In a powerful speech at Derbyshire County Council's Annual General Meeting on 26th May 2021, Cllr Barry Lewis set out his aspirational vision for the term of office:
Thank you Chairman and congratulations to you and to Cllrs Wharmby and Wilson, I’m sure you’ll all do a fabulous job for Derbyshire over the course of the next year. I’d like to start by making mention of the many councillors who stepped down at the election and those who lost their seats, on all sides, and put on record my thanks for their service.
I’d like to thank Cllr Dale and Spencer for their kind words – and to recognise their efforts too because we’re all part of great team that delivered a successful and transformative four years for Derbyshire County Council and to thank my group for their faith in me – and promise them that the next four years will be equally ambitious and that I will, with their help, strive to make Derbyshire an even better place to live, work and play. Our residents are aspirational, for themselves, for their families and their communities and this Conservative administration will help them in that.
Chairman, can I say it is pleasing to be back for a second 4-year term – a first ever for a Conservative administration in Derbyshire, with a record mandate and greatly increased majority – truly a historic moment in Derbyshire politics. Whilst I mention this because it is noteworthy and because it is an historic moment and I cannot let the moment pass by without recognising it, I am acutely aware that this majority and mandate serves the people of Derbyshire, no matter who they voted for and that they expect that we shall deliver. I am immensely proud of the achievements of the last four years, they’re there in the minutes of the last meeting for those that are interested in what I said and so I need not repeat them today but rather I want to look forward at what we want to achieve over the coming 4 years.
The national context is important: Firstly, Covid recovery – economically, socially and locally. The task at hand is to rebuild and to build back better, to ensure a recovery that rebuilds communities and our economy so it is greener and more resilient is perhaps the most important endeavour that is facing this council and administration and we need to ensure we are up to the task. We have committed to ensure there are a million trees planted in Derbyshire by 2030, we have ambitious plans for EV chargers in the county, working with our districts and boroughs and others and we’re on with decarbonising the council’s estate and operations by 2032 or sooner and helping to decarbonise the county economy by 2050, in line with the government and IPCC recommendations. We’re especially keen to ensure we work with government to deliver the ambition for a new Green Industrial Revolution, especially here in Derbyshire where it all started with waterpower in the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site more than 200 years ago. We powered the world then let’s help power the world again, hence we’ve committed a further £10million over this administration to the Green Entrepreneurs Scheme with a focus on delivering community energy projects, developing skills and creating jobs.
We’re committed too to ensuring grants for business start-ups in the county and there will be a particular emphasis on creating green jobs as well. We know too that there is going to be significant change and hopefully investment coming for public transport, because something transformative needs to happen in this space to ensure we can meet our carbon reduction targets, not just locally but nationally. As an administration we’ve already committed to working with the Peak District National Park Authority to trial and deliver innovative public transport solutions there.
We are so far, seeing signs of potential record investment flowing into the region, Town Deals, such as those for Clay Cross and Staveley, and the potential for significant Levelling Up investment and of course the announcement of the Freeport for the East Midlands the East Midlands Global Gateway as it has been termed, not to mention the long-anticipated announcement of HS2 east, whatever that brings. All of which represents, along with ongoing infrastructure investment via the LEP and the work being undertaken in-house from projects like Ashbourne Airfield and the Bypass, and longer-term work to try to alleviate the challenges of traffic impact along the A61, commitments to deliver schemes like the Swarkestone Causeway bypass solution amongst a host of others, in every corner of the county, mean we need to invest in our infrastructure delivery capability.
We have also committed to delivering the biggest investment in our highways over the coming 3 years and beyond, to delivery £120million of capital schemes, alongside improving our capability to deliver those schemes both in-house and using outside contractors, as we always have, to ensure Derbyshire residents have the best quality highways infrastructure we are able to deliver. To that end I’m pleased to welcome Cllrs Carolyn Renwick and Kewal Singh Atwal onto the Cabinet to deliver these ambitious programmes with their Cabinet Support members Cllrs Alasdair Sutton and Charlotte Cupit. A formidable team for a formidable and ambitious task. A task that will require closer working with districts, boroughs and other partners and so we will continue the Vision Derbyshire approach to working together to tackle these big issues.
