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Councillors assess pandemic response so far

by Gemma Melling

Knowsley’s Cabinet took time to consider the Council’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic so far when they met on Wednesday, 29 July.

As lockdown restrictions continue to be gradually eased, it was important for the council to take stock of what has been done so far – and the work still left to do.

For Knowsley, in common with all local authorities, the coronavirus outbreak has meant a complete and rapid transformation of the way the council works – and the services it delivers.

Responding effectively and quickly to the crisis phase was key.

Since March, Knowsley Council has:

  • Created whole new services – such as the Knowsley Coronavirus Support and Volunteer Hub – from scratch to respond to local need.
  • Completely redesigned existing services to respond to new demands.
  • Sourced and distributed millions of items of PPE in the absence of a national supply and distribution system.
  • Supported care homes to care for vulnerable people safely, investing over £3m to do so.
  • Implemented a local free school meal voucher system so that Knowsley children didn’t go hungry in the absence of a national system.
  • Managed the local implementation of the Government’s business support schemes so that Knowsley companies got the cash they needed and got it quickly.
  • Ensured that residents and businesses have the latest information they need to stay safe and protect others.

But councillors were keen to stress that the council could not have handled the response to COVID-19 alone – and that’s where the “Knowsley Better Together” ethos really came into its own.

Working collaboratively, positively, quickly and effectively with other agencies, businesses, schools and individuals, Knowsley has:

  • Supported almost 40,000 vulnerable residents – based on personal need, not just those who met the Government’s “shielded” criteria.
  • Provided thousands of emergency food parcels to vulnerable households – feeding around 10,400 residents.
  • Helped more than 1,200 residents with shopping, “check in and chat” calls, collecting prescriptions and walking dogs.
  • Provided support for local businesses seven days a week.
  • Put an army of volunteers on standby to support others – with thousands more out in the community doing their bit to help friends, families and neighbours.

The Cabinet expressed their thanks to all who have been part of this monumental effort – whether they be employees of the council or partner agencies, local businesses, or just individuals playing their part.

It was also noted that continuing with essential council services had been a significant achievement – and that, whilst dealing with the lockdown and impact of the pandemic, Knowsley Council was still successfully able to:

  • Continue to keep streets clean.
  • Empty the bins as normal.
  • Make emergency childcare available for eligible children – in every case, at the school which a child usually attends.
  • Give Knowsley’s most vulnerable adults and children the support and care they needed.
  • Support local businesses, and help residents seeking work.
  • Continue to progress major developments such as the redevelopment of Kirkby Town Centre and the Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot.

Looking ahead to recovery, the council acknowledges there is more to be done.

Among the actions that will be on Knowsley’s action plan for the coming months and years will be:

  • Supporting local businesses, facilities and town centres to re-open or to stay open safely.
  • Managing a significant increase in social care need.
  • Coping with an expected shortfall in both Business Rates and Council Tax income.
  • Planning and preparing for any potential “second wave” of the virus, potentially at the same time as the “flu season” and the implications of Brexit towards the end of 2020.
  • Providing the information that Knowsley needs to stay safe and support the borough’s recovery.

Councillors also recognised that all of this support has come at a huge cost to the council – potentially as much as £38.4m over the next two years.  It cannot be underestimated – COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the council’s resources – and will continue to do so.

As one of the hardest hit local authorities in the country during 10 years of national Government austerity, councillors are agreed that the council cannot shoulder this cost alone.  It continues to lobby the Government to ensure that they keep their promise to do “whatever it takes” and properly fund the response to COVID-19 in communities like those in Knowsley.

Councillor Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council, said: “COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life in Knowsley.  It was a crisis on an unprecedented scale and I feel really proud of how this council and this borough rose to that challenge and faced it head on.  We couldn’t have coped like we have without a dedicated and incredibly flexible workforce at the council, some fantastic partner agencies and businesses who stepped in right away to help, and of course, each and every one of our residents who have been wonderful.

“We still don’t yet know the long term impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our borough.  We do know that the significant challenges it has caused will be long-lasting and wide-ranging.  And, of course, we know that the virus hasn’t gone anywhere and we don’t have a vaccine.  The challenge is still here with us.

“I want people in Knowsley to be assured that your council stands ready to respond – robustly, effectively and swiftly whenever we need to.  Your help will be vital – Knowsley Better Together has never been more important.”