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IBC Coronavirus Update - 1 May 2020

Published1st May 2020

The Council is intending to issue an updated statement on its response to Coronavirus every Friday. This is the 7th such statement. From time to time there may well will be a need for major statements to be issued on other days.

Each of these statements will now have three sections – as follows:

  • A short summary of key items
  • All decisions that have been made this week – and key new information about Council services (etc)
  • A brief comment from the Council’s Chief Executive – or in his absence – his Deputy.

In addition, we will also publish - at the same time - a longer list of all the Council’s previous Coronavirus related decisions (etc) that remain relevant:

A short summary of key items

  • Brown bin (garden waste) collections will resume in the week commencing 11th May. Residents will get their brown bin collected during that week if that is their scheduled week and they normally put their brown bin out with their blue bin. Those residents who normally put their brown bin out at the same time as their black bin will get their brown bin collected during the week commencing 18th May.

  • Ipswich Borough Council will receive an additional £1.35 million towards its Coronavirus costs in May. This will cover the bulk of the loss of income that the Council would normally receive and increased money spent on some services (e.g. homeslessness support) for April.

  • Construction work is expected to re-start at the Old Post Office and on new homes at the former Tooks site next fortnight. In addition, work will begin on upgrading the play area in Christchurch Park.

  • Ipswich Borough Council staff have been handling hundreds of calls to the Home, But Not Alone county-wide helpline. Most calls are from people needing food and medicine supplies. The Council has now delivered 295 food parcels to residents since the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ started. Postcards advertising the Home, But Not Alone phone number will be delivered to every household in Suffolk next week.

  • Our parks and open spaces remain open for people taking their daily exercise but visitors are reminded to follow the strict instructions about social distancing and not gathering in groups.

  • The Council, with the support of Ipswich Central, is still trying to contact the remainder of eligible businesses (approx. 500) who have not applied for Government grants of either £25,000 or £10,000. To date, the Council has paid out more than £19m.

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

  • Parks Advice: We are keeping our parks and open spaces open, safe and available to be used when exercising. We would ask residents to be mindful of the Government Guidance that states - You can still go to the park for outdoor exercise once a day but only alone or with members of your household, not in groups. Read more information on accessing green spaces during the coronavirus outbreak. We have seen the use of our Parks & Open Spaces increase during the better weather last weekend and our Park Patrol team are where necessary asking people to amend their behaviour.
    • Please do:

      • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
      • Keep to the designated cycling routes – if cycling(!)
      • Keep your dog under control
      • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
    • Please don’t:
      • Sunbathe
      • Sit for extended periods
      • Have a picnic
      • Go fishing
      • Plan to meet up with people from outside your household – even close friends or family
  • Black and Blue Bin Waste: On average the weight of waste collected from residents’ black bins has increased by about 2kg per household which is a 10% increase on this time last year. On average the weight of the material within the blue recycling bins is much the same as usual.

Community Impact and Volunteering

  • Vulnerable People in the ‘Shielding Group’: Data continues to be sent through from Government to Suffolk County Council (SCC) on the residents who are part of the ‘shielding group’.  The Suffolk list has increased to over 20,000 in Suffolk as GPs have identified additional residents.  The county, districts and boroughs have been proactive in contacting shielding residents that had not responded to the original NHS letter to enquire whether urgent support was required. Since 2nd April 123 emergency food parcels had been delivered to Ipswich residents, with 45 of those being in the week 20th- 26th April.
  • Food Parcels: In addition to the parcels delivered by Suffolk County Council referred to above, Ipswich Borough Council has delivered 295 food parcels to 188 properties since the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ started. These are to people who are not in the shielding group but who are unable to access food any other way. We continue to work in close partnership with FIND as well as liaising with others to meet the need of Ipswich residents.  An increasing number of food banks are signing up with FareShare, who are working alongside county partners to ensure an uninterrupted food supply to those food banks.  

  • Prescription Deliveries: From 20th April the County, district and borough councils, NHS, Clinical Commissioning Groups and transport providers established a system for the collection and delivery of prescriptions for those patients unable to collect themselves or without friends and family to collect on their behalf.  The Borough Council’s role is to take the calls via the Home, But Not Alone number and take relevant details and pass them on to the community transport provider to collect the medicines and deliver them. From Monday 20th April to Sunday 26th April inclusive, we received 14 requests relating to collection and delivery of medicines.

