. It had to be done very quickly. This meant, on occasions, we couldn’t always take residents with us – in terms of consultation and engagement. But then, we didn’t need to. They led us.
From community kitchens to medicine runs – people in this borough will be able to look back in the years to come and say I was there. I helped my neighbours. I helped my community.
We are reaching a new phase, where the country is starting to look to the future. And starting to understand what has changed. The Council is no different. Many of us want to return to normal, but I believe this is an opportunity to do things differently.
Instead of looking to get back to January 2020, I have asked officers to fast forward us to where we want to be in January 2022. We are looking at the services we can still provide. Those services we cannot. And the services that will need to done very differently.
We have staff working on the front line, and staff working from home – many of them uncertain about what the next few months will bring. It is a scary time for many. But the values of this organisation – the way we work with residents – were already in place, and we have been true to them.
I always made it clear that this Council would change, I have said it many times. I also said it would take time and that change would not be linear. In some ways, the experiences of the last few months have accelerated that change – but it is important that we stay the course.
We will continue to put communities first – especially as we begin recovery from this pandemic. We will continue to respect all views, and we will act with integrity. And most importantly, we will continue to work together.
Trust is an important issue, and I don’t want to sugar coat this. We must front up to what we are facing. This next phase could be the most difficult for local authorities and residents. Many things will remain uncertain, and we face many new challenges. Some will be logistical and some financial. The Council is already forecasting a shortfall of 30 million pounds.
But we must not lose sight of the priorities:
- Health, wellbeing and safety
- Enforcing social distancing
- We all have a renewed social responsibility. We must care for the person next to us more than we care for ourselves
- We must shop locally where we can – help our businesses out
- Throughout the months ahead we must protect lives and protect livelihoods.
That is my underlying message to every person who lives, works or visits here. Protect Lives, protect livelihoods and we can come out of the other side of this challenge, stronger and together.
Together K and C.