The Committee will receive an update on the action taken by the Authority in relation to the Covid 19 pandemic.
The Chief Executive gave an update on the action taken by the Authority in relation to the Covid 19 pandemic.
· Response arrangements
The Council’s Business Continuity Planning had been based on national standards and delivered on two levels:
o Corporately in setting the overarching recovery priorities
o At a Service Level to consider vulnerabilities to business interruption to pubic, staff, premises, partners and suppliers
A full review of the approach adopted was to be undertaken in order to ensure that processes remained robust and captured lessons learned
· Risk Assessment – a separate strategic threat and risk assessment had previously been undertaken and a copy of this had been circulated to the Committee. This was a ‘living document’. During the first 6 weeks of the crisis the Gold Team met daily but this had now been reduced to twice weekly based on the reduced ‘threat’ level
· Threats to Service Delivery
o All Business Continuity Plans had been reviewed prior to lockdown which made it easier for some services to move from face to face to working from home. It was acknowledged, however, that for some this had been a challenge
o The response phase had focused on maintaining services with a critical or high priority
o Services most impacted had been those providing a front-line community service, those that needed to be reconfigured to deliver alternative services and those whose demands had increased due to the pandemic (adult social care).
o There had been and remained a corporate programme of staff redeployment from less to more critical services
o Non-essential services were focusing on priority activities with less critical activities curtailed or ceased. In this respect particular reference was made to the closure of Libraries and the reconfiguration of the Waste and Recycling Service. The way in which this activity was co-ordinated was outlined
· New Ways of Working – this had been challenging and had forced the authority to lean and adapt to new ways quickly. Some value had, however, been achieved and would be of lasting benefit to the Authority
o As part of the return to the new business as usual, services were reviewing service delivery and how this may differ to that of pre Covid
o The Smart Working Project would be reviewed in the light of the pandemic to reflect longer-term changes to ways of working
o There was to be a phased approach to premises re-occupancy and in the short-term homeworking would remain the default position in line with Government Guidance. Reference was made to the fantastic support offered by the IT service in enabling so many staff to work from home. It was likely that this approach would have major implications in the reduction of travel (to and from home and to meetings) and a long-term increase in virtual meetings. Reference was also made to the way in which certain services had adapted to changing demand during the lockdown and an example was given of the Libraries and Museums Services
· Maintaining Service Delivery
o As previously outlined, the focus during the response phase had been on maintaining services with a critical of high priority. Non-essential services had been focussing on priority activities with less crucial activities curtailed of ceased
o With the reduction in lockdown requirements, some Business Units were looking to recommence services. As part of the recovery process Business Units were considering and feeding into their recovery plans (cantered on the five recovery themes of humanitarian; business economy; building resilience; education, attainment and skills and infrastructure and the environment):
§ What had stopped?
§ What had started?
§ What positive changes wanted to be retained?
§ What changes needed further assessment or reversing?
· Financial Position
o A summary of the Financial Impact and estimated costs of the Emergency Response were outlined which indicated that the estimated cost involved was approximately £22m
o A summary of the Financial Impact of lost income was outlined and indicated potential significant losses of £19m
o The total net impact, when factoring in the receipt of Government Grant of £18m, was around £23.4m. This was a major concern due to the ongoing impact beyond the current financial year. This matter was being kept under constant review given that the full final financial implications were not currently known
There was a discussion of the financial implications during which the following matters were raised:
· A moratorium had been imposed in relation to non-essential expenditure
· In line with Government Guidelines, no staff had been furloughed but had been redeployed where possible to support other services. Arising out of this, it was noted that the Council had been able to minimise costs as some key partners had furloughed some of their staff reducing costs passed back through to the Council as a result
· Reference was made to the expenditure and the rationale for that expenditure of around £9m to support Care Homes this was in line with Government Guidance to support care homes across the sector
· Reference was made to the finance allocated by Government to the Sheffield City Region to support, amongst other things, transport operators in maintaining services for Key Workers. Part of this allocation would have supported services within Barnsley
The Chief Executive then went on to report on the following:
· Impact on the Workforce
o Those that were unable to work fell into two groups, those whose health meant they were at greater risk from Covid 19 and those whose role meant that a service could not be provided – school meals for example – both groups were being monitored
o There was a corporate programme of staff redeployments from less to more critical services
o There was a corporate approach to those in clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable groups based on national guidance and the ways in which these were dealt with was outlined. Information was also provided about the number of staff involved and the ‘groups’ from which they came
· Fraudulent Activity
o A Toolkit to reduce risk of fraud/error had been developed by the Government’s Counter Fraud Function. There had been a general acceptance that checks would be able to detect and recover irregular payments rather than investigate fraud for prosecution
o There were likely to be problems with fraud investigations as Local Authorities had been encouraged to push monies out quickly rather than ask charge payers to apply in the normal way
o The Head of Internal Audit, Anti-Fraud and Assurance reported on the work of the Council’s Anti-Fraud Team which, amongst other things, was undertaking post-event assurance to look for fraud. Reference was made to the National Fraud Initiative which had joined with Experian to undertake Bank Account validation and Active Company Checks. A report on all such activity would be reported to future meetings of the Committee
· Maintaining Resilience
o The Council both individually and in conjunction with the South Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum (chaired by the Executive Director Place), guided by the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies, was planning/preparing for a variety of incidents. Debriefing and lessons identified had already begun with a view to improving the understanding of risks and impacts
o An ongoing Strategic Threat and Risk Assessment had been kept throughout the pandemic response phase and the ongoing transition to recover. This document had been and was being used to guide the strategic direction of the response and recovery
In the ensuing discussion, the following matters were highlighted:
· There was a detailed discussion about the impact on employment in the area and of how the authority would transition to the recovery phase.
o The Chief Executive commented that from the start of the pandemic there had always been a focus on recovery.
o It was noted that work was ongoing which included liaison and discussions with partners including the Sheffield City Region/Mayoral Authority particularly in relation to funding streams and opportunities.
o Reference was made to the work with transport providers to ensure that services were maintained so that key workers could continue to get to and from work
o It was important that all funding streams dovetailed in order to ensure that all opportunities were maximised and to this end information was provided about the work of Enterprising Barnsley, the ongoing work to revitalise the market and the principal towns initiative
· In response to questioning about the financial implications of the pandemic and the ways in which the Authority would deal with the deficit, the Service Director Finance commented that the deficit, to the extent that it materialised, would be mitigated by pausing new investments that were originally intended to be taken forward in the current financial year. This would ensure that the Council would deliver a balanced budget for the current financial year. The key concern, however, was for 2021/22 and beyond where there was uncertainty around future Government funding coupled with the likelihood that the cost of providing certain Council Services would increase exponentially as a result of the pandemic and the need for them to be provided in a ‘socially distanced’ way.
RESOLVED that the Chief Executive be thanked for her most informative and thought-provoking presentation.