This week many of us welcome news that the much-loved Brighton Festival will take place in May.
Adapting to the new circumstances that the pandemic has forced on to the arts and creative sector, the festival will go ahead in a different way – changed to ensure online, and where possible, socially distanced events.
Going online can help support more people to attend but, crucially, helps keep infection rates down.
This event is just one of many that I know residents have missed. But we cannot be complacent about covid-19.
The fact remains that keeping infections low is the best way we can support our local economy. Even within the government roadmap, restrictions will only be lifted on the “dates” government have outlined if we keep the virus under control.
What’s clear is that our city can rise to the challenge. Once again this week we’ve learned that infection rates have come down from an extremely high position just weeks ago.
But as so many still await a vaccination, and with existing and new fast-spreading strains, we cannot lose sight of the seriousness of the pandemic.
All of our behaviour still matters because we are not out of the woods – staying at home and within our local area, continuing to wash our hands and keeping our space will be the ways we keep infections low.
We all still have a crucial role to play in preventing the virus harming our most vulnerable. This is also why, with schools reopening on Monday 8 March, it’s important to acknowledge that what happens in terms of social mixing outside school is just as important as what happens in the classroom.
Low infections offer us a way towards a better future. Yet support is still urgently needed here and now.
In the past week the Chancellor unveiled a budget that many hoped would signal the end of dire inconsistencies in the help offered during the covid crisis.
From the desperate need for a long-term funding plan for adult social care to the gaps in self-isolation support payments and sick pay holding back the response to the pandemic, the government has sadly failed to act.
It’s welcome that furlough has been extended and more grants offered to business, including a slightly widened offer of help to some of those excluded from self-employment support grants. But, sadly, for many this support will come too little, too late and leave many excluded.
Green pledges – like Green “investment bonds” – are a step in the right direction but the climate emergency demands large-scale rapid action, not slow piecemeal suggestions.
Government has pulled the bulk of £2 billion of the planned “Green Homes Grant” to support energy efficiency measures in cold homes despite the opportunities this kind of work could bring.
The Local Government Association has estimated that nearly 700,000 jobs could be created in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy sectors in the next nine years. Figures like this should remind us all that we can tackle our climate crisis and our economic crisis together and create a brighter future out of this crisis.
So at a local level we remain focused on leading the way despite lagging support from government.
Last week we saw a different sort of budget pass at a meeting of council, with all-party support. We laid out our plans for recovery including a significant investment in a Warmer Homes programme to boost jobs, reduce fuel poverty and cut carbon emissions.
Just days ago we agreed to fast-track a sustainable, emergency food network to address food poverty in the city, using funding created by Greens last year.
We are progressing a new city employment and skills recovery plan which includes developing a youth employment hub, helping our young people access skills and work.
We also continue to speak up for sectors in the city hit hard by the pandemic – working with pubs, hospitality, venues and others, we have provided evidence to a parliamentary inquiry on what can be done to support businesses that form the cornerstone of the city’s nightlife.
On top of our agreed plans to fund more graffiti removal, recycling and crime reduction work, the council is also working to rejuvenate vacant retail premises, offering opportunities for short-term pop-up shops to new retailers and commissioning local artists to create eye-catching window displays to improve the appearance of unused shops.
We can build back better from this crisis and focus on a green recovery from the pandemic locally so our city can thrive again.
But all of this still rests on one thing – keeping infections low and the covid-19 crisis under control.
To do so, we will keep supporting our communities who have been so badly affected by the past year.
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.
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