CHRISTMAS thoughts are undoubtedly turning to shopping: please buy local and support our fantastic independent shops this winter.
We have a huge bounty of small, independent shops, selling everything from toys to plants and records to hampers.
They’re the beating heart of the West’s communities, doing much to enrich our lives.
But they’ve faced huge challenges – soaring energy bills, record inflation, and the cost-of-living crisis. That’s created a perfect storm for many stores.
It’s why I’ve been offering £15,000 green grants for pubs, cafes and others, so they can install more energy efficient equipment.
I’m proud of this. Companies are cutting their bills and CO2 emissions by seven tonnes on average – great for their wallets and our precious planet.
One group I met recently, who’ve started their Christmas shopping, are care leavers benefiting from a new West of England-wide free bus travel scheme I’ve just introduced.
The youngsters joined me on board a WESTlink minibus and told me about how the scheme means they can better access work, get to appointments, enjoy more days out, and, yes, grab bits and bobs for loved ones at the shops, too.
I then went from a bright green WESTlink to a 41-tonne lorry! HGVs are crucial in the Christmas shopping story, ensuring festive goods in our stores.
But we’ve all seen the impact of a regional and national shortage of drivers, in terms of empty supermarket shelves and prices being driven up, all adding to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
It’s why I created a scheme last year to recruit and train new HGV drivers. While it was not easy, I’m pleased to say we have recruited over 230 in 12 months.
And, of course, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones, sometimes travelling across the West to do so.
The good thing for those with December birthdays is they can do that by hopping on the buses – for FREE.
So, if it’s your birthday coming up, please enjoy the festive season in style by getting your Birthday Bus pass – details at www.birthdaybus.co.uk.
We’ve recently had a little taster of chilly weather, but I know for many, reports of ice and snow don’t bring hope of snowman building!
It’s why I’m once again running a ‘Keep Warm this Winter’ drive, as it is vital to stay above 17°C, especially if you’re ill, an older person, or have young children. Fuel costs are still frightening, so please check out the top tips at www.westofengland-ca.gov.uk/keepwarm.
Finally, I know Christmas can also be a tough time for many people having to work over the holidays.
Thank you to those who keep everything running while the rest of us relax and celebrate, for all that you do.
For those spending the holiday without those they love – past and present – you are very much in my thoughts.
However you’re spending the festive season, I wish you and your family a Happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
See you in 2024.