This report provides Business Support Overview and Scrutiny Committee Members with an update on the Council’s recovery from the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) global pandemic, following a previous report to the Committee and Cabinet (30 March 2021). The report will also be considered by Cabinet on 21 September 2021.
The Committee considered a report that provided an update on the Council’s recovery from the Covid-19 global pandemic. It was noted that the approach was to resume services as soon as possible, ensuring that Medway emerges stronger and more resilient, making the most of opportunities to build back better. New ways of working and operational models would be adopted as the Council returned to business as usual.
The report outlined the three phases of the recovery plan, Rebound (2021-22), Rebuild (2022-23), and Reimagine (2024 onwards).
Members raised the following issues which were responded to:
· The Council’s membership of the Kent and Medway Employment Taskforce - Reference was made to quotes in the media from Locate in Kent that it would be working with Medway and clarification was sought on the success of the Council’s engagement with such groups on skills, employment and economic development. Officers undertook to provide a response.
· Debt owed to Adult Social Care – Asked what steps were being taken to reduce this debt, officers responded that that debt levels had increased whilst the Council had supported the hospital with swift discharge pathways to move patients from hospital and into care. It was noted that a lighter touch to debt collection had been taken throughout the pandemic but that this was now ending.
Concern was expressed that people did not realise that they would be expected to pay for their care package when they were discharged from hospital at the earliest opportunity and that this was causing additional hardship and levels of debt. Also, the new adult social care strategy relied too heavily on the support of the voluntary sector that was not in the position of resilience that it had been before the pandemic. Officers responded that funding from the CCG was available to facilitate hospital discharges. However, this had reduced to the first four weeks following a patient’s discharge. There had been improvements in linking care and financial assessments but the volume of assessments required had been a challenge.
· Care Quality Commission suspension of assurance visits – Officers clarified that this referred to care homes and not people within their own homes.
· Bus Back Better – Clarification was sought on the Council’s commitment to the bus back better aspirations set out in the National Bus Strategy. Officers confirmed that a service plan was being developed and this would be a priority for the Transport team in the coming months.
· Engagement with vulnerable children and families during the pandemic - Officers said that the service had been trying to engage with those vulnerable families it was aware of, and whilst it had adapted to new ways of working, face-to-face contact was always preferable where possible.
· Support for Medway residents working from home - Officers advised that the Council was working with broadband providers on how the providers could improve broadband accessibility across the borough. In addition, once a better sense of the new normal had been established in terms of people’s working arrangements, initiatives such as sharing office space could be rolled out, initially with public sector partners.
· Establishing the new normal – Questioned on how long it would be before the new normal emerged, officers advised that regular staff surveys were identifying issues to be addressed and a number of workstreams had been set up to facilitate the move to new ways of working in an informed way.
· The definition of hybrid meetings – In response to a Member’s comment that it must be ensured that all participants in a hybrid meeting could be clearly seen and heard, officers advised that a project group had recently been established to consider workforce development across the organisation. This would include agreeing some common definitions and terminology. In addition, the agreed capital programme made provision for investment in technology to ensure that meeting rooms were fit for purpose.
· Welcome back fund – Officers confirmed that the Council’s bid had been successful and £250k of funding had been provided. They agreed to provide Members with the detailed programme.
· Deep clean for High Streets – Asked if this would extend beyond the five town centres to include other community high streets and shopping areas, officers agreed to provide a written response.
· Economy and infrastructure recovery cell - It was questioned why UCA were not members of this place-based group when it was established. Officers agreed to provide a written response on whether organisations were invited to join or self-nominated.
· #WhoKnew – Members would be provided with data on the success of this campaign.
· Medway’s 21st and 25th anniversary - A Member observed that these anniversaries would fall within pre-election periods and officers confirmed that celebrations would take place throughout the year and not during purdah.
· Future High Street fund bid – Officers agreed to provide an update on the 2nd tranche bid for Gillingham High Street.
· Additional Restrictions Grant – In response to a question on how this grant funding was being targeted, officers advised that £8m of funding had been received and that schemes 1 and 2 had been quite prescriptive. The Council was seeking to use this grant to encourage businesses to employ apprentices and it was therefore targeted at those who could demonstrate this. Members would be provided with the criteria.
· Turning the Tide Transformation Oversight Board – Noting the high impact that Covid-19 was having on Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority populations and workforce, a Member highlighted the need for the Medway Diversity Forum and faith groups to be involved in the work of this board.
· Seeing is Believing programme for Child Friendly Medway – Members would be provided with the programme.
· Medway Development Company (MDC) construction projects – Asked about the creation of jobs for local people, officers advised that MDC was not a big employer of people but managed many construction projects and used the same procurement processes as the Council.
· Flexible working policies – In response to a question about how staff who might be struggling with working from home were supported, officers responded that staff surveys had revealed that there were very high satisfaction rates for hybrid working arrangements. Where members of staff were experiencing difficulties, arrangements to enable them to return to the office were explored.
The Committee noted the overall approach set out in the report and the proposal to mainstream this activity into Business as Usual.