Cabinet Members will next week receive a formal report from Officers on the Council’s significant and wide-ranging response to the Coronavirus national emergency – along with the key tasks it faces over the coming weeks and months.
Recently-introduced amendments to Local Authority meeting regulations now provide the opportunity for formal committee meetings to take place via video conferencing. The first virtual meeting of the Council will take place on Thursday, May 21, when Cabinet will meet to consider an Officer report which sets out the Council’s response to the current health emergency, since restrictions were imposed on March 23.
Welsh Government recently retained the ‘stay at home’ restrictions for Wales until at least the end of May. Throughout this period, the Cabinet has met informally with Senior Officers to discuss the Council’s service delivery response.
Councillor Andrew Morgan, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said: “The Coronavirus emergency, and the resultant lockdown, has brought unprecedented circumstances across our society, placing a huge demand on the Council to protect the most vulnerable and those in need. The response of our staff has been fantastic, often under very challenging conditions, enabling us to maintain our vital services and adapt them to the new circumstances.
“The help we are continuing to offer is wide-ranging – from social care in a number of settings to Community Meals, homelessness, domestic abuse and substance misuse, Free School Meals, emergency childcare and much more.
“This formal update summarises the Council’s wide-ranging response – while also looking at the steps ahead. Our response to date and how we move forward will take the focus of Members for the foreseeable future, including consideration of the potential financial impact of the pandemic at future meetings of the Cabinet and Council.”
The Council’s response
The Council continues to operate most of its key functions with reduced levels of staff – who have made a tremendous effort to help. Around 3,000 staff responded to a survey to say they would undertake work in the Care Sector or
another key service. So far, 365 employees have been redeployed to care roles, 200 to Community Hubs, 95 to the Shielding Scheme and 25 to food distribution.
Social care for vulnerable people has continued in difficult circumstances– in people’s own homes, residential and nursing homes, supported living and hostels. A multi-agency regional and local command response has been established to coordinate safeguarding activities, to help the most vulnerable.
Homelessness, domestic abuse and substance misuse services have had a vast rise in cases, while 635 people now receive Community Meals and 6,726 vulnerable people were contacted by the Shielding Scheme (with support from Resilient Families Service, redeployed staff and 361 volunteers).
The Children’s Services, Attendance and Wellbeing Service is keeping in touch with our most vulnerable children and families – with support, advice and guidance provided by specialist teachers and education psychologists.
The Communications Team has presented key information to residents via a dedicated space for Coronavirus service information on the Council’s website – visited 1.1 million times in the lockdown period. This has been supported by more than 2,400 social media messages, viewed more than 16 million times.
The Streetcare Team is currently collecting an increased level of waste and recycling to its continued high standard – with the amount collected most weeks the equivalent of the busy Christmas period. Street cleansing, fleet maintenance, and parks and highways maintenance operations continue.
Youth, Library and Adult Education services are delivering a wide-range of provision online, and have experienced a considerable take-up. Crematoria and burial services have increased their capacity to cope with extra demand.
More than £38m has been provided to 3,300 businesses in Business Grants, while the Business Support Team has been working with small businesses to help identify the Government grants that they could be eligible for.
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support applications have increased significantly, with more than 900 new entitlements awarded since the lockdown period started – more than any other Council in Wales. Free School Meal entitlements have also been awarded to an additional 400 pupils.
Free School Meals provision, which changed from an initial packed lunch scheme to a weekly bank transfer payment, is offered to 9,300 eligible families – nearly all of which now receive the provision. On average, 420 children are attending the Emergency Childcare Provision, which includes 13 hubs for 4-19 year-olds and a range of settings for 0-4 year-olds. Key workers are entitled to seven-day childcare, and vulnerable learners to five days a week.
The ICT and Digital Services team has enabled the Council to transform the way in which it works, with more than 3,000 staff now able to work from home.
The next steps – key tasks
The report identifies five tasks which now face the Council, as the UK and Welsh Governments will seek to phase the release of the lockdown measures in the months ahead. These are identified as contact tracing, recovery and service planning, decision making and democratic engagement, counting the cost and economic resilience. Further details on this is included in the Officer report to Cabinet Members, which is available on the Council’s website.