Councillors consider impact of Coronavirus crisis as thousands continue to receive vital and dedicated support
South Somerset District Council has been providing extensive support to thousands of residents and businesses throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.
This week, our Council’s District Executive committee was updated on both the scale of the work undertaken by the Council and the longer term impact of Coronavirus.
Here are just a few of the ways we have supported our communities:
- The Community Wellbeing Hub at Westlands has provided more than 1,000 food and essential supply parcels to those who were shielded, facing financial hardship or supporting children entitled to free school meals.
- We provided safe accommodation and hot meals for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in local hotels and other sites with plans in place for the next steps
- We have provided more than 3,200 grants to local businesses worth more than £37m.
- We supported the safe reopening of high streets and will continue to provide this support as visitor numbers begin to grow.
- We have produced an economic recovery plan for South Somerset and will work with key partners to ensure we help our communities recover from the financial impact of the pandemic
- Strengthened relationships with organisations and councils across the district to support our businesses and communities.
The team at the Wellbeing Hub which is established at Westlands
Cllr Tony Lock, portfolio holder for protecting core services, said: “I am so proud of the way South Somerset District Council has gone above and beyond to ensure those who most needed our help, and so many others, have been supported through this COVID-19 crisis
“There has been innovative thinking and dedicated action to ensure we created connections with our communities to ensure we provided support where it was needed and the same dedicated effort will apply to the next phase of helping South Somerset recover while the threat of Coronavirus still exists.”
What has the impact of Covid-19 been on the Council’s services?
Thanks to our investment in digital technology, our teams have been safely able to work remotely while our main offices are closed to ensure that the key services we provide, from licensing to planning and benefits to housing, continued.
We’ve been taking an increased number of phone calls – 3,938 a week – and we extended our opening hours to a seven days a week service to cope with the additional demand while keeping call wait times as low as possible. We’ve prevented 128 people from becoming homeless while the average time to process changes in circumstance for housing benefit and Council Tax support has fallen by more than half.
The vast majority of our playparks have now safely reopened and, following Government advice on social distancing, services for up to 20 people can now be safely offered at Yeovil Crematorium.
We’re working with LED Leisure to support the safe reopening of leisure centres and we have been able to reintroduce cinema screenings at Westlands Entertainment Venue, although both Westlands and the Octagon Theatre remain impacted by COVID-19 with live performances unable to resume.
Families safely queue for our new PlayBoxes which replaced this summer's PlayDay events
What has the impact of COVID-19 been on the Council’s finances?
South Somerset District Council remains in a very strong financial position thanks to the work in recent years to transform services and act more commercially. It means the Council is well-equipped to cope with the impact of Coronavirus.
Income generated through fees and charges has declined and, at this stage, it’s difficult to project the full impact due to uncertainties around the lifting of COVD-19 restrictions and uncertainty around the level of which central Government will support councils.
Cllr Peter Seib, portfolio holder for finance, said: “"Lockdown has had a significant impact on SSDC, just as it has for the businesses and individuals that we've been supporting. We're coping with a potential loss of £6.4m income on top of extra COVID costs of around £2m this year.
“That's about half our original budget for 2020/21 and we need to rebalance our budgets but we have a plan. This Council entered the crisis in excellent shape financially, and it remains in a relatively robust position thanks to all our earlier work to mitigate the loss of Government funding and to modernise how services are delivered.
"The biggest hits were in areas that are highly valued locally and which normally earn cash to pay their way - like car parks, the Octagon, Westlands and the Yeovil Innovation Centre. We've also had to reduce our expectations for commercial income, in part to make sure that our tenants - and the vital jobs they provide - can survive.
“We will continue to lobby Ministers through the Local Government Association and other representatives to be fairly funded for the work we’ve undertaken and our loss of income.
“We will be highlighting the disparity of support of that has been provided to South West councils with districts faring much worse than county equivalents. But we are also putting an extensive recovery plan in place that looks at both the challenges and opportunities provided by the current crisis.”
To date, the Council has received four tranches of money from the MHCLG. It is our understanding that MHCLG is now focusing on a formula to reimburse some of our lost income. We anticipate we will be expected to fund a proportion of lost income and may need to cover all lost commercial income. We have created a Financial Strategy to show how SSDC will be able to move forward and recover on this basis, with no impact on services.
The funding received (excluding monies to support local businesses through grants) is:
Tranche 1 - Hardship Fund - £1.15m – this has been utilised in full to provide Council Tax reductions for those in receipt of Council Tax Support.
Tranche 2 - Covid response - £64,586 – District councils, nationally, received £10m of the £1.6bn that was announced with SSDC allocated £64,586. This money was used to fund services for those at risk of homelessness.
Tranche 3 and 4 – SSDC was allocated £1.67m and £266,968 respectively to help cover financial pressures caused by COVID-19.