Martin Tett advised that the coronavirus emergency had struck just before the new Buckinghamshire Council had come into effect resulting in members and officers having the challenge of managing two huge tasks. M Tett thanked all the people involved in the emergency planning team. A ‘sit rep’ meeting was held daily between the Chief Executive, the NHS and other key players to discuss the developments across Buckinghamshire. The Council was ensuring that government policies were implemented, particularly to help safeguard vulnerable members of the community. Community hubs had been set up and were carrying out a valuable role across the county to support vulnerable residents who did not have friends and family nearby.
Rachael Shimmin, Chief Executive, Buckinghamshire Council, added her thanks to staff and partners who had carried out a commendable job, emphasising that the work undertaken collaboratively to form the new council had helped enormously. R Shimmin highlighted the following points:
- There were strong partnerships in Buckinghamshire and meetings were being held with various organisations e.g. the NHS, Bucks Business First (BBF), the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) etc. to provide support.
- Eight community hubs had been set up to help vulnerable residents by delivering food parcels and prescriptions and checking that residents were safe and well.
- Hundreds of volunteers had offered to help and the Council was working alongside, trying not to duplicate the work carried out by voluntary organisations.
- Regular communications had been issued to staff, residents, town and parish councils to ensure people understood the work that the Council was carrying out.
- Thousands of business grant applications had been processed and staff had worked during the weekend to ensure the money reached the businesses quickly.
- The vast majority of Buckinghamshire Council staff were working in their ‘business as usual’ role but libraries, household recycling centres and leisure centres were closed and staff had been re-purposed where applicable. Approximately 200 staff were supporting the social care team.
- The Council was working closely with the schools to provide care for the children of key workers.
- There was a joint stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) for care workers, clinicians and hospital staff across the health and social care service. There was clear guidance on when PPE was required. There was difficulty in the PPE supply chain, nationally and internationally and the situation was reviewed daily to allocate supplies. Care homes were encouraged to contact the Council if there was a problem accessing PPE. Donations had been received from universities, business and schools. Discussions were underway with NHS colleagues regarding the PPE specifications and whether local businesses could manufacture PPE.
Portfolio holders provided the following updates:
Councillor Gareth Williams, Cabinet Member for Health, Culture and Communities:
- There were four main strands of work:
- The crisis room which issued the communications.
- Updating the Buckinghamshire Council website which was acting as a central portal for residents to find out where to obtain help and for volunteers to offer their support.
- Advising local organisations on safe guarding.
- Supporting local initiatives.
- G Williams chaired a Charity Leaders Group meeting each week; two charities processed the volunteers to match them to the most appropriate role according to their experience.
- Funding was being allocated to organisations and daily contact was made to the food banks.
- The community hubs/cells, which each covered two community board areas, had been set up to identify gaps in provision to vulnerable residents.
- £250,000 had been released from the Community Board fund and had been allocated to the new Buckinghamshire Councillor’s Coronavirus Councillor Fund to allow councillors to support their local voluntary and community groups where it was needed the most.
- The Public Health team was leading on mental health support; work was being undertaken with Bucks Mind and Oxford Mental Health on how to help residents.
A member of the Cabinet mentioned that many shielded residents had received unneeded food parcels and had returned them to the food banks for re-distribution. It was noted that it was possible for residents to de-register themselves from the list but this also removed shielded people from access to the priority online supermarket slots. It was confirmed that the Council was in contact with the government regarding the registration arrangements.
Councillor Angela Macpherson, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care (ASC):
- A Macpherson thanked the ASC team for their magnificent work in providing support to vulnerable clients and the setting up of the Olympic Lodge at Stoke Mandeville Stadium as a reablement centre to help people recover; it had been noted as one of the best practice provisions across the region.
- A Macpherson was in daily contact with the ASC team to discuss operational matters, the provider network and the cost to the authority. ASC welcomed the additional support from the government.
- Close working with the providers was important and webinars with clinicians on infection control and the use of PPE were being held.
- There was a large amount of information available on the online portal.
- There were approximately 1200 vulnerable clients who had been split into two categories. Each Category One client received a daily phone call to check that their carer had turned up and that they had adequate food and medicine. Category Two clients were phoned twice a week. Excellent feedback had been received from the clients and family members regarding the phone calls.
Councillor Anita Cranmer, Cabinet Member for Education:
· Approximately 2,000 children of key workers had attended school during the Easter holidays.
