District Council News from Councillor Clive Hooker
Parish Council Report for March 2020
Cllr Clive Hooker (West Berkshire Council, Downlands Ward)
West Berkshire Council and Coronavirus / Covid-19
A lot has happened since my newsletter to you last month. We all find ourselves in a completely new way of living; those of us who are self-isolating, those now working from home and those emergency and key workers very bravely going to work daily to look after us all in their various and important ways.
I, like most of you, am self-isolating at home but keeping in touch with the Parish Council Clerks in the Ward by telephone. I am most impressed by the way the Parishes have very rapidly set up help groups who are providing food, shopping, prescription and other types of support to those in need in their communities.
The Council is introducing a newsletter to share updates on COVID19.
It will provide residents with information about changes to services, advice relating to coronavirus as well as the support available through the Council and its partners. Residents can sign up to the newsletter here:
Please share this in your communities and encourage everyone to sign up to receive these bulletins.
I hope in my newsletter below that I also manage to communicate to you all that has been ongoing at West Berkshire Council in putting in place help through the newly established Community Support Hub, communication systems with Town and Parish Councils and other help packages to see us through this very difficult time.
Keep safe, stay at home.
Coronavirus Act 2020
After being sped through its Parliamentary stages, the Coronavirus Bill received Royal Assent on 25 March.
The Act has huge implications for such things as social care, and there are various sets of Regulations that have come forward affecting all various aspects of public health and local government.
Amongst the changes is s.78 of the Act and the snappily entitled Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panels) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 (SI 392), which came into force on 4 April. As anticipated, s.78 and the Regulations allow local authority meetings to be held virtually (and the frequency of meetings to be altered, or meetings moved or cancelled, etc) - local authorities include parish (and thus town) councils.
The Regulations are at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/392/contents/made, and NALC has published guidance - https://www.nalc.gov.uk/library/news-stories/3232-holding-remote-meetings-3april/file.
Everything at WBC has changed, from the closure of offices with all non-key staff working from home, to the introduction of Gold and Silver Command daily meetings, to the creation of the Community Support Hub (CSH) and liaison with a host of community volunteer groups.
Stay at Home Message
WBC is consistently promoting the Government’s #StayHomeSaveLives message and have observed the guidance by closing all council offices to the public, with only a very few key workers attending at any one time. As you might expect there has been a huge increase on the demand of our IT as hundreds of staff are working remotely but all our teams have staff coverage.
An advice leaflet from WBC should by now have been delivered to every household in the district, providing residents with useful information about the local support available from WBC.
A PDF version of the leaflet has been made available on our Coronavirus Residents’ webpage (see below) and if anyone requires it in another format, language, etc please contact the Community Support Hub (also see below).
Communications with Towns and Parishes
So far as Town and Parish Councils are concerned, WBC has focused on communicating via Chairmen and Clerks, using a single point of contact in the Building Communities Together team. Communications have concentrated on ensuring that there is a two-way dialogue with the local volunteer groups so that we pick up any issues regarding support for the shielded vulnerable (building on the list supplied by the Government of those particularly at risk due to underlying health conditions) and those identifying themselves as vulnerable (more about this below).
Everyone reading this will be all too aware how quickly situations are changing, not just day to day, but almost hour by hour. The Council’s aim is to keep you, and our communities generally, as informed as can be – so, in addition to traditional media, and emails etc, WBC is using social media increasingly for speed and coverage.
The response from Town and Parish Councils and community groups who are stepping up to this unprecedented challenge has been phenomenal and we are all extremely grateful for their organising local volunteers so quickly. West Berkshire Council is here to help support communities and individuals, particularly if groups become overwhelmed by demand or need guidance.
Other Communications Channels
Last month I gave you some links to our Twitter feeds but there are also a number of Facebook pages which the Council uses, for example:
- West Berkshire Council;
- West Berkshire Community Support Hub Group;
- West Berkshire Libraries.
