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Council Leader's blog

Read Council Leader Lucy Stephenson's weekly blog
Council Leader's Blog - Accordion

The start of a New Year - 2 January 2023

I have never been one for new year’s resolutions. In fact, from a personal point of view, I often find the month of January a bit drab, as we all come down from the dizzying highs of Christmas and the whole build-up to our festive season.

From a Council perspective, January is a critical month for draft budgets and making sure we continue to operate on a sound financial footing, despite the enormous pressure being felt right across the public sector. This year’s budget will be one of the most important that we have tabled in recent years, in terms of securing the future sustainability of our Council and our independent county. I will have more to share with you on this very soon.

Despite a tendency to avoid personal resolutions in January, I do take the opportunity to reassess my values, to reflect on the year past and to look forward to the future.  Years ago, when teaching in a particularly challenging inner-city primary school, with an OFSTED inspection announced, I received a very sound piece of advice: “You cannot control what your pupils choose to do on the spur of the moment. What you can control is how you respond – this is what you will be judged on.” This was sound advice, which, despite some decidedly erratic behaviour by some of my pupils during the assessment period, helped me to earn ‘outstanding’ for those lessons.

It is our values that guide our responses, motivates our behaviour. There will always be curve balls. There are always going to be challenges. There will always be moments when life feels oppressive.  What can never be taken away is our values and that is an active choice for all of us. 

For 2023, I very much want to reaffirm the values as laid out in Rutland County Council’s refreshed Corporate Strategy, which will see us through to 2027: 

  • To be energetic and positive, proud and dedicated to our County
  • To learn, develop, seek out opportunities and embrace new ideas.
  • To trust and respect each other, engage with and listen to our communities.
  • To be the best we can be, striving for excellence and taking responsibility for having a positive impact

These are the values that will continue to guide and shape the decision that we take in our Council Chamber this coming year. No doubt you have values of your own, which you bring to bear at work or in you daily life. Whether or not you’ve committed yourself to a new year’s resolution, perhaps now is a good time to reflect on your values and how they might help you to achieve what you want to accomplish in 2023.

I wish us all a healthy, joyous and prosperous new year. I also wish us all strength, fortitude and resilience to manage any challenges that may present themselves as the year progresses. 

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Helping you through Christmas - 19 December 2022

Every Christmas, after decorating the tree, my mother always said: “Do you know, I think this is the nicest tree we’ve had!”

I found myself saying the same thing to my children, yesterday. The rediscovery of favourite decorations; one my grandmother’s, several made by my children over the years and the nonsense ones (the festive crocodile – although with the discovery of the Sea Dragon perhaps not so out of kilter in Rutland!) a highlight for me. It was nice to be working together, not bickering over a school tie or a sports kit. Just enjoying each other’s company busy achieving a common goal.

Christmas, though, in many ways, is a poignant time of year. The brightness and twinkle can, by contrast, highlight darkness. The dark maybe missing people who are no longer in our lives or emphasising troubles and worries. The cost of living an obvious one to touch on. It is very hard to partake in the season of decadence when the everyday essentials are unaffordable. 

The other thing to note is that Christmas alters business as usual, whether this is from bin collections or contacting key services. So, please see below for a handy list of key contacts and information. Life continues regardless of the fairy lights:

I hope that you and yours have a good Christmas.  Thank you to all of you who have engaged with me this year, whether to agree or to disagree, to challenge or to ask a question. It is through healthy debate that rational, sensible decisions are made for the greater good of all. We are one County – pride in people and pride in place. I raise a glass to the promise of a New Year – no doubt it will be the usual rollercoaster ride but one that will offer copious opportunities for learning and development.

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Christmas Shopping - 28 November 2022

I am one of those people who harrumphs at the arrival of Christmas in shops in October, I fear peaking too soon!  A recent advert, however, gave me a different perspective, introducing me to the concept of a phased Christmas – the day itself a culmination of the weeks leading up to it, which, on reflection, echoes the Christmas Story from conception to modest arrival.

So, as I type at the end of November, with my children WhatsApping me gift ideas on a seemingly hourly basis, it is with great enthusiasm that I highlight Uppingham and Oakham’s forthcoming late night shopping events. 

Thursday 1 December will see Uppingham come alive to the sounds of carols, carousels, the merry ‘Ho Ho’ of Father Christmas and much, much more - including an opportunity to visit our fantastic high street shops and visiting traders. 

