Report of the Director – Neighbourhoods
The Service Manager Corporate Services delivered a presentation to support the report of the Director – Neighbourhoods concerning the specific work undertaken by the Council to support communities and businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was explained that the report focused on the external impact of Covid-19 on the Council’s delivery of services and it complimented the previous report presented to the Group which focused on the internal impacts.
The presentation to the Group covered:
· Impact of Covid-19 on communities and businesses, sports clubs, voluntary and community groups, contracted services
· Community Support Hub
· Business support
· Covid Compliance
· Contracts Management
· Critical Success Factors
The Service Manager Corporate Services explained that the Community Support Hub, hosted by Nottinghamshire County Council, had received 133 requests from individuals for support with medication collection, emergency food parcels, access to food supply, telephone befriending, physical wellbeing checks and dog walking. The Borough Council responded to these requests, by redeploying staff where required, to support Rushcliffe residents.
In Rushcliffe, the level of requests for such support was lower than in other districts in the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) area due to the strong response received from volunteers in local communities, which was supported by local Councillors who, in many cases, took a leading role in facilitating and bringing together networks.
Examples of the support provided to and by communities were highlighted to the Group and included:
· Radcliffe to the Rescue, which generated 150 volunteers to support the whole community
· Over 100 activity packs (including physical activity packs, recipe packs, Active Minds packs and bespoke Family Packs) developed and issued under the Reach Rushcliffe Initiative to homes/families and those who were socially isolated and lonely
· Radcooks Community Kitchen which provided meals and social interaction to vulnerable Rushcliffe residents
· Cotgrave Community Kitchen, which offered food delivery to residents
· Holiday Activities and Food Programme, funded by Nottinghamshire County Council via the Department for Education, to provide children in receipt of free school meals with physical activity, nutritional education and a healthy meal during school holidays
· Summer and Christmas programmes delivered in 2021 provided a total of 786 HAF funded places for 298 children, which will be funded for the further three years with additional provision of 1,524 places in Cotgrave, Bingham, West Bridgford, Edwalton, Radcliffe-on-Trent, Kinoulton and East Leake.
The Group was informed that the Council had also supported those who could not work as they were self-isolating or were on low incomes with payments of £500 provided from Government funding. 1,158 applications had been received and 531 payments made, amounting to £265,500. Currently, there were three applications awaiting further information. The Group was assured that the funding would be processed by the deadline (June) as monies unspent had to be repaid to the Government
The Council’s Communities Team had supported community groups, voluntary organisations, and charities across the Borough to apply for Social Recovery Funding and Community Food funding again allocated by central government through Nottinghamshire County Council. A total of £220,732 was awarded to support social recovery projects and £103,662 for Community Food based projects across Rushcliffe.
Regarding the Councillors Community Support Grants Scheme, the Group was informed that the process had been streamlined to enable more efficient access to funding for community causes. This enabled Councillors to spend around £9,000 between May 2020 and August 2021 on projects such as PPE, food parcels, craft activities to beat social isolation, and materials for the creation of medical scrubs, face masks and laundry bags.
The Group was informed that, during the pandemic, sports clubs ceased training and competition. Several funding streams were made available to support clubs through the pandemic and during re-opening. In May 2020, Sport England’s Emergency Fund allocated £22,305 to sports clubs in Rushcliffe; 60% of applications received were allocated funding. Officers supported sports clubs in their return as the pandemic eased, with provision of templates for Covid documentation and guidance on implementing Covid measures and creating risk assessments. Funding and resources were still available for those financially impacted by the pandemic.
The Service Manager Corporate Services explained that the Council had put in place a number of measures to support the Rushcliffe business community. A dedicated Covid-19 business support webpage had received 41,000 views, and regular posts were put on the Council’s and Rushcliffe Business Partnership’s social media pages. In addition, the Council was allocated £212,000 of Welcome Back Funding by the European Regional Development Fund to support the safe re-opening of town centres, which in Rushcliffe included:
· Allocation of £10,000 to each of the larger town/parish councils
· 10 business support webinars held with expert consultants providing advice and support
· 24 businesses received one-to-one business support from retail and PR consultants
· 30 market traders attended a webinar on the basics of social media and establishing a digital presence
· Shop local shop safe communications campaign
· Appointment of High Street Ambassadors to support the reopening of high streets and be a visible presence to provide reassurance
· Enhanced summer events programme in West Bridgford to encourage people back into the town centre
· Improvements to the appearance of town centres including; new planters in Bridgford Park, lighting at Eaton Place in Bingham and improvements to seating areas on Gordon Square
· The appointment of a temporary Town Centre Manager who has supported the delivery of a number of events and markets, the establishment of retail forums/meetings and one-to-one business support
· Development of a new strategy for West Bridgford Way to enhance what it offers, support local businesses and increase footfall
· The appointment of a contractor to address and reduce ASB/littering in parks
· The simplification of the process for applying for pavement licenses, to enable businesses to use pavements for seating to ensure social distancing measures were adhered to.
