Councils and COVID-19: The Response Edition #5

April 24, 2020  |  By Charlotte Morgan, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

20/4/20 – 24/4/20

Local authorities are indispensable in our current crisis and are therefore under enormous pressure. They manage the public services that people are increasingly reliant on, support the most vulnerable people in our communities, and hold information that keeps local people safe and informed. In this time of great uncertainty, councils are taking new, radical and innovative steps to deal with the crisis and protect their residents. We’re compiling some here and will update it weekly.

If you would like to share examples of how your local authority is responding to COVID-19, please write to Charlotte Morgan – cmorgan@newlocal.org.uk/ @cmorgan_9.

Supporting residents in need

Cambridgeshire County Council agreed a agreed a 10 per cent increase in the fees it pays to adult social care providers to help them respond to the pandemic. This is expected to put an additional £1.4 million per month into the county’s care sector until at least the end of June. Some of this spend will be met through the COVID-19 funding Cambridgeshire has received from central government.

Durham County Council will provide 30 hours of funding to any nursery or childminder taking on new children from key worker or vulnerable families. The funding will help providers stay open or re-open and be more flexible in taking on new children quickly to allow parents to go back to work without having to pay extra for childcare costs.

Warwickshire County Council and Coventry City Council, in partnership with the NHS and arts organisations, formed a Creative Health Alliance. The Alliance launched a new scheme offering grants to arts bodies or individual artists with ideas to support people struggling with social isolation, loneliness and/or emotional distress during the current crisis and beyond.

Gedling Borough Council launched a highly successful campaign, the ‘Giving for Gedling Food Bank Appeal’, to raise money to stock a new ‘super food bank’ based in a leisure centre. The council’s target of raising £20,000 was achieved in just 48 hours thanks to the generosity of Gedling residents and local councillors, who each donated £250 from their Councillor’s Community Fund. As of 17th April, over £25,000 has been raised. The money will be used to purchase and distribute food to local food banks via the central ‘super food bank’ and deliver food parcels to residents in need.

Milton Keynes Council has set up new partnerships with local charities to amplify their impact during the pandemic. Food Bank Xtra is a supercharged version of a charity that provided 14,000 food parcels to residents last year. The council has redeployed staff and converted children’s centres into food collection points to meet increased demand. The charity is now sharing 500+ parcels each week.

The council also set up the COVID-19 MK Emergency Response Appeal with MK Community Foundation. The appeal raised £205,000 in its first month to support charities and community groups helping people in need during the emergency.

Political Leadership

The Leader of Kirklees Council redesigned his Cabinet to give members new priorities that focus more specifically on the council’s COVID-19 response. New roles for Cabinet members include: ‘engaging and supporting voluntary sector capacity for immediate responses to the pandemic’; ‘leading recovery strategy’; ‘planning for return to school’; and ‘planning the post-pandemic inclusive economy’.

Cheshire East Council appointed two councillors as adult mental health champions to provide advice and support to residents during the COVID-19 crisis. The councillors will help residents find and access professional mental health services and encourage them to talk about their mental wellbeing to combat the stigma that still surrounds the issue.

Funding for community projects

West Sussex County Council extended the qualifying criteria for its next round of Community Initiative Funding so that groups carrying out community work in response to the COVID-19 outbreak can apply. The Fund supports small-scale projects with a total value no greater than £750 and larger-scale projects through a crowdfunding platform and council contributions.

Informing residents

Bolton Council and Bolton College launched the first issue of their new community e-magazine, The Bolton Family. The magazine includes information on job and volunteering opportunities, useful contact details, home learning, spring cleaning tips and book recommendations.

Support for businesses

Enfield Council waived rental payments for local businesses and community organisations that lease properties in council-owned buildings for the period 25th March to 23rd June. Organisations that have already paid part or all of the costs will receive a full refund.

Richmond Council and StartUp Richmond launched a new virtual programme to help local businesses build strength and resilience during and after the pandemic. The programme, which businesses can join free of charge, will cover marketing and sales, finance, technology, health and wellbeing, legal, staffing and HR and business resilience.

Self-isolation activities

Wigan Council launched three competitions to encourage residents to show off their creative skills during lockdown. The competitions are: Carry on Colouring, which residents can enter by sticking homemade artwork to their windows or bins; Our Town’s Got Talent, which invites residents to submit a short video of their performance(s) in a range of categories; and Bloomin’ Beautiful, which asks residents to send the council a photo of their garden, hanging baskets, house plants or window boxes. Prizes will be awarded to the winners.

Responding to feedback from residents, Hammersmith & Fulham Council will temporarily widen pavements in busy shopping areas to help queuing customers practise social distancing safely.

We will be continuing to update these examples weekly. Please write to Charlotte Morgan – cmorgan@newlocal.org.uk to submit your own.