Monday 12 December will likewise see Oakham holding its annual Christmas event. Frankly, I cannot wait. There is something magical about seeing Mill Street in all its illuminated glory as well as the High Street and Market Square – warmth and good cheer at every corner!

It’s also Small Business Saturday on 3 December. Do come and visit your local shops and support our local traders. There are some things that simply cannot be bought online. The ‘live’ shopping experience, the engagement and interaction, the multi-sensory joy of being in an actual shop, leaving with that bespoke gift that will bring smiles for miles on Christmas Day

I’m also pleased to note that parking in Council car parks is free from 3pm for both late night shopping events, as well as being free all day on Small Business Saturday. Rutland County Council is proud to support both our market towns. 

So, come along, support our towns, and most importantly have the most fabulous time. Festive Rutland, we love you!

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

A Fairtrade county - 21 November 2022

Rutland has been a Fairtrade county since 2007 and has held an annual trade fair in Oakham Castle since 2008. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of officially opening this year’s event, necessitating a short speech.  When making speeches, it is a ‘must have’ to be well-briefed and I was, by the very brilliant David Lewis. David works tirelessly within the community, not just with Rutland’s Fairtrade Forum but also to tackle the climate crisis. In short, thank you David for all you do.

So, what did I glean from David’s thorough briefing notes? I know we are all aware of Fairtrade, I suspect there is scarcely a banana consumed or a coffee drunk in Rutland without the blue and green Fairtrade logo. Fairtrade is not a charity, rather a certification process that ensure farmers (often in developing countries) are paid a fair, global market price for their produce. There is more though. Buyers must also pay a ‘Fairtrade Premium’. The monies raised are then ploughed back into the communities developing educational opportunities, as well as providing essential resource to farmers to invest in measures to adapt to climate change and develop ‘climate smart’ farming techniques.

The data is impressive. To date, 1.9million farmers in more than 70 countries benefit from the Fairtrade Premium which in 2020 alone equated to raising £169 million, with an average of £90k going to each producer organisation.  You will also be pleased to know the UK is a world-leader in Fairtrade, boasting 4,500 different products with annual sales exceeding £1.7 billion.

As we progress through this decade, I believe we need to apply an even greater rigour to our consumption. We currently overconsume, waste too much and do not apply consistently robust ethical standards to that consumption. If we were to follow Fairtrade’s lead on all our consumption, imagine the difference that would make.

Change is both challenging and unsettling. Two things which, given the times we live through, require a very sturdy mindset. Determination and resilience are two key ingredients. Change necessitated by external factors also runs the risk of disempowering people. But this is the good news story: a lot of our everyday consumption is down to individual choice. Let’s all start with this year’s shopping for Christmas. In the coming weeks (big plug for Uppingham and Oakham Late-Night Shopping in December) you will, no doubt, be doing your Christmas shopping.  Buy local, buy from the independent traders, buy from the many Fairtrade folk who stock an amazing range of gifts. You will make a BIG difference.

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council 

Remembering the fallen - 14 November 2022

I have never had a job with terms and conditions that include the possibility of giving my life.  I can only imagine what that must be like. Truly humbling. 

Yesterday, we came together to remember at church services across Rutland, including our County service at All Saints Church in Oakham.

It is sobering to think that, on every single Remembrance Day, somewhere in the World, conflict is underway. This year it’s closer to home, with war in Europe once more. 

There is no need for me to list the impacts of war, we know these. The effects go much further and deeper than the horrendous loss of life alone. Analysing the causes of war is something for the historians, news correspondents, politicians and world leaders in the concerted hope that the perceived need for armed conflict can be averted. Our duty is a collective one and it is that of the act of remembrance. Regardless of belief or view, the sacrifices made by many must be remembered, if for no other reason than to remind us that war comes at a very high price indeed.

Lest we forget.

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Talk Money Week – 7 November 2022

Collins’ Dictionary word for the year is ‘permacrisis’, currently showing up as a spelling error on Microsoft Word. Clearly the world of computer programming is also still coming to terms with the current state of play.

I’ve written previously about the global issues that are weighing heavy on out national economy and, as a result, increasing the pressure on local government. Recognising that there is no ‘quick fix’ to all this, the most important question becomes ‘how can we help people who are struggling?’. Mortgage rates, rent, food, energy bills, council tax  – for many of us, price rises across the board mean that these outgoings now consume our monthly income. Households are understandably worried.

