The Council is intending to issue an updated statement on its response to Coronavirus every Friday. This is the 3rd 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 have four 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 longer list of all the Coronavirus-related decisions (etc) previously announced that remain relevant.
- A brief comment from the Council’s Chief Executive – or in his absence – his Deputy.
A short summary of key items that have arisen / been decided since the last main statement (on 27th March 2020)
- We have begun paying businesses who qualify for business grants. We estimate 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 2020 the Council received the funding from Government to make these payments. Letters have gone out to over 2,000 businesses telling them what they need to do to get the money – basically complete an online form. So far more than 850 (43%) have done so. Over 120 businesses have now received nearly £1.5m between them.
- The Council has secured additional accommodation to support it in providing accommodation for homeless households and individuals including rough sleepers. Nearly £150,000 has been allocated to secure this hotel accommodation for the next 12 weeks. The Council will continue to monitor demand and capacity in this area.
- The Government has introduced a new Hardship Fund to support those households already in receipt of means-tested working age Local Council Tax Support. This means bills for these households will be reduced by up to £150 – which will ensure that the most financially vulnerable households have nothing to pay. These awards will be applied automatically if households are already in receipt of this support. We are writing to the nearly 7,000 households affected – letters have started to go out this week. To find out if you may be entitled to some help with your Council Tax, please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/benefits to make a claim. It is never too late to register for help with Council Tax.
- Ipswich Borough Council has introduced a free parking scheme in our car parks for crucial key NHS and social care staff. People who believe they qualify under this strict criteria can apply to email@example.com. This is in addition to the free use of some of our car parks for resident permit-holders who find their streets more congested as more people are at home all day. Enforcement will be carried out to ensure emergency vehicles and refuse collection crews can get through.
- Following the cancellation of the Executive meeting on 24th March 2020, the Council Chief Executive has taken decisions on nine of the items on that agenda under his emergency authorisations. Details of these can be found at democracy.ipswich.gov.uk/mgListOfficerDecisions.aspx?bcr=1&BAM=0.
- We monitor footfall in Ipswich town centre and this week has seen a 70% fall in visitor numbers compared with before the start of the Government’s main Coronavirus measures on 16th March 2020. On Tuesday 31st March just under 4,000 people were recorded on 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 3,750 on 28th March – 18,900 on 7th March and 23,400 on our busiest Saturday in December 2019. Ipswich Market have decided to discontinue trading until further notice (only food stalls had been permitted to operate).
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
- I-Card Refund Progress: All customers have been notified of options available to them and the majority 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. The last 34 refunds should be made today (Friday 3rd April 2020).
- 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 continues to process refunds and would like to assure customers that we will have completed all requests for refunds by Friday 17th April. 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.
- 2nd Brown Bins: The collection of Brown Bins (garden waste) from domestic properties is suspended until further notice. This week the Council has written to all customers who pay for additional brown bins (267 households) letting them know how this affects them (see point 31 below for the details).
- Ipswich Market: The market traders have made the decision that the Ipswich Market will not be operating / opening until further notice.
- Street Traders : All the regular street traders in Ipswich have confirmed they will not be operating until further notice.
- 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. St Peters Dock and West End Road Car Parks have seen a 99% reduction in use with only a few cars using these cars parks each day. Crown Car park is averaging 32 cars per day, with only 1 car parking on Sunday 22nd March, this is a 96% reduction on the same period last year.
- Parking enforcement: Our parking patrols are taking a common-sense view and focussing their time on tackling obstructive and dangerous parking to ensure emergency services, refuse collections and those carrying out essential travel can do so safely. Enforcement continues as usual in our Car Parks and in residents parking areas.
- Parking for NHS and Social Care Key Workers: Critical key workers in the Health and Social care sectors are able to obtain free parking in car parks owned by Ipswich Borough Council and in on-street pay & display locations. Eligible critical key workers who apply are given access to an online MiPermit account which enables them to register their vehicle and park for free. More details can be found at: www.ipswich.gov.uk/keyworkerparking
For the avoidance of any doubt, the Council’s car parks, 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).
