Further to my communications over the previous month regarding the economic impact of the Government sanctions because of the “virus” I am pleased to note that it is now the main topic of discussion. There is now a realisation nationally that we are heading for a recession akin if not worse than the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
I said last month that as a district we need to make every effort to stimulate the economy by adopting a Keynesian approach and spend locally. Besides spending locally we, as an authority, can begin investing in – as far as we can – a civic building programme; local work, skills and procurement are now a necessity if we are to protect jobs and services. I also urged other Authorities and the Government to adopt the same. The finances of many local authorities are in a parlous state and we at Bolsover District Council are losing over £250k per month and I include our Treasurer’s (section 151 officer) breakdown below. It is patently obvious that this state of affairs cannot continue.
Today the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released figures which suggest the UK’s GDP dropped by 20.4% in April, which outstripped economists who were expecting an 18.4% decline. In addition stocks fall again in fears of second Covid-19 wave. A drop of 20.4% is the biggest contraction since records began. Add this to the news that the UK’s economy was already shrinking even before April, with it contracting by 2% in the first three months of 2020, it paints an even grimmer picture. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the “historic” fall affected virtually all areas of activity. The ONS also published figures for the three months from February to April, which showed a decline of 10.4% compared with the previous three-month period. During the global financial crisis, from the peak in February 2008 to the lowest point of March 2009, a total of 13 months, GDP shrank by 6.9%. The contraction during April is three times greater than the decline seen during the whole of the 2008 to 2009 economic downturn.
Almost nine million UK workers are having their wages paid by the government, while the number of people claiming unemployment benefit increased by 856,500 to 2.1 million in April, with this figure only predicted to rise further. Economists are expecting an even bigger slump in the April-to-June period, plunging the country into a deep recession.
Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said coronavirus had caused “unparalleled” economic turmoil which was “likely to scar the UK economy for some time yet”. “Having provided businesses life support, the government must now figure out how to stimulate activity,” he added. “Waiting until later in the year to act will risk more businesses and jobs will be lost.”
Loss in April compared to budget £176,600
Loss in May compared to budget £139,726
Loss forecast for June, compared to budget £181,433
Loss forecast for July to end of year compared to budget £706,469 based on current assumptions.
Total loss compared to income budgets of £1,204,228. This includes all of leisure activities, planning fees, MOT’s, and Licences.
There’s also a chance some of the bills we’ve sent out for trade waste collection may not get paid which aren’t included in the above figures. At the moment I’ve also not included in the above figures losses in commercial income where businesses can no longer pay their rent at Pleasley Vale, The Tangent or any other of our commercial properties. We budget to receive almost £1m from this income.
Council tax, business rates and dwelling rents are also not included in the above figures. Losses for these will affect the collection fund as you know and the HRA. Eventually our share of losses for the collection fund will hit the general fund but it won’t be this year.
We’ve received the grants from Government of £851,219 and we’ve just furloughed the leisure staff so those will both go some way towards the loss. I have the Government return for 15th June to complete by next Friday where I update all of these figures for them, plus provided expenditure figures. They also ask for our reserve figures although these are on the website in the accounts if they need to check them. Presumably by doing this they’re assessing what capability we have to stand these losses in income from our own resources.
Regarding expenditure, when I did the forecast for the return in May I was predicting we’d incur £181k in additional expenditure for PPE, ITC equipment, the printing we had done, paying for food parcels and in staff overtime for getting the grants out. I’ll be updating this estimate before next Friday.
An update on the grants is we received £14.216m and we’ve spent almost £12m paying out to over 1 thousand businesses. There is £623k on one side for the discretionary, meaning we have £1.6m left as at today. We are still finding a few to pay from the original money as the discretionary applications are being looked at by the Economic and Revenues teams.
We also received £800k for a council tax hardship relief scheme from Government. This is to be used to give approximately 3,800 working age council tax support claimants a reduction in their annual bill of up to £250.
I am in discussions with the Secretary of State for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) regarding potential help for local capital projects which can be delivered in the next 18 months.
