In Sunday evening’s address to the nation, the Prime Minister announced new lockdown advice and phases on how the nation will take its first few steps towards normality. The speech, which can be downloaded here stressed a new emphasis for the nation to “stay alert” instead of “stay home” with the easing of restrictions dependent on how control of the coronavirus progresses.
The latest updated guidance is available on the Government website https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus and via the following links:
- Our Plan to Rebuild - the UK Government's COVID-19 Recovery Strategy
- Gov UK - Updated Covid-19 FAQs
- Gov UK - Employer guidance
- Gov UK - Staying safe outside your home
Following the Prime Minister’s speech the council will now work to see how we can support our staff, residents and businesses to ensure these are safely implemented across Wiltshire.
We are still deciding what impact this announcement will have for council services, but in the line with the Government’s latest message for now we expect all staff currently working from home to continue to do so and we would urge local businesses to adopt the same approach.
Our staff will only attend the workplace where it has already been identified as essential for the council to be able to deliver services. We would also ask that residents continue to only make essential face-to-face visits to our three hubs if they have safeguarding issues which cannot be dealt with over the phone.
It is vital that residents carry on following Government guidance as this will help save lives and ensure we can ease social distancing measures and recover from COVID-19.
We will work with businesses to ensure that they have can safely start to put in place to reopen in the timescales set out by the Prime Minister yesterday.
This is a challenging time for everyone and the way we have all pulled together to look out for each other and protect the vulnerable is truly remarkable.
Impact of COVID-19 – Cabinet Meeting
Cabinet will hold its first virtual meeting on 19 May which will include a formal update on the council’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The financial position of the council will also be outlined including the forecast impact of COVID-19. Having set a balanced budget in February 2020, it is now estimated that the impact of COVID-19, taking into account the £28.8m already received from Government and, will still leave a budget shortfall of between £18.8m and £51.5m. The council's General Fund reserves stand at £15.1m.
The financial impact of COVID-19 on the council’s budget has been significant. It includes:
- lost income from suspension of car parking charges, closure of leisure centres and other commercial services
- lower income from business rates and council tax than forecast in the council’s budget
- increase in residents claiming council tax support
- additional expenditure on social care, providing staff and care agencies with extra PPE
- preparations for potential excess deaths
- planned savings through transformation projects which can no longer be delivered
The council has worked with the Local Government Association, The County Councils Network, and South West Chief Executives to lobby central government, outlining its financial position in detail and made strong representation for additional funding. We are also making plans for if the Government does not allocate any further funding to local government. This includes potential cuts to service provision due to the current forecast budget position.
Since March, Wiltshire Council has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. With our responsibilities regarding social care, public health, the economy, and our communities and schools, behind the NHS, the council has been, and continues to be, the second main responder in the county to COVID-19.
The report also updates members on the tremendous efforts of staff to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Establishing the Wiltshire Wellbeing Hub which is working to support over 20,000 of Wiltshire’s most vulnerable residents
- Designing and delivering a £100m grant process for 8500 eligible businesses
- Managing the construction of two temporary mortuaries capable of holding a total of 1000 bodies across Wiltshire and Swindon
- Redeploying over 375 staff to business critical roles to support the COVID-19 response.
Household Recycling Centres Update
We are making plans to reopen most of our household recycling centres on Monday 18 May for essential journeys and for waste that cannot be stored at home safely or disposed of safely by other means.
As mentioned previously, there will be a number of restrictions in place when we do reopen the centre to protect our staff and customers, including limiting the number of people and cars that can be on any site at one time. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has been asked by the Government to stay at home for shielding purposes will not be able to visit a household recycling centre.
We have 10 household recycling centres in Wiltshire, and each one has its own challenges in terms of traffic management, so we have been working to mitigate against this and ensure the reopening of the sites goes as smoothly as possible. We aim to open the majority of HRCs but due to the limits on the number of vehicles on site, Stanton St Quintin HRC will remain closed until further notice.
To keep staff and residents safe, social distancing will also be in place at all HRCs, so visitors must remain at least two metres apart at all times, and staff will not be able to help people unload waste under any circumstances. There will also be some restrictions to the types of waste HRCs can accept –soil, rubble, plasterboard, textiles or asbestos will not be accepted.
We recognise that the closure of household recycling centres has been frustrating for residents, but the safety of our staff and visitors to the sites is paramount, and we need to implement a significant number of safety measures before the sites can safely reopen.
Please can we ask for your support to remind residents to be patient and respect our staff when visiting sites when they do reopen as we expect there will be delays and long queues. It is also important to check our website for any changes in opening hours before making their journey to the HRCs when they do reopen. We will provide further updates later in the week regarding opening hours for the sites.
Fostering Update – a Thank you to our Foster Carers
Wiltshire Council has issued a heart-felt “thank you” to foster carers across the county for making a positive impact on young people’s lives.
The message of support comes as foster carers have been sharing their stories for Foster Care Fortnight – a national event which highlights how foster care transforms the lives of children and young people across the country.
Our foster carers are there at the most difficult points in a child’s life, ready to provide them with support to make changes for the better.
The insights into the highs and lows, the challenges and rewards of being a foster career are being shared as Wiltshire Council continues a campaign to recruit 100 more foster carers over three years.
The campaign, with the hashtag #FosterForWiltshire is accompanied by an improved pay structure for foster carers with details of the support and benefits available.
People can foster if they have a spare room, are over 21 and have space in their heart to foster. Wiltshire Council is also considering changes brought in by the Government so that some fostering assessments can be completed more quickly.
To help people find out more about fostering the council will also be holding digital information sessions on 12 May at 1pm and 21 May at 7:30pm. People can log in and ask questions of the foster care team and have an insight from a foster carer on what it is like to foster. The link to access the information session for 12 May is https://join-emea.broadcast.skype.com/wiltshire.gov.uk/cb2ee4251495410cb6171dd7f697c980
People can find out more information by:
- Calling fostering on 0800 1696321
- Visiting fosteringwiltshire.uk
English Heritage has taken the decision to cancel this year's summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge because of the ban on mass gatherings prompted by the coronavirus.
Traditionally about 10,000 people have gathered at the Neolithic monument in Wiltshire, on or around 21 June, to mark midsummer.
The occasion will instead be live streamed on the charity's social media.
English Heritage has consulted with partners, including the council, emergency services and the druid and pagan community, before making the decision. The council are fully supportive of the decision which is in line with the latest Government guidance around mass gatherings.
Cllr Philip Whitehead