County Council Leader's open letter to Derbyshire

Published on: Tuesday, 24th March 2020

I wanted to put pen to paper to say how proud I am to be the Leader of Derbyshire County Council, proud of our staff and proud of our residents who always pull together at times of crisis to ensure we will come out of the other side of this an even stronger community.

This is not the first time in the last 12 months I’ve expressed my pride when Derbyshire County Council staff and Derbyshire folk have responded to a crisis – we’ve seen more than our fair share; Toddbrook Dam at Whaley Bridge, the floods in November that impacted on many communities and businesses, and the recent storms in February that saw even more impacts on residents.

The Covid-19, global pandemic has arrived in our communities triggering the largest peacetime response ever mobilised – not just here in Derbyshire, or nationally - but globally.  Watching the global community react, sweep into action, come together and fight this scourge has been humbling.

All of our colleagues, and the public sector as a whole, are working incredibly hard to ensure we respond to this emergency in the best way possible.

At this point I must say a huge thanks to all out there on the frontline: doctors, nurses, social workers, care workers, teachers, classroom support workers, cleaners and indeed everyone that plays a vital role in keeping residents well and ensuring we are as safe as we can be.  

I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement this week of much stricter public measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus.  There really is no other choice.  People really need to take heed of this and follow the rules as established by Government, for the sake of our NHS, our country and our communities.  There has never been a more important time for the residents of this great county to do the right thing and show Derbyshire spirit.

Unless we all follow the advice of Public Health and doctors working on the frontline – to self-isolate, socially distance ourselves and practice good hygiene – then we could see some dark days ahead.  It is imperative we take COVID-19 seriously to protect Derbyshire residents.

This weekend we took the difficult decision to close our country parks due to the high numbers of visitors making it impossible for people to stay a safe distance apart.  Uniquely, Derbyshire and the Peak District are visited by day trippers from major conurbations and cities that surround us.  Normally we’d welcome them with open arms. But in the current crisis we simply cannot.

We have also welcomed the decision from a public health point of view to close all schools, but we know how challenging this is for many parents and we’d like to thank them too, and recognise the difficulties this will pose for many.  We’re currently working closely with schools to do what we can around this situation, supporting their work to ensure provision is available for the children of key workers.

As cases climb higher in the UK the experience from elsewhere tells us there will be increasing challenges and we must be ready for them, so I want to reassure you that Derbyshire is ready to face this, working with partners across the public, private and voluntary sector including charities large and small.

I also wanted to touch upon some of the things we have done as a council as this virus continues to spread and disrupt normal life in Derbyshire.

A key part of what we are trying to do is to reassure people that during these extraordinary times, when every sinew of community effort needs to be stretched to ensure our communities, residents and vulnerable people get the support they need, that we are working together as a community.  We will pull out all the stops, financial or otherwise, to ensure we can support communities, charities and groups in any way we can that in turn support our residents.

To that end we have set aside an initial sum of £1m to provide support to Derbyshire businesses and residents.  Of that £100,000 has gone to support all of Derbyshire’s foodbanks via Foundation Derbyshire, which has good links with many voluntary sector organisations throughout Derbyshire.

There will also be support for businesses as they struggle to pay bills and wages as their revenues slow down, and we will support individuals and families who cannot pay household bills or meet other financial obligations for reasons related to the pandemic.  We have established the “Covid-19 Community Response Unit” that will bring agencies and volunteers across the county together and support residents and businesses as they tackle the infection and its effects.

The Unit will work with other Derbyshire councils and agencies including the voluntary sector to enhance support for people across the county who are experiencing hardship related to the virus.  Effectively it will be a hub for coordinating efforts across Derbyshire and ensuring people are well and safe. We have started the call for volunteers for the Community Response Unit.

One final thing we are doing is working closely cross party, perhaps in an unprecedented way in Derbyshire, and discussions with the Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Paul Smith have been excellent and this should absolutely be the way political parties work when facing a crisis of this nature - together but with real challenge and real support to direct the efforts of the county council.  We will absolutely continue to work this way with the opposition during these challenging times.  This isn’t about Party politics – this is about supporting residents and business in Derbyshire as part of a national and global effort to beat Covid-19 and its effects.

We will get through this but we’ll need to work together, look out for each other and make sure we all have each other’s backs.  I hope it won’t be too long until our efforts are turned to getting Derbyshire back on its feet and restoring business as usual.

Councillor Barry Lewis
Leader Derbyshire County Council

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