Council Leader David Baines says: This week we were able to hold the first ‘normal’ Annual Council meeting since 2019, and it was good to be back in the council Chamber and the Assembly Hall.
Congratulations to Cllr Sue Murphy on being elected as Mayor for a further 12 months, and my Windle ward colleague Cllr Lynn Clarke on being confirmed as Deputy Mayor for the coming year. I know they will both do an outstanding job.
As part of the event, we welcomed senior staff, partners and special guests to the town hall, and I had the opportunity to speak about our efforts since the last meeting like this in 2019, and our plans for the next four years:
“Madam Mayor, Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, Aldermen, and honoured guests – it’s three years since we were last able to gather in person after an annual council meeting, and it is very good to be back.
So much has happened since the last event like this in May 2019, which was my first as Leader, and first and foremost I know all our thoughts are with those who lost loved ones through the pandemic.
It has been a hugely difficult time for everyone. But when we look back and remember the challenges, we should also remember and be proud of the way we responded to them.
St Helens residents did the right thing – we followed the rules and did what it took to protect each other, but more than that, in every part of our borough we saw people, businesses, charities, sports clubs, schools, and community groups old and new, work tirelessly to do everything possible to help our most vulnerable residents.
And of course, we saw the crucial role essential services and keyworkers play in our society.
Our wonderful NHS, carers and care homes, and our public health system; the police and fire and rescue services; shopworkers; all our nursery, school and college staff; warehouse workers; farm workers; HGV drivers; taxi drivers; bus drivers and more. These are the people who kept the country moving, who kept us fed and safe through the pandemic.
We can include council workers in that list too – our fantastic staff continued to deliver more than 700 essential services through Covid, in exceptionally difficult circumstances.
We worked with partners and created #StHelensTogether, supporting residents, charities, and care homes.
We helped hundreds of local businesses directly, every day, working with City Region partners to offer millions of pounds in financial support when the government offered none, and we campaigned for support for those workers ignored by government.
We supported schools, nurseries and colleges, and we supported the campaign to end child hunger by making sure every child in need was offered food during school holidays.
And as a council we worked with the local NHS and partners across the region to deliver community testing and set up Merseyside’s first mass vaccination site at Saints.
Whilst busy responding to the pandemic, it would have been easy to coast along in all other respects. But we’ve done quite the opposite.
We’ve appointed an almost entirely new senior leadership team of officers.
We’ve developed and published town centre regeneration plans with our partner English Cities Fund, and won £25m in Town Deal funding.
We’re investing in hydrogen buses, new cycleways and footpaths.
We led the way at COP26 and we’re playing a key role in developing significant projects such as Glass Futures, HyNet and Mersey Tidal whilst also backing local small enterprises with grant funding for green schemes.
We’re repairing both the Gamble and Earlestown town hall and we’ll keep both in full public use.
We’ve invested in the borough’s first accessible play equipment and we’ll be investing in more.
We created St Helens Cares to help make sure older people get quality care.
We’re investing in new CCTV and working closely with the police and others to tackle antisocial behaviour, and we’ll continue to work with the police for new stations in our borough and campaign for more officers on the beat.
In Bold and Clock Face, where around 40% of children were growing up in poverty even before the current cost of living crisis, we’re working to deliver hundreds of new jobs at Omega West and new bus services to give residents easy access to those opportunities.
In Newton we’re finally delivering regeneration of the former Parkside colliery site, with the site a key part of the new Freeport and with the potential for advanced manufacturing and more.
Through our Ways to Work scheme we’ve already helped more than 1300 residents into jobs, training or education, and developments at Omega, Parkside and more will create even more opportunities in the years ahead.
We’ve set up the borough’s first inequalities commission.
We’ve become a Gold Award holder under the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme, highlighting those employers leading the way in employment of veterans and reservists – and we will always do everything we can to support our armed forces and veterans.
We’ve invested in projects and people in every part of our borough.
And the independent Local Government Association has recognised the significant progress we’ve made together – there can be no doubt at all that this council is a very different organisation to the one it was three years ago.
Thank you to the council keyworkers, our partners and volunteers who are helping to deliver all this and more, and to my Cabinet and Labour group colleagues for your leadership and determination in driving this agenda.
A lot done. More to do.
For the recent all-out elections, Labour published a comprehensive statement of our values, our record, and our plans for the borough. Our manifesto is on our website at sthelenslabour.org and it will stay there so that we can be held to it.
And the commitments we made, for which we received more than 52% of the vote and a clear majority of seats, will be integrated into the council’s programme and reported on regularly, transparently and honestly.
The next four years are going to be hugely exciting – we’ll be delivering our town centre regeneration plans and other large projects, and introducing a new inclusive growth strategy to help local people and businesses get to the front of the queue for the opportunities we create. Just yesterday pupils from St Cuthbert’s High School in Parr enjoyed a session organised by Glass Futures teaching them about career opportunities in engineering.
That’s what these large regeneration projects are all about – not just shiny impressive buildings, but giving young people and future generations more opportunities than we’ve had in our borough for a very long time.
We’ll be working to continue our improvement journey in children’s services, and working with schools to drive up standards.
We’ll be continuing to work with health partners to deliver integrated, quality care for older and vulnerable residents.
We’ll continue to support the police in cracking down on crime and antisocial behaviour.
And we’ll be delivering new clean, green energy and transport projects – something that will be massively helped if we’re successful in our aim of bringing buses back under public control after nearly 40 years of failed deregulation.
Above all else, it is so important that we never forget the community spirit, strength and kindness we saw in the last two years – and as a council we need to support and harness that.
Public services and councils in particular can no longer do all the things they once did, and lots of the statutory services we’re legally obligated to provide can’t be done in the way we always did them – this isn’t just because of funding cuts imposed by the government, although there’s no getting away from that being a simple fact.
We need to change the way we do things not just because of the financial reality we face, but also because the world has changed.
With ongoing limited resources and shifting behaviours, the council needs to deliver services more effectively and efficiently.
That’s why, for example, we’ll be introducing a Localities model of working, delivering services based on need, and working as an enabler, supporting communities and groups to deliver some services in new ways that work for residents.
In the next four years, our Labour council will stand up for St Helens residents, businesses and essential services who fought so hard through the pandemic.
Through #StHelensTogether we will continue to offer support to residents and businesses, and we will work together to create new jobs, new homes, and new opportunities, to raise aspiration and to talk St Helens up not down.
This is a great place with a bright future, and it’s a privilege to once again be given the opportunity to serve, and to get back to work, for this great borough.”