  • Other Vulnerable People: Suffolk County Council staffed phone line, Home, But Not Alone, 0800 876 6926, diverts most people that are not in the ‘shielding group’ to the various district councils across Suffolk and the districts then provide appropriate support. Last week, 53% of the calls received to the 0800 number were diverted to the 5 Districts & Borough councils via an automated system. Of the diverted calls, 31% of these calls were diverted to Ipswich Borough Council – i.e.  16% of the total calls received on the helpline. The remaining 47% of the calls were answered by a County Council Customer Services Advisor. Of the 205 Home, But Not Alone received by the Borough Council the two main types calls related to ‘food’ and ‘medicine’. These two areas accounted for 64% of all issues raised on the calls received. In the same week the Borough Council received just under 3,000 phone calls to its Customer Contact Centre – the 205 Home, But Not Alone Calls amounted to 7% of the total calls received at the Council’s contact centre. There were 966 queries raised by people via the Council’s online forms last week, a reduction of 200 on the previous week.

  • Home, But Not Alone postcard: A postcard drawing attention to the Home, But Not Alone service is being sent out to all households in Suffolk and should arrive at the start of next week (4th May). It promotes the free phoneline for people who are in urgent need of support and do not have assistance from friends, family or neighbours.  The phoneline (0800 876 6926) is operated 9am-5pm every day.  It is possible that this postcard will result in an upsurge of people contacting the Home, But Not Alone number. In addition, the postcard will also set out contact details for the National Domestic Violence 24-hour helpline, the Mental Health Helpline and Suffolk Police website.

  • Progress with homelessness: The Council provides temporary accommodation to the homeless where there is a statutory duty. During the current pandemic this has been extended to those who have certain underlying health conditions, have nowhere to safely self-isolate and rough sleepers. As the current temporary accommodation in Ipswich is at capacity, 35 rooms in an 80+ room hotel have now been block booked with an option to extend if necessary. The hotel is now accommodating 26 single people. This is in addition to the 10 single people that were being supported in bed and breakfast accommodation. Support agencies, including Health Outreach, have extended their services to support these two groups and every person will have a personal plan.

  • New Benefit Claims: The Council has received over 2,300 claims for benefits since 1st March this year.  Many of these are from customers who claimed Universal Credit (UC) and must wait at least 5 weeks – the statutory ‘waiting’ period – to find out if they are entitled to UC before the Council can determine an award of Local Council Tax Support. The number of applications received in a week peaked at 485.  The number of customers qualifying for working age Local Council Tax Support is increasing as those determinations are made and has increased from 6,999 on 1st March to 7,312.  

  • Benefit Changes of Circumstances: In addition to new claims, over 17,700 changes of circumstance notifications have been received in the same period.  This will include changes in employment, hours of work or wages but also changes in Tax Credits or Universal Credit (UC)  entitlement.  Many existing customers have needed to claim UC to help with living costs and, as a result, will no longer be entitled to receive Housing Benefit. The DWP send the Council ‘Housing Benefit Stop Notices’ when they receive a claim for a customer who has been – up till then – receiving Housing Benefit. Since 1st March, the Council has received nearly 300 of these stop notices. To ease the transfer on to UC, customers automatically receive an extra 2 weeks payment of Housing Benefit.  Customers are also entitled to ask DWP for an advance on their first payment of UC as it takes at least 5 weeks from the time of claim to the receipt of a first payment for new UC customers. 

  • Discretionary Housing Payments: Every year the Government make funds available to Local Authorities to help customers who, despite receiving Housing Benefit or Universal Credit Housing Costs, still have a shortfall in the amount they need to pay their rent.  The Council generally use this discretionary funding to help customers who are affected by the Local Housing Allowance rent restrictions or the Bedroom Tax but have specific reasons why they could not look for alternative, cheaper accommodation.  Applications from customers who have been affected as a consequence of the Coronavirus emergency are welcome.  Short-term assistance can help prevent rent arrears accruing while customers wait to return to their normal employment or hours of work. To make an application for Discretionary Housing Payments please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/dhp.
  • Car Park Usage Data: The use of Council car parks over the last week was 95% lower than last year. Crown Car Park remains closed until further notice. The car parks that are being used more frequently are Norwich Rd Shoppers, William Street and Upper Orwell St South, with the largest reductions in use being Portman Rd, West End Rd and St Peter’s Dock. The free to use parking for those in the NHS and Social Care sector has remained static over the last 2 weeks at an average of 11 stays per day with the number of registered users increasing by 2 to 106 registered users last week. 

