Message from Cllr Ian Courts, Leader of Conservative-led Solihull Council

"Yesterday heralded the first of many small alterations to guidelines that we can expect in the coming months, as our response to this pandemic changes.

We have the Government's guidance for getting people back into workplaces and we can now enjoy our parks and open spaces for both exercise and relaxation, even meeting up with a family member or friend, although we must still abide by the physical distancing rules.

These first changes to the lockdown are welcome, but it is only the first of many small steps. We still need to guard against spreading the virus; we still need to save lives.

When I go for my daily walk, I see people crossing the road to keep their distance as a norm now; I also see some in shops being equally careless, ignoring the "one way system" and getting far too close to others.

Soon I shall be launching our Economic Recovery Action Plan. We all know that the pandemic has had a massive impact on our people, our places and our local businesses. Our plan must recognise the support that we can give to each, as well as focus on projects that can breathe life into our economy.

So far we have pumped nearly £23m into 1,687 local companies, through business grants<> and offering rate relief. We will continue to help businesses access any future finance initiatives from government, as well as any available regionally and locally.

There is also the Government's furlough scheme, a lifeline to many businesses in the borough, which is now continuing until October. The self-employed are being offered help with the recently launched Self-Employment Income Support Scheme<> ?which offers a grant worth 80% of?their?average monthly trading profits.

I want the Council to work with our local high street retailers and businesses to plan a way forward to re-build our local economy. I know that it is only through a partnership approach that we can hope to recover our economic strength.

We need to capture the benefits HS2 will bring to the borough, seize the opportunities at the Interchange station site at the UK Central Hub, as well as maximise opportunities from Coventry's City of Culture 2021 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

As a Council we shall focus on the things we do well, like being able to leverage in national and regional funding and resources, to add value to what businesses can accomplish themselves.

We need an economic recovery, but we also need a personal recovery. The human cost of the lockdown is enormous, with the tragedy of people losing loved ones, those losing their job or being furloughed and the stress we all feel, wondering what the future may bring.

We must make sure any recovery is inclusive. We will work hard to equip those individuals who have been affected by losing their job with the necessary skills and support, so they can benefit from the opportunities an economic recovery will bring.

And recover we will.

In Solihull we are well placed to plot a course out of the current situation. The dynamism of the local economy, with its balance of manufacturing and services, alongside a highly qualified workforce, means we have a fantastic base to start our recovery from.

In addition to this challenge, we must not lose sight of the environment and climate change. We will continue to reduce carbon emissions, invest in the borough's natural capital, plant trees and pursue the transformation of the borough's economy.

I know that we do not yet have all the answers, because we are not yet through this crisis, and will need to be patient, as we work through the coming challenges, but I remain confident in the borough's ability to get back to work.

For now, enjoy our re-opened tennis courts, a round of golf or maybe an afternoon of fishing. But please enjoy the new relaxation of the guidelines responsibly.

Our parks may be busier now there is no time limit, so please observe the 2m social distancing rule and keep us all safe. Don't forget why we had to introduce the lockdown in the first place.

Stay alert, help control the virus, save lives. We don't want a second spike. Please take care."