Written by; Jane Mudd.
Cllr. Jane Mudd is the Leader of Newport City Council and a member of the Cardiff Capital Region Regional Cabinet.
As the leader of Newport City Council I have been amazed by the extraordinary effort people and businesses in our city and region have put into helping our community throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Newport and Gwent were one of the worst affected areas in terms of hospital admissions at one stage during the pandemic. However, people in the public sector, in businesses, and in charities and third sector organisations, all rallied around to do what they could to help people in our communities, both those personally affected by the virus and those impacted by the lockdown.
We have seen some remarkable examples of adaptability, a truly astonishing ability to change long established habits and practices to meet the urgent needs of a crisis. In my own local authority, we switched incredibly quickly wherever possible to remote ways of working, keeping to a minimum any interruption to the vital services we provide.
Our support for business
As an authority one of the many important tasks we have had to perform during this crisis is to support businesses, helping them to access the financial support that has been made available to them by both the Welsh and UK governments, including the business rates relief which we, like other local authorities, have been administering. Like our partner local authorities in the Cardiff Capital Region, we have acted as a conduit for advice and support that higher levels of government have provided.
Many of our businesses have had to suspend their operations during the lockdown, and we obviously have concerns for them and hope that they will be able to resume their activities as soon as it is safe for them to do so, with all the appropriate social distancing and other health precautions in place. At present, to help accelerate this, we are supporting wherever we can the opening up of sectors such as construction and housing, both of which will have a significant multiplier effect on the local economy supply chains.
Some businesses, because of the nature of their work, have been able to switch to making essential and much needed products. Newport-based Tiny Rebel, for example, while pubs have been closed, has converted its brewery to making hand sanitiser which it has donated to the health and social care services.
Changing the way we travel
One of the most noticeable effects of the lockdown in a city like Newport has been the absence of cars from our roads. Not only in the city centre has this had an impact, but also on the M4, where Newport forms part of the main corridor of travel between England in one direction and West Wales in the other.
Many people have commented on the improvement in air quality during the lockdown, and as we come out of it we need to think about how we can get people moving again without encouraging them all to get back into their private cars, conscious of course of any concerns that people may have about using public transport. We are working with Welsh Government on both Active Travel and Sustainable Travel initiatives.
Newport Council is a shareholder of the city’s bus company, which has seen its revenues plummet as services have been suspended during the pandemic. We are working in partnership with Welsh Government, Transport for Wales and Newport Bus on a pilot project that will allow people to request a bus to pick them up for essential travel.
Newport Bus is running the first pilot scheme, called ‘fflecsi’, which replaces a number of scheduled local bus services with more flexible services that can pick up and drop off near work, shops and homes by request, rather than following a set timetable at fixed bus stops. Customers are able to book a ride using a mobile phone app. As an added advantage, the buses are electric, helping to maintain the air quality improvement we’ve seen in this lockdown.
A new sense of community
This is a time of tragedy for many, and of hardship and heartache for many more. In such times it can be hard to talk about positives. But there are things we can be proud of, as communities and as a region.
The pandemic has seen an outpouring of community feeling such as we haven’t seen for many years. It has also seen a high level of collaboration, between businesses, the public sector and third sector organisations, and between authorities across Cardiff Capital Region.
This, I hope, is one of the legacies of this experience. Cardiff Capital Region was built around a core belief in the value of collaboration, and in this crisis we have proved that our strength as a region lies in our desire and ability to work together to achieve common goals. Let this be the memory that we take away from 2020.