The remote meeting, of the combined Overview and Scrutiny and Development Management Committee, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday 4 June and streamed live to residents over YouTube, will be a meeting of 25 Councillors from across all of the Council's political parties.

Planning for Recovery and Building Back Better

Together they will discuss and scrutinise a report presented by Cllr Judy Pearce, the Leader of the Council. 

Cllr Judy Pearce explains: "During the pandemic, our Council played a vital role in responding to the changing situation.  Thanks to the way we work, the vast majority of our staff were able to work effectively and safely from home.  Their willingness and ability to respond to the challenges by taking on roles that were very different from their usual role, helped us to provide support where it was needed most. 

"In total we had 280 staff, on average, working from home at any one time, and 41 of those officers were redeployed into different jobs.  For example, we created a new Community Response Team. Their willingness and ability to adapt quickly has been commendable.

"Councillors too from all areas of the Council stepped up to the challenge.  Many of them were at the forefront of their community's response.  I would like to thank them all for their efforts, for helping their communities support those who needed it most.

"This pandemic has had a significant impact on us all in many ways.  From the tragic loss of lives and financial strain, to the challenges of home schooling, coupled with being distanced from family, friends and extended support networks. Not to mention the as yet, unmeasured economic shock.

"Thankfully the South West region has not been subject to the high rates of infection as witnessed elsewhere in the country.  For that, I would like to pay tribute to each one of you who have abided by the guidelines and made huge sacrifices.  I thank you.  However, we must be wary of the risk of a second peak of infection and we do not yet know the true cost of the pandemic.

"From the Council's perspective, what we do know is that the Council's finances have been badly impacted for a number of reasons. While we continue to play a key role, alongside partners, providing a range of support for individuals, the wider community and business - we are beginning to turn our attention towards recovery and what the future may look like for us.

"The report that I am presenting next week sets out how well we responded to the pandemic and proposes a framework for managing our recovery and renewal.  I want all members of the Council to join together to shape the way forward and use what we have learnt to build back even better, because they all have an important role to play in the recovery."

What the report tells us about the Council's response:

The Council's Approach

At the beginning of March, the Leaders and the Senior Leadership Team set out South Hams District Council's approach to the pandemic. An Incident Management Team was formed and preparations were made to enable the organisation to adapt as the situation evolved.  The Council clearly set out that it would follow Government advice, protect staff and the public, and be proactive.

Regionally the Council played a key role in the multi-agency partnership made up of representatives from the emergency services, the NHS, Public Health England, Local Authorities and others, including the military. This partnership is called the Local Resilience Forum (LRF). Together they work to limit the impacts of any incident. From the start, the Council worked with the LRF at national, regional and county level, ensuring that they were fully informed as the situation emerged and well placed to respond quickly.

Community Response

As explained above the Community Response Team was a new team that was brought together to provide support to South Hams communities.  They held regular phone calls with the local Ward Members to identify what support was needed.

The Community Response Team developed a website detailing what support was available within each parish. They worked closely with communities in cluster groups where they collected shopping and prescriptions, supported the shielding and vulnerable, created and operated a community support telephone line and provided emergency food deliveries through food banks.

This was a completely new piece of work for the Council, with officers coming from many other areas of Council work to support the effort.  They quickly identified the need to link businesses providing support with volunteers and helped to fill the gaps.  They also created a Local Action Support Fund to help communities support those most in need.

Community Response in statistics (23 March - 18 May)

•             100% of rough sleepers offered accommodation
•             2941 households getting  Council Tax Support
•             E-Bulletins with vital information reached over 60,000 residents
•             104 food parcels delivered to those shielding
•             85 Businesses on website providing food and services
•             £108,000 of emergency assistance secured from DCC
•             Responded to 75 complaints about businesses breaching rules

Business Support

Shortly after the lockdown began, the Government announced a range of grants to support businesses.  In response, the Council increased the number of people working in their Business Rates Team so that they could handle the volume of calls. 

So far, the Council has paid out 82.4 % of grants to eligible businesses, totalling £38,495,000. This has helped over 3,350 businesses.  As the situation has evolved, the Council has issued regular information to over 4,500 business on the Council's newsletter distribution list, providing them with the latest information and support from the Government as it was published.

The Council is currently in the process of setting up the Discretionary Grant Fund, which the Government announced on the 2 May.  This will be launched across all of Devon at the same time, to ensure a consistent county-wide approach to the grant.  It is aimed at small businesses who were not eligible for the Small Business Grant Fund or the Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Fund.

Maintaining  Services

Despite the social distancing rules, the Council has been able to provide the majority of its services in some format, while protecting the public and thinking about the welfare of staff. 

Some services, such as food inspections and health and safety inspections did stop during the pandemic, as the hospitality industry was closed.

Waste services were also impacted by staff shortages in the early stages of the lockdown, by about 20%.  At the same time, there was an increase of waste and recycling for collection from the kerbside. A 50% increase in waste and an 18% increase in recycling, as people staying at home cleared out their lofts and garages, did gardening and threw away food that they had stored for lockdown.

However, despite these challenges, all of the Council core Waste and Recycling services were provided.  With the exception of bulky waste which was suspended when the recycling centres closed.

Cllr Judy Pearce added: "I am very proud of the way our councillors and staff responded to the challenges of the last few months, and I say thank you for everything you have done.  However, now we must turn our attention to our plan for the future. 

"Thursday is an opportunity for all Members to look at what our recovery might look like and to contribute towards that plan as we tackle the challenges ahead of us.

"Before the pandemic, our budget was already under strain with a £3.2 million cumulative budget gap predicted over the next five years.  The pandemic has put extra pressure on us, with our income from fees and charges significantly reduced and income from Council Tax and Business Rates likely to fall as individuals and businesses suffer hardship.

"Councils across the country are facing a perfect storm. When our communities need us most; we too are suffering from reduced income.  We estimate that we could see a reduction in our income and extra expenditure of over £6 million this financial year.  We have received some financial support from Central Government (£900,000), but it is less than one sixth of what we need.

The Council will continue to lobby the Government so that we receive the appropriate level of funding to be able to plan confidently for the future. Each month, Councils complete a national return that informs the Government of how much COVID-19 is hugely affecting the finances of Councils. It is hoped that the Government will act with further funding when they have this national picture.

"Taking all of this into account and our need to continue to support our communities, with this report I am proposing a framework for recovery and I am setting out a range of issues that we now need to consider under each of the Council's corporate themes.

"I am also inviting all Members who will be present at the special meeting on the 4 June, to help us refine these plans, to comment on these proposals I have laid out and help us shape what our new normal will look like."

Go to the link for the live meeting 
Go to the Report - click on Committee in the menu and find the South Hams Joint Development Management Committee and Overview & Scrutiny Panel, browse the agenda and select 4 June.