The Council is intending to issue an updated statement on its response to Coronavirus every Friday. This is the 5th 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
- The local Coronavirus emergency helpline – “Home, But Not Alone” - 0800 876 6926 is for people who need urgent help but who do not have support from family, friends or neighbours and who are struggling to get food, medicine or other essential supplies. The Borough, like other councils in Suffolk, is assisting with handling calls seven days a week.
- We are continuing to keep our parks & open spaces open for people to exercise in but remind visitors to follow government guidelines: maintain social distancing and do not gather in groups.
- The Council continues to make payments to businesses from the Government’s Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality & Leisure Fund. The Council has now paid out over £15m in total to over 1,300 businesses.
- Benefits applications have increased from a normal figure of around 330 as month to nearly 1,300 in the last month.
- The Council’s Home Emergency Alarm Response Service (HEARS) continues to provide a vital service to its customers. More than 2,000 calls have been received since 23rd March 2020, with over 200 visits then being made by our HEARS team to customers’ homes.
- Insurance firm Direct Line Group is giving £100,000 from its Community Fund to provide essential supplies for homeless people in Ipswich during the Coronavirus emergency. The Council will use the money to buy ‘starter packs’ for people accessing temporary accommodation.
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:
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. You can find more information about the Government’s instructions on the Gov.uk website – ‘Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can't 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:
- Sit for extended periods
- Have a picnic
- Go fishing
- Plan to meet up with people from outside your household – even close friends or family
- Allotments: Allotments are still appropriate to be used as people’s daily exercising and the Council is asking allotment users to remember the social distancing guidance given by the Government. We have a number of vacant plots at our allotment sites. At the moment, we are not accepting requests from potential new plot-holders but we are looking at whether we can simplify processes to enable new plot-holders to start on their plots in a manner where social distancing guidance can be followed – e.g. when handing over of keys and provision of ‘start-up’ advice at the plot. If we can do this in an acceptable manner we will communicate that via one of these weekly statements.
Community Impact and Volunteering
- Vulnerable People in the ‘Shielding Group’: Data continues to be sent through from Government to Suffolk County Council on the residents who are part of the ‘shielding group’ and have requested support. This list is likely to increase as GPs have been asked to review and make additions. As requested from Government, Suffolk County Council is making contact with this group to establish whether they have any urgent need for food supplies before the Government food parcel service commences. 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, which has delivered 55 emergency food parcels since 2nd April to Ipswich residents. For the ‘shielding group’ the Government is 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, by the end of the week, with the NHS and Clinical Commissioning Groups and community transport providers, so that prescriptions, for the most vulnerable, can be delivered.
- Food Parcels: In addition to the parcels delivered by Suffolk County Council referred to above, Ipswich Borough Council has delivered 180 food parcels to 113 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 continue to work 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 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 06th April 2020 and 12th April 2020 (a week), the Borough Council received just over 3,200 (down from last week due to the Bank Holiday weekend) phone calls to its Customer Contact Centre. Of those calls, 313 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. The queries raised via the Council’s online forms has now decreased from around 500 to 230 a day. These primarily related to the Business Grants which accounted for 50% of online form submissions.
- 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, 35 rooms in an 80+ room hotel have now been block booked with an option to extend if necessary. The hotel is already accommodating 22 single people. This is in addition to the 10 single people that were being supported in bed and breakfast accommodation using the Cold Weather Fund and the Government money referred to at point 17 below. This Government funding has now been used and the Council is now picking up the costs. 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 1297 new applications received since 16th March 2020. The same 4-week period would normally see the about 330 applications. 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 further reduced by another percentage point, with usage for the last week 95% lower than the same time last year. Crown Car Park has now been closed until further notice. The free to use parking for those in the NHS and Social Care sector has 92 registered users and is being used by an average of 9 cars per day.
- 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 9 food business and 2 non-food business as well as complaints concerning 13 food business and 13 non-food business. A significant number of complaints concern social distancing within work places – this is not enforceable under the legislation. Two businesses have been told to close and have done so without the need for any formal enforcement action.
- HEARS: The Councils Home Emergency Alarm Response Service (HEARS) continues to provide a vital service to its customers. 2,040 HEARS calls have been received since 23rd March with 215 visits then being made by our HEARS team to customers’ homes. We are regularly in contact with customers every fortnight and in addition we have started welfare phone calls to ensure all 1,950 customers are safe and well. HEARS workloads were 28% higher over Easter 2020 when compared with Easter 2019.