  • Environmental Health: The Council is working with the Police and the Trading Standards service to consistently enforce the temporary business closure legislation. To date we have received requests for advice from 16 food business and 5 non-food business as well as complaints concerning 17 food business and 20 non-food business. A significant number of complaints concern social distancing within work places – this is not enforceable under the legislation but we do contact the businesses concerned. One prohibition notice has been served.

  • HEARS: Ipswich Borough Council’s Home Emergency Alarm Response Service (HEARS) - which provides a much needed service to many customers - continues to provide 24/7 cover.  Since the start of the pandemic (23rd March) HEARS have received 3,090 calls and made 339 safe visits to customers’ homes.  HEARS is currently in the process of contacting all customers to check on their welfare and to date 1146 successful calls (87% of our customers) have been made and 7.5% provided with the Home, But Not Alone number  - as they may have been in need of more support.

  • Council House Tenants: The Council is contacting all of its tenants aged 70 or over by telephone to check on their welfare. The Customer Services team have adapted the Council’s inbound Community Response form for this purpose. This means that if further support or assistance is required details are being captured on the call so the tenant does not have to call back via the ‘Home, But Not Alone’ number. To date 542 calls have been made (37% of this group), 398 of these have been successful and 21 referrals have been made for help with food, medication or other support. 

Support for Business

  • Town Centre Footfall: The weekly footfall information is shown via a graph so the changes over the last two months can be seen. Last week footfall in our town centre was counted as follows: on Tuesday 28th April, just under 3,000 people were recorded on our town centre sensors and on Saturday 25th April, just over 4,150 were recorded..

  • Business Grants: The Council has estimated that there are just over 2,000 business in the Borough that qualify to receive funding (£10,000 or £25,000) from - either - the Small Business Grant Fund – or - the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. This week, the Government published updated data as to the performance of Councils on giving out these grants – Ipswich Borough Council came 100th out of 314 councils in terms of % paid out – the third highest in Norfolk and Suffolk. We will continue to provide a weekly update as to the numbers and amounts paid. Key statistics are set out in the table below. To find out more – and if you are one of the 450 or so businesses that haven’t yet replied to our letter – you can then apply online via: https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/businessratesgrant. The telephone calls we have made have resulted in some common themes as to why people haven’t applied – so - for the avoidance of doubt – the money is a grant and not a loan and will not need to be repaid (although it is taxable). You can still have the grant even if  you are still trading. Not all applications result in a grant being paid out as, based on the further information provided by the ratepayer, they are deemed ineligible when assessed against the Government guidance for this scheme. Approximately 550 applications assessed - so far - are not eligible for the scheme. Examples as to why businesses were deemed ineligible include: they do not have a business premises, the business activity is not classed as retail, hospitality or leisure and / or they do not qualify for small business rate relief. Ipswich Central are working with the Council to try to contact most of the remaining businesses that are still eligible in the town centre – around 200 of the 505 remaining business below.

DateAmount
Scheme anouncement by Government 17th March 2020 n/a 
First letters sent by Council to known affected businesses 26th March 20202,207 
Money received from Government1st April 2020£26,500,000 
First grant payment made1st April 2020 £530,000 
Follow up phone calls started by the Council15th April 2020900 
Estimate of eligible businesses/premises 26th April 20202,100 
Number of businesses paid28th April 2020 1,595 
Amount of money paid28th April 2020 £19,045,000 
Applications still awaited28th April 2020 505
Received applications to be processed28th April 2020 50
Borough Council national ranking as published by Government (% of money received that has been paid out) 27th April 2020 100th of 314 

Staffing matters

  • Employee Numbers: At the start of this week (Monday 27th) the Borough Council has around 25 employees off work either self-isolating with their households or off with specified Coronavirus symptoms. This was down from 27 at the same time the previous week. By Thursday (30th April) this figure had increased to 27 – this compares to 24 last Thursday. Around 2/3rds of these numbers are employees in the national ‘shielding’ category.

