Well, what a year 2020 has turned out to be and I, like many other residents, am planning for a very different Christmas this year.
It is not possible for the whole family to get together legally this year, and even if it were we would be having discussions about whether it would be sensible to do so anyway in order to protect more vulnerable members of the family.
The same conversations that I’m sure many other families are having across Bedford Borough, and the country.
Our family solution is to make the most of what we can do and feel safe doing this Christmas and then plan a bigger family get together next year when hopefully the situation has improved.
I’m also very mindful that other faiths and communities have celebrated their major festivals with severe restrictions on gatherings too – Christmas is not unique in that sense.
I have found that it has been very helpful to hear the advice of the Public Health team at the Council when considering advent and Christmas itself, as they have highlighted that the two factors particularly affecting Bedford’s tier level is the Covid rate in over 65s and the capacity at Bedford Hospital.
The rate per 100,000, whilst informative, is only one part of the jigsaw given that we know that this disease is especially dangerous for older members of the community.
Whilst we are preparing for a very different Christmas, I know how important community is, as I have mentioned before.
It has certainly been a year which has highlighted the importance of ‘local’.
The communities I represent have been reiterating the support that is there through Good Neighbour Schemes, individual offers of help, charity appeals, online wreath making to try to make sure that there is as much community activity as can sensibly take place, and local churches are discussing how they can serve the community safely as well to help residents who may otherwise be lonely, at what can also be a difficult time of year for some, especially this year.
At the same time local businesses who have had to close are also making provisions for reopening where possible in order to try to do some decent trade before Christmas and avoid losing out totally to the likes of Amazon.
I do try to shop locally as much as possible in any case, but this year I will try even harder to support local and independent retailers.
Looking forward to next year now that the vaccines are on the horizon certainly make it easier to bear as it feels that we might be seeing light at the end of the tunnel now, although I am still planning for a tricky start to the year.
As for the Council, it is always looking ahead, not least because it is legally required to do so.
The budget needs to be passed, and analysis has already been taking place on that and the likely figures.
What is unknown at the moment, as is ever the case, is the financial settlement which the Council will receive from Central Government as this isn’t announced until later in December.
The budget consultation is now open and I think that more than ever it is vital to hear from residents about their views on services.
This year there may be hidden needs caused by Covid-19 which it are very hard for the Council officers to detect, for example, the impact of loneliness for parents of young children which I highlighted last month, and which was also evidenced in the Duchess of Cambridge’s recent report on early years following her ‘5 big questions’ survey.
Work continues apace on the new local plan, with a draft expected in February 2021.
Although there may be changes to planning following the Government’s consultation on its ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper, the Council has to continue on the basis of the current rules until the rules formally change.
This local plan will have a huge impact on the shape of the Borough for years to come, including housing, employment land, and the environment.
Likewise communities, particularly those in the north of the Borough, are waiting to hear more from East West Rail about the potential route alignments.
This is expected early in the New Year and these decisions will change the Borough and communities forever so it is important that residents who are concerned continue to engage in this process.
I wish all the residents of Bedford Borough a very safe and happy Christmas and hopefully an easier new year.
by Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant
Great Barford Ward (comprising Cardington, Cople, Great Barford, Ravensden, Renhold -including Cranbourne Gardens, Willington and Woodlands Park -part of Brickhill Parish)