What have we been doing?
I would like to start by thanking both the Leader of the Opposition for his question and the support of all other councillors during this time.
I would like to also pass on my thanks and appreciation to all staff and colleagues across all sectors who have been working under immense pressure for some time now. Obviously our colleagues here at MKC but also our partners in the NHS, in particular the hospital, and the other emergency services. However we must also thank those who in the past weeks have been serving the public, such as those resupplying supermarkets, teachers and so many others who have stepped up when we need it most.
We live in unprecedented times in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic outbreak. I would dare say that we will be reading about this in text books for a long time. I do not like conflict but if you imagine that even during wartime people are still able to work, socialise and there is still an economic output, we begin to understand the challenges that may lie ahead.
We do not live in a bubble. We have all seen the news from Italy and other places ahead of us in the virus curve. We have the benefit of a little extra time, but not much. Real lives, real people and families lie behind the statistics and we are working closely with the Government to prevent as many infections and deaths as possible.
Can I therefore repeat that the first step is that as hard as it may seem, and as drastic as it may feel, people should follow government advice and limit the spread of Covid 19 as best as possible. Follow the daily briefings. Follow advice. We understand people are making huge changes to their lives and it is tough.
It is worth noting that overall the risk to the general population, even if you contract Covid 19, is small. Our actions are to ensure we limit the numbers who may not receive the treatment they need if our services become overwhelmed. We all have a loved one who are vulnerable and we are protecting them with our actions.
Here at MK Council we have been able to move quickly and made changes to the way we work. We have established a daily ‘gold’ meeting, which the chief executive is chairing. This group has an MKC ‘silver’ group that supports it. We are also being represented in the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum by the Director of Policy, Insight and Communications.
We are making a lot of careful service changes following government advice to reduce non-essential service contact. Details are on our website and a media release was issued this afternoon.
Council services have been prioritised to ensure services such as waste, highways, child protection, adult safeguarding and so on are currently operating as usual. Face to face services, like homelessness prevention are being targeted at those highest priority people for the time being.
It is important to highlight that the arrangements for safeguarding both children and adults remain the same and are all set out clearly on our website where you will find phone numbers and a web form to report worries – which could include neglect, self-neglect or people at risk of abuse, including financial abuse. If you have concerns about someone’s wellbeing MK Council is the single point of contact.
On the last point, we have also been raising awareness of our trading standards helpline which can give advice and guidance to people worried about scams. A new video message promoting the service will be shared tomorrow.
I would also like to assure councillors that plans are being drawn up for us to be proactive in our contact with the very many people we know – like the 2,000 or so children in need in Milton Keynes. Adult services for example will be contacting those people we work with to see if any extra support is needed at this difficult time. Children social care cases have been RAG rated all their cases in the event we have to prioritise our time.
In anticipation of problems with staff absence caused by illness or having to self-isolate we’ve taking steps to create extra capacity if we need that – for example 100 places have offered for lifting and moving training in case we need extra help in homecare or our day services.
We’re also looking very closely at how we can assist with food poverty – and we have been in discussion with the MK Food Bank about how we can help extend their service. We should note that services such as this will face significant disruption to their normal business model. If people are unable to attend supermarkets or donate food, supply may become an issue. We are working to help understand and overcome that.
A particular issue for us all will come when schools close on Friday in how we can best support the 12% of children who get free school meals and other families who might be struggling.
We’re also identifying colleagues from non-essential areas who could be redeployed to other areas, and if necessary, to other organisations. We are in very regular contact with MK University Hospital regarding their needs.
We are also working closely Community Action MK on how to safely harness all the goodwill that our community is showing. We have offered to deploy MKC colleagues to help local organisations like Community Action MK to play a role in connecting people who want to help with local groups and clubs. It is safer and altogether better if we encourage and support our amazing network of civil society organisations organise take the lead role in co-ordinating the voluntary effort.
We also are working with the MK Community Foundation on an emergency appeal for donations and a way of distributing money to help groups do get involved. We have committed £50,000 as a first step.
We envisage that through our normal practices people will be able to report concerns about individuals and our professionals will assess and distribute actions either through our normal safeguarding role or for less serious issues through to civil society.
Cllr O’Neill is leading on this work and will provide more details on Friday.
This is a difficult and worrying time for everyone and our businesses are facing some severe challenges. At 2pm on Friday I will be leading a live stream business briefing. This will provide details of how the council is responding together with information about the support that is available locally and nationally. We will aim to establish a single point of
contact for all Covid-19 related business enquires in the next week.
We also need to make sure help reaches individuals. In line with many other councils we will ensure people who get into hardship if they are our tenants because of this crisis will not face eviction. I hope that will be extended by Government to all tenants in the private sector too. We are also seeking urgent guidance from Government over the scope of the recently announced funding and how we can integrate that with our existing hardship schemes and enhance them. We will do all we can for individuals, and learning from the floods two years ago, we will ensure that our processes to seek help are clear, easy and quick. We will communicate more details on this early next week.
In relation to our own Governance, building on your earlier statement, I have this week taken the step to suspend all non-critical executive decisions of the council beyond papers already published. I will publish a new Executive Scheme of Delegation which now includes Head of Services due to the likelihood of colleague absence.
We have established a Financial Approval Board to help fast track financial decisions within the organisation which is being overseen by Cllr Middleton. While we are able to help people as best we can it is worth noting that our funding streams as an organisation are exposed to risk and we do need to mitigate that. We have not suddenly become an organisation with excess funds available.
We will also be holding a weekly cross party Keeping In Touch meeting at which we will brief all parties on the latest developments and issues.
Finally we will be issuing advice to councillors on how they can help and we will circulate that soon.
By doing five things:
- Ensuring critical services have a plan;
- Working with our partners;
- Enabling people to help others;
- Getting financial help to those that need it; and
- Providing clear leadership
We hope that we have placed this organisation into a place where we can continue to deliver what the people of MK need right now. People are under a huge amount of stress and these are tough times. We know people are concerned, but there will be a tomorrow to all this and we will as a city and place we can come together to do what is needed.