Observer column 12 May 2023
Turbulent times for us all
So it has been 52 weeks since I became Council Leader and started writing these columns. A year of great learning for me, as I have come to terms with the enormous responsibility of the role and gradually understood how the levers of power work. Or not.
So many things in society are not working. Residents on the doorstep a year ago suddenly started telling me how concerned they were about the collapse of the NHS, based mainly on their inability to see their GP. Then the extent of the collapse of our privatised services became apparent as Hastings suffered countless sewage incidents, culminating in the town centre floods in January. Then I have had residents in Hollington, the ward I proudly represent, showing me every week the black mould and other awful housing problems they have to live with. Then we couldn't buy tomatoes, then eggs. Then the bus service was cut back. Then women couldn't get courts to hear their increasing cases of violence against them. Then kids rioted in our schools.
And for everyone, a dramatic cost of living rise, with unaffordable energy, housing and food costs.
The scale of society's ills can seem overwhelming. So we see a steep rise in mental health needs and no real capacity in the NHS to respond.
But for councillors, all 32 of us, we can't give in. We are all here because we care about our town, its people and its economy. We may disagree about whose fault all this is, and what to do about it. But we all agree that Hastings is too important to stop trying. So I am actually quite optimistic about what has been achieved and what lies ahead. Optimistic because we have started to focus on our top priorities: solving the housing crisis that is in turn causing a financial crisis for the council, protecting our green spaces, and tackling the urban design and climate change issues that have led to the flooding of the town centre and make our energy inefficient housing impossibly expensive to heat.
And optimistic because the many dedicated council staff have shown how much they care too, working more creatively to share skills in pursuit of the changes we have to make.
And optimistic because the economy locally has been remarkably buoyant, with manufacturing pretty healthy, tourism at its highest levels for years and the growing international profile of our remarkable cultural sector.
But most of all, optimistic because of our residents, a community who show time and again a resilience and determination to solve problems not just individually but collectively. Our thousands of volunteers, our public sector workers, and our families who all keep going and giving.
We have just been made one of 20 national Levelling Up Partners and so together we must shout loud and clear to government that our education and health services need support, our seas need to be clean, our roads need to be mended. They will certainly hear us. And we must make them listen.
Council Leader's column