“Everyone comes with their own set of experiences and being young doesn’t mean you aren’t able to do the job.”
By Tobias Chalcraft
Kate Taylor is a Labour party councillor for Devonport and was first elected in 2012, in her late teens, before being re-elected in 2016.
In addition, she is the cabinet member for ‘Health & Adult Social Care’ on Plymouth City Council. However, while originally intending to seek re-election in the 2020 local elections, she has since decided that her career in elected politics will end at the postponed 2021 elections, as she seeks to prioritise her personal life and wellbeing.
In this socially-distanced email interview, we discussed how the council and her department have responded to COVID-19 in Plymouth, as well as her views on the Labour party leadership and being a young person in politics.
What role does Plymouth City Council play in tackling the Coronavirus?
“The virus has impacted on every service and aspect of the council”, Kate says, before explaining that COVID-19 has made the council “work very differently” in terms of varying issues, such as “homelessness, waste, parks, economic delivery, education and transport”.
Kate then outlined how Plymouth City Council oversees the coordination of communication and messaging, as well as controlling the infection rate in Plymouth’s 97 care homes via testing and support for staff. Likewise, the council has delivered care packages in the form of training & funding, as well as coordinated PPE, to secure the required protections for Plymouth’s care providers.
Local government has also taken responsibility for the government’s shielding programme via ‘Caring for Plymouth’, which Kate describes as “a collaboration between [the council], our healthcare providers and the voluntary and community sector to ensure that people are supported in terms of food, medication deliveries and emotional support”. ‘Caring for Plymouth’ has recently been expanded to benefit thousands of Plymouthians via the ‘Good Neighbours scheme’, which has helped both those who have been instructed to shield and those who have not.
Working with local partners has also been crucial to the council’s response to COVID-19, with partners such as Elder Tree and St. Luke’s helping with the formation of “innovative projects” such as the ‘Care Hotel’ and the ‘Care Home Liaison Service’.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kate says that herself and colleagues “have worked non-stop to ensure the provision of vital services despite the challenges.”
What does your cabinet role in ‘Health & Adult Social Care’ require of you? How has this evolved during the pandemic?
“My budget runs into the tens of millions and no two days are the same – I can go from discussing our budget, to opening one of our fantastic Health and Well-being Hubs, to reviewing business cases for new, fit-for-purpose accommodation for those with learning disability, and most recently, helping to coordinate our responses to the pandemic.”
Duties for Kate’s role include overseeing services for older people, mental health, drug & alcohol and learning disabilities. She is also the lead for Plymouth being a ‘Dementia Friendly City’, which the councillor described as a cause very close to her heart. Furthermore, as the figure responsible for Public Health, she chairs the Health & Wellbeing board and delves into city-wide issues such as oral health or sexual health services.
“There are lots of meetings – decision making bodies such as Cabinet, or full meetings of the City Council – or more accountability-based meetings, such as Scrutiny, where I am grilled on my decisions or my budgets! Amongst this, I still undertake casework for my own ward and work part-time too.”
Predictably, the Health portfolio at Plymouth Council has “evolved massively” over the last few months. Before the pandemic, Kate could “get on with checking in on the day-to-day running of services and set the direction for the authority in these areas by deciding our priorities and just getting on with it”. Today, she feels that COVID-19 has made her feel “like the spotlight is very much on [the health] portfolio”.
Kate then looks to the national level, “I’ve been keeping an eye on what is happening elsewhere in the country and I am pleased that, so far, the levels of infection in Plymouth have remained low. I’m not complacent though and work every day to ensure it stays that way”.
You started your political career as an 18-year-old, who had yet completed her A-levels. What advice would you give to other young Plymouthians who want to enter the political arena?
“When I first started out, people thought I was too young, too inexperienced. That’s a load of rubbish”. Kate goes on to say that “Decision-making in Plymouth needs a wide variety of voices, including young people. Everyone comes with their own set of experiences and being young doesn’t mean you aren’t able to do the job”.
Kate goes on to outline how young people’s experiences, including her own, can really boost a political career. “I was a young carer and didn’t realise until I picked up the Health portfolio just how much I know about the subject from all those years I spent caring for my Grandad. Those experiences aren’t insignificant. If you feel you have something to contribute, don’t let people put you off.”
Having supported Lisa Nandy in the Labour leadership election, are you happy with your party’s new leadership?
Kate stands by her decision to support Nandy and says that “obviously I am disappointed that my choice of candidate didn’t win”. However, the Labour councillor then states that “ultimately, I am desperate to see a Labour government in this country and will back Keir Starmer all the way to achieve that aim”.
“It isn’t enough to just oppose measures we don’t agree with, we need to set our stall and offer a vision for the country which people believe in, enough for them to vote for us. If Keir is the man to do that, then that’s enough for me. I feel hopeful that his election as leader leaves us one step closer to that goal”.
What is something you’ll miss when you leave elected politics in May 2021?
Kate starts by saying “there is a huge deal I will miss about elected politics” before saying how she has met “inspiring people” and enjoyed the opportunities that are only accessible from a career in politics.
However, she makes it clear that she will particularly miss the opportunity to help her local community – “I wouldn’t be able to guess the amount of people I have been able to help over the last eight years in one way or another, directly or indirectly, but I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to do so”.