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IBC Coronavirus Update - 20 March 2020

Published20th March 2020

IBC Update - 20 March 2020

In response to the challenges of Coronavirus, Ipswich Borough Council’s current position is as follows:

Council Buildings / Events / Services and Bookings

  1. 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.
  2. 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 form and we will respond as soon as we can.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. It is hoped that the majority of these events can be re-scheduled to take place later in the year and further details on this will follow. 
  5. 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.
  6. Following the decision to suspend our sport and leisure provision (within point 1 above), 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. Where customers have not paid via direct debit (e.g. paid by credit card) we will get in touch by the end of the month to make refund arrangements.  Full details of I-Card arrangements will be placed on the Council’s website at www.ipswich.gov.uk/ibc-response-to-coronavirus in the next few days.
  7. The collection of Brown Bins (garden waste) from domestic properties is suspended with immediate effect and until further notice.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the Council’s car parks, the Cemeteries and Crematoria 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). The Council has implemented extensive homeworking this week and now has more than 400 people working from home each day and about 50 people working each day - spread across 3 floors – at Grafton House.

We will contact customers directly if any upcoming shows at the Ipswich Regent or Corn Exchange are cancelled or postponed, you can also check our website and social media feeds for updates. 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.

Democracy

Democracy and the role of elected councillors is hugely important. But this does need to adapt to the circumstances. The Government has already announced that the election scheduled for 7th May 2020 will be put back till May 2021 and is looking to change the rules to allow councils to delay ‘Annual Meetings' (the Borough Council one is currently scheduled for 20th May 2020). The Council has already cancelled many meetings and can now confirm the following:

  1. The Borough’s Executive meeting scheduled for 24th March 2020 will go ahead. An additional urgent item will be published later today (20th March) that will result in the Leader of the Council (Councillor David Ellesmere) recommending that the Chief Executive be given the use of the full range of powers held by the Executive Council for the length of this Coronavirus pandemic emergency. The Chief Executive has advised the Leader of the Council that he does not expect more than 4 members of Executive of the Council to attend that meeting and that only one officer will attend. This will enable appropriate social distancing to be maintained.
  2. All other formal Council meetings scheduled for March and April 2020 are cancelled.

Community Impact and Volunteering

  1. Ipswich Borough Council is working with many partners and has agreed that there should be a single organisation tasked with co-ordinating the volunteering efforts across the county.  Suffolk County Council will be running a call centre as the first point of contact for enquiries by phone and e-mail.  At the same time a volunteering website and phone app has been commissioned by the County Council that will enable volunteers and groups to register their offer of help.  Details for the contact centre and the web/phone app should be known by the end of Friday (20th).
  2. 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 on these matters and expect to be able to provide further information next week. 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 . We can also 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.  
  3. In the event that the authority is given to the Chief Executive under point 8 above and, having already consulted the Leader of the Council and got his full support, the Chief Executive has confirmed that he then intends on 25th March 2020 to decide that all Ipswich Borough Council’s voluntary and community sector tenants and all Ipswich Borough Council’s commercial tenants no longer able to operate due to the direct implications of the decision to close buildings they operate from (made at (1) above) - e.g. the Film Theatre and 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 will make direct contact with all organisations that will benefit from the three month rent free period during next week (week commencing 23rd March 2020).This support is valued at around £100,000.

Support for Business

The Council is awaiting the details following the Chancellor’s announcements on business support on 17th March 2020 and to find out exactly which elements of the Chancellor’s package the Borough Council will deliver but in the meantime can confirm that:

  1. The Council is working to implement the latest government decisions on Business Rate Relief and expects to be in touch with all qualifying businesses before the end of the month. If you believe your business qualifies and you have not heard from Ipswich Borough Council direct by Friday 3rd April please contact us at  business.rates@ipswich.gov.uk . We are also awaiting further details about the grants to businesses that the government has recently announced and will provide a further update on these once we have information from government.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Staffing matters

The Council has radically increased its home-working this week. Over 400 people who are normally based in offices are now working from home and less than 50 people have been working from the three floors the Council occupies in its Grafton House headquarters – all undertaking appropriate social distancing. Many employees whose normal workplace is one of the locations affected by decision (1) above are now being re-trained to support services that the Council is determined to keep going (e.g. our core HEARS service). In addition it has now been decided that:

  1. With the exception of maintaining our Cemetery and Crematoria 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.

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 decisions and closures 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).

Comment

“The decisions outlined above have not been easy to make - and will not all be easy to deliver - but we will do so. This is thanks to the support of our workforce and the business continuity planning work that we have long had in place.

“These decisions have been made in response to national guidance issued by the Government and Public Health England and should, I hope, bring some useful certainty to many residents, groups and businesses on a range of issues. I do anticipate the need to make more decisions that will affect - what we do and how we do it - in the coming days and weeks.

“Most of the decisions taken will relate to the ten areas that are at the heart of the Council’s response to the outbreak. These are:

  • supporting residents and local businesses,
  • supporting our employees,
  • supporting tenants of the Council,
  • supporting communities to support each other,
  • supporting community and voluntary organisations,
  • maintaining the provision of our most critical services in this emergency period,
  • working closely with our  public sector partners,
  • responding to the national challenges and requests of the Government.
  • ensuring that - when this is over - the town is well placed to move on positively together
  • providing clear information via social media, online and through the media.

“I am confident that all ten ambitions are shared by all 48 Borough Councillors.” 

Russell Williams,
Chief Executive,
Ipswich Borough Council