- Direct Line Community Fund: Direct Line Group has committed £100,000 from its Community Fund to provide essential supplies for homeless people in Ipswich during the Coronavirus emergency. This will enable the Borough Council to buy dozens of ‘starter packs’ for families and individuals moving into the Council’s temporary accommodation. The packs include bedding, crockery, saucepans, nappies, toiletries, electrical goods, children’s drawing books, food and shopping vouchers – items that can help people at their most vulnerable. People who have been sleeping rough will be offered a change of clothes or vouchers. This commitment has been secured in the last few days and launched earlier today (17th April) by Direct Line Group’s CEO Penny James and Councillor Neil MacDonald, the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Housing and Health.
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 78% lower this week than it was before the start of the Government’s main public-facing Coronavirus measures on 16th March 2020. On Tuesday, 14h April, 3,850 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 3,240 on 11th 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 (£10,000 or £25,000) from - either - the Small Business Grant Fund – or - the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. On Wednesday 1st April the Council received the funding (£26.5m) from Government to make these payments. 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 just over 1,800 ratepayers (about 90% of the original total) (as at 15th April 2020) have applied and we have started to make payments. 1,316 businesses have been paid £15,405,000 (between them) so far (15th April 2020). 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 (226 applications assessed so far are not eligible for the scheme). Since the original grant scheme announcement, the Government has provided further guidance about who is eligible. This has resulted in further businesses being identified as potentially entitled to a grant - we have now written to all of these additional businesses. This week, we have started telephoning the businesses we believe are eligible that have not yet submitted an application. In total there are around 900 businesses to contact. We will continue to provide a weekly update as to the numbers and amounts paid. To find out more – and if you are one of the 900 that haven’t yet replied to our letter – you can then apply online via: https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/businessratesgrant
- Business Rate Holiday: The Government have previously announced a 12 month business rate holiday for the ‘retail, hospitality and leisure’ sector. The Council has already written to the, approximately, 800 qualifying businesses in Ipswich informing them of this. A formal return has been made to Government this week that sets out the estimated cost of this business rate holiday in the Ipswich Borough Council area (i.e. where qualifying businesses don’t have to pay any business rates for 2020/21). In total this amounts to £25m support to local businesses. This is in addition to the Business Grant money referred to at point 13 above.
- Suffolk Chamber of Commerce: Suffolk Chamber is working hard to ensure that its members – and indeed the wider business community – are kept up to date with all the latest information about COVID-19. In particular, Suffolk Chamber has: (i) set up a COVID-19 hub at www.suffolkchamber.co.uk providing up-to-date links to authoritative information of relevance to business; (ii) sent out daily COVID-19 briefings with the latest ‘must-know’ facts for businesses; (iii) conducted a weekly COVID-19 survey of its members to ascertain their actions and views – in order to lobby Government to boost its support packages; (iv) handled hundreds of direct queries from businesses by phone, email and social media and lobbied for improvements to various Government COVID-19 schemes.
- Employee Numbers: At the start of this week (Tuesday 14th) the Borough Council has around 32 employees off work either self-isolating with their households or off with specified Coronavirus symptoms. This was down from 50 at the same time the previous week. By Thursday (16th April) this figure had decreased to 31 – this compares to 36 last Thursday. All these figures include some employees in the national ‘shielding’ category.
- 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 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.
- 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. Persimmon is actively operating two charity schemes, specifically for groups supporting the under-18s and people aged over 70. Persimmon’s Charitable Foundation is committed to relaunching its Building Futures scheme for 2020. Persimmon will donate more than £1 million to support children in sport, health and education. They are calling on local groups which support children to apply online: www.persimmonhomes.com/building-futures. Persimmon’s Community Champions initiative gives away £64,000 every month in single donations up to the value of £1,000. From April 2020, all funding will go directly to groups supporting the over 70s, and therefore groups can apply online: www.persimmonhomes.com/community-champions.
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
“As we enter the second month of the current restrictions, we do not know how long this ‘lockdown’ will last.
“Our sports centres and cultural facilities remain closed, events are still being cancelled, traffic and footfall has tumbled, yet the demands on the Council remain high and we will go on supporting the most vulnerable in our town as well as try to alleviate the financial hardship of many businesses and residents.
“This is the new ‘normal’ and despite the scale of the emergency, and its many tragedies, in terms of service delivery things have generally become more settled.
“Our black and blue bins continue to be collected, our HEARS home alarm work goes on as do a number of other services – supporting older tenants, the homeless, emergency repairs, street cleansing, council tax relief, looking after our parks, helping with food parcels and dealing with thousands of enquiries and much more.”
Russell Williams, Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council