Leaders Report from our Council Leader Pat Hackett

Dear Members,

I hope you are all keeping well and safe through these worrying times. Please see information contained within this update of the work we are doing as a minority Labour Council. From ensuring our care workers are looked after by paying them the Real Living Wage, to ensuring the homeless and rough sleepers have decent accommodation, our tree strategy, our work with schools and the unions to keep our children safe, grants to businesses to ensure our workers keep their jobs, the amazing work of those at the Emergency Food Hub at Bidston, to the great Wirral Council staff making such a difference to people’s lives during this pandemic. This is a Labour Party at its best putting in place our principles. Ensuring the safety of our borough’s citizens, helping the most vulnerable in our community, and helping our businesses and workers survive through this crisis.

Scientific Technical Advisory(STAC)/Public Health

  • Local authorities in Merseyside are calling for members of the public to remain vigilant and continue to stay home as much as possible, in light of national changes to the UK’s Coronavirus response.

According to data gathered by Merseyside Resilience Forum’s (MRF) Intelligence cell, this is not the case for the Merseyside region which has a significantly higher death rate than England and the rest of the North West.

Easing of lockdown does not mean that we are through the worst of this and as ever, the health and safety of our communities comes first.

Right now, we need to do more than stay alert, we must all continue to stay at home where possible and do our bit to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, together.

The latest Government guidance states that everyone must:

    • Stay at home as much as possible
    • Work from home if you can
    • Limit contact with other people
    • Keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible)
    • Wash your hands regularly
    • Self-isolate if you or anyone in your household has symptoms

 

  • This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and we are following the national theme, calling out for ‘Random Acts of Kindness’. Never has there been a more relevant theme.

Amid the current uncertainty, there is now amazing community spirit, support, and hope. Members are encouraged to share examples from their communities to staywell@wirral.gov.uk.

  • Testing continues to be rolled out to priority key workers in Wirral by employer referral. To date, the Wirral Testing Team have coordinated COVID-19 testing for more than 600 key workers at Wirral’s satellite testing site in Bidston since the site began operating on Monday 4th

Testing is by appointment-only and the site is currently prioritising staff from the following groups:

    • Social Care/Residential care home staff
    • Domiciliary Care staff
    • Wirral Council frontline key workers
    • Essential Wirral contractors / Council commissioned staff e.g. Biffa
    • Primary Health Care

These groups continue to be assessed and updated by Council teams and NHS partners.

 

Workforce

  • Work is underway to identify which services may require additional resources as lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted and more services return to work.

There will also be further analysis to see which Covid-19 critical priorities might need extra resources in the longer term, for example the Coronavirus Helpline is likely to continue and will therefore need staffing. The internal agency is continuing to fill roles that need more resource.

  • A process is being put in place to ensure services return to work safely, which will happen carefully and cautiously. This process will be communicated to staff so that all decision making about returning to work is carried out collaboratively.

Children and Young People

  • On 10 May the Prime Minister announced that childcare providers, schools, and colleges should reopen from 1 June.

 

Following this statement, Wirral Council started a consultation with all stakeholders, including trade unions, professional bodies and parents of children with reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children in order to assess the best way to support the safe return of more children to school.

 

After taking into account the outcome of the consultation and guidance published by the Department for Education and Public Heath England, Wirral Council does not expect parents or carers to send their children to school from the 1 June.

 

Whilst we recognise the importance of schools supporting more children, we want to be clear that we are taking a measured and cautious approach to this. Our priority is the safety of the people we represent, and we therefore do not expect schools to support more pupils until they are assured it is safe to do so.

 

In the next few weeks all childcare providers and schools will be considering how best to operate. This requires consideration of how to keep children safe, the size of classes, the optimal building layout, transport arrangements, hygiene control, and the activities needed to ensure children remain engaged in education and learning. They will also need to consider how to best support teachers, teaching assistants, childcare workers, and support staff to stay safe.

 

  • We are now in the second week of Foster care fortnight, highlighting what fostering is and encouraging more people to consider becoming a foster carer.

 

The need for more foster carers in Wirral hasn’t stopped in light of the current health crisis, with many children still needing loving homes. This is the message we are promoting during the national Foster Care Fortnight campaign.