Thankfully, there is an abundance of help available in Rutland, whether it’s help to feed your family, reduce your energy consumption, save money on bills or get on top of debt. The problem can often be knowing where to go to access this help, such is the multitude of organisations and support schemes standing by to assist.

To try and overcome this barrier, Rutland County Council has compiled a ‘one-stop shop’ for information and advice about how to tackle the rising cost of living. This information is readily available in a single place on our website, while a printed booklet containing the same useful information is being made available free from the Council’s offices and local libraries. 

It's apt that it next week is ‘Talk Money’ week. This is not a new initiative for this year, rather an annual campaign based on research that tells us one in three people worry about their finances. It works on the premise that discussing money remains something of a taboo – particularly at a personal level – which can stop people getting help early, assessing a financial situation and putting a plan in place to help manage these difficult situations.

The other key message that forms an integral part of ‘Talk Money’ week is to start the conversation about money early with children.  Today’s children live in a superfast world of soundbite information, with the touch of a screen taking them all over the world. Life is immediate and transitory. Debt is all too easy to accumulate with quick click purchasing, have now, pay later. The adults in children’s lives can help immensely by modelling a measured approach to managing money and teaching them habits and principles that can serve them well in later life.

As a country, we are likely to be feeling the pinch for some time to come. Seeking help now could make all the difference to you and your family. You are not alone – help is available.

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Multum Awards draw nearer - 31 October 2022

Uppingham Town Cricket Club held its annual awards dinner last night.  The food, company, atmosphere sublime – perfect for an evening of celebration.  What really struck me though was the fundamental fact of how many people are needed to make a club thrive.  

It is not just about the players (UTCC holds its own in the leagues) but the people who make sure the ground is ‘just right’ for decent cricket; the people who run the bar and organise social events that ensure this club is warm, friendly and welcoming.  It is a long list of people who make the club what it is: a club that feels like home, a club that has maintained this ethos for 150 years – passing the baton of success down the generations.

I know UTCC is not alone in Rutland.  There are clubs, groups, societies, individuals whose passion and dedication make such a difference to the people’s lives they touch.  Rutland is so much more than its physical geography.   People make place, and what a place Rutland is! 

With this in mind, there is just one more week to get in your nominations for the ‘Multum Awards’.  There are eight categories in total:

  1. Event organiser
  2. The Creative
  3. Wildlife Warrior
  4. Climate Change Hero
  5. Unsung Sporting Hero
  6. Good Samaritan
  7. Inclusivity Champion
  8. Public Servant 

The deadline for nominations was Sunday 6 November at 5pm.  The awards ceremony will take place on 3 December at Rutland County Museum. Frankly, I can’t wait! 

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Local government finances - 24 October 2022

For anyone who has read any of my previous blogs, you will note they rarely touch on National Politics.  This is not because I wish to avoid the hot Political topics of the day but because I have been elected to be immersed in Local Government – to represent Rutland, to set policy and strategic aims that are the right thing to do for the County as a whole. 

It is not unusual for Local Government (regardless of Political allegiance) to be at odds with Central Government (likewise regardless of which Political Party is in power). It is felt particularly keenly in Rutland because 80% of our revenue budget comes from our Council Tax (the average across unitary councils is 60%).  It is felt keenly across the country as demand for services increases whilst funding in real terms does not – Adult Social Care and SEND two significant budgets that are placing immense pressure on medium term financial plans (and that, to note, is before the implementation of any reforms). 

This is not new: urbanisation resulting from the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century has proved fertile ground for a power struggle between local and central government to become embedded.  The desire for equity of service across the country to address the challenges of growing, concentrated populations (think public health, sanitation etc etc) resulting in centrally determined directives pushing against a pull for local autonomy.  And, of course, at the heart of all this, the need for funding to deliver services.  How funding is raised and spent subject to populist promises particularly if an election is in the offing; the risk of short – termism high.  (The rating system of the 1950s and 1960s often resulting in low increases, reached a pinnacle of crisis in 1973 when inflation was at 20%; Local Government, to keep pace with spending saw increases to rates averaging 29%, the highest at 160%). 