These must deliver on two overarching objectives – driving up economic growth and jobs; supporting green recovery; primarily enabling:
- Town and city centre modernisation through targeted infrastructure investments unleashing their longer term economic potential
- Investment in physical connectivity to improve the functioning of the local economy
- Investment in innovation ecosystem including through improvements to research and development facilities driving up business productivity;
- Improvements to human capital
- Improving digital connectivity, in order to support economic performance, particularly in more isolated areas.
I’ve asked Grant and Chris Fridlington to address the deliverable projects that fit the criteria. (See below).
Town and city centre modernisation through targeted infrastructure investments unleashing their longer-term economic potential;
Investment in Shirebrook’s town centre including improvements to the Market Square
Investment in South Normanton’s town centre including improvements to the Market Square
Investment in Bolsover’s town centre including improving connectivity between the town centre and the Castle
Investment in Clowne’s town centre including improvements to Mill Lane
Investment in physical connectivity to improve the functioning of the local economy;
Investment in District wide cycle links and improving existing cycle and walking links
Investment in highway infrastructure around Bolsover, Barlborough, Clowne, Glapwell, Shirebrook and Whitwell to support growth
Investment in re-opening Maid Marian line and improving service along Robin Hood line
Investment in innovation ecosystem including through improvements to research and development facilities driving up business productivity;
Investment in Technology Centre
Investment in modern methods of construction
Modernisation of Pleasley Vale and investment in incubator units for start-ups and micro-businesses
Investment in utilising mine water and mine shafts to create energy alongside emerging solar PV, wind and heat from waste renewable energy technologies
• Improvements to human capital;
Investment in Institute of Technology at Coalite
Investment in Creswell Heritage Centre
• improving digital connectivity, in order to support economic performance, particularly in more isolated areas.
Investment in high-speed broadband across the District
Investment in digital infrastructure within our town centres
I asked Karen for an up-date on Environmental Health and as quick as a flash she produced this:-
During the COVID-19 crisis the Environmental Health Service has witnessed some significant changes in demand, has implemented a range of interventions and adopted new ways of working to protect public health and to support business.
Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, 510 food safety interventions were completed across the District, being 100% of those required. In addition, significant progress was also made to the processing of newly registered food businesses. At the start of 2019/20 there were 56 premises awaiting inspection and at the end of the year there were 18, many of which had not yet started operating.
On the 16th March, as the COVID-19 situation developed nationally, the Joint Environmental Health Service began making arrangements for adjusting service delivery to protect staff, prevent the spread of the virus, and to maintain essential service delivery. Staff were advised to work at home if they could to help reduce the number of people working from office bases, and to reduce the risk of community transmission. On the 18th March a COVID-19 protocol document was published for the Service which detailed the protective measures staff needed to follow and which defined essential visits and activity.
This early business continuity work also identified the existing mobile technology and equipment the Service possessed which could be utilised to ensure as many staff as possible could work at and from home.
On the 23rd March 2020, the Government announced the partial UK lockdown, which amongst other measures, in part closed all schools for all children, other than those of key workers and instructed people to stay at home unless their work could not be done from home. Subsequently, on the 24th March, the Service’s protocols were updated and a management instruction given to all staff to work at home where possible.
The vast majority of staff had been issued with laptops over a rolling two-year technical refresh programme. The Technical Support Team had, however, relied on the use of desktop computers. Contingency measures were put in place to provision iPads previously used for Taxi Licensing Tests, to support this staff group working remotely. The majority of staff already had smartphones and by using the divert function within the MiCollab package, telephony continuity was mostly dealt with. Some call diverts to the Contact Centre also proved necessary.
Arrangements were put in place to enable printing and postage. Staff were able to email Contact Centre staff who would arrange to print and post, negating the need to attend the office. All staff were asked to use email communications wherever possible and Contact Centre staff were asked to attempt to obtain email contact details from all callers. Despite best efforts in this regard, 581 items of correspondence were printed and posted between 23rd March and 4th June.
