Summary of the Council's Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic March 2020 to February 2022
Report of the Leader of the Council
Appendix 2 to follow
The Leader of the Council presented the report, noting that it highlighted the enormous changes that needed to be made at a very fast pace at the start of the pandemic. This included moving seamlessly to virtual committee meetings by May 2020 to restore full political decision-making following the March lockdown. Over 90% staff were working from home by April 2020, making full use of the new technology introduced prior to Covid-19 as part of the council’s modernisation agenda.
Staff wellbeing was an essential part of the pandemic response, and the latest survey showed that 94% of staff felt they were supported and had enough contact with their team or line manager and could raise any issues with them. 87% of staff were having either daily, twice a week or weekly contact with their line manager, and 92% of staff felt they had the technology to stay connected and do all aspects of their role effectively.
At the height of the pandemic, the Building Control Service introduced virtual inspections with the aid of video apps, allowing site operations to continue where necessary under the restrictions whilst ensuring building standards were satisfied. Recycling rates continued to improve throughout, going from 51.23% at the end of 2019/20 to 53.98% at the end of September 2020, thanks to the strong partnership the council had with Ubico.
She added that Covid-19 had presented particular challenges in tackling rough sleeping. The Housing Options Team made 125 placements into hotels for rough sleepers by August 2020, and by September 2020 had eliminated the need for hotel accommodation altogether.
Business support was another essential part of the council’s response. Recognising the worry businesses had due to loss of income, the council had used its own cash reserves to ensure grant payments could be allocated as rapidly as possible. They were ultimately the first authority in the UK to commence grant payments, and as a result they received a Community & Business Champion Award from Punchline magazine.
The council had also responded proactively to the potential dangers of a ‘postcode lottery’ of business grants, by bringing together district councils in the Discretionary Business Grant Scheme in less than three weeks. Working on advice from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), they created a scheme that ensured both consistency of criteria and maximum impact.
The Revenues & Benefits team had continued to establish grant schemes to ensure that businesses in need received support. In December 2021, another scheme was rapidly set up with a new round of the discretionary business grants, offering financial support to pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and travel businesses. In total, the council had distributed 10,637 grants since the start of the pandemic, totalling £48,686,982.
The council had also been one of the first in the country to publish its recovery strategy, featuring a number of initiatives to support economic growth. These included the Big Screen, supported by the government’s Welcome Back fund, which was estimated to have generated between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors. The ice rink, funded and organised by CBC as part of its continued efforts to stimulate and support the town’s economic recovery, was used by some 43,500 skaters, with more than 300 local families able to enjoy free or half price skating thanks to the council’s partnership with No Child Left Behind.
She also emphasised the issue of access to food and essential items, which community partners had highlighted as a particular risk. At the height of the pandemic, more than 1500 food parcels were being delivered per week to vulnerable residents by the Community Food Network. Through the No Child Left Behind initiative, they established the laptops learning campaign, which raised approximately £35,000 and donated 129 devices. This enabled Cheltenham’s children to have access to the right ICT equipment, ensuring they did not miss out on their education when schools went online.
Finally, she noted a minor mistake in paragraph 4.8, which should have read ‘approximately £35k raised’ rather than ‘under £35k’.
The Cabinet Member Finance and Assets thanked the Chief Executive, whom he noted was not long in the role before the pandemic began. He highlighted how partnerships and communities across the town had come together to help each other, and praised the professionalism of employees who had risen up to meet the challenge.
The Cabinet Member Safety and Communities echoed this, and added that working with communities in the town over the last two years had been an immense privilege. People across town had done an enormous amount to ensure that their neighbours did not go without essential things during the pandemic. The Food Network was a real example of partnership working, while No Child Left Behind had made a real difference in alleviating poverty in the town. She was not aware of any other area in the country with the same level of integrated support. These needs would not diminish, only grow larger, and it was important to continue this support by maintaining the network.
The Leader moved to the vote, where it was unanimously:
1. ‘The Council’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic’ at Appendix 2 be approved.
- 2022_03_01_the council's response to covid 19_report, item 6. PDF 620 KB
- 2022_03_01_the council's response to covid 19_appendix 2, item 6. PDF 3 MB