Various Local Government Acts over the last 200 years have endeavoured to address how local government is funded, to find that sweet spot of equality of service regardless of where you live whilst ensuring local autonomy that is affordable and fair.  I believe this ‘sweet spot’ has yet to be found.  If it were to be found, Central and Local Government would not be pushing and pulling against each other, the power struggles would be with external factors, the energy focussed on managing those effectively whilst having a unity of purpose delivering what is needed for the population.  

Why the history lesson now?  Quite simply, because of the times we find ourselves in. This crisis for Local Government, however, has been some 200 years in the making.  It is coming to a head for a variety of reasons.  To note one former Bank of England Chief Economist estimates that between two thirds to three quarters of the interest rate rises are due to global factors.   

Local Government is the backbone that delivers for us all, from the universal bin collections to the targeted services our most vulnerable rely upon. 

It is time for practical actions by Central Government: 

  1. Funding settlements need to be announced early (Christmas announcements when meaningful budget setting is an on – going process with drafts for public scrutiny due in January do not help).  They need to be multi – year so that uncertainties are minimised – uncertainty is the devil as far as financial planning is concerned.  As much as I am a fan of hope, annual hope for more money is not a strong foundation upon which to base a robust medium term financial plan.  
  2. The Levelling Up agenda: this needs to be committed to by the new Prime Minister – Councils across the Country have invested time, money, their hearts and souls into being solution focussed to enable their areas to flourish for the benefit of the people they seek to serve whilst addressing challenges specific to their areas. 
  3. When legislation is passed that will demand Local Government deliver the policies that lie within it, there must be properly costed business cases presented that demonstrate a thorough understanding of the financial implications including detail of how such commitments will be funded. 
  4. And finally, the big elephant in the room, there needs to be an overall review of Local Government funding – there will be winners and losers but funding that is fair must be the ambition.  

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Remembering our Queen - 12 September 2022

I suspect anything I write here has been said many times already in the past few days, following the very sad news of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s death last Thursday.  

To say Her late Majesty was a remarkable woman is an understatement.  Her service to this country, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is unparalleled.  A seventy-year reign that saw the World rebuilt following the Second World War and during which time she has been a constant through all the highs, the lows and the mundanities of life. Stamps and money are a physical representation of her all-encompassing presence. Her warmth, humour, kindness and wisdom were the invisible qualities that allowed her to lead by example. 

We come together in grief, each with our own sense of loss. Perhaps that is the hallmark of a great monarch: she reached us all, personally and in a special way. She was ‘our’ Queen. 

We live in an ever-changing World where the balance of preserving tradition while simultaneously avoiding the label ‘old fashioned’ or ‘out of touch’ is a delicate tightrope to walk. It is one that’s being walked with dignity and grace as we mourn, together.  The manner of mourning just one element of Her late Majesty’s legacy.  

We will continue through this decade.  If the first couple of years are anything to go by, it is going to be a hard one. How we manage this will be as much down to attitude as it will be to practical considerations.  The ‘Great’ in Great Britain has been, is and will be a result of each and every one of us. We know this because we’ve been privileged to have an extraordinary Queen who had faith in humanity and, above all, faith in us. She served us out of duty but also because of a deep and profound love for us all. Her legacy will live through our words and actions. It will live through her son, his Majesty King Charles III – Long live the King.   

Rest in peace, Elizabeth II. Your work here is done. The second Elizabethan era has laid the foundations for all of us – thank you. 

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

The appearance of affluence - 29 August 2022

I had the pleasure of attending the Uppingham Neighbourhood Forum to talk about the Local Plan Issues & Options Consultation and Rutland and Melton’s Levelling Up Bid

There were some excellent questions from the floor (and consequently challenging to answer).  One though was more of a statement:  Why are we applying for LUF when we live in one of the most affluent areas in the Country?  As I have already said, success or not for our bid will depend on civil servants believing that Rutland needs levelling up.  After this meeting, it occurred to me that it’s not just the civil servants who need persuading.  

It is reasonable to note there are high levels of affluence in sunny Rutland – home to the third richest man in the East Midlands according to the Sunday Times Rich List (2022) but this is not the full picture and if taken in isolation distorts the actual picture.

When all the data is triangulated (average earnings, health outcomes, make – up of population with the health requirements that are associated with an ageing population and a significant veteran community) Rutland is in the lowest 10% of all local authorities for social mobility.  

The Levelling Up white paper references the fact that while talent is evenly distributed across the country, opportunity is not.  Rutland demonstrates this: league table topping GCSE and A-Level results yet a stark ranking for social mobility. 