The Service has seen a significant increase in service requests and complaints, particularly with regard to nuisances, including neighbour noise complaints and garden bonfires. 835 service requests for the Bolsover District were received in Environmental Health from 23rd March to 3rd June was as follows.
Over the lockdown period the number of domestic bonfire complaints increased by 145 and domestic noise complaints by 69, being a 213% increase overall by comparison with the same period last year (both Councils). The Service has responded to these issues by creating new advice notes and website content, in addition to investigating each individual case.
The Service has also been central to implementing many of the Government’s social distancing and business requirements. We have been providing support to the local business community by providing advice leaflets and guidance on the risk assessments and controls necessary to become COVID secure. Officers are working alongside other colleagues to identify businesses on the high streets that need support, so that we can continue to give them the advice they need and contribute to economic recovery.
In addition, various enforcement actions and initiatives have been delivered including two district wide enforcement campaigns, making 314 visits in Bolsover.
One of the keys to service improvement is considered to be effective and open communication with teams and individuals. During lockdown, this has been particularly important to ensure that new information can be disseminated and to enable effective staff management and leadership. The Service had already started to roll out the use of WhatsApp to assist team communication and remove the reliance on formal email for keeping in touch with staff who work predominantly out of the office. This early adoption enabled the Service to ensure that discussion groups and support mechanisms were in pace to ensure people could keep in touch with ease and to ensure effective one-to-one support from managers and team leaders was available.
Frequent video conference Environmental Health Management team meetings and, in most teams, weekly team meetings, are enabling the Service to maintain effective leadership, team member support and task and team management.
Inspection and Visiting Services
While normal inspection and intervention programmes (food safety, health and safety, pollution control and animal welfare) were suspended formally by Government departments, work to support businesses, their employees and consumers has continued in a different way, through remote interventions, advice and support communications and beginning early preparations for the resumption of work, following the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Across the Housing and Pollution team, although visits to witness incidents, nuisances and housing disrepair issues had initially ceased, those cases where people were in significant danger were prioritised and successful outcomes maintained for the public. Advice and support to tenants and landlords has been key to ensuring housing standards are maintained during the lockdown.
As many food businesses looked to maintain their income and moved to takeaway services, the Environmental Health Service has provided further support, practical advice and guidance on how to safely operate. Through website updates, a suite of sector specific guidance documents (including for licensed animal activities, such as dog boarding), direct mail and email, along with ad-hoc checks in our communities to ensure social distancing is maintained at these businesses, the Service has successfully engaged with the business community during this crisis.
As part of the lockdown, businesses were required to close and the enforcement of those restrictions fell to Environmental Health services at District Council’s and Trading Standards at the County Council, with support from the Police where required.
The planning and delivery of this has largely been successful thanks to partnership working through the Derbyshire Chief Regulators Group. Our Environmental Health Service was instrumental in beginning regional coordination efforts following the business closure announcements. This has continued to ensure that intelligence on cross boundary businesses is maintained, that delivery of enforcement and advice is delivered in partnership with the County Council and county wide enforcement methods are consistent.
The Service has also been part of the County wide Community Cohesion and Social Distancing group which is a partnership intelligence and planning group, involving Police, Environmental Health, Trading Standards and Public Health practitioners.
To date, the Council has supported hundreds of businesses to ensure they close or put in place appropriate social distancing measures to comply with the law and protect public health. The Service has taken more formal action regarding one premises to require them to close to comply with the business restrictions. One prosecution case has been submitted to the Magistrates’ Court (to consider alongside a previous licensing offence) for an offence of opening during the first weekend of the lockdown in March. A Prohibition Notice has recently been served on a pub for flouting restrictions.
Moving forward, the team continue to protect the health and safety of our residents and businesses. Over recent weeks the Service has been engaged in regional discussions with Public Health colleagues to contribute to the development of local Outbreak Control Plans and to define the local Trace and Track response to COVID-19. I will keep you updated as this work continues to be developed.
