The government continues to issue new and updated guidance on a daily basis regarding coronavirus. We would advise you to check the government’s website (www.gov.uk/coronavirus) as often as possible for the latest updates. Durham County Council provides regular updates on changes that may affect our area. These can be found at www.durham.gov.uk/coronavirus.
Public Health England communication materials (posters and social media images) are available for all partners and can be accessed at https://coronavirusresources.phe.gov.uk/.
Update on Durham County Council services
Countywide recovery – From Monday, many more shops around the county will be able to reopen as a result of the latest changes in government guidance. In preparation, we have been working closely with retailers and landlords to ensure businesses, staff, residents and visitors are able to shop safely. We are in the process of putting up posters and signage to remind people of the rules around social distancing and will be encouraging businesses to follow government advice on safe working practices. As the week progresses, we will be monitoring and reviewing the situation and will continue to do so for as long as is necessary. We have also launched a countywide consultation asking residents for their views on longer-term plans to adapt public spaces to accommodate and promote social distancing. You can take part in the consultation via our website.
Restoration and recovery of council services – We continue to take a measured approach to the reinstatement of services and the reopening of council buildings, with staff and members being asked to continue to work from home where they are able to do so. This will remain the advice for at least the next three weeks and until government guidance changes. Two restoration and recovery sessions have been held this week to update managers on the current position and the specific issues that need to be considered for reopening buildings. We are being clear that safety has always been our main priority and will continue to be as we move into the recovery phase of the pandemic. We are also developing an intranet page to provide access to the range of documents associated with ensuring buildings are opened in a safe and consistent manner and in accordance with government guidance.
NHS Test and Trace – Following the launch of the national NHS Test and Trace programme, we are working closely with local, regional and national partners to ensure that we are ready to launch an effective local response to coronavirus
outbreaks identified through the national programme and local intelligence. Work on the governance, structure, membership and protocols for local management are coordinated by the weekly Local Health Protection Assurance Board.
Essential services – A number of our premises, including culture and leisure venues, have been closed since mid-March in line with government guidance on coronavirus. The staff who normally work at these sites have provided invaluable support over the past few months by volunteering in other roles, as we have dealt with the immediate impact of the pandemic on our services. As some of these venues remain closed, we have now decided to use the government furlough scheme for a temporary period for some staff from our leisure and culture teams, as well as a small number of employees from other areas affected by the venue closures. All staff who have been furloughed have been assured that there will be no detrimental impact on their pay or conditions of employment and that the arrangements have been agreed with the trade unions. Staff have been assured that they will return to their roles when services are reinstated.
Schools – Our advice to primary schools remains that 15 June is a more realistic date for their phased reopening. It is the decision of individual schools as to when they should begin the process, but we continue to support them in making any necessary preparations for doing so. This offer of support will, of course, continue after schools have reopened.
Adult social care – We continue to support care providers as a key priority. Our regular contact with them has shown that the care home market is reporting lower infection numbers, while staffing pressures are also easing in the majority of homes. We also continue to work closely with our health partners to provide advice and guidance, particularly on infection control, and to identify and respond to any issues. Meanwhile, the first payments of additional government funding from the new Infection Control Fund have now been issued to providers, with further funding due in July if providers agree to meet grant conditions set nationally by the Department of Health and Social Care. And, on a related note, the number of people looking for a career in care through our Care Academy continues to grow. We have now had approximately 170 expressions of interest, which we are now in the process of following up. Individuals continue to progress through training and are taking up positions with care providers, providing crucial high-quality staff to the market at a time of continuing pressure on the sector.
Financial support for businesses – Last week saw the launch of our new business rates grant scheme – the Local Discretionary Grant Scheme. We have been allocated just under £5 million of additional funding to prioritise small businesses not eligible under the original scheme. In the first week, we made awards of between £3,000 and £25,000 to 113 businesses – representing around 20 per cent of the funding available. Businesses that have received this grant include a B&B, a café in a shared space, a market trader, a charity, a wholesaler and a private day nursery. Through the original scheme – the Small Business Grant Fund – we have now provided more than 8,600 businesses with support totalling £96.5 million, through grants of £10,000 and £25,000. Further government guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, including flexible furloughing and how
employers should calculate claims will be published, is due to be published by the government.
