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IBC Coronavirus Update - 24 April 2020

Published24th April 2020

The Council is intending to issue an updated statement on its response to Coronavirus every Friday. This is the 6th 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

  • Ipswich Borough Council’s public buildings - including sports centres, Regent Theatre, museums and Town Hall & Corn Exchange - will remain closed until at least 22nd May 2020 - and thereafter until Government restrictions are lifted.

  • A postcard publicising the Home, But Not Alone service is being sent to all households in Suffolk. 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 number is 0800 876 6926 and operates 9am-5pm every day.

  • The Council has paid 1,450 of the, approximately, 2,000 Ipswich businesses eligible for either the Government’s Small Business Grant Fund or the Retail, Hospitality & Leisure Grant Fund. We are still working hard to contact the remaining companies.

  • In April the Council expects to spend more than £500,000 responding to Coronavirus, while losing over £1,200,000 in income (including collecting over £450,000 less than anticipated from council tax and business rates). So far the Council has received about £77,000 in government funding and is waiting to hear how the additional £1.6 billion funding to be given to Local Government will be allocated.

  • The Council is continuing to keep its parks & open spaces open for people to exercise in but visitors must follow government guidelines: e.g. maintaining social distancing and not gathering in groups.

  • The Annual Council Meeting scheduled for 20th May 2020 has been cancelled and the current Mayor (Councillor Jan Parry) and Deputy Mayor (Councillor Jane Riley) will remain in post until the next Annual Meeting – currently scheduled for May 2021.

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

  • Council Buildings: Ipswich Borough Council’s public buildings will remain closed until at least 22nd May 2020 and thereafter until such time as the government restrictions are lifted and we have the ability to re-open them. 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.
  • 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.

    • 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

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 18,000 in Suffolk as GPs have identified additional residents.  Government is starting to send through a list to SCC of the number of people receiving Government food parcels – this information should be available at a local level from next week.  As requested from Government, Suffolk County Council has made contact with shielding residents, who have not replied to the NHS letter, 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 so far resulted in the delivery of 106 emergency food parcels since 2nd April to Ipswich residents.
  • Food Parcels: In addition to the parcels delivered by Suffolk County Council referred to above, Ipswich Borough Council has delivered 246 food parcels to 155 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 to meet the need of Ipswich residents.  Food banks are being encouraged to sign up with FareShare, who are working alongside county partners to ensure an uninterrupted food supply to those food banks.  

  • Prescription Deliveries: For the ‘shielding group’, the Government is still to put in place a plan for the delivery of medicines and prescriptions. This has therefore been addressed at a local level by the County, district and borough councils, NHS, Clinical Commissioning Groups and community transport providers – working together - so that prescriptions, for the most vulnerable, can be delivered. This week the process went live and the Council’s part of it is to take the calls via the Home But Not Alone number and take relevant details and pass onto the community transport provider to collect the medicines and deliver them. In the first two days of the new service we took 5 requests relating to collection and delivery of medicines.

  • Other Vulnerable People:  The 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. 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 13th April 2020 and 19th April 2020 (a week), the Borough Council received just under 3,000 (down from last week due to the Bank Holiday Monday) phone calls to its Customer Contact Centre. Of those calls, 231 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. Last week 60% of the calls received to the 0800 number were diverted to the 5 Districts & Borough councils via an automated system. Of the diverted calls, 37% of these calls were diverted to Ipswich Borough Council – i.e.  22% of the total calls received on the helpline. The remaining 40% of the calls were answered by a County Council Customer Services Advisor. The queries raised via the Council’s online forms decreased from around 230 to 165 a day. These primarily related to the Business Grants which accounted for 50% of online form submissions.

  • 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 at the beginning of 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 number is 0800 876 6926 and operates 9am-5pm every day.  In addition to promoting the Home But Not Alone number there are also 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 28 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.

  • New Benefit Claims: New claims continue to be received in increasing numbers. The Council has received over 1,700 claims in the month 16th March to 15th April (nearly 1,400 more than an average month previously). It is going to take some time to calculate all of these awards. Almost 1,100 of those are from new Universal Credit (UC) customers and the main challenge is that neither the Council nor the customer will know the details of the UC award for at least 5 weeks – the statutory ‘waiting’ period. The Council cannot normally assess working age Local Council Tax Support until after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) determine a customer’s UC claim. However, already, the numbers qualifying for Local Council Tax Support – which is administered by the Council - have increased from 6,999 to 7,221 since 1st March. 

  • Benefit Changes of Circumstances: In addition to the 1700+ new claims, over 10,000 changes of circumstance notifications have been received in the same period.  Information is received electronically from Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and customers informing us about reductions in hours / wages or other changes in household incomes. Duplicate information is often received but this level of work is still around 3500 items higher than in a normal average month.  Careful consideration must be given to each to ensure that the correct determination is made. Many existing customers have also needed to claim Universal Credit (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. In the last month we have received nearly 200 of these stop notices. To ease the transfer onto 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.

  • Housing Benefit: The Government has increased the Local Housing Allowance levels and this has increased the level of Housing Benefit payable to 1,356 residents in Ipswich. Letters have been sent, by the Council, to all 1,356 residents. As Housing Benefit is capped at the Local Housing Allowance rate, customers often have a gap between their Housing Benefit award and the rent they need to pay their Landlord – i.e. if their rent if higher than the housing benefit they receive - however this gap should now be smaller for 1,356 households in the Borough.

