River Wissey Lovell Fuller

News from the Borough Council

August 2020

We can be proud of how our Council responded to the Covid crisis With the build up to the crisis culminating in the lock down order of 23 March, the Borough Council has been one of a number of organisations supporting our community We could see these as being of four tiers, being Central Government, The County Council, The Brough council and the Parish councils. Central Government has set the policies and provided the funding to the other three tiers. We must remember that the financial resources of the Borough are spread very widely and lockdown has devastated our income, especially with the closure of car parks. The Borough Council it’s job has been to • Maintain essential services for which it is responsible • Respond to added responsibilities • Safeguard its staff • Exercise initiatives to support the vulnerable and key workers • Support the parish Councils Essential Services Throughout this crisis it is apparent that Council employees, many of whom are key workers have done an exceptional job. The most visible manifestation of this is the continuation of waste collection services, which have rightly been a priority, handicapped in part as this was a for a period of shut down of County operated waste collection points which led to a rash of fly tipping, which in itself increased the workload. Residents will have noticed that grass cutting and ground maintenance services have continued, although at a reduced level. Many employees are able to continue their work from home and none have been furloughed. Some employees have been transferred to other jobs. The Council offices and depots have been closed to visitors. Some services have had to be suspended, for example home visits and property maintenance. The democratic process has been disrupted, with councillor meetings being suspended and only now restored using meeting software. This in itself has allowed resources to be re directed towards immediate support measures. For many areas, such as planning and finance, work has continued albeit with restrictions. When we come out of lock down we will need these services to be up and running. On 1st June the planning panel, of which I am a member, held its first virtual meeting, which was streamed live on Youtube and a number of key decisions were made, including the decision to allow the building of a McDonalds in Downham Market Certain functions have been suspended, for example the Alive West Norfolk Leisure facilities, although in an excellent initiative these have set up creche facilities for NHS workers at the QEH, as well as granting free parking to NHS staff and keyworkers. As we all know all public events have been cancelled, from the VE day celebrations through to regular council meetings. Additional responsibilities A very important responsibility has been to protect the vulnerable. The main direct responsibility has been the County Council which has overseen the maintenance of a register of vulnerable persons and organised food parcels, but many local communities have set up effective monitoring and support schemes, such that all vulnerable people have been identified and their wellbeing monitored. These have required funding which has initially come from parish councils. Throughout Norfolk many volunteer groups have sprung up, identifying those at risk and helping to get prescriptions and doing the shopping. The Council has provided support to these groups and advised on how to ensure that their enthusiasm is channelled in a constructive way. Ask Lily has played a central role in this. At an early stage the Council made a substantial contribution of £10,000 to the Kings Lynn and Downham Market food bank service, and also set up a care service for the children of NHS workers through its Alive Leisure facilities in Kings Lynn. The council was instructed by Government to find accommodation for all homeless people using shelters and hostels. Those people have now been relocated to alternative accommodation where they have their own room and are able to follow social distancing guidance. The council has also been responsible for managing the large sums paid out in business support grants, and this was done with great efficiency such that by Mid-April Over £23m had been paid to 1,991 local businesses by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk in funding from the grants introduced by Government in response to the Coronavirus, being approximately 57 of those eligible. There have been businesses that have fallen through the cracks in this system and the council has actively supported these. I myself asked for the support of MP Liz Truss in respect of two businesses in our ward and her intervention helped secure a release of additional discretionary funds to be allocated by the Borough. The Council has been active in informing residents of policies at all points, in conjunction with the County Council of policy and how it affects us, and changes in policy. Throughout, a plethora of new initiatives has come from Government and the Council has had to seek to enact these at very short notice, itself a cause of confusion! Working Together Throughout this period, all councillors have co-operated to ensure that the concerns of their residents are addressed by the council, and like most councillors I have been receiving a number of calls every day with issues, great and small. The democratic system at the Borough has coped with the crisis, with occasional moments of tension which have in my experience been rapidly overcome. Planning for the future As we come out of lockdown, the Council will continue to have a very important role to play as suspended services come back on stream and the effects of enforced inactivity, nb property maintenance needs to be addressed. The consequences of the lock down, especially the financial impact upon the Council’s activities will need to be managed and this will mean that opportunities for investment in the Borough will be curtailed. That said, officers have been effective in preparing bids for a number of government initiatives, including tan application for significant funds under the Future High Street Fund opportunity and the new Town Fund, which will see £25m coming to the Borough to improve infrastructure. It is likely too that there will be increased unemployment with families continuing to require both financial and employment support, and the health service will have a huge backlog of cancelled procedures. Of particular interest to me is the need we as a community have for improving our individual health and taking responsibility for this. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that West Norfolk has suffered far more than other councils in East Anglia. I am sure when the dust settles, we will all want to know why this is. As of 10 June, there were 2214 cases in Norfolk (infection rate 245/100,000 which compares to the infection rate in our Borough of 481). This is a matter for deep concern to all in West Norfolk and we will need to understand why this Borough seems more vulnerable. I have asked for these figures to be broken down more so we can we how rural areas have been affected as well as the larger towns and of course Kings Lynn itself. As a Council we will need to manage this process, whilst at the same time coming up with plans to support our economic recovery and oversee those investments which will help support jobs and incomes locally

Tom Ryves Borough Councillor KL&WNBC

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