Wirral Council’s fostering team are still recruiting foster carers and processing new applications during this time. Although they can’t see potential new foster carers face to face right now, the team have responded rapidly to the situation and have utilised technology through online methods.

 

Current applications are still being progressed virtually with the final Fostering assessment now also taking place online.  We’ve currently received a significant number of enquiries over recent weeks, with 18 potential new foster carers currently being assessed but there is always a need for more foster carers for both short and long term placements.

 

More information: https://wirralview.com/covid-19-news/fostering-through-challenging-times

 

  • The Detached Youth Work Team are now back up and running. The team are working closely with partners to identify and target hotspots in Wirral where young people are congregating. Staff from the team will have a presence in these highlighted areas, where they will encourage groups to follow guidelines to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

 

  • Building on the successful online class timetable offer via the My Child Can Facebook page, work and planning is in progress to hold dedicated question and answer sessions as part of the timetable for parents on particular topics. This includes the setup of a private support group for new parents and parents to be to get support from the children’s centre teams.

Health and Social Care

  • Following the council’s recent commitment to bring carers’ salaries up to the Real Living Wage, Granada Reports recently visited Grovewood Nursing Home to film residents recording video messages to family members, and family members watching them in their own homes.

The dedication and devotion of Wirral’s carers have, without a shadow of a doubt, been a shining a light and one that we will carry forward post COVID.

https://www.itv.com/news/granada/2020-05-14/you-re-the-superstar-heart-warming-message-to-carers-at-merseyside-care-home/

Economic Resilience

We have recently seen a number of government announcements about additional support that will help businesses and self-employed people during the Covid-19 pandemic. Below are details of some of those schemes:

  • Furlough Scheme extended until October

In a huge boost to Wirral jobs and businesses, it has been announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until the end of October, with workers continuing to receive 80% of their current salary, up to £2,500.

From the start of August, furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff. The employer payments will substitute the contribution the government is currently making, ensuring that staff continue to receive 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month. For more information visit this website.

  • Applications open for Self-Employment Income Support Scheme

From Wednesday 13 May, applications opened for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. The scheme allows self-employed workers to apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits, up to £2,500.

To make the process as easy as possible, the government have set up an online tool 

  • Bounce Back Loans offer financial support

Small and medium businesses can still apply for a fast-track Bounce Back Loan. The scheme, introduced on Mon 4 May, allows businesses to apply for a loan of between £2,000 and £50,000 providing they are based in the UK, were established before 1 March 2020 and have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus. To apply for a Bounce Back Loan, visit this website.

  • More local businesses can apply for a business grant

A new discretionary fund will soon be available, for certain small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme. It is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs that can demonstrate they have suffered a significant fall in income due to the Covid-19 crisis. The Government has prioritised certain groups for this fund, including B&Bs who pay council tax, those in shared workspaces, certain charity properties and regular market traders.

Grant payments can’t be awarded to applicants that are eligible for other financial support including the current grant schemes, and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme, managed by HMRC.

Further information and updates will be released setting out when the application process will open, the eligibility criteria, and information that organisations will be required to submit to support with their application.. So far 3,839 businesses in Wirral have received a total of £44m and this news means even more businesses will gain much-needed financial support. Further details will be announced soon here.

Further details will be announced soon here.

  • New grant scheme launched for childcare providers

Wirral has launched its own grant scheme allowing childcare providers to apply for up to £10,000 of funding during the coronavirus epidemic. In total, up to £350,000 will be available for providers who meet the eligibility criteria and will help to support Wirral’s key workers and safeguard vulnerable children.

Providers who meet the eligibility criteria have been sent an application form. If you haven’t received yours, call 0151 666 3980

  • Local Plan: Next week will see the launch of the remote targeted stakeholder consultation process for the emerging Wirral Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy, drafted by LUC in collaboration with a Council Steering Group. The completed strategy will inform the Local Plan and will identify networks of green and blue infrastructure across the Borough and set out recommendations for its protection, enhancement, and future management.

Originally envisaged to be built around a face-to-face workshop, the process has been re-designed in line with the restrictions imposed by Covid-19, and to use the opportunity to put into practice a new online “Consultation Hub” which allow for online engagement without advanced technical skills.