Funding announcements – There have been a number of government funding announcements this week, including a £63 million fund to help people ‘struggling with coronavirus’ and a £38 million fund to help debt advice providers. Details of individual local authority allocations have not yet been released for these funding streams yet. We have also just received confirmation of a £300 million national fund for outbreak control, of which the council will receive £5.4 million, although we awaiting advice on what this funding can be spent on.
AAP funding – Our work to support the efforts of community and voluntary groups during the pandemic through our AAPs continues. We have now confirmed 182 grants, totalling £726,000, from the additional £1.5 million made available through our 14 AAPs. And, thanks to members’ Neighbourhood Budgets, we have supported a further 35 initiatives with grants totalling almost £191,000. This money is providing much needed support to a wide range of initiatives that are providing vital support to our residents during these difficult times. This ranges from initiatives offering essential supplies to those who are shielding, to a virtual knitting club for people who are suffering from social isolation as a result of lockdown.
Community hub – The easing of the lockdown restrictions has resulted in a decline in demand for our virtual support hub. As a result, it is now only open from Monday to Friday, between 9am and 5pm. However, it will continue to operate for the foreseeable future in order to provide support to residents who need to continue to self-isolate. Last week, we wrote to them to say support is still available and how to contact us.
Remote meetings – This week has seen our second week of remote meetings, including a meeting of the Pension Fund Committee. Next week sees the start of a full diary of meetings, which will be held between now and the end of July, and includes planning and licencing committees as well as the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Management Board. With more than 40 committee meetings scheduled to be held between now and the end of July, the coming weeks are going to be a very busy.
Leisure and culture – This week, details have been announced for a virtual event taking place when Durham City Run Festival was due to take place. The actual 10K, 5K and Run Like a Legend Mile have been postponed until October, but a virtual event will now take place from Thursday, 16 to Sunday, 19 July. Registration for the event is now open and a proportion of each entry fee will be donated to St Cuthbert’s Hospice in the city. You can find out more by visiting our website.
And finally… – This weekend should have seen the second annual Seaham Food Festival take place. In order to support traders who were due to take part in the event, we will instead be holding a virtual festival on social media. This will include video demonstrations and stories from traders, which will provide an insight
into how they are adapting their businesses in order to continue trading during lockdown. – Monday marks the start of Scams Awareness Fortnight. As well as raising awareness of the scams that have emerged as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, our trading standards team will be highlighting the impact scams can have those who fall victim to them, by sharing the story of one resident who was caught out by fraudsters. – You may remember that, earlier this year, the BBC launched a national yearlong focus on the Bishop Auckland constituency, looking at a range of issues from the regeneration of the high street and opportunities for young people, to the importance of tourism and the challenges faced within rural communities. This was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic but, next Tuesday, BBC Radio 5 Live will return to Bishop Auckland with a virtual live broadcast on the Drive Time Show. This will look at how the area is coping during the coronavirus pandemic and feature a series of interviews with representatives from the council, The Auckland Project, Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services and the community. If you are interested in tuning in, they will broadcast from Bishop Auckland between 4pm and 7pm. – Hopefully, you will have seen the 40-page We Salute You supplement in Wednesday’s Northern Echo. If not, please find a link to an electronic copy attached. We chose to sponsor the supplement in order to recognise our support for the many people around our county who provide vital care to others, not just in these difficult times but all-year round.
We will continue to keep colleagues, members, key stakeholders, partners and residents up to date throughout these changing and challenging times. Information is available on the council’s website at www.durham.gov.uk and our social media channels www.facebook.com/DurhamCouncil and www.twitter.com/DurhamCouncil