There is so much going on in this area I could be here all day talking about it. But on this topic I will finish by saying we have a new mantra for the next four years “Delivery at Pace” – what we have learned from the last year in particular is we can move at pace – local government will never be the same again for all sorts of reasons, such as working remotely and using technology effectively but now we understand that we can take a different view of certain types of risk and deliver at pace. Wider societal and service transformation to respond to need, and a fast-paced government agenda for investment and dealing with matters like climate change and helping rebuild the economy post-Covid will require delivery at pace.
But we’re not just ambitious for investment, growth and delivery. We’re ambitious for our young people, and for the first time ever we’re tackling two big issues in a big way: the first is mental ill health, committing at least £350,000 to a hugely important topic, which is timely, following on from the pandemic where increasing numbers of cases of mental health issues in young people are needing to be addressed. In this we need a collaborative approach with other organisations, such as the health sector, Public Health and charities to tackle this. The second is our innovative Levelling up for Young People scheme, something I’m particularly keen on. It is sadly the case that too many young people in Derbyshire, mainly young white males in our instance but also young white females to a lesser extent find themselves disconnected from education, educational opportunities and therefore from the world of work and possibly ending up getting involved in illegal or criminal behaviours eventually. Sometimes this is simply a lack of encouragement or for more complex, but nonetheless addressable reasons, if we make the effort. And it goes without saying that regardless of your background or ethnicity this support will be available. We all know there are pockets of deprivation in our communities and working with schools and other partners we can look at ways of addressing this, which might mean learning from existing work around mentoring for our children in care for example. To this end we’ve committed £1million to do this and will bring forward plans soon. As a working-class lad, with profoundly deaf parents that left school with no qualifications and who was lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time and got the right encouragement in my later teens, which changed the direction of my life, I am passionate about this.
The pandemic has hit our arts and cultural sectors particularly hard this last year or so. In Derbyshire these sectors are hugely vibrant and play an important role in supporting the wider tourism economy and to that end we will establish a £1million local Cultural Recovery Fund and I have asked officers to work the scheme up as quickly as possible to maximise the impact of the scheme to ensure we can support and grow these sectors over the coming months. I’m pleased that by being here in the Casa Hotel we can support our local hospitality industry in a small way, whilst we cannot use County Hall to host meetings of this nature.
We’re also keen to get on with delivering our commitment for Companion Bus Passes for disabled public transport users, an important scheme that will make a big impact on the lives of some disabled people in Derbyshire. It’s not just about the big things but about looking at where we can make a real difference to the lives of Derbyshire residents.
And we’re also committed to working with our communities to find the right type of care provision locally for our elderly and have reaffirmed our £30million commitment and underlined, once again, that no care home shall close without there being alternative local provision – and we’ll continue to work with opposition members via the scrutiny process to deliver that commitment. So far it has been sad to see the opposition not taking responsibility for their failings in this space so I hope they will now take the opportunity to work with us to solve this issue once and for all.
Expanding on this point and revisiting briefly my earlier point about supporting our communities to recover from the pandemic, it has become apparent in talking to community groups and the smaller organisations and charities that do so much for Derbyshire, and that have helped so much during the pandemic that the road to recovery will take a little longer than hoped. I have therefore talked to officers and agreed that for one further and final year we shall double the Members Community Leadership Fund to ensure they can continue to support their communities.
Mr Chairman I am proud of Derbyshire and proud of where I came from in this fine county, and proud of being a working-class lad from Ripley that went onto University and had a career in archaeology working in business and eventually went on to lead the council into a second administration speaks volumes about what it means today to be a Conservative. We’ve always been a broad church but as I look at my fellow colleagues, from all sorts of backgrounds and communities right across Derbyshire our message of aspiration for all of our communities is clearly resonating here as it is everywhere. Hence we will always support aspiration and be aspirational for our communities. Today I am proud to be a Conservative and to be putting forward an ambitious and aspirational four year programme for Derbyshire.