The Council is intending to issue an update statement on its response to Coronavirus every Friday. This is the 2nd such statement. From time to time there may well will be a need for major statements to be issued on other days (as happened on Tuesday 17th March).
Each of these statements will have four sections – as follows:
- A short summary of key items that have arisen / been decided since the last statement.
- All decisions that have been made this week – and key new information about Council services (etc).
- A longer list of all the Coronavirus-related decisions (etc) previously announced that remain relevant.
- A brief comment from the Council’s Chief Executive – or in his absence – his Deputy.
A short summary of key items that have arisen / been decided since the last main statement (on 20th March 2020)
- Residents holding parking zone permits are now allowed to park free and without time restrictions in nearby Ipswich Borough Council car parks to ease congestion on streets to allow emergency vehicles and bin crews through.
- The Borough Council has given a three-month ‘rent holiday’ to (i) its commercial tenants unable to operate because we decided to close our buildings; and, (ii) to its community and voluntary sector tenants. This is valued at about £80,000.
- We have written to just over 1,200 businesses informing them that they are eligible for a 12-month business rate holiday and that many of them will be eligible for a grant of up to £25,000.
- We will be writing to around 7,000 households on working age Local Council Tax Support about them getting direct financial assistance via reduced Council Tax Bills. Other households may also be eligible and can apply via www.ipswich.gov.uk/benefits.
- We are contacting our iCard (leisure) customers and given advice online about the refund / rebooking process.
- All play areas, public toilets and open air gyms that we operate / own have been closed. Our parks remain open for exercise and staff are patrolling to give advice, ensure there are no group gatherings and that social distancing guidelines are kept.
- We are awaiting Government go-ahead on being able to hold virtual committee meetings. Executive was cancelled on Tuesday 24th March 2020 – the Chief Executive has the authority to take all necessary decisions until meetings can next be held.
All decisions that have been made this week – and key new information about Council services (etc)
In response to the challenges of Coronavirus, Ipswich Borough Council’s position has been updated in the following areas this week:
Council Buildings / Events / Services and Bookings
- Event Rescheduling: No one yet has any clear idea as to when larger gatherings will next be allowed. The Council is making some plans to reschedule its events to late summer / early autumn - if gatherings etc are allowed by then. We are focusing on two weekends and we hope this will enable other organisations to plan their thinking on rescheduled events – i.e. with some certainty that they wouldn’t clash with major Council organised events. These weekends are 22nd and 23rd August (already scheduled for Maritime Ipswich) and 26th and 27th September.
- iCards: Full details of iCard arrangements and refunds have been placed on the Council’s website at https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/ibc-response-to-coronavirus, with refunds to be progressed on Friday 27th March 2020. Any outstanding refund requests will be completed by the following Friday (3rd April).
- Regent etc Shows: We will contact customers directly if tickets have been purchased for any upcoming shows between 27th March and 30th April 2020 at the Ipswich Regent or Corn Exchange. If any upcoming shows fall after this date, please check our website and social media feeds for updates and we will be in contact if they are any further changes. If your tickets have been purchased from our website, our Box Office at the Regent Theatre, or the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre then please see our website for how any refunds will be processed.
- Rough Sleeping: In addition to the established Rough Sleeper Programme, the Council is working with the Street Outreach service and other agencies to ensure that all rough sleepers in Ipswich have accommodation. Additional B&B rooms have been sourced to ensure any new rough sleepers have access to this accommodation.
- Second Brown Bins: The collection of Brown Bins (garden waste) from domestic properties is suspended until further notice. We will shortly write to all customers who pay for additional brown bins (267 households) letting them know how the period of suspension has affected the payment they may already have made or would be about to be due to make. We will, unless customers ask us not to, use any balance in their additional brown bin account to offset the value of the next invoice for their additional brown bins. We will of course refund the balance of any customer’s additional brown bin account if they contact us requesting this, but as this amount may be as small as £4.00 we expect that most customers will allow this balance to be carried over. If a customer requests a refund then collections from their property will only recommence once they request the service to start and a new payment has been made.
