Report of the Chief Executive
The Chief Executive presented the report to the Committee on the plans for recovery following the COVID 19 pandemic.
Members were given a detailed update on the national emergency response, which provided information on the numerous links to other agencies which the Chief Executive was involved in. She referred to the fact that there were currently 128 staff in the clinically vulnerable category with 60 of these working from home and 68 unable to. 11 staff were shielded and 20 were living with shielded individuals. This represented a challenge for the Authority in the way it delivered some of its services. The Chief Executive went on to talk about the response phase which included reference to the community hub, the number of volunteers, the changes to working practices and the Government grants which had been paid out to local businesses.
The Committee was updated on the numerous methods of communication which had been utilised in order to keep members, staff, local businesses and residents updated throughout the crisis. Reference was also made to the emotional and financial impact that the crisis was having on individuals together with the impact it was having on local businesses and the community.
The Chief Executive updated members on the recovery plans which would follow a parallel structure across Leicestershire and Rutland, and referred to the phased re-opening of schools, retail and night time economy. There were a number of recovery cells in operation within the Authority which helped to provide robust analysis of the impact of the Government guidance as it changes, and detailed risk assessments into every service before they resume.
The Committee was updated on the local authority discretionary grants fund scheme and the level of funding which had been allocated to local businesses in the district.
The Chairman thanked the Chief Executive for her comprehensive report and invited questions and comments from Members.
Councillor S Sheahan asked what impact the change in Government plans on the re-opening of schools would have on staffing levels, what was the current situation with regard to the leisure contract and how far behind was the work on the major redevelopment projects such as Marlborough Square, Newmarket and the Leisure Centre?
The Chief Executive advised him that it was too early to say what impact would be had on staffing levels; with the added difficulty around those who had more than one child who may be in different school years. Within North West Leicestershire, there was a phased approach to reopening, so as an Authority there would not be a level of change early on. The Chief Executive advised that the Authority had details of every member of staff and their individual circumstances regarding childcare, shielding, vulnerability etc and there were ongoing conversations around what they were able or unable to do; but the Authority does offer a very flexible working environment to help manage this situation.
In relation to the leisure contact, the officers had been in regular contact with the contractor. Some of the staff had been furloughed whilst others had been volunteering in other areas of work including waste management and the community hub. She confirmed that we need to have a look at what leisure might look like going forward as it would not be able to operate in the same way as it would have done pre Covid-19; so we have a duty to look at the business case and continue those discussions with the contractor. In terms of the redevelopment projects, not much building work had progressed on these pre Covid-19 and any works had to cease in accordance with the Government restrictions around social distancing. But with the Leisure Centre, for example, there was no delay and the discussions on design and technical details have been continuing for Marlborough Square.
Councillor S Sheahan commented that the Administration needed to be careful on what it deemed to be an urgent decision as he considered that this did not allow for proper scrutiny and he was mindful of the impact this could have on communities, businesses and the environment. He also asked for more detailed reporting going forward on the impact on local communities, businesses and the environment so that the scrutiny committee could have more influence over the outcome of any decisions.
Councillor R Johnson asked about the size of the backlog of service activity and any associated costings of dealing with that backlog. The Chief Executive advised that it would be difficult to give specific details as it would depend on which service she was referring to, but she gave an example of food hygiene inspections. The undertaking of inspections had not been possible as the premises have been closed, so the programme of works would now have a backlog. In this case, the service manager would identify how the service could be returned to normal, what the resource issues were and what barriers they faced. She gave a further example of grass cutting where staff were lost to the Waste Management service or were identified as vulnerable. Agency staff had been brought in and new machinery purchased to overcome the social distancing rules i.e. one member of staff to one machine, and it was estimated that it would take a month to get back on top. These were just two examples but there were numerous examples for every service area.
Councillor E Allman asked when enforcement action would be reintroduced to ensure appropriate measures were being enforced relating to builders and construction sites.
The Chief Executive advised that there was some enforcement capacity but not all of it as some officers were clinically vulnerable, but complaints could be dealt with so if there were any specific complaints, then these would be investigated and dealt with appropriately.
Councillor Allman extended his thanks to the Communications Team for the work they had been doing in keeping him up to date with local issues and he also wished to thank the Finance Team on the support to local businesses in the area.
Councillor N Smith passed on his personal thanks to council staff for ensuring he received his specialist medication from Glenfield hospital.
The Chairman advised that he would take it by affirmation of the meeting that Members were happy with the recommendations unless anyone objected. He asked if there were any objections. There were none.
The recommendations as set out on page 9 of the report were moved by Councillor Richichi, seconded by Councillor Hoult and by affirmation of the meeting it was
(1) the contents and actions as set out in the report be noted;
(2) the approaches and direction as set out in the recovery plan be endorsed;
(3) future areas of work for the recovery process be considered;
(4) the likely need to incorporate issues raised in the report in the review of the Corporate Delivery Plan be noted;
(5) it be agreed that the future reporting on COVID 19 recovery comes before this Committee.