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Voice of the Leader
Medway Council Leader Vince Maple on children's services, the Docking Station, and inevitably, Christmas lights
Editor’s note: Every quarter, we publish exclusive columns from Medway Council Leader Vince Maple and Conservative Leader of the Opposition Adrian Gulvin. Today, we welcome Vince Maple’s column following Adrian Gulvin’s column yesterday.
Voice of the Leader
by Cllr Vince Maple, Leader of Medway Council
I’m writing this “Voice of the Leader” on what would have been my Dad’s 69th birthday. Tragically, since the previous edition my Dad passed away. My thanks to everyone who has sent kind messages of support and solidarity.
The care and compassion shown by the team at Medway Maritime Hospital in my Dad’s final days was exemplary. I was pleased to be able to share this experience at the recent special council meeting where the council gave the freedom of the borough to the hospital.
I suspect every single person reading this will have their own experiences and memories at our hospital – no institution is perfect and there is always room for improvement, but the fact remains that for the past 75 years, our NHS has been there when we need it. It belongs to all of us, and I have no doubt there are plenty of folk left with the faith to fight for it.
I’m incredibly proud that our Children’s Services has been rated Good by OFSTED. I pay tribute to the incredible work of the whole team and our partners as well as all those who have played a part in the journey since 2019. As I mentioned before, I pay particular tribute to former councillors Josie Iles and Clive Johnson as well as Pat Cooper who was a great champion for the role all councillors have of Corporate Parents.
The OFSTED the council received four years ago was shocking and totally unacceptable.
There is still more to be done as we continue to make progress towards an Outstanding service and some of the challenges remain particularly around recruitment and retention, but this is not a problem unique to Medway. We will never be complacent on these issues and will work hard to continue to make progress because, in the words of OFSTED, children matter In Medway.
The financial challenges for the council are well documented and I was clear we would have to take tough decisions both to balance the books this year and in future years. One such difficult decision was on the Christmas lights in Medway.
I want to say thank you to Norse Group, Marston Holdings and Volker Highways for providing their financial support to install and cover the costs of running Christmas lights in Chatham, Gillingham, Rochester, Rainham and Strood high streets.
Our decision to not use taxpayers’ money to fund Christmas lights and switch-on events saves the council £75,000.
With a 91% cut in revenue support grant since 2010 and a £17m gap in this year’s budget, I remain resolutely determined to balance our books, even if that means further difficult decisions. It is worth recognising that last year’s Conservative budget was built on reserves and then needed to use even more reserves to deal with the overspend – those circumstances are not sustainable.
We are currently consulting on the Local Plan, with the last plan put in place more than 20 years ago we are determined to deliver this by 2025 – I would encourage every Local Authority reader to have their say before the end of the month. You can find out more here.
One highlight for me over the last couple of months was the event focused on the Docking Station. This is a fantastic example of the “One Medway” approach with key organisations working together to make positive change. This is a collaboration between the University of Kent, Historic Dockyard Chatham and Medway Council. The Docking Station will restore and regenerate the Police Section House, a derelict Scheduled Ancient Monument into a unique creative facility.
This £15m regeneration project will deliver a world-leading centre of creative digital production, education and community engagement. It will create a new public realm, boost civic pride, drive economic development as well as Medway’s levelling-up priorities and bring world-class digital opportunities to the region. Keep an eye on this amazing project as it moves forward.
We are also working in partnership with health colleagues on the long-standing aim to bring a healthy living centre to the Pentagon Centre. Central Chatham has for some time been without a much-needed health provision to the community.
It was particularly disappointing that I had to write to health colleagues to make it explicitly clear that one of the local MPs saying they think the Pentagon should be demolished was not the council view whatsoever and we remain fully committed to that much-needed health provision.
The council has been working hard to bring in further resources for our community, and a couple of positive examples recently show the successes for this.
Medway will be receiving almost £4m of government funding to unlock important sites in Strood, Chatham, Twydall and Gillingham and build a range of much-needed new homes. I am particularly pleased that we will be building two developments which will be completely affordable. We are committed to sustainable development in Medway, and it will be great to see these exciting developments progress.
Medway has been selected as one of just nine areas across the country to receive part of £200m over 10 years to benefit from The National Lottery Heritage funding.
I know many people across the community are immensely proud of Medway’s rich heritage and are convinced of the power of investment in heritage to lead to extraordinary change with a prime example being the cultural regeneration that transformed the former site of the Chatham Dockyard since its closure in 1984 as well as the significant restoration and heritage engagement work underway in the historic Intra area.
As well as further enhancements to Medway’s heritage, this is another opportunity to engage Medway’s communities, breaking down barriers, encouraging them to celebrate their stories and helping them have a meaningful and long-lasting impact on their surroundings and the future history of Medway.
Although these funding opportunities are welcome, we must continue to lobby government for a fair funding settlement for Medway which is why I was pleased to move a motion to write to Jeremy Hunt ahead of the Autumn Statement – despite Conservative councillors voting against our motion, you can rest assured your Labour & Co-operative Councillors will be working hard every day to deliver a balanced budget.
Cllr Vince Maple is the Leader of Medway Council and Labour councillor for Chatham Central and Brompton.