The WBC website also contains more about the CSH and useful information for residents and businesses:
Community hub https://info.westberks.gov.uk/coronavirus-communityhub
Linked to all of these initiatives is the WBC Customer Service telephone line: 01635 551111.
The Government has announced a raft of support measures to assist businesses through this difficult time. For some of our local businesses the pandemic has meant closure, we hope temporary, but for others this is showcasing the resilience of their business model.
The Council decided not collect the April business rates direct debit instalment to avoid unnecessary hardship and a reduction in cash flow for small businesses particularly. It also provides time for business experiencing uncertainty opportunity to contact the Council and for the various business rate schemes to be applied to their accounts.
Information for businesses can be found on our website https://info.westberks.gov.uk/coronavirus-communityhub.
Council Tax Holidays
For individuals in receipt of Council Tax Support, a grant of up to £150 has been applied to the resident’s account – they do not need to apply for this.
For those who have experienced a sudden drop in income as a result of the COVID-19 consequences on their employment income a Council Tax ‘holiday’ can be discussed by contacting our Local Taxation team. More information can be found on our website: https://info.westberks.gov.uk/article/36859.
Community Support Hub
As mentioned above, the Community Support Hub is up and running and is currently dealing with around 80 phone calls plus emails a day from community groups and individuals seeking support.
The CSH is there to get information quickly to the community groups and volunteers that are helping the most vulnerable members of our community, and to ensure that everyone who needs help gets it.
As also detailed above, one key element of CSH engaging with the community is the new Facebook page ‘West Berkshire Community Support Hub Group’, designed to get messages out to community groups and volunteers – please Like and Follow the page so that we get it as widely distributed as possible.
You can contact the Hub on 01635 503579 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CSH has issued guidance (and will continue to do so) for community groups regarding communications, data management, GDPR, DBS checks, volunteers, etc.
The NHS has written to individuals who are in this most vulnerable category of residents - shielding is a term used where one or more residents in a household are at very high risk should they contract COVID-19 such as those undergoing specific treatment for cancer, recovering from transplants, or having severe respiratory conditions etc – a consequence is that all members of the shielded resident’s household are in effect in social isolation (see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications /guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19).
Food distribution and shopping
The CSH is involved in ensuring that Government food parcels are delivered to shielded residents and that all vulnerable residents are being supported locally - community groups are doing a superb job at supporting these households with shopping, delivering prescriptions and emotional support.
We know some of our vulnerable residents are concerned about renewing and collecting prescriptions. In your communities many of you have already found ways to address this. The district’s pharmacies are also working collectively on this issue and are responding to the need to increase delivery of prescriptions. Pharmacies are closing at lunch time to clean down premises and catch up on vital administration so please avoid making unnecessary trips over this period.
Community Cash Float
For groups who have registered with the Community Support Hub and who require a float to help manage cash flow while undertaking activities please contact the Hub on 01635 503579 to make an application.
Other issues arising from Covid-19
All individuals known to the Council are being accommodated in hotels and being provided food and support from our housing team. A number of residents in Two Saints have also been moved in to separate accommodation where they shared rooms with others to ensure social distancing can be observed.
We have closed all our care homes to visitors. All our care homes currently have a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and more deliveries are due. We are recruiting and this might be an employment option for members of your community who have lost their employment due to closure of businesses.
Our colleagues at Veolia are continuing to collect household waste and recycling on the usual collection day. To mitigate staff shortages, collection teams are starting at 06:00 so we are seeking to spread the message to residents to have their bins out earlier than normal.
We know that many people at home are using the opportunity to have a good spring clean, but our household waste recycling centres are closed and the waste teams do not have capacity to take away excess waste. Whilst we are currently collecting garden waste, we may have to concentrate on black bin waste if we have staffing issues due to Coronavirus.
All WBC open surface car parks have been made available free of charge.
