Helping residents and businesses to “recover” from COVID-19 is the number one priority for Knowsley Council after an incredibly difficult 12 months for the Borough. That’s the message from Council Leader, Graham Morgan, one year on from the start of the first national lockdown.
Since the pandemic began, Knowsley has been one of the areas of the UK most impacted by COVID-19 and has recorded the highest case levels in the country on more than one occasion.
Despite the challenges presented by the virus, the Council is confident that its plans for recovery will provide what the Borough needs at this time needs and will target support to the areas, people, and businesses who most need help. They are also proud of the exciting opportunities that are coming up for the Borough, thanks to its proactive approach to development throughout the pandemic.
As part of the plans for recovery, Knowsley Council will be focussing on five immediate key priorities:-
- The ongoing management of COVID-19 outbreaks;
- Responding to the changing needs of residents and communities;
- Responding to the changing needs of businesses and the economy;
- Resetting and switching back on the full range of Council services; and,
- Ensuring the financial sustainability of the Council.
These five key priorities have now been formally added to the Council’s Corporate Plan to ensure that all activity is underpinned by these key aims in the coming months – which will be crucial for the long term recovery of the Borough as a whole.
Knowsley Council Leader, Graham Morgan, said: “One year on from the start of the pandemic and we are focussed squarely on the future and what we can do, as a Council and with our partners, to drive forward the recovery of the Borough. We are realistic in our approach and we know that the challenge presented by COVID is far from over. But we are also very ambitious for Knowsley and confident that our plans to support businesses and residents will target efforts where they are most needed and where they will have the most impact.
It’s a complex process as we navigate the Government’s national “Road Map” and continue to monitor local virus levels and other indicators like vaccine take-up. We also have to reassess the needs of our communities after the changes of the last 12 months and keep reassessing those needs as furlough ends and as businesses start up again after lockdown.
Despite the complexities, this Council remains resolute in its view that there is so much to look forward to in Knowsley. We have managed to balance our budget this year despite cuts to funding and pressures on our finances, we are still seeing major investment coming into the Borough, and big development projects are coming out of the ground. We also know from previous experience that our residents and businesses are some of the most resilient, entrepreneurial, and positive people we could ask for and therefore we are confident that by working together – embracing the principles of Knowsley Better Together – our road to recovery will be a successful one and that a brighter future is waiting for us after the pandemic.”
Throughout the pandemic, along with addressing the challenges presented directly from the virus, Knowsley Council has continued to deliver essential services and push forward on major development projects. This has laid positive foundations for a more targeted and focused approach to recovery which directly addresses the current needs of the Borough. Most recently, the Council agreed £14.5million of investment, including a £2.5million Knowsley Better Together Hardship Fund, a £6.4million Knowsley Better Together Recovery Fund, and a further £5.6million to support the delivery of essential Council services and support to residents.
Over the coming months, the Council will continue to assess the progress being made to control the virus (including case levels, vaccine programme, pressure on local hospitals, and any emerging Variants of Concern) with a view to meeting the milestones set out within the Government’s national “Road Map” safely.
Alongside this, the Council will work to identify the specific needs of the community so that investment and support can be targeted. This might include the continuation of the support which was initiated “from scratch”, and has been much valued by local people, throughout the pandemic. It could also for example include support within town centres to maximise visitor numbers, help for businesses to adapt to changes to ensure safety, and assistance for children and young people to “catch up” at school.
The Council recognises that Knowsley’s communities will be eager to return to enjoying the many aspects of their life that they have missed out on and it will work with local organisations and businesses to make sure that this is done safely in order to avoid further local outbreaks.
Most notably the Council is keen to ensure it residents have something to ‘look forward to’ in the coming months and there seems to be no shortage of that with events for town centres planned this year, the opening of new retail development in Kirkby, Knowsley becoming Borough of Culture in 2022 and of course the opening of The Shakespeare North Playhouse too. There is a lot to be positive about.
Councillor Morgan added: “Our response to this crisis so far has been swift and agile and we have to continue with that approach. COVID-19 has brought challenges which we could never have predicted and the one thing we know for certain is that there will be challenges ahead.
This week’s day of reflection though has given us an opportunity to see how far we have come in the last year and importantly how we can move forward. I think now is the time to talk more positively and with more certainty about the future. Yes, we know that these plans could be paused if case levels rise, but I want our residents and our businesses to know that this Council is here, will continue to support you, and is committed to a brighter future for all. And together we can work to make that happen.”