The Group was informed that occupation levels in Council-owned commercial property remained high at around 97%. Current tenants had been offered rent holidays during the pandemic which totalled £134,000 for 24 tenants, of which £75,000 had been repaid. 19 tenants had cleared their debts, four remained with payment plans, with just under £60,000 outstanding. Tenants had been very grateful for the support provided by the Council during such a challenging time.
Regarding Covid compliance, the Environmental Health Team had worked to ensure that businesses complied with the Government’s Covid guidance. In total, 23 fixed penalty notices had been served on businesses that had breached Covid regulations and the closure of a business in West Bridgford which had repeated breaches had been sought. 800 additional Covid-related enforcement/advisory visits had been completed by the Team, which was in addition to usual business.
The Group was informed that the Council had supported leisure centres throughout the pandemic by providing advice and guidance to support the safe re-opening and ensure that Government guidance was followed. £224,000 was secured from the National Local Recovery Fund managed on behalf of DCMS by Sports England to support Lex Leisure, the Council’s leisure centre provider. Leisure centre usage was now at 80% of pre-pandemic levels, with requests for swimming lessons higher than pre-pandemic, for children in particular. Additionally, the Council had refurbished the indoor bowls hall at the Arena to enable the provision of group exercise classes in a socially distanced manner.
Community facilities throughout Rushcliffe had been used as vaccination and testing sites. For example, from Gamston Community Hall, which had been refurbished since the pandemic, 180,000 vaccinations had been delivered. Testing had been carried out at sites across the Borough.
The Service Manager Corporate Services highlighted the amazing uprising from communities across the Borough which showed that people were very engaged in their communities and were keen to support delivery by the Council. The existing strong links between Council teams and communities were built on to enable a rapid response to communities’ needs.
The Group commended the report adding that an emergency action plan covering the lessons learned should be developed in the event that something similar should reoccur and that this should address other emergencies, as well as the pandemic. The Service Manager Corporate Services responded that the LRF had emergency plans in place for such an eventuality and caution should be taken to avoid duplication. This was acknowledged by the Chairman.
The Group suggested that the successes highlighted be promoted to communities, encompassing information from the presentation given, to detail what had been achieved and also thanking residents for their enthusiasm and support, as well as seeking their input to the process.
The Group commended the support available to businesses, which it highlighted was highly valued by the business community for the speed of response and support provided by the Council. Rushcliffe had a good reputation for responding well to the pandemic. The Group asked that an additional recommendation be included in the report to recognise the work undertaken by staff and to congratulate them for this success in supporting Rushcliffe communities.
It was moved by Councillor N Clarke and seconded by Councillor J Wheeler that Corporate Overview Group:
“Welcomes the information provided by officers which highlighted the support provided to Rushcliffe communities during the pandemic and its congratulations be relayed to all staff for their efforts and support with this”.
The Chairman added that the Borough Council had a strong relationship with parish councils throughout Rushcliffe which had enabled the rapid provision of support to communities during the pandemic. She added that there had been a fantastic hygiene regime in place during the pandemic, and she was disappointed that this would not be continued nationally; she was keen for this to continue locally.
It was RESOLVED that Corporate Overview Group:
a) Welcomes the information provided by officers which highlighted the support provided to Rushcliffe communities during the pandemic and its congratulations be relayed to all staff for their efforts and support with this
b) Considers the information provided by officers, both in the report and verbally at the meeting in response to the Group’s questions
c) Considers whether there are any additional lessons to be learnt from the Council’s response to the pandemic
d) Considers whether any actions are necessary at this stage in light of the increased knowledge and understanding the Group now has about the Council’s response to the pandemic.