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Agenda item

COVID-19 Update and Financial Update

Report of the Chief Executive.

 

Minutes:

Councillor Philip Whitehead, Leader of the Council and Cabinet member for Economic Development, MCI and Communications introduced the report which provided a brief summary of the key activities to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus in Wiltshire since the last update to Cabinet in November 2020.

 

Questions were received from Sue McGill about EV charging points. Cllr Whitehead acknowledged that the questions had received written responses which had been published on the Council’s website prior to the meeting. There were no requests for supplementary questions.

 

Cllr Whitehead explained that since the last report England has entered a new national lockdown and response meetings have been re-established; shadow recovery work continues; work has taken place to enhance the Wiltshire Wellbeing hub and develop an enhanced local tracing offer and support for businesses, vulnerable groups and care homes and schools continues. Cllr Whitehead thanked officers for their continued hard work and resilience during this difficult and testing time.

 

Officers provided updates of their service areas, as detailed in the report, covering the following areas - Test and Trace, mass vaccinations, mass testing and new technologies, outbreak management, community spaces, wellbeing hub, care homes, health and care, education, safeguarding, economy and safe spaces.

 

In response to a question from Cllr Laura Mayes, Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Skills about schools involvement in the process for the distribution of free school meals, the Chief Executive and Director of Education and Skills confirmed that the process to include schools had already commenced with a recent a webinar taking place which shared the process being undertaken. The Cabinet noted that the Council was working with schools about how the funding for free school meals would be distributed locally.

 

Cllr Pauline Church, Cabinet Member for Finance, Procurement and Commercial Investment thanked officers for their hard work and determination to achieve the spending controls in place.  She commented generally on the financial aspect of the report and highlighted that the Council was on a more robust financial footing, in part to the financial help from the government. 

 

Cllr Graham Wright, Chair of the Wiltshire Covid-19 Response Task Group and Cllr Pip Ridout, Chair of the Financial Planning Task Group, reported that the Council is currently operating streamlined Overview and Scrutiny arrangements, allowing officers to focus on the response to COVID-19 and support Wiltshire communities in the context of ongoing restrictions. Cllr Wright referred to notes of the Wiltshire COVID-19 Response Scrutiny Task Group and the Financial Planning Scrutiny Task Group which met on 26 November to consider the Cabinet report. The notes of these meetings were published in the agenda supplement 2 prior to the Cabinet meeting. 

 

Cllr Stuart Wheeler, Chair of the Environment Select Committee asked questions about the process for determining a Local Authorities tier level and hospital bed occupancy rates.  Cllr Whitehead confirmed that a written response would be prepared following the meeting.

 

In response to questions from Cllr Ian Thorn, Leader of the Liberal Democrats about (i) the number of children entitled to free school meal payments compared to those receiving the payment; (ii) locations of vaccination sites; (iii) Financial assistance to Care Homes – grant or loan.  Officers explained that (i) all children entitled to free school meals had the opportunity to access the funding; (ii) vaccination sites included City Hall, Salisbury and other sites identified by the NHS and more locally by the BSW CCG; (iii) the financial assistance provided to Care Homes is by way of a grant and therefore does not need to be repaid. 

 

In response to questions from Cllr Gavin Grant about (i) Self Isolation Payment Scheme and the responsibility of employers; (ii) Small Business and Discretionary grant scheme, including the Local Restrictions Support Grant and the Additional Restrictions Grant; Cllr Whitehead and officers explained that (i) the Council are providing positive communications messages to employers about their responsibilities for employees, including attendance at work; (ii) Over 2000 applications had been received for the Local Restrictions Support Grant and these applications were now being processed and the scheme was progressing well. The Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) had received over 500 applications since in launch on 20 November 2020, with an allocation of £10m. Although the allocation to the ARG scheme was welcome it was felt that the was insufficient to meet anticipated demand. This would be monitored and reviewed in the new year.

 

In response to a question from Cllr Gordon King about the Kickstart Programme and those failing to qualify for the apprenticeship support; Officers reported that discussions were currently taking place with the Department for Work and Pensions and it was hoped that clarity on this issue could be provided shortly.

 

Resolved:

 

1.    Continue to encourage all residents to download the NHS Test and Trace app on their phone.

2.    Continue to encourage all residents to follow national guidance.

3.    Note meetings have been re-established to support response whilst recovery activity continues in shadow.

4.    Note the current revenue budget is forecast to be balanced by the end of the financial year, with a small underspend of £0.071m

5.    Note changes in national policy and the work underway within the four Recovery Coordinating Group themes and on organisation recovery.

 

Reason for Decision:

Wiltshire Council continues to work closely with partners to deliver in a rapidly

changing environment.

 

Supporting documents:

 

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