· The government had set up a scheme for online learning which had commenced this week.
· A Cranmer thanked the schools who had donated goggles, laboratory coats and wellington boots for use in the care sector.
Councillor Warren Whyte, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services:
- The Family Information Service web page contained useful information, resources and advice on where to go for help for parents and carers.
- W Whyte thanked the Children’s Services staff who had reacted brilliantly to operating remotely. Foster and adoption panels were still operating, via video conference, and government support was available for families without online access.
- Work was being undertaken to organise coronavirus testing for key workers.
Councillor Nick Naylor, Cabinet Member for Planning:
- N Naylor had been acting as the gateway between government and local businesses.
- Approximately 4,250 applications for a small business grant had been received from 6,500 eligible businesses; 97% of which had been processed totalling over £52 million. Information was available on the Bucks Business First website.
- A group involving BBF, the LEP and private sector organisations had been set up to look at future economic recovery.
- Lessons learned would be used to prepare for future eventualities.
- Members of Parliament were regularly briefed on issues affecting local businesses.
- The LEP had provided a Business Resilience Fund of £2 million. Only one application had been successful so the regulations had been eased and contact would be made to those businesses which had already applied but been unsuccessful.
Councillor Isobel Darby, Cabinet Member for Communities:
- I Darby thanked the staff in the housing teams, many of whom had only recently started working together.
- Rough sleepers were extremely vulnerable; there had been approximately 80 rough sleepers and they were now in temporary accommodation. Currently, there was only one known rough sleeper in Buckinghamshire.
- The challenge would be in what could be done after the emergency had passed as the government required all rough sleeping to be eliminated by 2024.
- Help was available for people experiencing domestic violence.
- People’s mental health was important and work was being carried out with Public Health England and Healthy Minds.
- Travellers had been a concern, but it appeared that they were self-isolating during the crisis.
Councillor Bill Chapple, Cabinet Member for the Environment and lead member for Mutual Aid:
- B Chapple thanked all the officers involved, in particular, Sarah Murphy-Brookman and Karen Jones.
- Mutual Aid matched people to areas where their skills were needed across the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West (BOB) area.
- 137 businesses had offered help, 58 via BBF.
- 14 businesses had offered to supply PPE.
- 311 staff were available for re-purposing; currently 147 had been temporarily reassigned.
Councillor Katrina Wood, Cabinet Member for Resources:
- Support was being provided to the community hubs/cells.
- ICT were supporting approximately 3,000 members of staff working from home.
- A ‘my care project’ platform had been developed to share medical and social care data in a secure way between the various health and social care teams.
- Human Resources were supporting staff and had provided a range of support packages to cover emotional wellbeing and bereavement support for Council employees and a tailored package for the Buckinghamshire schools staff.
- The quarterly ‘Together’ staff survey which measured employees’ sentiments and feelings during this unprecedented time was currently open.
- The Customer Service Centre was open with 426 full time equivalent staff working from home.
- A 24 hour, 7 day a week, customer support centre telephone line had been launched to support COVID-19.
- School education appeals would be held via video conference meetings.
- The Finance Team were recording all costs associated with the coronavirus through the Treasurer’s Network.
- Facilities Management were working with the NHS to identify a testing site as the official testing site for the BOB area was Gatwick airport.
- The admin team were sourcing hand sanitisers and face masks.
R Shimmin added that discussions had taken place with the NHS regarding the health boundaries as Milton Keynes would be much closer for residents of north Buckinghamshire but it was not in our health area. NHS colleagues were also investigating the possibility of setting up a mobile testing unit.
M Tett thanked the leaders of the other political groups who had all worked together on a non-political party basis. M Tett also paid tribute to the MPs; weekly sessions were held with the Chief Executive, the Leader and the MPs to try to resolve disparities.
M Tett stated that the Council’s revenue had dropped significantly due to a number of reasons e.g. car parking charges being lifted, the leisure centres were closed, a drop in rental income from property, some residents being unable to pay their council tax etc. This was causing a huge strain on the Council’s finances. The Council had received a proportion of the £1.6 billion released by the government at the beginning of the crisis and a further £1.6 billion had recently been released; the amount Buckinghamshire Council would receive was unknown at the moment. However, Buckinghamshire Council would continue to do the right thing for its residents and its businesses.