In line with fully encouraging social distancing, a number of bus routes have been pared back or cancelled. Any key workers who are affected are invited to contact the Community Support Hub where arrangements can be made to assist them getting to work.
Schools and Early Years providers closed on Friday 20 March, since when a great deal of work has taken place to ensure vulnerable children and those of key workers are cared for during this uncertain time. Where possible, early years settings, including childminders, are open and caring for children.
Excellent collaboration is taking place between these settings and vulnerable families to ensure children are sensibly placed so that parents who need to travel to their place of work can do so more easily. The Early Years team and Family Information Service are helping parents and carers source alternative childcare if their current provision has to close.
In many cases schools are collaborating together to share resources and to enable staff rotas that ensure teachers spend meaningful time away from school. Where needed, School Hubs have been created to ensure that as many children are cared for as possible. Hub centres are currently located at Thatcham Park School, Westwood Farm Schools, Basildon Primary School and Robert Sandilands Primary School. Some schools are accommodating children from independent schools and other neighbouring authorities. Headteachers and leaders are to be commended for embracing this new, challenging role. The existing School Hub arrangements will continue during the Easter holidays.
Home to school transport
WBC has taken the decision to refund all those who have bought a farepayer seat on home to school transport for the two weeks from 23 March to 3 April. To qualify for this refund parents and carers will need to complete the dedicated refund form available online: https://info.westberks.gov.uk /article /36932. The information needs to be completed correctly as the payment will be made by bank transfer.
A decision will be made regarding the last two terms of school (20 April to 22 May and 1 June to 17 July) once the Government has issued further guidance on school attendance for these periods.
Mental Health support for children – Emotional Health Academy
West Berkshire Council has set up a dedicated telephone helpline for young people experiencing issues and concerns relating to the pandemic - 01635 503587.
The helpline, which is linked to its Emotional Health Academy (EHA), will offer the district’s young people self-help support, advice and guidance from trained EHA workers. It came into operation on 6 April, and will be open between 09:00 and 17:00 Monday to Friday, providing an opportunity for children and young people (aged 11 to 18) to express their concerns and talk about issues directly affecting them during the current Coronavirus crisis. EHA workers will use active listening skills to support young people in dealing with difficult feelings around Covid-19 and provide signposting and self-help support for their general wellbeing.
This local helpline is a short-term service and will be available only during the pandemic, to provide ‘in the moment’ support to children and young people. It will provide access to trained EHA workers who can offer advice and self-help tools and provide support to manage ‘low level’ problems. It is not a crisis line and does not replace other services such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
The Public Protection Partnership (PPP) has seen a surge in scams during the pandemic.
The public should be aware that scams are looking more sophisticated, such as door-to-door officials, calls, texts and emails which look like they are from a trusted source but are in fact fake.
The PPP team has received a huge variety of complaints from everyday goods being sold at extortionate prices and premises continuing to trade when they shouldn’t be, to shopping and medication collection services demanding money up front, with no service delivered.
The PPP wants to highlight some examples, amongst numerous others, that are in circulation at the moment:
- miracle cures and vaccines - there are none;
- fake and dangerous Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Coronavirus testing kits;
- home cleaning and health and safety checks.
The PPP’s main objective is to protect and support residents and legitimate business through the successful use of information and intelligence, delivering safe and healthy neighbourhood. They have the following advice for the public:
- Never feel pressured into making any decision or contract.
- Only buy goods from trusted retailers.
- Do not pay any money up front and be very suspicious of anyone demanding money up front.
- Never give out any financial information.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has also warned the public not to open their doors to bogus healthcare workers claiming to be offering ‘home-testing’ for the Coronavirus.
The nature of scams change on a regular basis and PPP will continue to monitor them and warn the public – please report any issues relating to Coronavirus at: https://publicprotectionpartnership.org.uk/covid-19/coronavirus-enforcement-form/
Police and Crime Commissioner
As a consequence of the Coronavirus Act the PCC elections, which were due to take place in May, have been postponed. Consequently the current Police and Crime Commissioner, Anthony Stansfeld, will continue in post assisted by his deputy Matthew Barber.