  • Car Park Usage Data: The use of Council car parks over the last week was 94% 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 Peters Dock. The free to use parking for those in the NHS and Social Care sector has increased from 9 stays per day the previous week to an average of 11 stays per day last week with the number of registered users increasing by 12 to 104 registered users.

  • 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 15 food business and 4 non-food business as well as complaints concerning 15 food business and 15 non-food business. A significant number of complaints concern social distancing within work places – this is not enforceable under the legislation. 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 2,573 calls and made 259 safe visits to customers’ homes.  HEARS is currently in the process of contacting all customers to check on their welfare and to date 783 successful calls (60% of our customers) have been made and 10% provided with the Home But Not Alone number (point 6 above) - as they may have been in need of more support. 

Democracy

  • Annual Council Meeting: The Annual Council Meeting scheduled for 20th May 2020 has been cancelled – as allowed for by recently agreed legislation. The current Mayor (Councillor Jan Parry) and Deputy Mayor (Councillor Jane Riley) will remain in post till the next Annual Meeting – scheduled for May 2021.

Support for Business

  • Town Centre Footfall: For the first time, 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 21st April, just under 4,000 people were recorded on our town centre sensors and on Saturday 18th April, just over 3,500 were recorded.

Graph showing decline in town centre footfall

  • Business Grants – Progress: 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). 1,450 businesses have now been paid £17,155,000 (between them) so far (21st April 2020). This week, the Government published data as to the performance of Councils on giving out these grants – Ipswich Borough Council came 59th out of 314 councils in terms of % paid out – the second highest in Norfolk and Suffolk after Broadland District Council. We will continue to provide a weekly update as to the numbers and amounts paid.

  • Business Grants – Outstanding Payments: Last week, we started telephoning the businesses we believe are eligible that have not yet submitted an application. In total there are around 600 businesses who the Council believes are likely to be eligible who have not yet replied. To find out more – and if you are one of the approximately 600 businesses that haven’t yet replied to our letter – you can then apply online via: https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/businessratesgrant. The 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 300 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.

  • Business Rate Holiday: The Government have previously announced a 12 month business rate holiday for the ‘retail, hospitality and leisure’ sector. The Council wrote to all qualifying businesses last month. Revised bills (i.e. bills of £0) have now been sent to all 758 qualifying business. The Council has now extended this to include – following revised Government guidance – childcare nurseries on Ofsted’s Early Years Register. Revised bills have been issued to 23 such ratepayers. This additional relief amounts to around £153,000 in support.

Staffing matters

  • Employee Numbers: At the start of this week (Monday 20th) the Borough Council has around 27 employees off work either self-isolating with their households or off with specified Coronavirus symptoms. This was down from 32 at the same time the previous week. By Thursday (23rd April) this figure had decreased to 24 – this compares to 31 last Thursday. More than half of these numbers are employees in the national ‘shielding’ category.

  • Redeployment of Employees: Over the last month we have completely (or partially) redeployed 116 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 points 17 and 18 above. We have also deployed employees to support our main local foodbank – FIND.

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 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.

  • Government Finance Return and Gov £1.6bn: On April 18th, the Government announced an additional £1.6bn of funding for Local Government. There is no news as to how much of this will be allocated to Ipswich Borough Council. As stated above, the Council received just under £77,000 of the first £1.6bn given to local Government. Last week, the Council made its first Coronavirus financial return to Government. This estimated that – in April – 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.

  • 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. Historic England have launched an emergency fund to help tackle the impact of Coronavirus on the heritage sector. The aim of the fund, which will be up to £2m, is to extend the safety net as far as possible for the sector by helping small heritage organisations both to survive the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic, and to prepare for recovery. This will complement measures put in place by the Government, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s £50million emergency fund. Applicants are invited to apply for grants of up to £25,000 to address financial difficulties arising from Coronavirus. More information on how to apply: https://historicengland.org.uk/coronavirus/fund/ The deadline for new applications is midnight on 3 May 2020.

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

“Whilst this is a huge and unsettling change from what we are all used to, there is some degree of certainty about life in the current lockdown – Government restrictions are pretty clear about what we can and cannot do – both as residents and businesses. The Council has been delivering services based largely on those restrictions - prioritising help and support for vulnerable people, collecting black and blue bins, cleaning streets and maintaining our parks in a safe condition. We have also been answering thousands of calls from the public and supporting businesses with grants and rates ‘holidays’.

“However, we are also looking ahead to what might change in the coming weeks – and months. Will we able to extend our services or even re-open any of our facilities? The honest answer is: we don’t know. But we are putting some plans in place - and like all of you - we are awaiting an update from the Government. The next major update is due on 7th May 2020.

“But one thing is clear: the need for social distancing remains a priority. The vast majority of people in Ipswich understand this and have adapted to this ‘new normal’. This pandemic has been an emergency unparalleled in most of our lifetimes and as the Chief Medical Officer said yesterday – life is unlikely to get fully back to any form of real normality until some point next year. I remain confident that the Borough Council will rise to the challenges ahead."

Russell Williams, Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council