For the avoidance of any doubt, the Council’s car parks, the Cemeteries and Crematorium and our parks will remain open. Core services such as black bin refuse collection and the HEARS service will be maintained. The Council HQ at Grafton House will remain open for staff (not public access).
- Executive Authority: The Borough’s Executive meeting on 24th March 2020 was cancelled as a result of Government announcements. On 24th March 2020 the Leader of the Council (Councillor David Ellesmere) delegated authority to the Chief Executive to use the full range of powers held by the Executive of the Council until further notice.
Community Impact and Volunteering
- Volunteering: A new Suffolk-focused community support service, ‘Home but Not Alone’, has been set up as part of a call for volunteers to help the most vulnerable people who need help during the COVID-19 pandemic. The service will mean willing volunteers, charities, town and parish councils, community and religious groups can all log their details and offers of support on an app, while people who need help can phone to request support. As the number of offers and requests grows, they will be matched so that the right help can be given where it’s most needed. The free app, called Tribe Volunteer, can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The telephone number for those in genuine need of help is freephone 0800 876 6926 and will be staffed from 09:00 to 17:00, seven days a week. The County Council are working alongside the districts and boroughs on how referrals will be actioned.
- Commercial and CVS Rents: All Ipswich Borough Council’s voluntary and community sector tenants and all Ipswich Borough Council’s commercial tenants who are no longer able to operate due to the direct implications of the Borough Councils decision to close buildings they operate from e.g. the coffee shop in the now closed Town Hall and Corn Exchange complex - will be given a three-month rent holiday by the Council covering the period April 1st to June 30th. The Council’s Property Team has written – yesterday - to all who will benefit from the three-month rent-free period during week commencing 23rd March 2020. This support is valued at around £80,000.
- Vulnerable People: A logistics solution is being developed between local authorities and other partners for the delivery of food and medicines to vulnerable people. Currently the County Council is waiting on the Government to supply emergency food supplies to a hub in Ipswich from where the County will arrange delivery. Until the supplies are available (expected by the end of the week) individual boroughs and districts are dealing with emergency requests for food aid from extremely vulnerable residents.
- English as Second Language: The Council are providing information and resources for those residents in Ipswich with English as their second language. Details can be found here https://www.gyros.org.uk/our-services. Additional support is provided for refugees or asylum seekers through the Suffolk Refugee Support Team https://suffolkrefugee.org.uk/. The Government has also translated the Covid-19 guidance into 11 of the most popular languages in the UK and this can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance
- Council Tax related Hardship Fund: The Government has introduced a new Hardship Fund in response to Covid-19. This is being allocated in accordance with Government advice to support those households already in receipt of means-tested working age Local Council Tax Support. This means bills for these households will be reduced by up to £150 – which will ensure that the most financially vulnerable households have nothing to pay. These awards will be applied automatically if you are already in receipt of this support - there is no requirement to apply. We will contact the nearly 7,000 households affected next week to confirm the position. We will monitor the use of the fund in light of an expected increase in the number of people claiming working age Local Council Tax Support. If we believe that we have more funds than needed to cover the Government mandated reduction we will look to allocate any surplus to further lighten the burden of those households in Ipswich who need it most. The first call on this funding will be for households that are eligible for working age Local Council Tax Support. To find out if you are – and to make a claim please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/benefits to make a claim. It is never too late to register for help with Council Tax.