  • Redeployment of Employees: Over the last month we have completely (or partially) redeployed 117 employees to work in areas of the Council that they haven’t worked in before. Some of our areas of work are busier than ever before (e.g. our benefits service) and others are quieter than ever before (e.g. our sports service). So we have redeployed people from quieter areas to busier areas – following training – and employees have moved to support the following services: our Home Emergency Alarms Response service (HEARS), our Benefits team, our Parks Patrol team, our Sheltered Housing team, our Customer Contact Centre team, our Emergency Services Centre team and our Revenues team giving our the business grants referred to at point 17 above. We have also deployed employees to support our main local foodbank – FIND.  

  • Employee Rules: With the exception of maintaining our Cemeteries and Crematorium service and enabling ‘on-site’ meetings to take place - with appropriate social distancing measures followed - all Ipswich Borough Council staff are still banned from attending (in person) any external meetings or events until at least 22nd May 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.

Funding

  • Funding Received from Government for Coronavirus Work: So far, Ipswich Borough Council, has received three payments from Government that relate to the national response to Coronavirus. The first amount of just under £77,000 is to support the Council in its response to Coronavirus – i.e. the Council has the ability to choose how to spend it. The other two amounts can only be used to pass on to others - nearly £26.5m for the Council to pay to business as grants (see point 17) and just over £1.5m to cover the Ipswich element of the Hardship Fund – primarily for those receiving working age Local Council Tax Support. Additionally, an allowance of just over £5,000 has been made by Government (that the Council will draw down) to cover rough sleeping service costs.
  • Government Finance Announcement on April 18th: On April 18th, the Government announced an additional £1.6bn of funding for Local Government.  On 28th April Government announced that Ipswich Borough Council will receive £1.35m of this latest allocation, which is our share of the funding split based on the Borough’s population numbers with Suffolk County Council getting 65% of funding and districts / boroughs (35%). This grant should be received in May. Our estimates are that – for April alone - the Council expects to spend more than £500,000 on its response to Coronavirus, calculates its income will be down over £750,000 and that it will collect over £450,000 less than anticipated from council tax and business rates. So – in effect – the latest Government grant funds April’s additional expenditure and income costs.

  • Sources of External Funding for Groups: The Council will highlight any major sources of funding it has become aware of that may be of interest to local people, businesses or groups. New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP) has launched a new grant programme worth £3.5m to support businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic and support their recovery following this outbreak. It will provide capital and revenue grants of up to £50,000 towards costs involved in initial resilience and future recovery of businesses, with a maximum 50% intervention rate. This grant is for businesses who are interested in R&D, diversification, Coronavirus related production, purchase of new plant/machinery, IT upgrades and expansion into new markets. Businesses interesting in applying for support should first contact the New Anglia Growth Hub on 0300 333 6536 or email growthhub@newanglia.co.uk. More information is available on the LEP’s website - https://newanglia.co.uk/grant/business-resilience-and-recovery-scheme/.