We all need to be banging the drum: Rutland is a great place to live but we need investment to ensure that every person has the opportunity achieve their full potential.  This goes beyond the short term; it is about investing in the medium to long term.  It is about having vision, ambitions that there is an unerring drive to achieve.  The start is all of us knowing that this investment is needed – we shout it from the social media roof tops, we refute those who make ‘amusing’ comments about pheasant McNuggets, tweed and 4x4s.  

Rutland asks not because it can but because it has been overlooked for so many years – our rural heart beats with pride knowing we are deserving of investment from the centrally held public purse. Without investment, rural areas run the risk of becoming exclusively the preserve of the very wealthy and this cannot possibly be right. We are a county for everyone, one beautiful county with a huge amount to offer.   

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Bidding for success - 15 August 2022

‘Levelling Up’ and ‘unleashing potential’ are phrases we’ve all become familiar with.  For those who aren’t fans of the Conservative Government, they will engender a degree of cynicism at the least, fury at most. However, we all need to see beyond the politics because at the heart of these initiatives is a principle none of us should disagree with.  Regional variation and difference should not inhibit achieving full potential, whether individually or collectively. Key to this is investment. 

Investment has not been evenly distributed for generations. The North / South divide is the most obvious example. In the East Midlands, investment has been significantly less, with the bulk of any money going to the West. For Rutland, this lack of investment has resulted in health inequalities and poor social mobility, among other things.  

The Levelling Up Fund seeks to address regional inequalities by helping Councils apply for funds to invest locally, to deliver projects that will benefit to residents.  There is an underlying principle running through all of this: local areas know themselves best should therefore be the lynch pin for identifying, planning and delivering projects – not central government.   

No area is an island. Cross-border partnership working pays many dividends and, when handled with a sound strategic basis, does not diminish sovereignty. It can even strengthen our independence by providing absolute clarity about what we want to achieve and how – working with neighbours because we understand our commonalities and see how resources can be pooled to deliver the best for residents. This is why we’ve joined with Melton as part of a joint Levelling Up Fund bid. Our shared, proud rural heritage the glue that goes beyond the roads! 

We’ve been working tirelessly to submit our combined bid. If successful, it will see a total investment of £23m in Rutland and Melton. The three main areas for Rutland are transport (a mobi-hub providing the anchor for demand responsive rural transport), health (a medi-tech digital innovation facility at Rutland Memorial Hospital) and an improved cultural offer allowing everyone to enjoy the Rutland Ichthyosaur and Roman Mosaic with new and exciting digital displays at our County Museum.   

It would not be unreasonable to ask why we didn’t bid for a new swimming pool or GP surgery. The criterion of the bid prohibits this because the funding wants local authorities to make long-term investments that will embed equality of opportunity as the norm for future generations. Thinking about swimming as one example, we need ease of access to good quality facilities that are affordable.  A new pool would require more than £10million to build; the running costs (particularly given the cost of energy) would be prohibitive and result in a prices that would not be affordable for all. A focus on investment in transport to create an agile network with affordable fares and a frequency of service enables access not just to swimming out of county but a whole host of other amenities, work and education. This, in my view, is a common-sense approach that understands the myriad of reasons for travel.  

I finish with a note of caution.  The Levelling Up Fund is a finite pot of money and many other bids have been submitted. I don’t believe rural areas and the challenges of sparsity are fully understood by civil servants. For a successful bid, we need the decision makers to believe that we do, indeed, need ‘levelling up’. We are confident in our evidence base but have a fight on our hands: the perception of universal affluence that simply does not exist in places like Rutland (average monthly earnings the most obvious marker) remains a convenient smokescreen that masks the need for significant investment in rural areas, enabling opportunity for all. This bid marks the start of the really hard work and tireless lobbying from our MP to get the success we deserve. 

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Rutland's changing population - 8 August 2022

In 1798, the statistician John Rickman offered twelve reasons for the value of data collection.  The powers that be clearly saw his point as in 1801 the first modern census was conducted in England.

The census data for 2021 has now been extrapolated and published. See the ONS website and ‘How the population changed in Rutland’ for further details.  There are some stats that won’t surprise us – new housing estates and high rates of occupancy an obvious marker that the population has grown.  But by how much and how does this compare to the rest of the country? For Rutland, the growth is at 9.4%, which is above the East Midlands average of 7.7%. The national average for England is 6.6%. 