- Executive decisions taken: Following the cancellation of the Executive meeting that had been scheduled to take place on 24th March 2020, the Council Chief Executive has taken decisions on 9 of the items on that agenda. The details of the published papers are still available online – despite the meeting being cancelled - at democracy.ipswich.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=135&MId=2496&Ver=4 . Details of the decisions the Chief Executive has taken under his current ‘emergency’ authorisations are all recorded online at: https://democracy.ipswich.gov.uk/mgListOfficerDecisions.aspx?bcr=1&BAM=0. Any future decisions he might take will also be recorded and available via the same web-link and via these weekly statements.
Community Impact and Volunteering
- Rough Sleeping: Since the Government announced on 27th March 2020 that all rough sleepers should be accommodated, there has been a significant increase in demand for accommodation. The Council, working with the Suffolk Accommodation Group has secured accommodation for appropriate households and individuals including rough sleepers. The Chief Executive has, on Wednesday this week, authorised expenditure of nearly £150,000 to secure hotel accommodation for the next 12 weeks. The Council will continue to carefully monitor capacity. You can help by reporting rough sleepers at Roughsleeping.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Homelessness / Begging: The Council and other partners are working particularly hard to ensure homeless households and rough sleepers have safe accommodation as they are a high Covid-19 risk group. Additional accommodation has been recently secured to ensure there is sufficient capacity. People who beg may not be homeless and you cannot be sure what your money will be used for. Instead, if you wish to show support, there is the established Ipswich Help our Homeless charity. Every penny raised goes to Ipswich agencies who help the homeless and rough sleepers. Visit helpourhomeless.co.uk/ for more information.
- Hardship Fund: (JC) The Government has introduced a new Hardship Fund in response to Covid-19. This is being allocated in accordance with Government advice to support those households already in receipt of means-tested working age Local Council Tax Support. This means bills for these households will be reduced by up to £150 – which will ensure that the most financially vulnerable households have nothing to pay. These awards will be applied automatically if you are already in receipt of this support - there is no requirement to apply. Letters to the nearly 7,000 households affected should all have been sent by the end of today (3rd April). Ipswich Borough Council welcome new claims from people whose financial circumstances have been affected by Covid-19. To find out if you may be entitled to some help with your Council Tax, please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/benefits to make a claim. It is never too late to register for help with Council Tax.
- 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. Neither Ipswich Borough Council or Suffolk County Council has yet received the data of who has been written to by the NHS and nor has information been received as to when food parcels will be delivered. Information is starting to come through, via the County, of people that have responded to the letter to request support with food provisions. To ensure that these residents receive some food up to point where national deliveries start to flow well – work is being co-ordinated by Suffolk County Council and many food packages have now been delivered. For this group of people, the NHS and our local Clinical Commissioning Group are currently implementing a plan to ensure that medicines and prescriptions are being delivered to those that are unable to access other support mechanisms.
- Other Vulnerable People: The County 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, 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). The Council normally takes between 750 and 1,000 calls per day at its contact centre. Whilst the number of calls we are receiving hasn’t increased in total, the reasons for the calls have changed with significant increases in calls regarding benefits and Council Tax. 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. Further information on call numbers, what they are about and how we are responding to them will be provided within next week’s statement.
- Gateway to Homechoice: The Gateway to Homechoice is a sub-regional system used by many local organisations to advertise available social and affordable rented property. Due to Government guidance restricting home moves the website and the service has been suspended. This means that the Council’s normal letting process has stopped for the time being.
- Preparation for Likely Higher Local Death Rates: A Suffolk ‘Excess Death Cell’ has been set up. This is to consider and plan for County-wide body storage capacity to be increased and whether the paperwork associated with deaths and funerals can be simplified. The Borough Council is participating in and contributing to this workstream. The Council has trained additional staff to ensure that capacity for both cremation and burial are increased. Spare parts have been ordered for our cremators.
- Preparations for the possibility of there being a drive through local test centre: Two potential sites have been put forward - in the Ipswich area - for COVID-19 ‘Drive Through Test Centres’. The Suffolk Local Resilience Forum is co-ordinating this work and liaising with the Government.
