IBC Coronavirus Update - 10 April 2020

Published10th April 2020

The Council is intending to issue an updated statement on its response to Coronavirus every Friday. This is the 4th 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 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 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 that have arisen / been decided since the last main statement (on 3rd April 2020)

  • We are keeping our Parks & Open Spaces safe and available to be used when exercising. We would ask residents to follow the Government’s guidance that means you can still go to the park for outdoor exercise – but only once a day.
    • 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
  • On Wednesday 1st April the Council received the funding (£26.5 million) from the Government to make business grant payments. So far 893 businesses have been paid £10,535,000 (between them) (as at 8th April 2020)
  • The Council provides temporary accommodation to the homeless where there is a statutory duty but during the current pandemic this has been extended to those who have nowhere to safely self-isolate and to rough sleepers. As the current temporary accommodation in Ipswich is at capacity, 25 rooms in a hotel were block-booked on 2nd April with an option to extend if necessary. The hotel is already accommodating 21 single people (as at 8th April 2020).
  • In Ipswich, in the last 3 week period there have been 774 new benefits applications.
  • Ipswich Borough Council continues to deal with a high number of calls during the Covid-19 pandemic. We received over 4,000 calls last week - 274 calls were diverted to the Borough Council via the new ‘Home, but not Alone’ route (i.e. telephone number: 0800 876 6926).
  • In terms of town centre footfall, on Tuesday, 7th April, just under 3,700 people were recorded on our town centre sensors rather than 14,000 people on Tuesday 10th March or 18,000 people on our busiest Tuesday in December 2019. The comparable figures for Saturdays are just under 3,000 on 4th April – 18,900 on 7th March and 23,400 on our busiest Saturday in December 2019.

 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 for Easter: We are keeping our Parks & Open Spaces 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. You can find more info about the Government’s instructions on the Gov.uk website – ‘Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can't do’
  • iCard Refund Progress: All customers have been notified of options available to them and all have now had the relevant refund, voucher or credit. All customers with iCard memberships have been written to and all direct debits have been amended to zero. Those customers with annual iCard memberships have been notified of the option to refund or to extend membership. For classes, parties, junior activities and casual sessions, all vouchers have now been sent and all customers contacted.
  • Regent Customer Contact Progress: We have contacted all customers of cancelled shows at the Ipswich Regent or Corn Exchange who had purchased tickets through our Box Office. The Council is processing requests for refunds for shows that have rescheduled and for which customers do not want to transfer their tickets or that have been cancelled without a rescheduled date. Customers of future shows are advised to check our website and social media feeds for updates and we will be in contact if they are any further changes.
  • Crown Street Car Park: Due to the lack of use and the cost of keeping it open (as two employees need to be on site at all times) the Council has shut Crown Street Car Park until further notice. William Street Car Park is 50 metres away and – at this time - has plenty of spare space for those that were still using Crown to relocate to it.

Democracy

  • Elections: Under the Covid-19 2020 Act, the Police and Crime Commissioner Election (Suffolk) and Ipswich Borough Local Elections, due to be held on 07 May 2020, have been postponed until 06 May 2021. The cancellation of polling station venues and associated equipment is complete. Similarly where a by-election arises this will also be postponed until May 2021 and we await further guidance on the procedures that will apply.

Community Impact and Volunteering

  • Vulnerable People in the ‘Shielding Group’:  Although Government have taken responsibility to provide food parcels to those residents within the 1.5m people in the ‘shielding group’ that have requested support, the delivery of support has been fragmented. To ensure that residents that require urgent support do receive food, up to the point where national deliveries start, work is being co-ordinated by Suffolk County Council, who have delivered 30 emergency food parcels in the past week to Ipswich residents. For this group of people, the Government are still to put in place a plan for the delivery of medicines and prescriptions.  The County, district and borough councils are putting arrangements in place with the NHS and Clinical Commissioning Groups so that prescriptions, for the most vulnerable, can be delivered.
  • Food Parcels: In addition to the parcels delivered by Suffolk County Council referred to at point 6 above, Ipswich Borough Council has delivered 135 food parcels to 92 properties since the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ started. These are to people who are not in the shielded group but who are unable to access food any other way. We are working in close partnership with FIND as well as liaising with others such as the Bangladeshi Support Centre to ensure that between us we meet the need of Ipswich Residents. If you are aware of anyone who needs to access this support please direct them to the Home but not Alone phone number provided at point 8 below.
  • Other Vulnerable People: The Suffolk County Council staffed phone line 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. The Borough Council, via its Customer Services Team (which includes redeployed staff) , is now operating its contact centre 7 days a week between 8:30am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm at the weekend (rather than its normal 5 days a week). Many of the calls we are now taking are more lengthy and complex as we respond to the changing needs of our residents, meaning that our employees are spending longer on each call than usual. Between 30th March 2020 and 5th April 2020 (a week), the Borough Council received just over 4,000 phone calls to its Customer Contact Centre. Of those calls, 274 were received via the new ‘Home, but not Alone’ route that was set up specifically in relation to Covid-19 (i.e. telephone number: 0800 876 6926). The three main types of Covid-19 calls the Council has received relate to ‘food’, ‘medicine’ and being ‘isolated’. These three areas accounted for 90% of all issues raised on the calls. In the same time-period, the queries raised via the Councils online forms increased from around 50 a day to 500 a day. These primarily related to the Business Grants referred to at point 13 below.
  • 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 nowhere to safely self-isolate and rough sleepers. As the current temporary accommodation in Ipswich is at capacity, 25 rooms in an 80+ room hotel were block booked on the 2nd April with an option to extend if necessary. The hotel is already accommodating 21 single people (as at 8th April 2020). This is in addition to the 10 single  people being supported in bed and breakfast accommodation using the Cold Weather Fund and the Government money referred to at point 15 below. The Government Funds supporting this B&B accommodation will be used up next week – the Council will need to pick up the costs thereafter (unless further Government funding is provided).  Support agencies, including Health Outreach have extended their services to support these two groups.
  • Benefits statistics: Keeping customers informed about the availability of Council Tax Reduction has enabled many to make claims to help with paying their Council Tax. In fact, for Ipswich there have been 774 new applications received since 16th March. Processes have been put in place to manage priority work to ensure that those customers who generally are newly disadvantaged by changes in their circumstances, do receive the right amount of Council Tax Reduction and the additional Hardship Fund relief that is due to them. We will provide a weekly update as to the numbers of new claimants. At the start of last month the Council had 6,999 households receiving Working Age Local Council Tax Support.
  • Car Park Usage Data: The use of Council car parks has reduced by 94% when comparing the last week to the same time last year. The free to use parking for those in the NHS and Social Care sector is being used by an average of 11 cars per day.

