It is now 10 years since Wiltshire Council (WC) became Unitary. Previously, it was Salisbury District Council who was the main point of contact for the services they provided. Now argued, whether it has been replaced by greater efficiency and joined up thinking (which in turn leads to savings and less bureaucracy) remains a matter of opinion!! 350 services are still provided by WC with social services being the greatest demand and rising as the population grows older, the number of vulnerable children that require looking after also increases year on year.
It is always a pleasure to present my annual report to the Parishes within the Fovant and Chalke Valley Division, I shall endeavour to keep it short but with a caveat that I am always available to answer any queries you might have.
I’m sure many of you have noticed how much publicity Salisbury is receiving post the novichok incident; with high profile visits from Royalty to Politicians in the last year, it all forms part of the Salisbury recovery programme which will bring tourists to visit and stay in and around the city. There are many events planned for this coming year but over the last year some very many memorable occasions took place.
Wiltshire Council has approved a 3% increase in the Council Tax (CT) for this coming year. This is the level of increase permitted without having to hold a referendum, every year it is a constant challenge to make savings at every opportunity sometimes at a cost to staff, providers and users. I accept that CT can be the biggest burden a household is required to find and it would appear, that as residents in rural areas, we do not receive the numerous services and easy access to facilities that others have; I must emphasise though, a balanced budget is imperative and that has been achieved again this year , also, it is the first time that WC hasn’t been reliant on the Government’s grant to achieve it.
There was a full and lengthy debate on Climate Change at Full Council in February, mainly revolving around what further measures can be taken to make the County progress towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030. This subject was partly brought about by the actions school students highlighted by going on strike and emphasised by the occasional very warm days in February thankfully followed by typical March weather. In past reports I have mentioned the investment WC is making by replacing the street lighting to LED bulbs, this coming year there will be many other measures introduced to reduce our carbon footprint, a few examples are pressing for new eco ‘ built housing, promote car share, encourage electric cars by installing more charging points, address air quality, by not using single use plastics and at every opportunity to educate and promote greater levels of reduce, recycle, and reusing our household waste.
Every year I attempt to tell you what might be of the greatest interest to you rather than what might be the most relevant to the 14 parishes I represent. Looking to the future you might be aware of the proposals the Local Government Boundary Commission of England (LGBCE) have suggested in their review of the Wiltshire Divisions; although I didn’t receive any direct representation from anyone about the consultation, WC and the Boundary Commission did. The LGBCE accepts that Wiltshire Council retains the existing 98 Councillors but some boundaries will change so that each Division has an equatable number of electors based on a population assessment in 2024, therefore there is a possibility that Coombe Bissett, Homington and Odstock will come into Fovant and Chalke Valley and Compton Chamberlayne, Netherhampton Village and Tollard Royal would move in to neighbouring Divisions, finally the ‘built up’ part of Netherhampton would go into Harnham. We must wait to hear what the final decision will be which will then come into effect in 2021 elections. Whatever the proposals it is Parliament that confirms the final outcome, not WC.
Highways; always the greatest concern to most and which remains a high priority. The Speed Indication Scheme ( SID’s) the Area Board partly financed last year have proven to be popular, successful and effective. The 20mph speed limits remain popular and a further 2 villages will be chosen again this coming year in our area if the Parish requests it. The Police must play their part in enforcement. A further £8 million from Government will be spent on improving the highways and street scene across Wiltshire, this is an additional sum above the £21m spent year on year in maintaining our roads, we must be sure the workmanship and quality is upheld.
The Centenary of WW1 was commemorated with the planting of 10,000 trees across Wiltshire. Not the tallest specimens but a lasting memorial to remember those 10,000 Wiltshire men who died during those war years. Again, I compliment the efforts of those who reinstated the Badges at Fovant, Sutton Mandeville and Compton Chamberlayne. The Armistice Day service on Compton Down was very moving.
Anyone reading my reports regularly will know I often mention the plight of the Syrian Refugees, It has been recently agreed that Wiltshire will take 10 vulnerable, unaccompanied children per year over the next 10 years dependent on having foster homes in place as part of the Safe Passage, Our Turn campaign. As you might be aware this has been likened to the Kindertransport event during WW2.
98% of Wiltshire’s school children have been offered places in their preferred secondary schools. 93% were their parents first choice..up 1% . 4% attend their 2nd choice and 1% their 3rd, in total 4981 applications were received, (up 174 from the previous year) out of this figure 102 parents did not get an offer of their preferred school which is disappointing. Obviously, they have the right to appeal.
WC has a ‘smoke free’ policy in place on Council owned property. The 3 main Hubs have introduced it already which prohibits smoking in the grounds. Vaping is permitted by the public and staff outside but requested to do so away from the entrances of the buildings.
On a personal level in the last year I have remained Chair of the Area Board and vice chair of the Licensing Committee, I sit on the Southern Area Planning Committee, the School Transport Appeals Panel and the Environment Select, plus many other commitments. I’m always happy to support grant applications and there have been a number of successful ones in my Division over the last year. My priority has always been to listen and hopefully help those who approach me with an understanding that by working together we can do our utmost to ensure the fairest and best outcomes for all.
Fovant and Chalke Valley Division.