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IBC Coronavirus Update - 8 May 2020

Published8th May 2020

The Council is intending to issue an updated statement on its response to Coronavirus every Friday. This is the 8th such statement. From time to time there may well will be a need for major statements to be issued on other days.

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

  • A short summary of key items

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

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

A short summary of key items

  1. The Prime Minister is expected to make a major announcement on Sunday on plans to ease the lockdown. The implications for Borough Council services will be set out next week but, in the meantime, we should all continue to follow current Government instructions.

  2. We should commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day today but it is vital we do so safely and responsibly. While we must not come together to celebrate we can still get involved through all the many ‘events’ highlighted on the special website www.veday75.org.

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

  4. The Council is telephoning all of its tenants aged 70 or over to check on their welfare. If further support or assistance is required we are making referrals for help with food, medication and other support. Around 1,000 calls (66%) have already been made and 31 referrals made.

  5. The Council is to furlough over 200 employees (in a mix of  full and part-time roles) under the Government’s Job Retention Scheme. Those affected work in services such as theatres and sports centres that are unable to operate fully. We have redeployed nearly 120 staff - but we are taking this additional action and it should save the Council about £100,000 over the next three weeks.

  6. The Council has already paid more than £20 million to 1,673 companies in Ipswich who qualify to receive either £25,000 or £10,000 from the Government’s Small Business Grant Fund or the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. We have written again to the remaining eligible businesses (around 440 businesses) who have not yet applied. Ipswich Central are supporting the Council in trying to reach the remaining eligible businesses in the town centre.

All decisions that have been made this week – and key new information about Council services (etc)

In response to the challenges of Coronavirus, Ipswich Borough Council’s position has been updated in the following areas this week:

Council Buildings / Events / Services and Bookings

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

      • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
      • Keep to the designated cycling routes – if cycling(!)
      • Keep your dog under control
      • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
    • Please don’t:
      • Sunbathe
      • Sit for extended periods
      • Have a picnic
      • Go fishing
      • Plan to meet up with people from outside your household – even close friends or family

    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 22,000 in Suffolk as the NHS continues to update the list (over 2 million across the nation). The county, districts and boroughs have been proactive in contacting shielding residents that had not responded to the original NHS letter (approximately 15,000 across Suffolk) to enquire whether urgent support was required. Government food parcels are being delivered to almost 6,000 shielding residents across Suffolk. Since 2nd April 147 emergency food parcels had been delivered to Ipswich residents, with 24 of those being in the week 27th April – 3rd May.

    • Food Parcels: In addition to the parcels delivered by Suffolk County Council referred to above, Ipswich Borough Council has delivered 344 food parcels to 222 properties since the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ started. These are to people who are not in the shielding group but who are unable to access food any other way. We continue to work in close partnership with FIND as well as liaising with others to meet the need of Ipswich residents.  An increasing number of food banks are signing up with FareShare, who are working alongside county partners to ensure an uninterrupted food supply to those food banks. Since the ‘lockdown’ started FareShare have delivered 4,000kg of food supplies to food banks across Suffolk.  

    • Prescription Deliveries: From 20th April the County, district and borough councils, NHS, Clinical Commissioning Groups and transport providers established a system for the collection and delivery of prescriptions for those patients unable to collect themselves or without friends and family to collect on their behalf. The Borough Council’s role is to take the calls via the Home, But Not Alone number and take relevant details and pass them on to the community transport provider to collect the medicines and deliver them. From Monday 27th April to Sunday 4th May inclusive, we received 18 requests relating to collection and delivery of medicines.

    • Other Vulnerable People: Suffolk County Council staffed phone line, Home, But Not Alone, 0800 876 6926, diverts most people that are not in the ‘shielding group’ to the various district councils across Suffolk and the districts then provide appropriate support. Last week, 54% of the calls received to the 0800 number were diverted to the 5 Districts & Borough councils via an automated system. Of the diverted calls, 35% of these calls were diverted to Ipswich Borough Council – i.e.  19% of the total calls received on the helpline. The remaining 46% of the calls were answered by a County Council Customer Services Advisor. Last week the calls received by the Borough Council from the Home, But Not Alone helpline reduced to 169 from 205 the previous week with the two main call reasons being related to ‘food’ and ‘medicine’. These two areas accounted for 61% of all issues raised on the calls received. In the same week the Borough Council received just under 3,000 phone calls to its Customer Contact Centre – the 169 Home, But Not Alone Calls amounted to 6% of the total calls received at the Council’s contact centre. There were just over 1,000 queries raised by people via the Council’s online forms last week, a slight increase on the previous week.

    • 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 30 single people. This is in addition to the 10 single people that are being supported in bed and breakfast accommodation. Support agencies, including Health Outreach, have extended their services to support these two groups and every person will have a personal plan.

    • New Benefit Claims: The Council has received over 2,500 claims for benefits since 1st March this year. The number of applications received each week has been reducing since 12th April but is still significantly higher than would normally be expected each week. The number of customers who qualify for working age Local Council Tax Support is increasing as determinations of entitlement are made. The number of customers entitled to working age Local Council Tax Support and has increased from 6,999 on 1st March to 7,473.  

