Hello everyone and can I wish you a Happy New Year.

It does seem that the hope of a better year in 2021 has given way slightly to the continued frustrations and worries that come with our third national lockdown.

For schools, the police service, our health service and the council, the past few weeks have been some of the most stressful since the start of the pandemic.

I want to express my sincere thanks for their unfailing efforts, for never giving up or sitting back. They are heroes and we should ensure we do all we can to recognise them as such.

For me, that means protecting their jobs from further cuts to public services. Before the Christmas break the council launched a 'Budget Conversation' that set out the cost of Covid on our budget – a huge £64m gap over the next four years. Compare that to last year, when we were able to set a balanced budget and where we could prudently start contributing back into our reserves and limiting cuts to our services.

At the same time, we were investing more in our roads, into tackling fly-tipping, combatting loneliness, more into support for those in poverty and significantly more into tackling climate emergency. This is what local government can do when it has even a small amount of additional resources.

Sadly the situation is now very different. Our ambitions are still just as high but the resources we need to achieve them have been cut from under us. Rather than doing more for our residents and our borough, the cost of Covid will leave us facing yet more cuts to services.

And to make matters worse, the Government has proposed raising council tax by five per cent to meet the costs of this. Expecting residents to pay more but get less has been their approach for the last 10 years; now is the time for them to stop. Now is the time to recognise our key workers need more, our residents need more, and our borough deserves better.

The second thing we should look towards is campaigning for a real living wage for all our frontline care staff and all those who have stood by their post during the pandemic. For far too many of our key workers, those we stood and clapped for last summer, their wages are not enough to live happy and decent lives on. Lowest cost care isn’t a model we should accept – morally and in terms of quality.

If we want to recognise and thank our key workers properly, we must stop service cuts, reverse the Government’s council tax bombshell and pay a real living wage to all key workers.