Support for Business
- Business Rates Letter (progress update): The Council has sent out just over 1,200 letters to businesses that qualify for full business rates relief (i.e. a £0 bill) for 2020/21 – in the ‘retail, hospitality leisure’ sectors. If you haven’t yet received a letter from the Borough Council and believe your business qualifies then please apply online at www.ipswich.gov.uk/businessratesgrant. Please first check the government guidance at www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses that sets out who should qualify for the business rate relief.
- Paying Suppliers: The Council has updated its procedures so that we are paying all invoices from suppliers within 7 days - to support businesses during this difficult time.
- Town Centre Footfall: The Council monitors footfall in Ipswich town centre and the number of people using our town centre appears to be over 70% lower this week than it was before the start of the Government’s main public facing Coronavirus measures on 16th March 2020. The busiest time of the day in our town centre is currently between 10 and 11 am – whereas in previous weeks it is normally lunchtime. Last Tuesday 31st March just under 4,000 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 3,750 on 28th March – 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. The letters referred to at point 18, above – which also went to the other 800 or so that should get a grant - 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 868 (about 43%) (as at 2nd April 2020) have supplied the relevant details and we have started to make payments – 124 businesses have been paid £1,470,000 (between them) so far (2nd April 2020). We will provide a weekly update as to the numbers and amounts paid.
- Employee Numbers: At the start of this week the Borough Council has around 64 employees off work either self-isolating with their households or off with specified Coronavirus symptoms. By Thursday (2nd April) this figure had increased marginally to 65 – this compares to 50 last Thursday.
- Funding Received from Government for Coronavirus Work: So far, Ipswich Borough Council, has received two payments from Government that relate to the national response to Coronavirus. These are: (i) just under £77,000 to support the Council in its response to Coronavirus and nearly £26.5m for the Council to pay to business as grants (see point 21 above). Further funding is likely to be received shortly – to cover the Ipswich element of the Hardship Fund (see point 12 above) and 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 (including support to pubs) – as announced by Government (see point 18 above) - i.e. to many small businesses in Ipswich across the financial year 2020/21. An estimate for this suggests it will be the region of £720,000. This work will be completed next week and a submission made to Government for the requisite funding on or by 9th April. An additional amount of nearly £2m has also been received that was due in any event - but has been paid early to help the Council in managing its cashflow
All the Coronavirus-related decisions (etc) previously announced by Ipswich Borough Council that remain relevant.
The items listed below are in addition to those listed above.
Council Buildings / Events / Services and Bookings
- Council Buildings: Ipswich Borough Council’s public buildings will remain closed until at least - and including - 30th April 2020. These facilities include the Regent Theatre, Town Hall & Corn Exchange, Shop Mobility, Swimming Pools & Sports Centres, the Tourist Information Centre, the visitor centres in Christchurch and Holywells parks and the Museum, Art Gallery and Christchurch Mansion.
- Cancelled Bookings: Anyone who has booked one of our facilities to hold an event / meeting etc - for the period between 1st May and 30th June 2020 can, if they wish, get in touch and reschedule it (without any additional cost) to sometime later in the year. Please contact us using the General Enquiry option available on our website www.ipswich.gov.uk and we will respond as soon as we can.
- Future Bookings: The Borough Council will not take any more bookings for any of our rentable spaces in our public buildings for a period up to and including 30th June 2020.
- Regent etc Shows: We will contact customers directly if tickets have been purchased for any upcoming shows between 27th March and 30th April 2020 at the Ipswich Regent or Corn Exchange. If any upcoming shows fall after this date, please check our website and social media feeds for updates and we will be in contact if they are any further changes. If your tickets have been purchased from our website, our Box Office at the Regent Theatre, or the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre then please see our website for how any refunds will be processed.
- Council Events: All events that have been organised or managed by Ipswich Borough Council and that are scheduled to take place in our parks or on the Cornhill before 1st August 2020 will be cancelled. These events include Holi Festival, Global Rhythm, Music Day, Indian Summer Mela, Open Air Theatre and Family Fun Days.
- Event Rescheduling: No one yet has any clear idea as to when larger gatherings will next be allowed. The Council is making some plans to reschedule its events to late summer / early autumn - if gatherings etc are allowed by then. We are focusing on two weekends and we hope this will enable other organisations to plan their thinking on rescheduled events – i.e. with some certainty that they wouldn’t clash with major Council organised events. These weekends are 22nd and 23rd August (already scheduled for Maritime Ipswich) and 26th and 27th September.
