THE PANDEMIC after-effects have not dampened leaders’ determination to improve life for district residents.
Stratford District Council’s (SDC) latest ‘State of the District’ report has outlined objectives to deliver benefits to all as the country recovers from the pandemic.
The challenges of Covid were highlighted in the report including its impact on government funding, the economy and employment.
A rise in Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Credit was the largest of any authority in the West Midlands and more than tripled from 1,050 in March 2020 to a peak of 3,200 the following August. Since then there has been a generally downward trend with 2,440 claimants as of July 2021.
While claims have risen dramatically, Stratford is still at the lower end of the scale, with claimants aged between 16 and 64, falling by 1.1 per cent from its peak in August.
And in March 2021, three quarters of adults were in either full time or part time work in the district – around three per cent higher than the West Midlands average.
During the pandemic, the district, due to its profile as a tourism destination, was the fourth worst economically hit in England.
But SDC says its progress to recovery is underway. This includes support for tourism management company Shakespeare’s England, lower tier council briefings and dedicated briefings for the Main Rural Centres, while the Coventry City of Culture and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 are also hoped to bring wider benefits to the region.
As part of its action plan, the council aims to ‘enhance the quality of Stratford as a place’ including promotion of its heritage and natural assets, improving the wellbeing of residents, maintaining community safety and ‘addressing perceptions of crime’.
While Stratford has the lowest rates in Warwickshire – just over 6,700 in the year to July 2021 – the most prevalent crimes in the district were violent and sexual offences, with a rate of 21 per 1,000 people.
The wards towards the Stratford town centre saw the highest levels of violent and sexual crime while Stratford Hathaway ward saw the highest level of drug crime.
On a lighter note, the report revealed Stratford district experienced the ninth highest population increase of all UK authorities over the last three years, with a rise of just over 2,300 between 2019 and 2020 – bringing it to some 132,400 according to Office of National Statistics data recorded last year.
And this figure is estimated to climb to 14 per cent – an extra 17,810 people – by 2028.
Despite this, housing prices continue to climb, with the district’s median house price at £325,000 in 2020, well above the England median – the value separating the higher half from the lower half of a data sample – of £259,000 and the Warwickshire median of £265,000.
The median house price in the district has risen £75,000 or 30 per cent over six years since 2014.
While affordable housing remains a contentious topic, in 2019/20 it made up over 36 per cent of new completions – a seven per cent increase on all new housing completed since 2012.
And while more families might be moving in, the district’s population remains heavily weighted towards the older end of the scale. Over 65s make up a quarter of the population, with 58 per cent aged between 18 and 64 years, and 17 per cent under 18 years old.
The median age of the district in 2020 is 48 years, while the England median average age is 40 This ranks SDC number 55 out of 380 authorities for the oldest median age population.
Among the objectives outlined in the report is providing a sustainable medium-term financial plan by 2023 despite government funding challenges. This includes Stratford and Warwick district councils’ proposal to merge and create a new council covering South Warwickshire by 2024.
The new authority would replace both councils and cover all activities they currently provide to cut back on estimated financial losses of £4-6million.
The report said: “In relation to the finances of the council it is very clear though that we can reasonably expect a period of continued reductions in support, which if not addressed would challenge the financial sustainability of the council.
“We are not alone in facing such pressures, indeed, this is one of the significant reasons why we are pursuing the ambition adopted by council in February to merge with Warwick District Council.”
So far measures include a joint Refuse and Recycling Contract, the development of a South Warwickshire Local Plan, joint staff policies and shared goals towards tackling the climate emergency.