    Graph showing the number of benefit claims the Council has had each week since 2nd March

    • Benefit Changes of Circumstances: In addition to new claims, over 23,300 changes of circumstance notifications have been received in the same period. This will include changes in employment, hours of work or wages but also includes changes in Tax Credit or Universal Credit (UC) entitlement. Again, the number of reported changes is reducing but remains higher than is normally reported.

    Graph showing the number of change of circumstance requests the Council has had each week since 2nd March

    • Car Park Usage Data: The use of Council car parks over the last week was 94% lower than last year; in line with the trend of previous weeks. Crown Car Park remains closed until further notice. The car parks that are being used more frequently are Norwich Rd Shoppers, William Street and Upper Orwell St South, with the largest reductions in use being Portman Rd, West End Rd and St Peter’s Dock. The free to use parking for those in the NHS and Social Care sector increased slightly to an average of 13 stays per day with the number of registered users increasing by 17 to 123 registered users last week.

    • Environmental Health: The Council is working with the Police and the Trading Standards service to consistently enforce the temporary business closure legislation. To date we have received requests for advice from 18 food businesses and 8 non-food businesses as well as complaints concerning 19 food businesses and 21 non-food businesses. A significant number of complaints concern social distancing within work places – this is not enforceable under the legislation but we do contact the businesses concerned. One prohibition notice has been served.

    • HEARS: Ipswich Borough Council’s Home Emergency Alarm Response Service (HEARS) - which provides a much needed service to many customers - continues to provide 24/7 cover.  Since the start of the pandemic (23rd March) HEARS have received 3,412 calls and made 379 safe visits to customers’ homes.  HEARS has successfully contacted all of its 1283 customers to check on their welfare with 8% being provided with the Home, But Not Alone number - as it was identified that they may have been in need of more support.

    • Council House Tenants: The Council is contacting all of its tenants aged 70 or over by telephone to check on their welfare. The Customer Services team have adapted the Council’s inbound Community Response form for this purpose. This means that if further support or assistance is required details are being captured on the call so the tenant does not have to call back via the Home, But Not Alone number. To date 965 calls have been made (66% of this group), 710 of these have been successful and 31 referrals have been made for help with food, medication or other support.

    Support for Business

    •  Town Centre Footfall: The weekly footfall information is shown via a graph so the changes over the last two months can be seen. Last week footfall in our town centre was counted as follows: on Tuesday 5th May, just under 4,000 (3,810) people were recorded on our town centre sensors and on Saturday 2nd May, 3,827 were recorded.

    Graph showing town centre footfall each week since 2nd March

    • 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. This week, the Government published updated data as to the performance of Councils on giving out these grants – Ipswich Borough Council came 114th out of 314 councils in terms of % paid out. We will continue to provide a weekly update as to the numbers and amounts paid. Key statistics are set out in the table below. To find out more – and if you are one of the 444 businesses that haven’t yet replied to our letter – you can then apply online via: https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/businessratesgrant. The telephone calls we have made to businesses 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. Examples as to why businesses were deemed ineligible include: they do not have a business premises, the business activity is not classed as retail, hospitality or leisure and / or they do not qualify for small business rate relief. Ipswich Central are working with the Council to try to contact the businesses that are still eligible in the town centre. This week we issued further letters to 444 ratepayers to highlight that they have still not provided bank details to enable us to pay them the grant. The Government have also announced a Local Authority business support discretionary grant fund. We still await the guidance from the Government, but there is recognition that because this is a discretionary fund they expect local authorities will want to use an application process and that it may take some time for this to be established. At the same time, the Government would like local authorities to make every effort to make this process effective and quick. The Government will be making an additional 5% uplift to the original funding available to local authorities for the discretionary scheme. We still await confirmation of the amount for Ipswich. We will share further information once we receive the full details of the scheme from the Government.
    Scheme anouncement by Government 17th March 2020 n/a 
    First letters sent by Council to known affected businesses 26th March 20202,207 
    Money received from Government1st April 2020£26,500,000 
    First grant payment made1st April 2020 £530,000 
    Follow up phone calls started by the Council15th April 2020900 
    Estimate of eligible businesses/premises 26th April 20202,117
    Number of businesses paid28th April 2020 1,673
    Amount of money paid28th April 2020 £20,040,000 
    Applications still awaited28th April 2020 444
    Received applications to be processed28th April 2020 58
    Borough Council national ranking as published by Government (% of money received that has been paid out) 27th April 2020 114th of 314 

    Staffing matters

    • Employee Numbers: At the start of this week (Monday 4th) the Borough Council had around 30 employees off work either self-isolating with their households or off with specified Coronavirus symptoms. This was up from 25 at the same time the previous week. By Thursday (7th May) this figure had reduced to 27 – the same number as last Thursday. Around 2/3rds of these numbers are employees in the national ‘shielding’ category