It also offers a useful benchmark for the distribution of ages in Rutland.  While people aged 15-64 only increased by 4%, the over 65s increased by 31.2% (the English average is 20.1%). Likewise, the growth for under 15s is 2.4%.

When John Rickman was extolling the benefits of data collection, one of the reasons given was that “the intimate knowledge of any country must form the rational basis of legislation and diplomacy”.  Not much has changed.  If we are to commission services and plan for the future, it is imperative we have accurate data upon which to base this, so that policies reflect the actual make-up of our communities and meet those needs.

The brilliance of modern life, as compared to 1801, is that being literate and numerate is a universal expectation; so too is the right to speak out, share opinions and ultimately determine who governs us.  This, I would suggest, places an even greater need for accurate data. It is all too easy to have a skewed understanding of a given subject on account of assertive opinions presented as facts, one person’s experience held as the norm, or one piece of data taken in isolation.  The power of well-executed lobbying can never be underestimated. Social media is a platform upon which issues can be magnified and the flames of publicity fanned into a frenzy of outrage and indignation, demanding action which may or may not be supported by the overall data.

The census data for Rutland will be one data set used for developing key services.  For example, we may well want to increase our 15 – 64 age group as we can see from the data this is a low area of growth and ultimately people of working age are crucial for the economic health of an area and so this will inform our strategic approach to a myriad of work streams – not least housing, transport and education.   Likewise with an ageing population there is likely to be a high demand for Adult Social Care and so we need to plan to meet that demand.

From a Rutland perspective we are in exciting times: a fresh Corporate Strategy to deliver, the Future Rutland Vision to embed across our communities and a new Local Plan to draw up and agree. The Local Plan Issues & Options consultation remains live until 16th September.

The 2021 Census data gives us a very well-timed overview of our population and the trajectory of change.  We have a duty to plan as well as we can. A robust evidence base is a must; accurate, Rutland-specific data sets are an essential part of this.  

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Keeping Rutland moving - 1 August 2022

Getting from A to B in a rural area means that, for many of us, a car is not a luxury but a necessity.  The challenges of delivering a rural transport system cannot be underestimated and one of those challenges is having sufficient drivers. Likewise, our waste collections rely on suitably qualified HGV drivers to ensure the safe and reliable transfer of our waste.  

This is why Rutland County Council is hosting two transport recruitment fairs on Wednesday 3 August from 11.00am to 2.00pm and Saturday 6 August from 10.00am to 1.00pm. Both events are free to attend and will be held in the Council Chamber at our Oakham offices. 

This is an excellent opportunity to find out about the vast variety of roles available both working for the Council, taxi companies and bus operators. There will also be other businesses present for whom having suitably qualified drivers is the backbone of their operations.

If you are looking for work or to re-train in a secure job, then this could well be the event for you – come along and have a look. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say! 

Equally, there are many opportunities to ‘do your bit’ helping within the community in a variety of roles.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what we put into our communities means so much to people who benefit from our time.  Life is challenging, the kindness of others often the shining light that brings hope and instils faith in humanity. 

I will also confess to a little dream: for too long Rutland has been reliant on one main bus operator to provide the majority of our bus services.  This means that we have been held across a barrel when it comes to negotiating contracts. All our services are subsidised by the public purse meaning if a bus operator puts up their prices, we face an unenviable choice: increase the subsidy against a deficit budget or reduce the service, resulting in a vicious cycle of ensuring car usage is embedded into rural living. For people to ditch the car, there must be a transport system that is competitively priced, frequent enough and enables travel in the evenings and on Sundays.  

Imagine if we had enough minibus drivers in Rutland to enable our own version of Uber?  Imagine a system that could expand and contract according to demand with ease without the need for lengthy contract procurement that still results in a company being able to withdraw a service with a measly three-month notice period? Just imagine.  

Some of the imagining has been done for you. Our transport strategy is worth a look with various documents to download that give an excellent overview of the challenges Rutland faces and how we plan to address them. 

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Events, tourism and our local economy - 19 July 2022

I had the pleasure of attending the Global Bird Fair last weekend – not in any official capacity but as a trade stand holder. Part of this pleasure was meeting lots of people who had travelled from far and wide to be there. This, of course, has the added advantage of boosting our local hospitality sector – lots of hungry mouths to feed and tired legs ready for a sound sleep! It is always lovely to hear visitors saying how beautiful and welcoming our County is.