Not to be outdone Lee includes the following:-
The Leader has mentioned in previous briefings that the Council are now well underway with recovery planning. This Recovery Action Planning process is a dynamic one that focusses on three key areas;
· Re-establishment of Council Services – Organisation
· Economic, Financial and Business – Economy
· Community, Health & Wellbeing and Environment – Community
There are both external ‘outward facing’ plans and internal ‘inward facing plans’ that make up the wider recovery plan. The following is an overview of the internal aspects of recovery – The Organisational Recovery Plan.
Whilst some of this Organisational Recovery Plan will be about ensuring the basics are in place to continue or resume service delivery – the basic ‘practicalities’ of organisational operation, the recovery process will not always mean a return to old ways of doing business. This current situation has created an opportunity for the Council to reengage with its teams and reimagine itself as part of the recovery process. The Council has demonstrated a level of resilience and adaptability during the response phase of the pandemic, the recovery phase will now require the organisation to deal with transformative change in many aspects of its business and operation. The Council will now reflect on what we need to do next, it will understand what has worked well during the response phase, what has been learned and what has been missed – or not as the case may be. The organisational recovery planning process will also be an opportunity to re-engage with and recommit to the Council’s workforce taking account of the physical, psychological, emotional and financial impacts experienced by many of its staff.
Maintaining Financial Control
A critical element of both the Council’s response to the crisis and the recovery process following the initial immediacy of reacting to the pandemic, has been and will continue to be, the ability to maintain financial control. The pandemic is inevitably having and will continue to have, a detrimental impact on the Council’s financial position both in terms of cash flow and the overall budget. The Council’s main concern has been income lost from fees and charges such as planning fees and income from its Leisure Centre.
The Council is losing around £230k per month in foregone income whilst lockdown has been in effect and cannot expect to return to “business as usual” immediately now that restrictions begin to ease – Leisure Centre income for example will take many months or even years to return to ‘normal’ given the social distancing rules that are likely to be in place for a long time to come.
The way in which local authorities are funded has changed over the past 10 years or so. These changes were designed to provide incentives for local growth with shift from central Government funding to a system of locally generated funding including council tax, business rates retention and charges for services amongst others. Prior to the pandemic, Government were expected to undertake and release findings from its ‘Fair Funding Review’, in which future Local Authority funding arrangements would be set out. Although yet unknown, it is likely that the sheer scale of the funding measures put in place to meet the challenges of the pandemic by the government, will impact significantly upon this review, its findings and any arrangements emanating from it.
The Council along with all other Local Authorities has received emergency funding from Government to help to mitigate against the impact and effects of the pandemic upon the operation of the Council. BDC has received to date £851,219, which whilst hugely welcome only goes some way to meeting the forecast losses this year. Measures therefore have been put in place to mitigate against the immediate ‘known’ impact to date, the anticipated impact in the coming months and the uncertainty around the overall Local Authority funding arrangements.
The Council is maintaining regular contact with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and other Government departments with regard to Local Authority funding arrangements both in relation to the immediate challenges and into the future. The Council is also actively involved in County-wide S151 officer and regional forums established to meet the challenges of response to and recovery from, the current crisis.
Getting People Back in the Workplace
On 10th May, Government outlined its plans to enable certain sectors in England to return to work. Whilst staff who are able to work from home will continue to do so, the Council are planning for what is likely to be a staged return to work for others. The Council’s guiding principle is to take care of its staff and safeguard their health and well-being. The Council understand that some staff will be concerned and anxious about being in the workplace or travelling to it, whilst others, even with the capability to work from home, have a desire to return to the workplace to safeguard their mental well-being which is being negatively affected by being isolated.
Primarily, the Council take consideration of the following when putting in place arrangements for returning to work;
- Is it essential?
If people can work from home then this will be the case in the short to medium term – perhaps even longer, however this will be considered on a case by case basis where necessary – particularly where it is recognised that there are individual detrimental health impacts in continuing doing so. If they cannot work from home, is their work essential or could it be delayed further?
