Statement made by Councillor Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council on COVID-19 at tonight’s Cabinet meeting

Cllr Tim Swift

Five weeks ago today, Cabinet met just a day after the devastating flooding caused by Storm Ciara. We have seen an incredible response across Calderdale to that event, but we meet tonight in the shadow of Covid-19, which will test all of us in new and unprecedented ways.

I want to say at the outset that this is not a political statement as Leader of the Council in the usual sense. I do not intend to address the many debates about the right and wrongs of the current Government response at this time, though I may do so at other times. However, I do not accept one statement made by the Prime Minister on Thursday, which described Covid-19 as the greatest challenge of our generation. It is not. It is the greatest challenge this nation has faced since the Second World War, and is likely to be the greatest pandemic the world has experienced since the Spanish Flu over one hundred years ago.

Our response will be defined by kindness and resilience, the way we work and live in Calderdale, and our commitment to a collaborative leadership of our health and care system across the borough and within the West Yorkshire Partnership. We are a place that has had more than its fair share of crises to handle, and a place that in a crisis acts in a calm, proportionate and determined way. A place that will deliver this response for weeks, months, however long it takes, whilst we ensure we care and look after our most vulnerable residents; our staff in the Council and the NHS; and all others who are ready to help us across the health and care system and beyond.

So what does this mean in practice, and what do we intend to do in Calderdale in the context of what may be agreed by Government? Today, I am setting out our initial ten point plan, our core response at this point in time.

We are delivering this in a rapidly changing dynamic situation and it will be continuously reviewed and updated in light of Government policy and actions. This plan will be delivered through collaborative partnership with all agencies and all sectors in Calderdale.

Our ten point plan is as follows:

    1. Deliver our statutory public health responsibilities – to do all that we can within our resources, and within our ability, to protect the health and wellbeing of our population in Calderdale, working within the National Action Plan and ensuring effective partnership with our colleagues in the NHS.
    2.  Target our efforts on those who will most need our help and support if they contract Covid-19 – this includes the most at risk groups, the elderly and those with pre-existing long term conditions through redeploying existing resource where we can, by working with our local hospitals to support transfers of care, by supporting providers of social care, and ensuring other vulnerable groups are assisted through a dedicated social care hub 
    3. Target support on other key vulnerable groups to reduce inequalities – we are anticipating an increase in safeguarding and vulnerability issues as a result of self-isolation policies and challenges in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of groups at risk including the homeless, asylum seekers, those who use food banks, those at risk of domestic abuse and those with existing multiple and complex needs. We are working closely with providers and voluntary organisations on this.
    4. Co-ordinate our community response – we will establish a virtual volunteer hub to ensure we safely and effectively manage the numerous offers to help to maximise support for our communities, working alongside our voluntary and community organisation partners. 
    5. Support our businesses – we are working with Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce to develop a business hub to support and advise businesses. We are lobbying Government for rapid implementation of Covid-19 budget decisions on business support and relaxation of a range of costs and requirements.
    6. Enhance our workforce resilience and care for our staff – we are implementing our plans to deliver home working across all services, building upon our work on digital transformation through our Workforce/ICT hub to be established later this week, and will prioritise the most critical services, redeploying resources accordingly.
    7. Support governance, decision making and community leadership – we will suspend all Council, committee and panel meetings, ward forums, and working parties from Tuesday 17 March until Friday 15 May. We understand that guidance and legislative change is imminent from Government to remove the requirement to meet face to face to agree decisions at Cabinet, Council and Committees, which currently exists in the extremely outdated Local Government Act, 1972. I will work with the Chief Executive on emergency business critical decisions as set out in the Council’s constitution in the interim. We will divert staff to support the community leadership role of our elected members.
    8. Monitor and respond to community, faith and neighbourhood issues and tensions – our neighbourhoods, Staying Well team and community wardens will support communities, in partnership with the Police and the voluntary sector.
    9. Capture financial and organisational impact – we will collate financial impact of additional burdens and loss of income for services to reduce organisational risk, and the impact of decisions taken by other organisations such as transport providers.
    10. Communicate, communicate, communicate – we will use all channels to issue very regular updates on this plan and our delivery of it. 

We will complete a delivery plan to track progress on these ten issues.

Our response to Covid-19 is the number one priority for Calderdale Council from today for the foreseeable future.

We will do all in our power to delay and then mitigate its impact on our communities and our businesses. We recognise the scale of the challenge, and that we will not always get everything right.

But do not doubt our determination to do all we can to get through this, and ensure a positive future for our borough.

Thank you.

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