Throughout the pandemic, the Council has really come into its own and shown exactly what public services are all about – supporting businesses and residents alike.

The efforts of council officers and volunteers has been well covered by the Advertiser over the previous nine months and our business and economy team has worked tremendously hard to ensure eligible businesses received more than £32m in government funding, with more to follow.

I was particularly pleased to learn yesterday that our local nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, who have been advised by the Government to remain open during lockdown to provide vital early education and childcare, will receive full funding from next week even if some parents choose to keep their children at home.

I know many childcare providers were worried about the futures of their businesses if they were only able to receive funding for those that attended their settings so I hope this news gives them some peace of mind. I should also add that our nurseries, childminders and other providers are all following the relevant COVID guidance and are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure they are as safe as possible.

The Department for Education has confirmed that early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff and children aged up to five years old continue to have the lowest confirmed rates of coronavirus of all age groups, while there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children.

Evidence also shows that pre-school children are less susceptible to infection and are not playing a driving role in transmission. I would encourage all eligible families to take up their childcare places where possible, to ensure all children have access to early education, which is vital to child development.

Overall, in Swindon, we are extremely concerned about our COVID case rate and, as I write this column, the Great Western Hospital has just declared a ‘critical’ incident due to having 159 COVID patients in the hospital, while ambulance crews were waiting for long periods to handover patients. We made a public appeal earlier in the week with our hospital colleagues warning about the pressures on GWH after six wards were converted to COVID-19 wards, meaning there are fewer beds available for other patients.

This is why it is so important we limit all our social contact and observe the lockdown rules so we can drive our case rate down. It is the only way we can relieve the pressure on our local health services.

We are continuing to work with the Trust to show residents the impact the virus has on the local hospital, asking them to act now by following the most up-to-date guidance. This will help us reduce the Borough’s case rate, protect the local hospital and allow staff to provide the care to all those who need it.

I have received many comments from residents concerned that some of our local Shops were not enforcing the rules. Therefore, I am delighted that we have now written to 30 supermarkets across the town asking for their help in ensuring shoppers continue to wear their facemasks correctly, while also following social distancing when doing their shopping.

It is down to all of us to control the spread of the virus. We should do it for ourselves, but let’s do it for our GWH too.