- Changes of Circumstances of Existing Claimants: Existing Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction customers should report changes in their circumstances at the earliest opportunity. Losing hours of work or having your pay reduced could increase the level of help you are entitled to. The sooner you tell us about changes in your circumstances, the sooner we can calculate any increase due to you. The Council will look to award any increase in entitlement (due to loss of earnings/employment resulting from the Coronavirus outbreak) from the date that the change happened - providing we are told within 1 month of the change. However, if there are good reasons why you are not able to tell us within one month (such as being in hospital receiving treatment) we will be able to consider longer periods. Changes of circumstances can be reported on line – please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/changeincircumstances
- Council Tax: Ipswich Borough Council is aware that in these challenging times many people might find keeping up with their Council Tax payments and their housing rent payments particularly challenging. We are looking at how we can assist residents further on these matters. In the meantime if you are in severe financial difficulty and cannot pay your next Council Tax instalment or your housing rent please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/counciltax or www.ipswich.gov.uk/benefits
- Residents Parking: Enforcement of parking restrictions is continuing both on-street and in our car parks to ensure roads remain passable for emergency and refuse collection vehicles. Ipswich residents who have Resident Parking Permits for zones 1 -4 can now use some Ipswich Borough car parks as demand exceeds capacity in the on-street bays within Residents Parking Zones. For further details see: https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/coronavirus-impact-residents-parking
Support for Business
- Business Rates: The Council is working to implement the latest Government decisions on Business Rate Relief and just over 1,200 letters are currently being sent out first class (most went yesterday (26th March 2020) and the rest will go today) to the vast majority of qualifying businesses – mainly in the ‘retail, hospitality leisure’ sectors. If you don’t get a letter from the Borough Council by 3rd April and believe your business qualifies - having regard to the relevant Government announcements - then please contact us at email@example.com.
- Paying Suppliers: The Council is updating its procedures so that we will – from now on - be aiming to pay all invoices from suppliers within 7 days – rather than our current 30 day target. We are confident that this speedier arrangement will be fully up and running next week.
- Ipswich Central Levy: The Borough Council has worked with Ipswich Central and their industry body to lobby Government to extend the business rates discount for retail, leisure, and hospitality businesses so that it covers the Ipswich Central levy as well. But for the moment, pending any government announcement, the levy money is still owed. However, in order to allow Government the time required to reach a definitive decision on this matter, businesses in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors will not have their levy payments enforced until, at least, 30th June 2020. Therefore, whilst the due date for payment remains unchanged (30th April 2020) as set out in the Regulations it is not the intention of Ipswich Borough Council or Ipswich Central to send reminders or take action against any business in those sectors prior to 30th June 2020. For the avoidance of doubt, however, should Government not take up our recommendations, the levy for this sector should be paid by 30th June 2020 and, for other levy payers, the due date remains as existing (30th April 2020).
- Town Centre Footfall: The Council monitors footfall in Ipswich town centre and the number of people using our town centre appears to be over 40% lower this week than it was last week. The busiest time of the day is currently between 9 and 10 am – whereas in previous weeks it is normally lunchtime. The biggest drop was Tuesday following the Prime Ministers ‘Stay Home’ announcement – only 5,000 people were recorded on our town centre sensors rather than 13,000 people the previous Tuesday or 18,000 people on our busiest Tuesday in December 2019. We expect this figure to fall further as more people follow the Government’s guidance.
- Key Workers at the Council: The Borough Council has identified all its Key Workers across its services (just less than 50% of our employees) and has sent letters to all those identified on 20th March 2020.
- Employee Numbers: At the start of this week the Borough Council has around 20 employees off work either self-isolating with their households or off with specified Coronavirus symptoms. By Thursday (26th March) this figure had increased to 50.
All the Coronavirus-related decisions (etc) previously announced by Ipswich Borough Council that remain relevant.
The items listed below are in addition to those listed above
Council Buildings / Events / Services and Bookings
- Council Buildings: Ipswich Borough Council’s public buildings will remain closed until at least - and including - 30th April 2020. These facilities include the Regent Theatre, Town Hall & Corn Exchange, Shop Mobility, Swimming Pools & Sports Centres, the Tourist Information Centre, the visitor centres in Christchurch and Holywells parks and the Museum, Art Gallery and Christchurch Mansion.
- Cancelled Bookings: Anyone who has booked one of our facilities to hold an event / meeting etc - for the period between 1st May and 30th June 2020 can, if they wish, get in touch and reschedule it (without any additional cost) to sometime later in the year. Please contact us using the General Enquiry option available on our website www.ipswich.gov.uk and we will respond as soon as we can.
- Future Bookings: The Borough Council will not take any more bookings for any of our rentable spaces in our public buildings for a period up to and including 30th June 2020.
- Council Events: All events that have been organised or managed by Ipswich Borough Council and that are scheduled to take place in our parks or on the Cornhill before 1st August 2020 will be cancelled. These events include Holi Festival, Global Rhythm, Music Day, Indian Summer Mela, Open Air Theatre and Family Fun Days.
