Grants, emergency supplies, help for those facing homelessness and more - SSDC continues to support communities and businesses through the COVID-19 crisis
Since restrictions came into force in March to protect communities from the spread of COVID-19, South Somerset District Council has been working hard to support residents and businesses in any way it can.
In a report which came before SSDC’s District Executive committee this week, the actions taken by the council alongside the impact of the pandemic have been set out in detail.
Council Leader Val Keitch said: “This has been, without doubt, one of the most challenging and unusual years that any of us will ever have faced.
“Some residents will have lost loved ones while others will have faced extreme financial hardship because of this appalling virus. The impact it has had on all of our lives has been extreme.
“Although there is hope on the horizon through the news of a vaccine being approved, it remains important that we continue to do all we can to protect ourselves and others. It is similarly crucial that South Somerset District Council continues to do all it can to offer support to residents and businesses that are in need.
“I am so proud of the way staff across this council have continued to work so hard so ensure our communities not only receive the services they need but in so many instances have gone above and beyond to offer additional help. We have received so many messages of thanks and I want to assure you that we will continue to do all we can to support you through this crisis.”
What actions has SSDC taken to protect communities?
A wide range of measures to support communities, through a combination of using funding provided by the Government and effective use of our existing services, have been put in place to support residents and businesses. This includes:
- Providing business grants to thousands of businesses – this includes £36.7M in mandatory grant funding paid to 3,130 businesses during the first lockdown period, almost £2M in discretionary grants to 205 businesses, and, so far through new business grants schemes, more than £1.3M through mandatory grants to 937 businesses and £180,000 to 166 businesses through the new discretionary scheme.
- Providing payments to individuals required to self-isolate totalling almost £60,000.
- Supporting the Kickstart scheme which will see SSDC committed to hosting 30 six-month work placements for local 16-24-year-olds in receipt of Universal Credit.
- Providing hardship grants to those in need and developing a further round of these grants to support those facing financial distress as national restrictions continue.
- The Community Wellbeing Hub at Westlands distributed thousands of meals and essential food parcels to those in need – this service is ready to be rolled out again if it is needed.
- COVID-safe space was provided to anyone facing homelessness with all residents that were temporarily accommodated during the first lockdown rehoused with the majority making positive moves into social housing, private lets, live-in work or the Pathways Hostel.
- Additional Government funding is being used to support the redevelopment of the emergency beds at Pathways into self-contained bed units which will support the delivery of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol during the winter months to prevent rough sleeping during extreme cold.
- Working with businesses to keep high streets safe across the district in line with Government guidelines.
- Supporting the recruitment of two COVID wardens who will work to remind the community and businesses of the ongoing national and regional guidelines.
What has been the impact on the council?
Recent investment in technology has meant that the vast majority of staff have been able to work remotely and maintain the essential services we provide.
But COVID-19 has had an impact on the council’s finances. Facilities like the Octagon Theatre and Westland have had to close their doors for extended periods while leisure facilities such as Goldenstones have also had to shut which has had an impact on council income. There has also been a significant impact on the amount we receive through our car parks although income from commercial investments has remained stable.
Some, but by no means all, of this lost income will be covered by the Government and we continue to make representations to ensure further funding is received.
But, thanks to a number of measures taken in recent years to transform the way we work, our financial position remains strong. A recovery plan is also being put in place to address both the challenges and opportunities presented by the current crisis.
Deputy Leader and portfolio holder for finance and support services Cllr Peter Seib said: “Despite the challenges our finances have faces this year and those which will continue into the New Year, our financial position remains solid. But this does not mean we can be complacent.
“Alongside our work to carefully manage our budget, we will continue to lobby central Government through the Local Government Association and other bodies to provide the funding we need to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our finances and income streams. We also need to gain a guarantee that the Income Compensation Scheme will continue in 2021/22 as the impact of this pandemic will continue to be felt well into next year.”