    Graph showing weekly employee Covid-19 absence since 16th March

    • Redeployment of Employees: Over the last month we have completely (or partially) redeployed 117 employees to work in areas of the Council that they haven’t worked in before. Some of our areas of work are busier than ever before (e.g. our benefits service) and others are quieter than ever before (e.g. our sports service). So we have redeployed people from quieter areas to busier areas – following training – and employees have moved to support the following services: our Home Emergency Alarms Response service (HEARS), our Benefits team, our Parks Patrol team, our Sheltered Housing team, our Customer Contact Centre team, our Emergency Services Centre team and our Revenues team giving out the business grants referred to at point 14 above. We have also deployed employees to support our main local foodbank – FIND.
    • Furloughing: The Council has decided to furlough over 200 employees (around 80 full-time equivalent) under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The furloughing will take place across a range of Council services that are unable to operate fully at this time such as sports centres and theatres. As stated at point 16, we have already redeployed 117 employees into key services that are leading our response to Coronavirus - but we need to take this additional action to improve our financial position in the face of unprecedented costs in tackling the virus – and unprecedented losses of income across many of our services. None of the employees affected will lose out financially as we will continue to pay the 20% of their salary which falls outside the Government’s furlough scheme. The decision to furlough staff means that each will be furloughed for a minimum period of three weeks. This should save the Council about £100,000 over a three week period.

    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 14) 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 £5,250 has been made by Government (that the Council will draw down) to cover rough sleeping service costs. The claim was completed on Wednesday 6th May for the full amount. Regarding the additional £1.6bn which the government announced on 18th April, to support local government through the crisis, the Council is expecting to receive £1.35m, which is our share of the funding split based on the Borough’s population numbers with Suffolk County Council getting 65% of funding and the Boroughs 35%. This grant should be received later this month. Our estimates are that – for April alone - the Council expects to spend more than £500,000 on its response to Coronavirus, calculates its income will be down over £750,000 and that it will collect over £450,000 less than anticipated from council tax and business rates. So – in effect – the latest Government grant funds April’s additional expenditure and income costs.

     Re-starting Services

    • Brown Bins (Garden Waste): The collection of garden waste in brown bins will re-start in the week commencing 11th May. This will be widely publicised by the local media and through the Council’s social media channels. Additionally we have been putting a sticker on all black bins presented for collection this week that advises that the service is restarting next week and asks that residents put out their brown bin on their next scheduled brown bin collection day and leave it out until it is collected as our collections may be delayed. Our publicity will be clear that residents will only get their brown bin collected week commencing 11th May if that is their scheduled week and they normally put their brown bin out at the same time as their blue bin. Those residents who normally put their brown bin out at the same time as their black bin will get their brown bin collected week commencing 18th May which is their next usual scheduled week of collection. We are increasing our resource to handle what we expect to be more brown bins than usual, with much heavier weights of material collected. We will not be collecting additional material left beside the brown bin, as this has the potential to be a manual handling and littering issue for our teams with heavy bags that may split etc. 

    • Government Announcement: It is understood that the Prime Minister is intending to make a major announcement on plans to ease the lockdown on Sunday (10th May). The implications of this announcement for Borough Council services will be set out in next week’s statement (15th May). It is possible that changes will be introduced from Monday 11th May – depending on what is announced – e.g. in relation to how we manage the use of our parks. For this weekend the rules remain the same as they are today – see point 1 above.

    Additional Items

    • VE Day: It is important that we commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day today (8th May) but it is vital that we do so safely and responsibly. While we must not come together to celebrate and honour the heroes who made victory possible in 1945 we can still get involved through all the many ‘events’ highlighted on the special VE Day website www.veday75.org. You can, of course, have a quiet moment of reflection by joining the national two-minute silence at 11am.

    •  Arts / Cultural Performances:  A decent summary of arts and cultural activities going on in the town during these challenging times can be found at: www.suffolklibraries.co.uk/events-activities/online-and-streamed-events/arts-activities/. Each week we will draw attention to one organisation and what performances (etc) they are making publicly available. This week, the spotlight is on Red Rose Chain Theatre Company who are live streaming (free) a play reading of The Secret Heart of Ann Boleyn: Fallen in Love at 19:30 on Tuesday 19th May. They also release a new video every Friday afternoon. For more information visit: www.redrosechain.com.

     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 and is about to re-start brown bin collections. 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. 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

    “Ipswich Borough Council, like everyone in the country, is awaiting the Prime Minister’s proposed statement on Sunday. He is expected to announce measures to ease the current lockdown but like everyone else we do not know what these measures will be or when they will come into force.

    “Needless to say, the Council will follow Government guidelines and adapt quickly to any changes. In the meantime – and moving forward – we must continue to concentrate on providing support for vulnerable residents and delivering other key services such as waste collection. Next week we will restart collecting garden waste in brown bins.

    “We face an unparalleled crisis and even if we are past the peak - as health experts believe - the effects of the Coronavirus will continue to affect all of us for a long long time to come. Certainly, the Council is facing severe financial pressures as we deliver additional key services without the usual levels of income from services such as the Regent Theatre, sports facilities and car parks.

    “This is why I have taken the decision to furlough more than 200 full and part-time staff under the Government’s Job Retention Scheme. This is a temporary measure but it should save us around £100,000 over the next three weeks.”

    Russell Williams, Chief Executive, Ipswich Borough Council