The Committee will receive an update on the Covid-19 response in connection with Communities and Localism.
Mr Gareth Williams, Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health
Mr Patrick Hogan, Cabinet Member for Culture
Mr Fred Wilson, Cabinet Member for Regulatory Services
Mr Clive Harriss, Cabinet Member for Sports and Leisure
Sarah Ashmead, Deputy Chief Executive
Richard Barker, Corporate Director Communities
Rebecca Carley, Community Safety Manager - Adults, Health & Housing Directorate
Emma Denley, Head of Local Support Hubs
Martin Dickman, Service Director Neighbourhood Services
Simon Garwood, Localism Manager
Sophie Payne, Service Director Culture, Sports and Leisure
Covid-19 Update report
The Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health introduced the report. Before he did so the Chairman thanked the volunteers on behalf of everyone for the huge amount of work they had undertaken during the Covid-19 pandemic which had been an absolute lifeline to the health and wellbeing of residents in Buckinghamshire.
Local Support Hubs
On 23 March, the Council established eight local support hubs to support those individuals with serious underlying health conditions who were advised to shield. The hubs were envisaged as local collection/distribution/volunteer coordination points. At the outset, a senior manager was allocated as a manager for each hub, with support from local library managers. With support from mutual aid, these managers have drawn in 132 staff from across the council to support them. Each day, data is received from Minister of Housing Communities and Local Government about individuals needing support; this is analysed and passed to hubs. 17,991 were on the shielding list and out of that number 4,052 required assistance which was increased to 6,215 where other vulnerable people had been identified through Adult Services. Hundreds of people have also been provided with emergency food supplies and 659 residents have required regular follow up calls due to their vulnerability.
A website was also set up to help manage the Covid-19 crisis which linked in with 370 different community groups. A volunteer form on the website attracted 1850 people who put their names forward to help. This initial contact work is currently being transferring to the customer services centre, as the Council looks to reduce the work of the hubs. Customer Services dealt with 8,894 contact queries during this period.
A strategic group of charity leaders formed to help the council prepare a coordinated response. This involved Community Impact Bucks and the Clare Foundation hosting the management of over 1800 volunteers, weekly dial in’s with the Cabinet Member (which has now moved fortnightly looking at the Recovery Plan) for shared intelligence on emerging trends, issues within the crisis and consideration of both the sector and vulnerable residents in the recovery phases. This included a weekly cross organisational funding group exploring maximising funding coming into and being distributed around the county e.g. Rothschild, Heart of Bucks, LEAP, National Lottery and the Clare Foundation.
The Volunteering and Voluntary Sector cell was quickly formed. Area coordinators were quickly redeployed to the cell to develop links with local C-19 voluntary groups, fulfilling the support needs of local vulnerable people. The locality working arrangements helped forge close relationships with parish councils as they were key in setting up community responses in their area and sharing local data to target the vulnerable. The Cabinet Member also chaired weekly strategic discussion with BMKALC (the Bucks and Milton Keynes Local Association for Town and Parish Councils); gathering shared intelligence on town and parish council needs and sharing best practice.
Councillor Crisis Fund
The fund was £250k of Public Health money, earmarked for Community Boards, which aimed at supporting the excellent emergency work local members and community groups had been doing in their areas. Following the successful collaborative work of the funding group, the Rothschild Foundation has donated a further £50k to the fund. Local members have been actively involved up and down the county in supporting their communities and residents in responding to the emergency. A total of £115,000 had now been spent.
Community Boards have not met yet as the focus from Area Co-ordinators had been on helping the vulnerable but the Boards were expected to start meeting in July.
The Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health again paid tribute to the huge amount of work undertaken in such a short period of time which had received national and regional recognition. For example the Bernwode Bus was mentioned during Prime Ministers Question Time; an article in the Economist featured a vulnerable person in Buckinghamshire praising community spirit and the Local Government Association had published an early learning Covid recovery plan which mentioned Buckinghamshire twice.
Buckinghamshire libraries have been closed since 24 March in line with the government’s instructions. Those library staff not redeployed had focused on expanding and marketing online library services, with immediate and significant results.
During discussion the following points were noted.
· Concern was expressed about the impact of Covid 19 on the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic communities and a question was asked about the Council’s approach to dealing with inequality and deprivation and how much funding had been allocated to Wycombe during this crisis. The Cabinet Member referred to a recent British Medical Association report which stated that 90% of doctors who had died from Covid were from a BAME background. National research was being undertaken in this area. Death certificates did not have any information on ethnicity so no data could be obtained in this area. The Community Boards and their co-ordinators would lead in engagement with local communities moving forward. They had eight times the budget (£3.9 million) of the previously set up Local Area Forums (£450,000) and would undertake a key role in local recovery plans. In addition this work would be supported by the Health and Wellbeing Board who looked at public health profiles. The Cabinet Member had asked for a report back from the co-ordinators on how they were engaging with their communities to ensure maximum effectiveness.
· A Member referred to the excellent work carried out by the council and the voluntary sector and how this momentum could be built upon and carried forward with recovery plans. The Cabinet Member reported that he was looking at providing training for volunteers on mental health first aid so that they felt equipped to deal with any health concerns in the community. Many of the Area Co-ordinators who had worked in the Local Support Hubs were now working as the Board Co-ordinators so they had a good understanding of each local support network. Previous reference had been made to the Community Boards funding and Emma Denley was also acting as Head of Support Hubs to move forward to business as usual. In recognition of the important role of the voluntary and community sector the Cabinet Member had also suggested that two charities should be included on the Health and Wellbeing Board to represent the Voluntary and Community Sector.
