An update from Leader of Knowsley Council, Cllr Graham Morgan
In the last three weeks, we’ve lived through so many things most of us could never have imagined. There is no aspect of life, that I can think of, that isn’t in some way impacted by this pandemic and with that comes a lot of change, worry and challenges to face. It’s a difficult time for us all right now and I know that so many residents are facing their own personal struggles. From parents juggling home schooling or work commitments to others who may have been furloughed or laid off. And of course, there are so many businesses forced to close (either temporarily or worse permanently) and our most vulnerable residents out there too – people who are frail, in poor health or those with additional needs and perhaps no support network in place to help. The list goes on….
And yet, with all these challenges to face during this time of uncertainty we have also seen some remarkable acts of kindness and generosity that reflect just how resilient, supportive and inclusive our community is. Residents, businesses, health workers, delivery drivers, community groups, volunteers and workers (including so many of the Council’s own staff) continuing to deliver public services.
In terms of the Council – I think it is fair to say that our world has been turned upside down – almost overnight. Priorities have changed and working arrangements and even job roles have been transformed instantly. The adaptability and commitment of our workforce has been remarkable.
For me, this crisis has brought into sharp focus all the things a local authority does. Our essential services – such as bin collections, social care etc – have never been needed more than they are now. And one positive is that on the whole, people now appreciate these essential key workers more than they ever did.
Despite being a big organisation, we’re also one which can adapt and be flexible – in fact far, far quicker than we maybe even realised!
We’ve been able to immediately refocus what we’re doing to tackle this unprecedented crisis. Our Council Tax and Business Support teams have put in place whole packages of support to help local businesses and devise ways to support individuals through the tough financial times ahead. We will soon be launching a scheme to help people with Council Tax payments, for some people this will be the equivalent of a six month payment break. There is more information about this on Knowsley News – where you’ll also find lots of other useful advice about money worries you might have.
Application forms are now live on the Council’s website for small businesses, children’s nurseries and those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, to apply for Government grants. We’ve made the process as simple as possible and we will be making payments as quickly as we can.
Officers from across the Council are working in our new Community Hub and Volunteer Line to recruit and coordinate the response. They have secured donations of food and supplies to restock our local Foodbank and are now setting up distribution hubs across the borough – plus a network of delivery drivers – to make sure food gets to those families who desperately need it. We will be supported by over 300 local people (so far) who have volunteered and our network of local voluntary bodies – perhaps the best example of “Knowsley Better together” we could ever see. Our existing strong partnerships with health providers and other agencies mean that we’re able to quickly identify those people most in need in our borough, and work alongside businesses and community groups to target our efforts to support them as best we possibly can.
Our staff have done this borough proud in the past three weeks in so many ways. Officers from across the Council and in our schools worked intensively to set up childcare provision for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils at just a few days’ notice – and again staff have worked rapidly to get a system in place to ensure children on free school meals are still fed during this time. They even managed to get a downloadable voucher system in place while the national Government was still struggling to do the same!
Our Communications Team is working around the clock to keep people up to date with what’s happening – and fielding hundreds of queries from residents every single day. Similarly, our Business Team and Knowsley’s Chamber of Commerce are dealing with a huge increase in enquiries from businesses looking for advice and support. Staff working in services that are currently not operating – such as libraries, and some of our street scene workers – have enthusiastically offered to be redeployed into new roles. There are so many to thank that I can’t list them all but I know I will be able to highlight even more examples over the coming weeks.
As someone who has worked in public service for the vast majority of my adult life, I personally find working from home something that isn’t that easy to adapt to. And I am sure many of you will feel the same. My instinct is to get out there, talk to people and try to help. Sadly, that isn’t something that will help right now and abiding by the national guidance around social distancing is hard. But it is also really, really important.
Health colleagues this week have told me that the early positive indications are that this approach is working and what that will mean hopefully – if we all stick with it – is that less people get sick and fewer people die from this virus. I know that I would do anything to protect my family, as I am sure you all would, so please stick with it, stay home and together we can make a difference.
For those of you continuing to go out to deliver essential services and for those specifically looking after the sick and vulnerable I offer a huge thank you. Your selflessness is incredible and for that we all must be grateful.We all have a crucial role to play in this, however big or small. If your contribution is simply to stay at home – that is enough. We are all making sacrifices and those sacrifices are paying off, we can and will get through this if we all work together.
I just want to send my best wishes to anyone currently battling this illness or anyone who may be concerned about the health of a loved one who is. I also want to send my condolences to anyone who may have lost someone as a result of this virus. Our thoughts are with you at this terrible time.
And finally, if you need help or advice our Coronavirus Community Support and Volunteer Line is here to help you – get in touch online or by calling our Freephone number on 0800 073 0043 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and 10am to 2pm at weekends.
I will be keeping you up to date with all that is happening in Knowsley on a weekly basis – in the meantime, the place to get all the latest information and updates is here on Knowsley News in our Coronavirus: What you need to know article, which is being updated several times a day as things unfold.