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Annual report from KCC Cabinet Member, Shellina Prendergast

Shellina Prendergast – Kent County Councillor for Maidstone Rural East

Annual Report May 2021

Dear Resident,

The last year has been an incredibly tough period for all our communities and businesses.  As we take our first steps to get the country out of the restrictions, I want to thank all of you for having played your part, showing much resilience, patience and resolve in helping to get the virus under control and supporting each other through the difficult times.

Uniquely in the country, Kent has confronted not one but two – or three – huge challenges:  Covid-19, the end of the Brexit transition and the arrival of large numbers of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children last spring and summer.  Kent County Council has been there with residents and businesses throughout this – supporting the vulnerable through the “Kent Together” scheme, securing millions of items of PPE, rolling out community testing and supporting families, businesses, and the many voluntary and community organisations on the road to recovery.  Below are some examples of the work in key areas led by Kent County Council during this time:

Kent’s Children, Young People and Families

  • HeadStart Kent, a programme that has enhanced the mental health and well-being of young people in the county since 2016, has been awarded extra funding to continue its vital work for an additional year –
  • Supporting families under financial pressure in the crisis, supporting the voluntary sector inn working to tackle financial distress, Free School Meals in the October half term and since, and the £10m Helping Hands scheme to support individuals, families and businesses.
  • Kent County Council has protected tax payers from the cost of the arrival of large numbers of young asylum seeking children though a new and increased funding deal agreed with Government last summer. We continue to press the Government to establish a sustainable National Transfer Scheme which will ease the pressure on border authorities like Kent.
  • Reconnect – a universal community-based programme of activities currently being developed to help children and young people reconnect with their pre-Covid-19 lives.
  • 91% of Kent schools are rated as good or outstanding. The challenge of a rising school population has been met by building out places for an additional 25,000 students over the last ten years.

Supporting Communities and the Voluntary Sector

  • The Library Service introduced the popular Select and Collect and digital services while maintaining the important Home Library Service – a vital link for many vulnerable residents.
  • Over 4000 miles of Public Rights of Way saw increased usage of up to 100% in places and the 9 Country Parks have never been busier.
  • Community Wardens, already highly valued before the pandemic, played a vital frontline role supporting and protecting those who were vulnerable and in need of help.
  • Support for the cultural and sports sectors facing the considerable challenges as a result of Covid-19.
  • Investing in communities and the voluntary sector, most recently through the Crowdfunding Kent initiative where Kent County Council committed £500,000 to co-fund community projects that help recovery from the pandemic.
  • Launched the Kent Together initiative working with communities and borough councils to provide 24/7 help and support to those who were vulnerable and isolated due to the pandemic and in need of essential supplies including food and medication.
  • Delivered over 1000 carephone devices to vulnerable and isolated residents, enabling them to connect with friends, families and carers during lockdown.

Brexit Transition

  • Along with local and national partners, Kent County Council made huge preparations for the end of the Brexit transition to ensure that roads and services remained open for residents and businesses.
  • When the French Government shut the borders just before Christmas, KCC staff, Members and partners worked tirelessly to resolve the crisis. Transition plans were adapted, testing centres were set up and welfare measures were put in place for those stranded by the closure.

Backing Kent’s Businesses

  • Helping businesses during the pandemic has been the at the core of our work – investing in the Kent and Medway Covid Help Line, assisting more than 14,000 businesses and making millions of pounds available in affordable loans to help businesses survive and prosper as we come out of the current crisis.
  • No Use Empty scheme, supported by £12m of support last year, provides interest free loans to small, local builders to bring empty properties back into use. The scheme has delivered almost 6500 homes on brownfield land, safeguarded hundreds of local jobs, created new homes and improved derelict areas of land.

Broadband for Businesses and Homes

  • Kent County Council has worked with the government agency BDUK to deliver better broadband across the county and several communities within Maidstone Rural East have benefitted from this. This has included:
  • Delivered faster broadband connections to over 140,000 homes and businesses across Kent that would otherwise have been left with no or slow broadband.
  • Provided funding to over 2,000 rural homes and businesses (without superfast broadband connections) though the Kent Top-Up Voucher programme.
  • Enabled access to superfast broadband of at least 30mbps to over 95% of homes and businesses in Kent.

Roads and Rail

  • Committed another £10m to this year’s pothole blitz after a year in which Kent Highways filled in almost 50,000 potholes and patched the equivalent of 50 full size football pitches.
  • Invested £11m in a road resurfacing programme and five-year maintenance plan.
  • Kent County Council launched the Vision Zero Strategy for road safety which not only has an ambitious aim for reducing or eliminating road accident deaths by 2050 but represents a new way to engage with communities and address local road safety concerns.
  • The Kent Rail Strategy 2021 positions KCC to influence future plans for Kent’s rail services.

Protecting our Environment

  • Commitment to reach Net Zero for our own services and buildings by 2030 together with projects and funding in place to deliver this target along with a plan for Kent as a whole to achieve this by 2050.
  • Launched an innovative Plan Bee for pollinators, ambitious work on biodiversity and plans, already underway, to plant a tree for every resident in Kent.
  • Less than 1% of waste collected in Kent goes to landfill; the rest is recycled or turned into energy.

The above is just a flavour of the work at Kent County Council.  As we emerge from Covid and lockdown, we are working to build a better future for Kent: standing up against national targets for housebuilding in the county while securing the services and infrastructure we need so that they come with, not after, any development; supporting both young and older people after this toughest of years; and costed plans in place to protect our environment and achieve net zero.

This is a time to feel optimistic.  My thanks again to all of you for the part you have played in helping and supporting our communities and for taking the steps and following guidance to reduce the spread of Covid 19.  I am very proud to represent residents of Maidstone Rural East – together we make a great community!

All the best

Shellina Prendergast