· Support to the community required skills and expertise when dealing with the vulnerable and an example was given of a volunteer being asked to make an assessment of a resident during the Covid-19 crisis. Volunteers needed support from a number of areas including IT, safeguarding and data protection. The Cabinet Member reported that they had a contractual relationship with Community Impact Bucks who allocated roles to volunteers and that any community groups had been asked to sign up to the Council’s safeguarding protocol. He also emphasised that many Community Groups and volunteers were completely new and that going forward it was important to ensure that they were trained effectively as mentioned earlier on mental health. This was another area where Community Boards could provide assistance.
· It was agreed that the Cabinet Member would provide information on the break down of all hubs and funding assistance given. Whilst it was important to get the funding out quickly to groups there were a series of checks and balances on the most appropriate way to provide services and whether requests were viable.
· In relation to a question on free school meals, Members noted that this related to the Children and Education Select Committee although there were active projects to provide fresh food for example in Marlow and Chesham Community Fridge. Another question was asked about the location of hubs. Concerns had been raised from Burnham residents that their nearest hub was Beaconsfield and whether those 25,000 residents had been looked after. The Cabinet Member reported that the hubs reached across a number of local areas and that Beaconsfield was the second largest hub in terms of activity (the first being Aylesbury) which should have included support to the residents of Burnham. It was important to clarify whether there had been any issues with delivery, rather than raise concerns that particular local buildings had not been utilised. This could be looked at further through the Committee’s Work Programme.
· A Member made reference to those residents who had been furloughed and concerns about future unemployment and the impact on communities, with particular reference to the hospitality industry and theatres. He was aware that this linked across a number of portfolios but it was important that the Council looked at this in a holistic way rather than in silos. As an example Queens Park Art Centre in Aylesbury had a footfall of 60,000 and was a lifeline to some residents. The Council needed to understand this when they made funding decisions. The Chairman advised that this could be looked at through the Work Programme.
· Social isolation had been a key issue during lockdown and it was important that going forward people did not feel isolated. The Cabinet Member reported that social isolation was a cross partnership theme which had been the main priority of the Health and Wellbeing Board. They had delivered a workshop for 50 organisations who had agreed to run pilots on this area and these would be resumed following lockdown. The Street Associations would also be expanded and other initiatives such as providing funding for ipads for older people who were isolated.
· With regard to anti-social behaviour, Members agreed that it was important to take a sensitive approach as large gatherings of teenagers were not always responsible for anti-social behaviour. The Community Safety Team had been working closely with the police in dealing with ASB and an example of this was an incident in Dorney Lake which was moving into criminal behaviour.
Cabinet Member for Leisure and Sport
· The council’s leisure centres, swimming pools and other sports facilities closed on 20 March as part of the national shutdown. For all leisure operators, the closure meant an immediate loss of income, whilst retaining significant ongoing expenditure for essential maintenance. The Council is working closely with all leisure operators to identify opportunities for financial support and to promote financial sustainability.
· Local parks have remained open throughout lockdown to enable people to exercise, albeit with some facilities such as play areas closed in line with Government directives. Following the recent relaxation of restrictions around outdoor exercise, some outdoor facilities have been reopened. Park runs have been cancelled.
· The country parks reopened on 13 May following the relaxation of government restrictions on travel to exercise. Inconsiderate parking has been a real issue during the lock down which the Council has been addressing.
During discussion the following points were noted:-
·With regard to a question asked about Lawn Tennis and when the Academy in Micklefied could be opened, the Cabinet Member referred them to the Leap organisation, County Active Partnership, who provided guidance and support to clubs and coaches. At the moment groups of six people were allowed which included the coach but further information could be found in the following links https://www.leapwithus.org.uk/https://www.lta.org.uk/about-us/tennis-news/news-and-opinion/general-news/2020/march/coronavirus-covid-19---latest-advice/
· While public access to the physical archives remains closed, the service has undertaken regular monitoring of the strong rooms. Locally, the Council is working within the Buckinghamshire Cultural Partnership on approaches to support the recovery of the cultural sector across Buckinghamshire, including meetings with the Arts Council and other key partners. Officers have also supported the Cultural Partnership in launching two online projects to contribute to wider delivery of the Buckinghamshire Cultural Strategy, whilst being specifically tailored as a response to COVID-19: Lockdown Stories, in partnership with University of Buckingham and ‘Bucks in 100 Objects’, both of which received good engagement; and supported the development of a bid with National Paralympic Heritage Trust to Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for a project to sustain engagement with collections, which if successful will benefit 10 museums and heritage centres across Bucks with development of virtual, accessible tours.
Cabinet Member for Regulatory Services
· Cemeteries and Crematoria experienced an increased demand for burials and cremations across the sector, and there was a requirement for daily monitoring and forecasting to maintain service capacity. Trained staff from across the Council had volunteered to help this service providing a supervisory role for burials, chapel assistants and administration as some key members of staff were recovering from Covid. Cessation of services by neighbouring crematoria had led to an increase out of area demand.
· Major changes were made to operational delivery of licensing services, with almost all staff working remotely. The services reacted agilely to applicants and licensees. In house MOT and taxi testing were now operating and the service was working on a backlog of applications to process including taxi plates and badges.
· Environmental Health & Trading Standards have been working collaboratively with the Police regarding interpretation of changes to the coronavirus regulations and enforcement of those regulations. COVID19 scams which have increased by 40% are a growing problem but are being tackled head on by Trading Standards teams who are providing general advice and messages via social media platforms, website and email newsletters. Pressure is starting to grow regarding a backlog of complaints and inspections, particularly relating to issues such as noise and odour. Sensitivities have been heightened by lockdown, and these matters will be prioritized as part of recovery planning
The Committee thanked the Cabinet Members for their updates and the work carried out during the Covid -19 crisis.