A list of identified Key Stakeholders has been drawn up, and all stakeholders will be e-mailed next week and invited to:

  • Visit the online Consultation Hub via a simple link, where there will be a 15-minute recorded webinar giving background on the study and consultation process;
  • explore a set of Interactive Maps of the Green and Blue network in Wirral and leave comments;
  • sign up to our series of 6 ‘themed’ workshops in early June (Biodiversity, Connections, Urban Greening etc.), to be held later in  via Microsoft Teams.
  • complete a simple Online Survey in addition, if required.

Ideally, we would like to have one or two members from each group at each workshop to ensure we have a good cross-party representation so please contact Keith Keeley or Rob Oates to register your interest if you wish to attend. The numbers attending the workshops may need to be limited to ensure a wide representation of groups and interests across the Borough.

Delivery

  • In order to not only enable social distancing and support economic recovery, but also within the context of a longer term legacy for increasing active travel, we are now looking at ways to support residents who want to use alternatives to public transport or travelling by private car. This includes reviewing locations where it may be appropriate to introduce measures, such as additional walking and cycling areas.
  • Grass cutting is progressing around the borough in a prioritised programme of works. Cutting is focused on cemeteries and crematoria and at main road grass verges. Annual reinstatement works are also being carried out at football pitches so that they can be prepared for next season, dependent upon government guidance.
  • No mowing is taking place where wildflowers of significance have established until later in the year, when the early flowering season has finished. This is to protect pollinators. All work is being carried out safely, in line with social distancing guidelines and with the required personal protective equipment.
  • Garden waste collections have started as from today, 19th May as part of a phased return, with an initial 4-weekly collection planned. Subscribers will receive at least five collections before re-subscribing.
  • The ERIC (Bulky Waste) Collections have now recommenced and all collections are running smoothly. To manage residents demands, the number of collections will increase from 25 to 30 per day from 8 June.
  • Following WBCs declaration of a Climate and Environment Emergency in July 2019, the council has worked together with key stakeholders to develop an ambitious Tree Strategy. It focuses on tree maintenance and planting as a means for carbon capture for the period of 2020-2030 so plays a key part in the council’s Climate Emergency Action Plan.

The strategy is now at a very advanced stage with the full documentation, public consultation summary, and covering report all prepared. The finishing touches are being made to the executive summary which will be a more public facing document, and this is the final piece of the Tree Strategy’s launch package being worked on before it is all ready to go.

Humanitarian

  • Towards the end of last week, one of Wirral’s largest and best-known companies has shown its commitment to supporting the community by making a substantial donation to the Emergency Food Hub operation.

Unilever, whose origins lie in Port Sunlight, arranged for a range of food and other products to be sent to the Hub. These products are now in the process of being distributed to the most vulnerable and in need households in the borough as part of the emergency parcels.

  • Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in scams – carried out by criminals looking to take advantage of any uncertainty people may be feeling, and particularly older and vulnerable people who may be isolated from family and friends.

A new section of Wirral Council’s website is helping residents and businesses to protect themselves from Coronavirus fraud. The new covers the different types of fraud to look out for, and how to prevent and report. https://www.wirral.gov.uk/health-and-social-care/coronavirus-updates/protecting-residents-and-businesses-coronavirus-fraud

  • In an additional move to ensure that our most vulnerable residents are protected, the council has now partnered with Wirral Change on an initiative to deliver emergency food hampers to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities across the borough.

Wirral Change, a local charity which works with and supports people from racial minority communities in the borough, from this week joined the council and partner organisations’ wider efforts to try and meet individual needs through the emergency food hampers that are being given to the most vulnerable.

Finally…

You will recall that I said I was retiring back in February of this year before the current pandemic arrived, with the start of the COVID19 emergency I saw it as my duty and responsibility to stay on to ensure stability and continuity until the situation improved and we were coming down on the other side of the peak. This means that I will be retiring at the very latest by September of this year.

 

I hope you have found this information useful, and we will continue to bring you these regular updates, but in the meantime, along with my deputies Cllrs Janette Williamson and Anita Leech I would like to thank you all for your support throughout the year.

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