- Council Owned Office Buildings: That IP-City Centre and Grafton House (both owned and managed by the Borough Council) will remain open for appropriate Council staff and for tenants but meetings rooms in both buildings will not be bookable by outside organisations for any date prior to 30th June 2020.
- iCards: Following the decision to suspend our sport and leisure provision, the Council will be adjusting i-card members’ direct debits to £0 until further notice. Customers do not need to cancel their Direct Debits with us or their banks. For I-card holders who have prepaid by direct debit we will refund 1/12 of the annual cost of their i-card on the 1st of each month during the suspension of services
- Brown Bins: The collection of Brown Bins (garden waste) from domestic properties is suspended until further notice.
- Second Brown Bins: We will shortly write to all customers who pay for additional brown bins (267 households) letting them know how the period of suspension has affected the payment they may already have made or would be about to be due to make. We will, unless customers ask us not to, use any balance in their additional brown bin account to offset the value of the next invoice for their additional brown bins. We will of course refund the balance of any customer’s additional brown bin account if they contact us requesting this, but as this amount may be as small as £4.00 we expect that most customers will allow this balance to be carried over. If a customer requests a refund then collections from their property will only recommence once they request the service to start and a new payment has been made.
- Parks: The Council is continuing to keep its parks open but with kiosks, toilets, courts, outdoor gyms and play areas closed. The parks can be used for exercise as long as social distancing is applied.
- Council Meetings: All formal Council meetings scheduled for March and April 2020 are cancelled.
- Executive Authority: On 24th March 2020 the Leader of the Council (Councillor David Ellesmere) delegated authority to the Chief Executive to use the full range of powers held by the Executive of the Council until further notice.
Community Impact and Volunteering
- Council Tenants: The Council can confirm that following Government advice issued on 18th March 2020, the Council has suspended all rent related eviction action in relation to council tenants and will not initiate any new rent related actions until further notice.
- Council Housing Repairs: The Council has limited repairs to our Council Housing stock to absolutely essential items only until further notice.
- Volunteering: A new Suffolk-focused community support service, ‘Home but Not Alone’, has been set up as part of a call for volunteers to help the most vulnerable people who need help during the COVID-19 pandemic. The service will mean willing volunteers, charities, town and parish councils, community and religious groups can all log their details and offers of support on an app, while people who need help can phone to request support. As the number of offers and requests grows, they will be matched so that the right help can be given where it’s most needed. The free app, called Tribe Volunteer, can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
- Commercial and CVS Rents: All Ipswich Borough Council’s voluntary and community sector tenants and all Ipswich Borough Council’s commercial tenants who are no longer able to operate due to the direct implications of the Borough Councils decision to close buildings they operate from e.g. the coffee shop in the now closed Town Hall and Corn Exchange complex - will be given a three-month rent holiday by the Council covering the period April 1st to June 30th. The Council’s Property Team has written – yesterday - to all who will benefit from the three-month rent-free period during week commencing 23rd March 2020. This support is valued at around £80,000.
