An internal report into the Isle of Wight Council’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has praised “strong and constructive relationships” with the community, local businesses, care providers and voluntary organisations as part of a “Herculean” response across the Island.
The pandemic response has had significant impact on council budgets, and the report draws attention to the prudent and robust approach to the management of finance in recent years, which will allow the council to continue to operate without emergency spending controls at this time.
The report, published today (Monday 1 June) is set to be discussed by councillors on the council’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee on 9 June.
Council leader Dave Stewart said: “Now is a good time to take stock of how the council’s response to coronavirus (Covid-19) worked so far.
“I am impressed and grateful to see the huge amount of work that has been taking place across this council in the last few months; alongside our partners in the NHS, the voluntary organisations, independent care sector and beyond.
“We moved quickly and decisively as soon as we knew what was required.
“Our rapid and very thorough ability to work with and support the community and help vulnerable residents has been impressive; including immediate action to get financial assistance to local community hubs to support their most vulnerable locals, and providing lifeline support funding to essential not-for-profit organisations.
“The council secured its own stock of PPE at the start of the crisis which put us in a good place to operate right from the beginning.
“We also housed all rough sleepers within 48 hours, redeployed 200 of our staff into essential roles, made over 12,000 phone calls to vulnerable residents, and we have been fielding an average of more than 100 calls to the Island-wide helpline every day.
“The council has to manage the resources it has got. We’re not a big authority, but what we do have is a terrific team of staff who have been prepared to go above and beyond, and do what is needed.
“Like councils all over the country, the coronavirus has left us with some big financial challenges.
“This report shows that we are making sensible preparations to face them. I have already raised the council’s financial position in a recent meeting with the Minister for Local Government.
“Our track record of responsible strong financial management has meant that today we are in a far better position to weather this storm than we would have been in the past.
“Our overall objective has been and continues to be to keep people safe — and this will continue to guide our decision making going forward.”
After emergency government funding totalling £9 million, the council predicts a shortfall of £9.8m, mostly made up of lost income such as rents, use of leisure centres and car parking.
The report outlines the ways in which the council will be working to make sure it can continue to provide services, and options suggested include placing previously approved spending plans on hold — although no decisions have yet been made about what these might be.
Set out in the report is the new way in which councillors will be able to hold meetings and make decisions while maintaining social distancing, using electronic communication to allow councillors to have discussions and the public to observe, and where appropriate join in.
Finally, the report looks to the future, and describes the way in which recovery plans are to be prepared.
Councillor Stewart added: “We are in a difficult period where we have to respond to the ongoing situation but also plan for the council’s and the Island’s recovery from it.
“There is much more work to do and we must not lose sight of the fact that the crisis is far from over.
“With our partners the council is now working on our community recovery plan, which will spell out in much more detail the way we will be working towards the restoration of the social, economic and political well-being of the Island’s people, communities and businesses.
“I know it will be hard work, but I also know that we have already proved we have the capacity to deliver.
“I want to thank everyone across the Island for the sacrifices and efforts you have made to support and protect our Island community during the crisis so far.
“Now, as lockdown eases, the responsibility falls to every one of us to continue to act responsibly, and observe social distancing so that we can continue to protect our Island community, protect all care workers and save lives.”