In order to further support the workforce during this unprecedented period, Thames Valley Police is keen to hear from officers and staff who have left / retired from the organisation in the past two years and would be willing to re-join on a temporary basis with an expedited return. Specifically, any former officers, PCSOs, Contact Management Centre Officers/Control Room Operators, Detention Officers or Police Staff Investigators are encouraged to get in touch by emailing Covid19resiliencebank@ thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk.
Other WBC Matters
Willows Edge Care Home rated Good by CQC
Prior to the present difficulties, WBC’s Willows Edge Care Home in Newbury (which provides personal care to up to 39 residents aged 65 and over) was inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on 27 February and in the report, published on 24 March, it was rated as Good in all five domains and judged to be - safe, effective, caring, responsive and well led.
West Berkshire Youth Offending Team rated Outstanding by HMI Probation
The WBC Youth Offending Team (YOT) recently took part in a pilot inspection and have been rated ‘Outstanding’ (with only one other YOT in the country being scored higher). The rating was given by HMI Probation who gave the West Berkshire YOT a score of 34 out of a possible 36.
WBC has been awarded £4.5m by HMG Central to improve worn out sections of road on the A4 between Newbury and Reading - the funding will allow improvements to be made to a road used by 33,000 vehicles every day as residents travel between the east and west of the District. Over the next year almost 16km of road will be resurfaced at a cost of around £6.1m, with the Department for Transport paying for around three-quarters of the project and WBC paying the rest.
AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield Detailed Emergency Planning Zones
In line with changes to legislation, the areas around the AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield Nuclear Licensed Sites, each known a Detailed Emergency Planning Zone (DEPZ), have been reviewed. As a result, the Aldermaston DEPZ is unchanged, but the Burghfield DEPZ has been expanded.
The increase in the DEPZ for the AWE B site is not the result of any change in activity at the site, and there is no greater risk to the public than before the new legislation was introduced - the Zones were updated because of changes introduced as a result of the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2019 (REPPIR 19). The DEPZ creates a definitive area for the Council and other emergency responders to develop a detailed emergency plan, so that those living and working in the area can be protected and supported as quickly as possible in the unlikely event that a radiation emergency should ever occur.
Following an assessment by AWE detailing the minimum area that each DEPZ should be, WBC’s role has been to set out the precise boundaries. This is determined by taking into account local knowledge about communities and geographical features. This is the first time that the Council has had responsibility for determining the DEPZs, a role previously undertaken by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).
This does not mean that people are any less safe than they were before –it certainly means that more housing needs to be covered by a detailed emergency plan, but not that any of the safety fundamentals have changed.
Grazeley Garden Settlement
Further to the detail above about the revised AWE B DEPZ, the Government then announced that the £252m Housing Infrastructure Bid by Wokingham Borough Council has failed – see the Wokingham news item at https://news.wokingham.gov.uk/news/update-on-local-plan-following-government-budget/?fbclid=IwAR3IZ_xqRrH_UDKcmTd9vzbw89IZ42fcZ-yBgI_lPebWuH3ilMBROvNOuQ0.
From the item: “It had been hoped that Grazeley would benefit from funding from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF), but the Government announced in its Budget last week that the bulk of this funding would go to projects where demand for homes is lower and therefore more support is needed (such as in the north of the country).
“Instead, the government has announced, and has directed our attention to, a new Single Housing Infrastructure Fund (SHIF) that will provide long-term support to housing development in high demand areas – such as Wokingham borough. At the same time, Homes England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have reiterated their commitment to work in partnership with Wokingham Borough Council on Grazeley (should it be allocated for housing in the Local Plan Update). A high-level meeting with these agencies will be held this week (w/c March 16).”
Councillor Downlands Ward