Re-starting Services

  • Brown Bins (Garden Waste): The collection of garden waste in brown bins will re-start in the week commencing 11th May. This will be widely publicised by the local media and through the Council’s social media channels. Additionally we will be putting a sticker on all black bins presented for collection next week that advises that the service is restarting the following week and asks residents to put out their brown bin on their next scheduled brown bin collection day and leave it out until it is collected as our collections may be delayed. Our publicity will be clear that residents will only get their brown bin collected week commencing 11th May if that is their scheduled week and they normally put their brown bin out at the same time as their blue bin. Those residents who normally put their brown bin out at the same time as their black bin will get their brown bin collected week commencing 18th May which is their next usual scheduled week of collection. We are increasing our resource to handle what we expect to be more brown bins than usual, with much heavier weights of material collected. We will not be collecting additional material left beside the brown bin, as this has the potential to be a manual handling and littering issue for our teams with heavy bags that may split etc.
  • Regent Shows: We will - on a gradual basis - be announcing 17 new shows going on sale through the Regent Box Office over the coming month. These shows are for various dates between Autumn 2020 and Spring 2021, that we are contractually obliged to put on sale now in order for ticket sales to build over time.
  • Ipswich Market: The market will be re-opening today (1st May) with a small number of food stall following recent advice on outdoor markets issued by Government (including maintaining appropriate social distancing standards). The market will open on Fridays and Saturdays over the coming weeks. To further minimise length of personal contact, market traders have been asked to take advance orders online or by telephone and communicate this as the preferred option to their customers. The Council will also promote this via its social media channels.
  • Empty Council Houses: The Council has restarted work on 50 of a backlog of 94 unoccupied council houses (voids). A significant number of employees who will work on these homes have now be trained in new risk assessments observing relevant social distancing rules and national guidance. 19 of these voids were are able to matched to 19 priority households in temporary accommodation and work has started on 17 of these voids. These works include inspecting and surveying to identify the scope of refurbishment required to meet our Ipswich Voids Standard, clearance and where required and asbestos surveys. Once refurbished, these will be direct lets to households in temporary accommodation. The Government issued further advice on 27 April confirming that Local Authorities should continue with essential home moves, which include those moving from temporary accommodation. The Council is restricting the number of employees that work in any individual property to 2 persons to comply with Government advice. A further 33 properties are also in progress. In addition to this, a further three 2 bedroom bungalows - currently unoccupied - are receiving major conversions to fully wheelchair accessible homes.
  • Construction / Development work: With a few exceptions, including on-going works  at Eastern Gateway and – now finished works - to the Chantry Park Pond, most major development projects that the Council has an involvement in suspended works as a consequence of Coronavirus. In the next week or two work is expected to re-start at a number of sites including at 1 Cornhill (the Old Post Office).  The Council will be starting work next week on a 10 week programme to replace the equipment in the (currently closed) Christchurch Park play area. Work should also restart shortly on the site being developed by the Council’s wholly owned company, Handford Homes, on new homes (including council houses) at the former Tooks site on Bury Road. In all cases, the latest government and Construction Leadership Council guidance on safe working during Coronavirus is being applied

For the avoidance of any doubt, the Council’s car parks (except Crown), 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 also continues to collect blue bins. The Council HQ at Grafton House will remain open for staff (not public access).

Council buildings [including the Regent Theatre, the Town Hall & Corn Exchange, Shop Mobility, Swimming Pools & Sports Centres, the Tourist Information Centre, the kiosks and visitor centres in Christchurch and Holywells parks, and the Museum, Art Gallery and Christchurch Mansion] will remain closed until at least 22nd May and – also - until such time as the government restrictions are lifted and we have the ability to re-open them.  such time as the government restrictions are lifted and we have the ability to re-open them. We are working with the promoters of shows that were due to be at the Regent and Corn Exchange to find new dates for shows in the autumn and beyond and will continue to contact ticket holders as these arrangements are made. We have not been accepting bookings for any of our venues to hire until at least the end of June and this will remain our position for now. 

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 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

“We are continuing to develop our delivery of services where possible – for example we shall be collecting brown bins again within a fortnight. We have also agreed with the market traders’ request for a small number of food stalls to operate again in the town centre.

“This cautious approach is the right one and throughout we shall be following Government guidelines and adapting to any changes announced by the Prime Minister. But we should not get carried away and think we shall soon be getting back to normal. Our public buildings will remain closed until at least 22nd May and we are still stressing the need for social distancing to continue.

“The current situation is, perhaps, best described as a cautious beginning of a partial recovery phase. We will continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in society as well as provide a range of important services. The Council will carry on redeploying staff into key areas to enable this to happen but alongside this we hope to see some elements of our ‘closed services’ slowly get back to something like normality – all where they can follow relevant national guidelines.

“On Monday we are entering week seven of the lockdown restrictions. As I have said before, this is a long battle against Coronavirus and we all need to be patient in the weeks and months ahead as we move slowly towards a ‘new’ normal. Exactly what that will look like nobody knows – and is unlikely to do so until an announcement at one of the Government’s daily Coronavirus Press Conferences - but we will ready to respond and will continue to communicate regularly with residents and businesses.” 

Russell Williams, Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council