Report of the Strategic Director, Resources and Digital
The Committee received a report and presentation setting out the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on areas relevant to its remit.
The early impact of the pandemic was reported to Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny to Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September 2020. This provided an overview and also outlined the impact of the pandemic on performance against the five Thrive pledges.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact throughout the world. There have been considerable implications for everyone in the UK including Gateshead, where it continues to affect the lives of all who live and work here. It is clear that the impact, particularly the long term issues will be far reaching for many years to come.
The Committee received a presentation which provided a detailed overview of the impact of the pandemic on areas relevant to this committee including:
· Update on the impact and continued response
· Lessons learnt
· How this is changing how we work in the future
Some of the key areas are highlighted below:
· Impact and response to increased demand from local people and businesses for financial support including Council Tax Support, Council Tax Hardship Fund, Winter grants and over 11,000 payments made to businesses
· Customer experience developments to ensure local people can effectively and efficiently contact Council services - with 156,000 general calls since March
· The Covid - 19 pandemic accelerated the IT adoption and change program as demand for technologies that enable new ways of working has increased significantly. Software such as Microsoft Teams, which has enabled the organisation to communicate and collaborate via video, is completely different to the position a year ago. To meet this demand, the key lesson has been to confirm the plan for new ways of working enabled by technology is the right approach. However, to maximise the opportunities presented by new technology there is a need for further investment
· Supporting employees throughout the pandemic from frontline workers to those working at home, responding to different needs and ensuring safe working environments through risk assessments and activities
· Employees have been able to access counselling, ‘wobble room’ and guidance on looking after mental health and wellbeing while the Individual Employee Personal Discussion tool has been rolled out to understand the different needs of employees and how they can be supported
· A Health and Wellbeing Survey is currently underway with employees and the findings will be used to inform future developments
· A focus on agile working for the future, when employees can return to the workplace, and having solid foundations in place for different ways of working on a permanent basis
· Support through the hubs which have received over 7,500 requests for assistance including food, utilities and routine shopping
· Working with volunteers and community groups to support vulnerable and isolated people. Over 500 individuals offered to volunteer while a range of initiatives have been undertaken, most recently through the Christmas and winter period providing Christmas Hampers, gifts and a joint Gateshead and Newcastle Spirit of Christmas Campaign
· Supporting the Public Health response to the pandemic with implementation of resilience and business continuity planning
· Learning lessons from resilience work with partners across the Northumbria area and nationwide as well as implementation of more virtual communications and ensuring that continued incident responses adhere to health and safety guidance pertaining to Covid -19
· Financial impact on the Council through increased expenditure as well as lost / reduced income
· Supporting schools through the Services for Schools commercial services with continued engagement with schools and responding to emerging issues
It was queried whether the Council were receiving any support to cover the costs of administration of the grants and support payment schemes. It was noted that we do receive some funding for administration and some additional resources have been brought in. People are working incredibly well across the council.
It was noted that the figures are surprising and it would be good if it was possible to create a dashboard which could be posted on the Councils website, on number of businesses helped, residents helped.
It was noted that all employees should be thanked for the hard work they have done during the course of the pandemic.
RESOLVED - That the comments of the Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee in relation to the Council’s response to the Covid Pandemic be noted.