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Decision details

Cambridge City Council Outline Coronavirus Recovery Plan

Decision Maker: Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee, Leader of the Council

Decision status: For Determination

Is Key decision?: No

Is subject to call in?: No

Purpose:

To agree the Council's outline Coronavirus Recovery Plan.

Decisions:

Matter for Decision

The report provided a brief summary of the actions taken by Cambridge City Council in response to the Coronavirus emergency in the Spring of 2020, and set out the key areas of activity and emerging issues that the Council was working on as it developed its recovery plan.

 

Decision of Executive Councillor for Strategy and External Partnerships

i.  Noted the Council’s response to the Coronavirus emergency.

ii.  Agreed the priorities for recovery.

Reason for the Decision

As set out in the Officer’s report.

 

Any Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

Not applicable.

 

Scrutiny Considerations

The Committee received a report from the Chief Executive that outlined the council’s rapid responses to the crisis, which had continued to evolve in the subsequent weeks and months since the City Council put its business continuity arrangements and pandemic plan into operation in March 2020.

 

The Committee made the following comments in response to the report:

  i.  Reiterated the comments of the Chief Executive at how hard the staff had worked during this period and what had been achieved.

  ii.  Asked if the council had begun the furlough scheme early enough.

  iii.  Noted it was difficult for some staff working at home such as poor internet connection, lack of space and not being able to work in an environment that was removed from ‘life at home’.

  iv.  Believed working from home could result in an unequal work / life balance with staff working more hours; there were no boundaries away from work.

  v.  Queried what help was being given to staff who were finding it difficult to work from home.

  vi.  Virtual meetings suited some members of the council but not all; some felt that they did not offer a quick resolution of issues and could be tiring for those members who attended on a frequent basis.

 vii.  Questioned what tools the council had to encourage and work with businesses to continue to employ furloughed staff as Government funding ended as stated in the officers’ report.

viii.  Asked how the council would sustain the appropriate support and care packages for those rough sleepers who had moved into emergency accommodation.

  ix.  Requested feedback on the city centre reopening since lock down, particularly when public houses, restaurants and cafes opened the previous weekend.

  x.  Asked if there was a local lock down plan.

  xi.  Queried where the level of business support grants sat in comparison to other local authorities. 

 xii.  Cambridge Sustainable Food spending had increased due to COVID-19. The organisation was quickly spending their council grant to meet demand. Questioned if it was possible for the council to increase their funding due to the exceptional circumstances.

xiii.  Enquired if steps had been taken to encourage staff to take leave or was there an option to wait until travel was permitted.

xiv.  Queried what could be done to encourage the wearing of face masks when shopping and in public places. Although not compulsory it should be supported.

 

 

The Chief Executive and Strategic Director said the following in response to Members’ questions:

  i.  At the beginning of the furlough scheme the council had been advised it was not appropriate for local authorities to apply, this advice quickly changed. At the start, there were service areas where staff still had work to do, such as Estate and Facilities working on void properties or staff under Cambridge Live who were dealing with immediate issues such cancelling shows. They were subsequently furloughed when that work ran out

  ii.  The Council began to enquire about the furlough scheme on 20 April and applications were backdated to 16 March.

  iii.  Agreed that working from home did not suit everyone. Arrangements had been made for staff who required additional equipment to be delivered.  Preparations were made for staff to work at Mandela House who needed to do so or were finding working from home a challenge.

  iv.  Moving forward, the Council would facilitate staff to work from home as much as possible but recognised it will not be right for everyone.

  v.  Work / life balance was a challenge for some staff before COVID-19; working in a virtual environment was intense and staff were encouraged to take regular breaks, physical activity advice, mental health advice and the counselling service  was regularly shared with staff.

  vi.  Senior Management enforced the message that working from home did not mean you were permanently on call and boundaries needed to be set.

 vii.  Recognised it was also hard for Members to work virtually and there would be a time when meetings would take place in the committee rooms or council chamber but could not say when that would be. However, there would be an opportunity to continue some meetings and briefings virtually.

viii.  It was an aspiration of the council to work with businesses to continue to employ furloughed staff as Government funding ended. Currently the tools available were the council grants available, the council was also the landlord of commercial tenants and ran the market

  ix.  Moving forward the council would work with the Combined Authority and other agencies who had funding available to look at how businesses could be supported.

  x.  The council would continue to support the homeless and rough sleepers, it was not just about supplying bricks and mortar, but the right services and support would be given working with various agencies while looking at individual’s needs. 

  xi.  Following the opening of public houses and restaurants on 4 July, the Police had acknowledged the hard work of the Environmental Health Team who had worked closely with licensees to ensure the correct safeguarding procedures were in place.  Not all the public houses had opened; there would be challenges moving forward but the Environmental Health Team would continue to work with the licensees and other external agencies.

 xii.  The weekend before the meeting, there had been challenges enforcing social distancing in the parks and open spaces, such as Midsummer Common and the Police approach had been one of education.

xiii.  The council had been involved in developing a local lock down plan for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough should this be required

xiv.  Officers were currently working on specific arrangements for Cambridge, ensuring the right environmental health response would be communicated, how to mobilise community groups efficiently and effectively, and how to support those in quarantine.

xv.  At a meeting with the Director of Public Health, the Chief Executive and Head of Community Services had suggested training for community leaders such as faith groups and councillors, looking at the different languages required to spread preventative communication and public health messages throughout the city.

xvi.  Over the last three months the council had awarded 1400 businesses support grants of £21,500,000 funded by central government and provided rate relief for a year.

xvii.  Discretionary grants were available to those business who did not meet the criteria for the business support grants. Since these grants became available (three weeks ago) £500,000 had been paid out to 140 business, charities and not for profit organisations.

xviii.  Funding had been allocated from central government based on the business rate relief list, therefore the allocation of funds was different for each local authority.

xix.  Could not answer the question regarding funding for Cambridge Sustainable Food but would make enquires and respond outside of the meeting.

xx.  Staff were encouraged to take leave by their line managers. The Chief Executive had reminded staff on the importance of taking leave during this lockdown period; she had reinforced this mentioning her own annual leave at the beginning of June in her regular communication to all staff.

xxi.  A certain number of holiday days had been permitted to be carried over to next year which would help staff and spread the holidays.

xxii.  The council had provided advice about wearing masks but was not enforcing this as the government had not yet made this compulsory. This was in line with the current public health messages. Face masks had been purchased for staff.

 

The Executive Councillor for Strategy and External Partnerships spoke of the financial impact Covid-19 had placed on the council and how some of the issues would be addressed at the next meeting of full council.  He also acknowledged the phenomenal effort of the council’s response to the pandemic lead by the Chief Executive and the senior management team and the effect this had had on all council services.

 

The Committee resolved by 5 votes to 0 to endorse the recommendations.

 

The Executive Councillor approved the recommendations.

 

Conflicts of Interest Declared by the Executive Councillor (and any Dispensations Granted)

No conflicts of interest were declared by the Executive Councillor.

 

Report author: Andrew Limb

Publication date: 09/09/2020

Date of decision: 06/07/2020

Decided at meeting: 06/07/2020 - Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee

Accompanying Documents: