As we kick off the start of the new municipal year, I'm excited about the journey we are on as a council. We remain committed to delivering on our 20-year Vision for people in South Tyneside to live healthy, happy, and fulfilled lives.
We've welcomed new colleagues to the chamber, and I have appointed a new cabinet with nine Lead Member positions in addition to my role as Leader. Each cabinet portfolio is aligned to the areas that are important to both residents and businesses. Together we will deliver on our ambitions of keeping people well and healthy throughout their lives, financially secure, connected to jobs, skills and learning and being part of strong communities with a commitment to target support to make things fairer. We'll tackle the biggest issues people in South Tyneside are facing as well as delivering hundreds of services that you rely on day in day out.
We continue to do all we can to support people through the cost-of-living crisis working hand in hand with our partners including on ongoing financial support to the Borough's foodbanks.
We've also been working with Age Concern, Citizens Advice, South Tyneside Homes, and Community Money Advice (CMA Connect) to raise awareness of the benefit which provides extra money to those of state pension age living on a low income. Around 2,600 local people are believed to be entitled to but not claiming Pension Credit which could benefit them by around £32 a week and add around £4million to the local economy.
Our Welfare Support Team also continues their great work to recover millions in unclaimed benefits for residents.
We've also agreed £1.5m to help meet local priorities through our Community Area Forums which play a key role in empowering communities and giving residents a voice on matters that affect their local area. The money will be used to support a range of housing and environmental initiatives, providing neighbourhood solutions to issues that are raised by residents through their local ward members.
I know that some of you may have raised concerns about grass cutting and weeding in your area. We would like to reassure residents that we are working closely with our grounds maintenance contractors to address the issues. While many areas are tidy, there are some locations where work is still needed where the grass has not been cut as frequently as we've come to expect, particularly on our estates and grass verges. We'll hold our hands up when we get things wrong, and this is an area where we've fallen short. Please bear with us while we get back on track to have the Borough looking its best.
On a brighter note, Sandhaven has secured the Seaside Award again this year from leading environmental charity, Keep Britain Tidy. The success of Sandhaven meeting the requirements demanded by this award is testament to all those who work extremely hard all year round - staff, partners, businesses, and community volunteers - to ensure our seafront is looking great and kept to a standard that keeps people coming back time and time again.
Earlier this month we received the news that Children's Services has been rated as inadequate by Ofsted. This was an unexpected result after a strong series of inspections in previous years. Ofsted outlined precise and specific areas of concern which they deemed serious enough to bring down the overall judgement.
Naturally, we are disappointed with the rating but understand and accept where we fell short. Inspectors recognised that we have acted immediately to put in place measures to implement rapid improvement for our children and families and have made significant progress to date on the seven recommendations for improvement.
Feedback from our Local Government Association Peer Review team last year told us that South Tyneside is a place that when it decided to do something it does it. We are absolutely determined to raise the bar and deliver children's services of the highest possible standard in South Tyneside.
We are as confident as we can be that we are doing everything government would expect us to do in these circumstances. We have a wonderful team of passionate and committed staff who are on board with us as on our journey of improvement.
Despite the overall rating Ofsted highlighted a broad range of strengths across Children's Services, one of them being our Mockingbird model for fostering. Fostering fortnight has just drawn to a close and I would like to say a huge thanks to our foster carers who play such an important role in giving our children and young people the best start in life. Anyone thinking about fostering should get in touch and find out how they can make a difference to a child's life or contact the fostering service.
We've also been continuing our regional work to bring forward North East Devolution. Following consultation earlier this year we've had a positive response with respondents welcoming the proposed increase in regional power, a greater profile for the North East, and closer working arrangements among key organisations. A summary of the consultation findings will now be presented to Cabinets across the region.
And finally, I wanted to welcome our new Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor McCabe. He will carry out his civic duties with his wife Julie by his side as Mayoress. I wish him well representing the Borough and fundraising for the Mayor's charities. I also want to taka moment to thank Councillor Pat Hay and Jean Copp for their tireless service over the last two years.
Councillor Tracey Dixon
Leader of South Tyneside Council