- English as Second Language: The Council are providing information and resources for those residents in Ipswich with English as their second language. Details can be found here www.gyros.org.uk/our-services. Additional support is provided for refugees or asylum seekers through the Suffolk Refugee Support Team suffolkrefugee.org.uk/. The Government has also translated the Covid-19 guidance into 11 of the most popular languages in the UK and this can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance
- Changes of Circumstances of Existing Claimants: Existing Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction customers should report changes in their circumstances at the earliest opportunity. Losing hours of work or having your pay reduced could increase the level of help you are entitled to. The sooner you tell us about changes in your circumstances, the sooner we can calculate any increase due to you. The Council will look to award any increase in entitlement (due to loss of earnings/employment resulting from the Coronavirus outbreak) from the date that the change happened - providing we are told within 1 month of the change. However, if there are good reasons why you are not able to tell us within one month (such as being in hospital receiving treatment) we will be able to consider longer periods. Changes of circumstances can be reported on line – please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/changeincircumstances
- Council Tax: Ipswich Borough Council is aware that in these challenging times many people might find keeping up with their Council Tax payments and their housing rent payments particularly challenging. We are looking at how we can assist residents further on these matters. In the meantime if you are in severe financial difficulty and cannot pay your next Council Tax instalment or your housing rent please go to www.ipswich.gov.uk/counciltax or www.ipswich.gov.uk/benefits
- Residents Parking: Enforcement of parking restrictions is continuing both on-street and in our car parks to ensure roads remain passable for emergency and refuse collection vehicles. Ipswich residents who have Resident Parking Permits for zones 1 -4 can now use some Ipswich Borough car parks as demand exceeds capacity in the on-street bays within Residents Parking Zones. For further details see: www.ipswich.gov.uk/coronavirus-impact-residents-parking
Support for Business
- Business Rates: The Council has also decided not to start any formal enforcement action related to any non-payment of business rates - that are related to the financial impact of Coronavirus - until (at least) June 30th 2020.
- Ipswich Central Levy: The Borough Council has worked with Ipswich Central and their industry body to lobby Government to extend the business rates discount for retail, leisure, and hospitality businesses so that it covers the Ipswich Central levy as well. But for the moment, pending any government announcement, the levy money is still owed. However, in order to allow Government the time required to reach a definitive decision on this matter, businesses in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors will not have their levy payments enforced until, at least, 30th June 2020. Therefore, whilst the due date for payment remains unchanged (30th April 2020) as set out in the Regulations it is not the intention of Ipswich Borough Council or Ipswich Central to send reminders or take action against any business in those sectors prior to 30th June 2020. For the avoidance of doubt, however, should Government not take up our recommendations, the levy for this sector should be paid by 30th June 2020 and, for other levy payers, the due date remains as existing (30th April 2020).
- Employee Rules: With the exception of maintaining our Cemeteries and Crematorium service, all Ipswich Borough Council staff are now banned from attending (in person) any external meetings or events - with immediate effect and until at least 30th April 2020. Employees will continue to provide essential services to residents (such as essential emergency repairs for tenants and our HEARS service) and will therefore meet residents but they may ask residents whether they or their household are displaying any coronavirus symptoms first and will follow best practice wherever possible on social isolating.
- Home-working: The Council has limited the number of its employees at our Grafton House Headquarters to about 50 people per day (all practising social distancing). This is approximately 10% of the numbers who normally work out of the Council’s space in Grafton House each day. Significantly increased levels of home-working are taking place
- Key Workers at the Council: The Borough Council has identified all its Key Workers across its services (just less than 50% of our employees) and sent letters to all those identified on 20th March 2020.
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 last few weeks has seen an average of 500 queries per day received via our online ‘contact us’ form – 10 times as many as we normally get a day.
It is anticipated that the decision about the availability of buildings etc after 30th April 2020 will be made before the Easter weekend (i.e. next week).
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
“The Council continues to follow the guidelines from government and is continuing to extend its range of measures that are designed to protect and support residents and businesses whilst maintaining key services.
“Over 95% of our office-based staff are now working from home but many of our frontline staff – for instance our refuse collectors – do not have the opportunity to do this. Our teams are doing a fantastic job out and about in town – our bin crews, our HEARS staff, our parks employees and our sheltered housing workers among them. We have now trained over 100 employees so that they are available to be redeployed into roles that are deemed more critical at these challenging times. I am really, really proud of all their dedication and commitment.
“But, I am appalled when I hear from colleagues elsewhere in the UK, that some council staff carrying out their jobs in really challenging circumstances are being verbally – even physically – abused. I am though encouraged that the vast majority of Ipswich residents appreciate what we are doing for them and for businesses.
“I am also heartened by the posters that many children have displayed in their windows – often thanking our bin crews for carrying on. I have seen a few of them as I go for my daily exercise in east Ipswich. It does not cost anything to be kind and say thanks – from over 2 metres of course - and to give them – and all the other Council staff in the frontline - a wave.
“I know the pride I feel as Chief Executive of this Council is shared by our Council Leader, Councillor David Ellesmere, and by all our 48 Councillors.”
Russell Williams, Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council