- Is it safe?
The Council have a duty of care to its staff and to identify and manage risks to ensure the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to. A gradual return for those essential workers who cannot work from home is planned to allow the Council to ‘test’ its arrangements following which larger numbers may return.
- Employee engagement and consultation.
It is vital that there is clear dialogue between the Council, its staff and the Trade Unions so that individual’s needs and worries are taken into account.
In the recovery planning processes it is of vital importance that the Council’s culture remains inclusive. The response phase and recovery phase to date has affected services differently according to job/service role – for example, the Council’s ‘Streetscene’ staff have largely been operational throughout, whilst the Councils Leisure Team have largely been re-deployed to support the newly formed Community Response Team. There will be staff that have been at home throughout but working at 100% productivity whilst others have been at home throughout and have not been productive at all (through no fault of their own). The uneven nature of people’s work and the services the Council provide mean that there are many different experiences and workloads associated with the past few weeks – particularly throughout the lockdown period. In all plans and communications associated with the recovery phase – an inclusive attitude and approach will be adopted to keep the organisation ‘together’, tackling the issues as ‘one team’.
New Ways of Working
As the Council begins its recovery phase it has to think strategically about essential and non-essential services, policies and plans and the need for new ways of working. To some degree the coronavirus pandemic has fast tracked changes to the Council’s usual working practices – changes that have come about in a matter of weeks that may otherwise have taken years to have happened. The Council along with all other organisations have moved rapidly to a virtual and remote working environment with a reassuring demonstration of adaptability, versatility and flexibility. Now in the recovery phase, the Council are beginning to recognise that these changes brought about by adversity, could become part of the ‘new normal’ for the Councils operating framework.
The recovery phase will also be a time to re-think and reconfigure the Councils priorities and how it will deliver these. It will not only be a time to return to work, but a time of different work and different ways of working in order to address the changing landscape and emerging needs of the communities that the Council serve. Re-thinking the role and work of the Council may also mean re-thinking the workforce. What equipment and facilities do the staff need to deliver? How can digital technologies help? How does the Council perform with a dispersed workforce? The Council, along with most other Local Authorities, is structured around rigid routine with standardised processes and working patterns including working days and hours. As the Council move from this initial response phase in to recovery, there is an opportunity and in some cases a need to change, adapt and transform.
ICT and Cybersecurity
The integration of technology obviously presents great opportunities in terms of how the Council operates but it doesn’t come without risk. The response and recovery from Covid-19 and the new increase in remote working is creating new threat exposures. The expanding number of remote devices creates an increased vulnerability to the Councils network, the Council need to be aware and vigilant against cyber-attacks and the results of poor digital security. The Council’s elected Members and staff must be trained to recognise these threats as the amount of virtual and remote work increases and cyber risk along with it. The Council needs to have in place the cyber tools necessary to protect staff and elected Members at home and onsite as well as those customers and stakeholders in the community.
Front Facing Services
Due to the outdoor nature of the service, Streetscene services such as; refuse collection, litter picking, street sweeping, fly tipping and grass cutting, service disruption has largely been limited to staffing resource availability due to the lockdown measures. Socially distancing in vehicles, lone working and the correct issue and use of PPE has largely meant that these services, and others of a similar nature, have either remained or have only been temporarily suspended and are relatively easy to reinstate. Other front facing services on the other hand such as Contact Centres and Leisure Centres will require more thought and are currently unable to be re-instated fully due largely to the social distancing requirements and the current rate of infection. Any service that intends to or needs to come into contact with the public will need to ensure it has sufficient measures in place to reduce the spread of infection as much as possible.
Reviewing Our Existing Plans
Wider strategies, plans and projects will undoubtedly take on new meaning post Covid-19 – priorities, aims, objectives and actions will perhaps require a re-think with some elements being jettisoned whilst others being enhanced and given greater emphasis. All strategy and plan holders, project leads and teams will over the coming weeks, review all such key work streams.
We will continue to provide progress of all of the above over the next few briefings.