Support for Business

  • Town Centre Footfall: The Council monitors footfall in Ipswich town centre and the number of people using our town centre appears to be over 75% lower this week than it was before the start of the Government’s main public facing Coronavirus measures on 16th March 2020.  On Tuesday, 7th April, just under 3,700 people were recorded on our town centre sensors rather than 14,000 people on Tuesday 10th March or 18,000 people on our busiest Tuesday in December 2019. The comparable figures for Saturdays are just under 3,000 on 4th April – 18,900 on 7th March and 23,400 on our busiest Saturday in December 2019.
  • Business Grants: Following the business grant announcements by the Chancellor on 17th March 2020, the Council has estimated that there are just over 2,000 business in the Borough that qualify to receive funding from - either - the Small Business Grant Fund – or - the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. Around 1,750 business should receive £10,000 and around 250 should receive £25,000. On Wednesday 1st April the Council received the funding (£26.5m) from Government to make these payments. We will pay the grant as soon as we can but we do need relevant details to be supplied to us by the qualifying businesses. Letters have been sent to all business that we believe are eligible for a grant and those letters  tell businesses how to supply us with their relevant details so that we can make the appropriate payment (this is designed to help prevent fraud). So far 1,500 (about 74%) (as at 8th April 2020) have supplied the relevant details and we have started to make payments – 893 businesses have been paid £10,535,000 (between them) so far (8th April 2020). We will provide a weekly update as to the numbers and amounts paid. To find out more – and if you are one of the 26% that haven’t yet replied to our letter – you can then apply online via: https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/businessratesgrant.

Staffing matters

  • Employee Numbers: At the start of this week the Borough Council has around 50 employees off work either self-isolating with their households or off with specified Coronavirus symptoms. This was down from 64 at the same time the previous week. By Thursday (9th April) this figure had decreased further to 36 – this compares to 65 last Thursday. All these figures include some employees in the national ‘shielding’ category.

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 onto others - nearly £26.5m for the Council to pay to business as grants (see point 13 above) 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. Furthermore, an additional piece of work is being undertaken to determine the cost of giving business rate payment holidays for retail, hospitality and leisure (including support to pubs) business – as previously announced by Government. This work will be completed shortly and a submission made to Government for the requisite funding – by the now extended deadline of 14th April. 
  • Cultural Organisations / Individuals: Arts Council England, with funding from the National Lottery, are providing £70 million for cultural organisations and individuals in the arts sector affected by the pandemic . Organisations can apply for a maximum of £35,000; individuals can get grants of up to £2,500. Applications open on 9th April 2020. For further information please go to: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19. National Portfolio Organisations (of which we have 6 in Ipswich) are able to access a separate Arts Council pot of £90 million. If you would like support from the Council in preparing a submission to these funds please contact the Council via events@ipswich.gov.uk.
  • Sports Clubs and Organisations: Sport England has opened a £20 million Community Emergency Fund as part of a UK-wide £195 million support package. Suffolk clubs and community organisations can find out more and apply for emergency grants of between £300 and £10,000. For further information please go to:  https://www.sportengland.org/news/coronavirus-information-sector. If you would like support in preparing a submission to these funds please contact our partners at Active Suffolk via https://www.activesuffolk.org/sectorworkers.

 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 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 at the start of the Easter weekend and it is nearly a month since the Prime Minister announced the first major restrictions to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic

“This new ‘landscape’ is a challenging one for all of us but I want to stress that the Borough Council will continue to deliver key services over the weekend and beyond. We do not yet know when the restrictions will be changed or lifted – we continue to monitor and follow government advice.

“Our priorities are the HEARS home alarm service; support for our sheltered housing scheme residents; collecting waste (especially black bins); looking after the homeless - including by providing more temporary accommodation; undertaking emergency repairs to council homes and buildings and running a seven-days a week “Home but not Alone” phoneline for residents who need our help.

“But we are doing a lot more – we are administering a council tax hardship fund; helping FIND (Families in Need) deliver vital supplies to vulnerable people; maintaining planning and building control services; protecting residents through our CCTV operation; and looking after our parks for people to exercise in. We are also paying out millions of pounds of business support grants to hard-pressed Ipswich businesses. Please get in touch if you are one of the 400 or so firms who have not yet responded to our requests for your details - so that we can pay you money.

“I remain proud of what the Council is doing and grateful to all our hard-working employees providing vital services across our town.”

Russell Williams, Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council