- Council Owned Office Buildings: That IP-City Centre and Grafton House (both owned and managed by the Borough Council) will remain open for appropriate Council staff and for tenants but meetings rooms in both buildings will not be bookable by outside organisations for any date prior to 30th June 2020.
- iCards: Following the decision to suspend our sport and leisure provision, the Council will be adjusting i-card members’ direct debits to £0 until further notice. Customers do not need to cancel their Direct Debits with us or their banks. For I-card holders who have prepaid by direct debit we will refund 1/12 of the annual cost of their i-card on the 1st of each month during the suspension of services
- Brown Bins: The collection of Brown Bins (garden waste) from domestic properties is suspended until further notice.
- Ipswich Market: Only our four food stalls will be permitted to operate at Ipswich Market from 24th March 2020 and until further notice. The Council has spread them across Princes Street to protect traders and shoppers. No other (non-food) traders are permitted to operate. Two-metre markings have been made on the ground to assist shoppers, who are advised that the market could cease to operate if social distancing instructions are not adhered to.
- Parks: The Council is continuing to keep its parks open but with kiosks, toilets, courts, outdoor gyms and play areas closed. The parks can be used for exercise as long as social distancing is applied.
- Council Meetings: All formal Council meetings scheduled for March and April 2020 are cancelled.
Community Impact and Volunteering
- Council Tenants: The Council can confirm that following Government advice issued on 18th March 2020, the Council has suspended all rent related eviction action in relation to council tenants and will not initiate any new rent related actions until further notice.
- Council Housing Repairs: The Council has limited repairs to our Council Housing stock to absolutely essential items only until further notice.
Support for Business
- Business Rates: The Council has also decided not to start any formal enforcement action related to any non-payment of business rates - that are related to the financial impact of Coronavirus - until (at least) June 30th 2020.
- Employee Rules: With the exception of maintaining our Cemeteries and Crematorium service, all Ipswich Borough Council staff are now banned from attending (in person) any external meetings or events - with immediate effect and until at least 30th April 2020. Employees will continue to provide essential services to residents (such as essential emergency repairs for tenants and our HEARS service) and will therefore meet residents but they may ask residents whether they or their household are displaying any coronavirus symptoms first and will follow best practice wherever possible on social isolating.
- Home-working: The Council has limited the number of its employees at our Grafton House Headquarters to about 50 people per day (all practising social distancing). This is approximately 10% of the numbers who normally work out of the Council’s space in Grafton House each day. Significantly increased levels of home-working are taking place
Future Communications and Contacting the Council
The Borough Council intends to issue a full updated summary position every Friday while communicating more regularly about individual issues and services.
If you wish to contact the Council about anything please contact us via www.ipswich.gov.uk or 01473 432000 rather than visit Grafton House or the Customer Services Centre).
We know that these statements will generate a number of customer queries but we ask you to use the ‘contact us’ form on our website. The last few days have seen an average of 500 queries per day received via our online ‘contact us’ form – 10 times as many as we normally get a day.
It is anticipated that the decision about the availability of buildings etc after 30th April 2020 will be made before the Easter weekend (i.e. by 9th April 2020).
The Leader of the Council, Councillor David Ellesmere, should be available to comment if there are any media enquiries – he can be contacted via the Council’s Press Office (07736 826104)
A brief comment from the Council’s Chief Executive
“This is a very fast-moving emergency and we have made many decisions in the past week to adapt to updated Government guidance and take proactive steps to support those who are vulnerable and feeling extreme financial pressure across our town.
“Throughout, as Chief Executive, I have been sustained by an extremely able management group, led by my Deputy, Helen Pluck, and our Heads of Service, supported by elected councillors from across the political spectrum and aided hugely by a workforce which has been quick to adapt to changing circumstances. I am confident that their flexibility and our redeployment programme will help us to continue to deliver key services in the weeks ahead.
“The next week will bring new challenges but I believe we will deal with those, too, in the same calm and effective manner that we have shown over the past few weeks.
“The decisions outlined above will, I hope, bring more certainty to the many residents and businesses who are faced with challenges in coping with this unprecedented emergency.”
Russell Williams, Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council