I also had the pleasure of meeting local people, some of whom were part of the impressive volunteer crew who make this type of event possible. Some of our conversations touched on Rutland County Council and whether the Council should give money to support events such as the Global Bird Fair. Events boost the visitor economy, so is it the Council’s duty to support this endeavour with hard cash?  It is a point that has been made in other forums and about other events.   

I think context is everything: budget and priorities. Our budget is running at a managed deficit, but demand on services is increasing. This includes essential care and support services that are both statutory (we must legally provide them) and morally the right thing to do (spending on those most in need so that we are a county for everyone). This means that priorities must be set and stuck to, even when there are legitimate and compelling arguments to deviate.  

Clearly, the economy is incredibly important for any county: a buoyant economy helps communities to prosper and flourish, ensuring social mobility. In many ways, Rutland is in a strong position. We have an extensive and highly resilient network of local businesses across a huge range of sectors – businesses which are renowned for their creativity and innovation. It’s therefore imperative that our economy is nurtured with the aid of a clear and deliverable plan.   

This ethos is reflected in the Council’s new Corporate Strategy, which was approved by Councillors earlier this month. It contains a total of 25 commitments, one of which is to develop a new Economic Strategy for Rutland. Part of this work must be to ensure the role of the Council is clearly defined and understood.  I would tentatively suggest that asking the Council to waive fees for road closures or to give money for a certain event is not strategic. We need to think bigger: infrastructure that enables rather than inhibits; a digitally connected business sector; how we plan and develop our transport offer; how we create an environment that supports a variety of skilled jobs for our younger generation.    

To be successful and develop a plan that is ‘right for Rutland’, while also ensuring any plan is deliverable, the Council must work in partnership with businesses. The diverse nature of our business community could mean that consensus is hard to reach but I see it is as a positive. Through discussion and debate with business of all kinds, we will develop an economic plan that is meaningful, robust and – above all – delivers for Rutland and all those who live, work and play here.

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

Rutland's first ever Pride - 27 June 2022

The sun shone on Oakham Pride – Rutland’s first ever Pride, complete with a march from Cutts Close to the main event at Oakham Castle.  In many ways a beautiful juxtaposition: one of Rutland’s oldest buildings witness to Rutland’s newest event.  

Nationally, this was Pride’s 50th year.  It’s inception at a time when rights for LGBTQ+ people had to be fought for, now many rights legally established and so the event more a celebration of this vibrant community. I do remember a newspaper debate a few years ago: London Pride attracting big name commercial sponsors which some felt diminished the ethos of Pride.  I disagreed: surely the measure of success for any given movement is that if it becomes mainstream (no greater measure than a big name wanting to pay to be associated proudly and loudly with it). Then this means precisely what has been fought long and hard for has been achieved: equality of rights assured in law and, more importantly, a deeper understanding and acceptance in the wider population.

Of course, the law cannot stop unconscious bias or indeed legislate against it – evidence hard to gather. It also does not cater for the individual – the individual who has their own battle to fight; being comfortable in their own skin and so able to tell their nearest and dearest who they are. Part of feeling comfortable is about not feeling isolated.  Traditionally, simply on account of basic numbers, LGBTQ+ communities are perhaps louder and more established in urban areas and so therefore in a rural, sparsely populated area there is a risk of feeling more isolated. Human beings are flock animals after all – we like to belong. I hope, therefore, by Oakham hosting Rutland’s first ever Pride, that anyone living here knows that all are welcome. You can be who you are, proudly and safely.

Likewise, it is also important for any given community to feel supported by those in authority.  It was therefore very important that Rutland County Council pledged support not just by words but in action: the Castle proud to host.  It was also great to see the Police Crime Commissioner’s office, the East Midlands Ambulance Service, Military Police, our Inspector, PSCOs, local beat officers, our County Councillors and our MP opening the event. 

I finish by saying ‘thank you’.  I was asked by the BBC earlier this week why this was the first Pride event in Rutland.  My answer simple: any event requires volunteers to step up to the plate – active participation essential. Yesterday happened because people gave their time to make it happen and so ‘thank you’. Judging by the numbers of smiling, happy, proud people, it was time well given.  

Here’s to Pride 2023! 

Lucy Stephenson
Leader of Rutland County Council

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