Councils and COVID-19: The Response Edition #7

May 7, 2020  |  By Charlotte Morgan, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

04/5/20 – 08/5/20

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

Calderdale Council ran a pilot scheme to convert a four-star hotel near Huddersfield into a 113-bed care home, in what has been dubbed “the UK’s first Nightingale care home.” The new care home, which was set up in just three weeks and has been registered with the Care Quality Commission, will help the council support the growing number of vulnerable residents whose usual care arrangements have been disrupted by the pandemic.

Birmingham Children’s Partnership, including Birmingham City Council, NHS, Police and Birmingham Children’s Trust, has put in place new support for children and families. A new early help model led by the voluntary sector is in place in ten localities. Two new grant programmes have been set up by the council: £800,000 community grants to build local capacity, and £1m resilience funding for families (aiming to transfer money in one hour). A new online mental health service is also available for 250,000 young people.

Redbridge Council
launched an initiative to provide around 1,700 packed lunches for children across the borough who are entitled to free school meals. Parents can collect a week’s worth of ingredients for light lunches and dessert from a local school.  An email or text message is sent to eligible parents telling them when and where to collect their packs. In the last week of April, the council added a £5 voucher in each pack so that parents could purchase any extra food the child might need.

Adur & Worthing Councils are working in partnership with local businesses and charities to provide support to people presenting as homeless, the number of which has doubled to 140 since the lockdown was announced in March. The councils have found suitable accommodation for them and are working to support them on issues such as finance and mental health. Local businesses are regularly deep-cleaning the accommodation to protect against COVID-19 and cooking three hot home-cooked meals a day for the 70 most in-need individuals.

Informing communities

Sunderland City Council’s Director of Public Health will use a new weekly column in the Sunderland Echo newspaper to answer readers’ questions and provide updates and advice on the local impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Lambeth Council released a special report and online video outlining its wide-ranging response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The report highlights new initiatives set up by the council in the last few weeks to: keep services running; work with the NHS; support mental health and wellbeing; support local businesses and the voluntary and community sector; and help residents in financial difficulty.

Support for businesses

Staffordshire County Council allocated all £500,000 of the funding set aside for its new COVID-19 support scheme for local micro businesses in just one week after receiving 1,600 calls and 600 applications. Businesses registered in Staffordshire with no more than nine employees and an annual turnover of less than £2m a year were eligible to apply, provided that they did not qualify for national government grant schemes.

Wandsworth Council set up a scheme involving local accountants to advise self-employed residents and help those who had yet to complete their 2018-19 tax return (a requirement for government support). As of 7 May, 131 self-employed people were advised by partner accountants and 30 were supported to complete their returns.

Self-isolation activities

Enjoy Staffordshire, with the help of Staffordshire County Council, organised a packed programme of online arts & crafts sessions, poetry, music, webinars and demonstrations so that residents could celebrate Staffordshire Day while under lockdown.

Derby City Council’s libraries launched an online photo quiz to mark ‘Local History Month’ in May. Entries with the most correct answers on the 12 photos, which are all linked to Derby’s past, will be included in a prize draw to win an iPad mini.

Richmond Council is working with British astronaut Helen Sharman to support and inspire young people in lockdown. Over the past few weeks, nearly 100 children and young people from across the borough sent in video questions to ask Helen how being isolated in space compares with the current lockdown. As part of the #RichmondGetCreative project, the council is encouraging schools and children to create their own small rocket using everyday household items to be in with a chance of winning a prize.

Many councils have gone the extra mile to organise online activities to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday 8th May. Here are a few examples:

Bury Council’s libraries and archive service have produced special collections of Bury Times articles from May 1945 and extracts from a book depicting what life was like for people in Bury when the war ended. The collections can be accessed online.

Wakefield Council created a virtual party pack for residents to make decorations and 1940s recipes at home, play games and activities and put on a Spotify VE Day playlist.

Rutland Council will award a prize to the best-decorated home, shop or front windows celebrating VE Day.

St Albans Council put together a list of local independent retailers that can deliver vintage clothes and accessories and cream tea directly to people’s homes.

Portsmouth City Council will light up the sky with spotlights from 9:30pm to 11:30pm to recall the World War II blackouts and remind everyone that “lighter times will come again.”

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