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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – A strategy for recovery: How South Somerset District Council will support our communities

| District

A plan to help our communities recover from the impact of the Coronavirus crisis is due to be discussed by councillors in South Somerset.

Throughout the pandemic, South Somerset District Council has provided vital support to thousands of residents and businesses.

This support has included:

  • Providing business grants to almost 2,900 businesses with a total value of more than £34 million
  • Provided discretionary grants to 177 businesses worth more than £1.6M
  • Worked to get all rough sleepers off the street and support 180 homeless residents in temporary accommodation
  • Set up a completely new service –the Wellbeing Hub – which has provided almost 1,000 boxes of food and essential supplies to shielded people, vulnerable, those facing hardship and children entitled to free school meals
  • Coordinated and supported a network of community and voluntary groups to ensure everyone has access to help in their community

Now our focus will turn to ensuring we can help both our communities and the council recover to steer us through the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The council’s District Executive committee will this week consider its views on our recovery strategy.

It includes plans to support businesses, developing a pipeline of brownfield sites for redevelopment with a focus on providing new homes, and a programme of community grants alongside proposals to tackle both the climate crisis and developing long-term solutions to support those facing hardship or homelessness.

Council Leader Val Keitch said: “I am so proud of the way our council has responded to this crisis providing essential support to thousands of residents and businesses. But now out thoughts must turn to the next steps and how we can help our communities recover. Putting this strategy before our District Executive committee is an important next step.

“Our general community life and wellbeing has been severely tested and normal freedoms have been adversely impacted while the outlook for the UK economy has become increasingly uncertain.

“To ensure we can recover and grow, we will need dedicated, collective and focussed leadership, alongside our communities, our businesses and our public services for some time, and that’s what this council will provide. We will take decisive action to support our communities, help them recover and ensure that they are part of the decision-making process as we rebuild.

“Additionally, we recognise that the climate emergency will still be there when the spread of Covid-19 is brought under control. This could be an opportunity to address this issue with even greater clarity with the right recovery from the pandemic.”

Here's the full details:

What is the strategy?

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the restrictions put in place for public safety, have caused significant disruption to daily life. Unlike other emergencies which communities can face, for example flooding, the recovery period could be much longer, may rely on a vaccine being found and restrictions could be put in place again if the number of cases rises.

Against this backdrop, the recovery strategy to COVID 19 is complex, adaptive and aimed at rebuilding communities. It is also an opportunity to sets a path towards longer term goals of improving life in South Somerset.

The entire process will be influenced by a central government recovery strategy that is emerging but at this time not fully articulated.

The aim is to work with our communities, other councils and partners including healthcare providers and emergency services to create:

  • A strong economy
  • Healthy, self-reliant communities
  • A better environment
  • Improvements to places where we live
  • And protect the essential services we offer

How will this be achieved?

A dedicated senior manager has been put in place to lead this work with the process of recovery and divided into a number of key areas.

  • We will work with our communities to identify, design and develop local solutions and establish a ‘grass roots’ approach to community recovery (e.g. work with our Town & Parish Councils, community groups, Spark, CCS, our increased volunteer responders and other community organisations etc)
  • We will learn from the lessons of COVID 19 and how our communities have adapted, grown and come together to provide sustainable, supportive projects that we can build on.
  • We will review and develop our council services, learning from new ways of working introduced during COVID 19. Many of our staff our now fully able to work remotely and this offers the potential for more efficient and supportive ways that we can provide services to our communities and local businesses.

What happens next?

If the principles of the strategy are approved, detailed recovery action plans will be developed, with issues being prioritised as necessary. We will look at the impact on residents, businesses, infrastructure, environment, economy and tourism, and assess all the way we may be able to help.

Additional actions will include:

  • Lobbying government to fully compensate the council for the financial impact of Covid-19
  • Continue to modernise the council, looking at how local services can be delivered more effectively with no impact on our residents alongside reviewing our office usage
  • Developing a sustainable approach to tackling homelessness including work with voluntary community services and partners to develop long-term pathways out of poverty for the most deprived
  • Working with food banks and local resident groups to continue to support the vulnerable with essential food boxes.
  • Working with businesses to ensure safe social distancing in our high streets, helping businesses to reopen safely, promoting sustainable travel and delivering grants and wider support to businesses
  • Developing and delivering our ambitious town regeneration programmes;
  • Develop a pipeline of brownfield sites for redevelopment, with a focus on providing new homes
  • Work with the arts, heritage and culture sector to enable venues to reopen in a safe way while engaging closely with the sector to understand the issues it faces
  • Continue to develop SSDC’s Environment Strategy and identify further opportunities to reduce carbon emissions across council operations;
  • Empower residents to allow for community-led decision making in our towns and village using
  • Community grants to address gaps in need across the voluntary and community sector

Thank you. You response is appreciated.

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