COVID-19 Response - update
The Chairman indicated that the Committee had looked at the Council’s response to COVID-19 in June and requested an update for its July meeting.
The Leader of the Council introduced the item. With reference to the easing of the lockdown since the Committee’s June meeting, the Leader of the Council noted the successful reopening of businesses in Guildford town centre. She identified the need to ensure vulnerable residents continued to receive help at a time when support for large numbers of people was being withdrawn, in addition to being prepared for a surge or second wave in COVID-19. The Leader of the Council advised the Committee of the desire to maintain the community spirit within the Borough as the impacts of COVID-19 changed.
The Managing Director gave a presentation recapping the initial response to COVID-19 and identifying current issues. In a summary of the response, the Managing Director provided details of the food parcels and prescriptions delivered, the operation of a vulnerable persons helpline, welfare checks for shielded and vulnerable residents, and the extension of the meals on wheels service. The Committee was advised that grants, advice, and support had been provided to local businesses. The Committee was reminded that the Council’s response included the introduction of virtual meetings and the redeployment of staff alongside the maintenance of essential services.
With reference to current COVID-19 issues, the Managing Director advised the meeting of the development of the Surrey Local Outbreak Control Plan and the establishment of the Surrey Local Outbreak Engagement Board. The Committee was advised that the Council’s activities were risk assessed to ensure safety for staff, visitors, and residents.
With reference to a query raised at the previous meeting of the Committee about the number of local businesses struggling and the forecast extent of redundancies, the Managing Director indicated that he was unaware of major job losses locally although there had been an impact in the retail sector. The Committee was informed that an impact was to be expected once theCoronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme reduced or ended. The Managing Director stated that approximately twenty percent [15,400] of the working age population in Guildford were on the furlough scheme and approximately 4,800 people in the Borough had claimed grants through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
In concluding his presentation, the Managing Director noted the litter anti-social behaviour campaign launched recently in the Borough, the continuation of support and services for the most vulnerable, the review and recovery of Council services, and new ways of working.
The Chairman thanked the Managing Director for his presentation and invited questions from the Committee members.
In reply to a question about a date for the full re-opening of the Council offices to the public, the Managing Director referred to government guidance and confirmed the situation was being monitored.
In response to a question, the Managing Director undertook to arrange for details of the current homelessness situation in the Borough to be provided to Committee members.
A presentation on the Council’s response will be given at the meeting.
The Chairman stated that the aim of the meeting was to provide Councillors and the public with an overview and update about the Council’s response to COVID-19. With reference to the critical friend role of overview and scrutiny, the Chairman indicated that the Committee would provide direct support and challenge to the Executive and senior officers and aim to be a forum for Councillors to feed into and help the Council response.
The Leader of the Council introduced the Council’s response to COVID-19. She praised the efforts and adjustments made by Council staff and the Borough’s residents and businesses during the crisis. The Leader of the Council indicated that the financial implications of the crisis would require the Council to review all its activities. She advised the meeting that lessons for the future would be learnt from the experience of the crisis.
The Managing Director gave a presentation outlining the Council’s response to COVID-19. He outlined the impact of the crisis, including its mortality rates, together with the restrictions on people’s lives and the economic implications. The meeting was reminded of timelines and governance relating to COVID-19 and advised of the Council services that had been maintained and suspended in the crisis. In addition, the Managing Director informed the meeting of the new and extended services delivered by the Council during the emergency.
The Managing Director provided details of the help and support for the Borough’s vulnerable residents, including food parcels and prescriptions delivered. The meeting was advised of the communications efforts undertaken by the Council with residents during the crisis and the aid provided to local businesses, which included grants to local businesses totalling over £19 million and a business rates holiday totalling almost £41 million.
The Managing Director’s presentation outlined the impact of the crisis on staff, including redeployment of 87 staff and over 300 home working. The Committee was advised that there had been no increase in sickness absence and low levels of COVID-19 symptoms amongst staff. He indicated that a staff survey would be undertaken on home working and the levels of support staff needed and other experiences.
The Director of Resources presented headline details of the financial impact of the crisis on the Council. She indicated that the Council had received £1.5 million emergency funding from central government. She informed the meeting that no further funding from government would be forthcoming in the immediate future. The Director of Resources advised that Council expenditure on the crisis was forecast to be £1.9 million by July 2020, with an additional £9.6 million projected as lost income. The presentation to the Committee showed lost income from car parking to be over £5.5 million, from planning and development control over £850k, from sports and leisure over £400k, and from tourism over £200k. The Committee was advised that the figures presented were based on a four-month lockdown period, rather than the shorter lockdown confirmed by recent government announcements. The Director of Resources indicated that the Council could need to call ... view the full minutes text for item 4