Cllr Izzi Seccombe is the Leader of Warwickshire County Council and the Leader of the Conservative Group of the Local Government Association.
Further to my recent article for Conservative Home on how our councils and councillors are playing a critical role in the national effort against Coronavirus pandemic, I am grateful to have been given another opportunity to showcase some more of the excellent work that is taking place across the country.
However, before doing so, I would like to acknowledge a number of recent announcements from central government that will support councils as we begin to move to the recovery stage with, for example, the forthcoming re-opening of schools and an anticipated further relaxation of lockdown restrictions.
These announcements include £283 million from Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, to protect and increase transport services; £300 million, announced by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, to help councils expand their local test and tracing work; and £50 million, announced by Simon Clarke, Local Government Minister, to support local high streets to get safely back to business.
I strongly welcome all of these announcements, and indeed the others which I do not have the space to acknowledge here, and would like to thank Robert Jenrick, our Secretary of State, with whom we continue to work closely, HM Treasury, and the other relevant Departments involved.
Of course, as well as being a health emergency, Coronavirus presents a severe threat to our economy and the Chancellor has rightly won plaudits for his unprecedented packages of support to both businesses and employees.
Local government has been absolutely critical to the delivery of many of the measures that he has announced, and I am delighted that Conservative councils have risen to the challenge. In the limited space available here I would like to highlight just a few of the many examples of best practice from across the country that I am aware of.
In recognition of the perilous situation which many local businesses found themselves in, South Kesteven District Council paid more than more than 900 support grants within 24 hours of receiving the money from the Government, thus ensuring that desperately needed funding was received almost immediately.
Meanwhile, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council redeployed 40 staff from services across the authority to make individual calls to business owners encouraging them to apply for the various grants that are available.
The council has received some very positive feedback to this proactive approach, including from a number of businesses that did not realise that they were actually eligible for the support.
In another example of proactive support, the Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, has used his urgency powers to defer rent collections from the authority’s commercial portfolio in order to provide businesses with some much needed respite.
Conservative councils across the country have also played an absolutely central role in meeting the Government’s target of getting homeless people off the streets and into secure accommodation.
For example, within a 48 hour period, Stafford Borough Council ensured that every rough sleeper was given emergency accommodation and 26 ‘homeless households’ have been given permanent accommodation during the lockdown.
Similarly, East Suffolk council have placed 26 homeless people in emergency accommodation consisting of the council’s own housing stock, hotel rooms, and private housing.
As we all know, isolation is a real problem during this period of lockdown and councils have been at the forefront of efforts to support their most vulnerable residents in any way they can.
For example, Medway Council has offered a personal shopper service for older residents and those who are at high risk and self-isolating. Furthermore, in a proactive move which has been much appreciated by those contacted, council staff have called the most vulnerable residents to check that they are well and have all they need.
In Suffolk, a Communities Board, which is comprised of the county and district councils, health services, the police and voluntary and community groups, was established at the start of the pandemic to support the most vulnerable residents. This collaborative working has helped more than 6000 people through the Home But Not Alone emergency hotline; supported over 1500 community groups who are directly helping vulnerable people; had more than 1800 people sign up to a volunteer app; delivered 4,100kgs of food to foodbanks across the county, and distributed 500 emergency food parcels to those in urgent need of supplies.
Meanwhile, in Lichfield the district council has been involved in a joint venture with the Co-Op to proactively contact those considered to be vulnerable and, if necessary, take their shopping order and arrange a priority delivery through volunteers.
Finally, whilst the work of councils as corporate entities has been a critically important part of the national response to the pandemic, it is important to recognise that Conservative councillors have also played a crucially important role as individuals in supporting their own local communities.
To highlight some examples from just one group, our Conservative councillors in Plymouth, where we are in opposition, have helped the vulnerable in a variety of ways, including collecting shopping for homebound residents who have not received booked deliveries; delivering prescriptions to those who cannot collect them personally, and assisting the setting up of a food bank and book swap club.
These are just some examples of the excellent work that Conservative councils and Conservative councilors have done to support their communities and residents during these unprecedented times. If you have a particular example from your own area that you would like to highlight please do email me at email@example.com
I look forward to continuing to provide further updates via Conservative Home in the coming weeks, when hopefully we will have moved even further into the recovery stage.