Agenda item

Opposition Group Business

Councillor Birch to make a statement on “Lessons learnt so far on the Covid 19 Crisis”



Councillor Birch made a statement on lessons learnt so far on the Covid-19 crisis. She commented that the arrival of Covid-19 has made everyone face unprecedented pressures, and changes to every aspect of everyone’s lives and families. This generation has never had to face the challenges of an emergency such as this. Working patterns, family routines, social and cultural activities have all been curtailed or greatly altered. It is unimaginable that things can go back to normal in the coming months or years when everyone is overshadowed by a virus which took fewer that 100 days to shut the world down.   Councillor Birch went on to state what she felt had been learnt, she commented that communities, neighbours and friends had rallied round and set up support groups, neighbours were contacted and the elderly and vulnerable were identified and offered help. This was replicated at a higher level by the Community Resilience Hub. Over 600 volunteers in the town have come forward and local organisations have played their part, adapting their work to cater for the increased demands on their services.  Councillor Birch highlighted that the value of key workers, the health professionals, care workers, teachers, police, ambulance drivers, transport staff, environmental teams, postal workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff had been learnt.  She commented that often, they are undervalued, poorly paid, working on zero hours contracts, no job security.  Councillor Birch commented that this must be changed.  Councillor Birch also advised that it had been learnt that an overly centralised response is not what people want to hear. There is a need for local decisions made at local level. Local Councils working in partnership with local organisations know their communities best. She emphasised that what is wanted is messaging by trusted and familiar community leaders to cut through the confused and ambiguous national broadcasts.  There needs to be agile and for there to be swift responses to local needs and information directing people to local services such as testing and tracking facilities.   She added that it the vital role played by digital connectivity; the need for reliable broadband, IT equipment available for home workers; laptops for home schooling was learnt. With the closure of offices, virtual meetings such as this, are vital to maintain good governance and ensure access, engagement and accountability with decision makers.  There had been effects of 10 years of austerity on families and council services. Local Government funding has reduced year on year.  Many services cut to the bone, with no resilience to fight back in an emergency. Council posts cut or unfilled, the non-essential supports reduced. Emergency supplies run down, local knowledge lost or out of date. Families with precarious finances, debts, insecure jobs and housing. Delays in welfare pay outs, real poverty, hunger, poor physical and mental health.  Councillor Birch added that it had been learnt that this pandemic has highlighted inequalities and with Government funding emergency accommodation for the homeless could be found, with Government funding businesses could be helped, Council Tax to the most vulnerable could be subsidised, food boxes could be distributed, staff could be furloughed to preserve jobs and Government financed sick pay for those experiencing Covid -19.   As a consequence of the hopefully temporary collapse of the global economy, our environment is cleaner and fresher. People are walking and cycling, discovering and enjoying our wonderful parks and open spaces. People now notice and appreciate wildlife and nature and can manage without using cars as much. This is an opportunity to expand and invest in the green economy, to develop public transport, cycle lanes and pathways; NCC has a grant of £351,000 to do this. It has been recognised how important schools, teachers and education is, along with youth activities are to children and young people. Six months out of school for the majority of children will result in a huge educational deficit. Some children are well supported with their home learning by teachers, parents and carers.  Some will not have IT equipment to work with. Some will have to share a laptop with other members of the family or try to work from a phone. For some children it will take many months of catching up to return to the same levels and learning patterns. For some this will never happen and their life chances will be limited due to lack of qualifications and a good standard of education.  For some young people, school is a place of safety, away forms scenes of domestic abuse, substance abuse and violence in their homes. The hidden harm, depression and anxiety will become apparent only when schools are fully open.  The demands on safeguarding and child mental health provision will overwhelm an already stretched service. Young people will need support with jobs and skills training to prevent them becoming the ‘pandemic generation’. With the prospect of an economic recession and subsequent depression it is gloomy prospect for many.  


Councillor King commented that she agreed with Councillor Birch’s statement and thanked Officers involved in the Local Resilience Forum. Meetings were taking place weekly regarding youth provision.  A Covid-19 response pack had been produced in conjunction with partners and had been issued by email.  City Fibre had provided laptops to a number of children.  Lots of information is available and a questionnaire had been issued to volunteers to ascertain what else was available.  A book would be produced consisting of stories and photos to demonstrate the outstanding work that has been undertaken during this period.


Councillor Birch added Covid-19 has highlighted inequalities in society. Inequalities in health, housing, jobs and opportunities, life expectancy, education, digital inclusion, poverty, hunger, debt. Older people are much more vulnerable to the virus. BAME groups are twice as likely to die from Covid -19. These groups must be offered greater protection if there is to be a second or third spike in infections.  Before Covid-19, the greatest areas of growth nationally were the creative industries, leisure and tourism. Leisure and cultural activities are going to be essential to people’s wellbeing as everything returns to a more normalised society.  Work patterns will change. There will be more working from home. Meetings may be physical or remote. The need for vast office space may be reduced. Councillors and council staff will need a greater level of IT skill and support as this happens. The notion of a balanced budget may be a thing of the past.   There will be debt and overspend. There has been 60% loss of income form commercial fees and charges, business rates, council tax and car parks. Overtime payments for staff to deal with the extra administration and extra expense for Covid-19 related spending, extra costs for cleaning and social distancing arrangements.