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Calderdale Council leader warns coronavirus "greatest challenge faced since Second World War"

Tim Swift has unveiled an action plan for the borough.

Coronavirus is the biggest challenge Britain has faced since the Second World War, said a council leader unveiling a ten-point action plan to help the borough’s people as they face a severe test.

Calderdale Council Leader Coun Tim Swift (Lab) told Cabinet last night (16/3) the council’s response to it will be defined by kindness and resilience and colleagues heard that Calderdale’s experience in dealing with extraordinary situations, including three major floods in five years, would help inform its actions.

“Our response to Covid-19 is the number one priority for Calderdale Council from today for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Coun Swift said the situation was a fast-changing one and the plan laid out formed the council’s core response at this time.

He stressed he was not making a political statement about the rights and wrongs of Government’s response although he may do so at other times.

“However, I do not accept one statement made by the Prime Minister on Thursday which described Covid-19 as the greatest challenge of our generation.

“It is not.

“It is the greatest challenge this nation has faced since the Second World War, and is likely to be the greatest pandemic the world has experienced since the Spanish Flu over one hundred years ago,” he said.

The ten-point plan will be centred around helping the most vulnerable, deploying resources where most appropriate, working with partner organisations including the NHS and the voluntary sector and keeping the council’s own staff as safe as possible by enabling working.

Partnering Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, the council is working to establish a business hub to support and advise Calderdale’s businesses and its own neighbourhood wardens and Staying Well team members will work alongside police and community and voluntary groups to keep an eye on community, faith and neighbourhood issues if they arise,.

Council meetings, including committee and panel meetings and ward forums are suspended from tomorrow (Tuesday, March 17) until Friday, May 15 – in this interim period he will work with the council’s Chief Executive, Robin Tuddenham, on emergency business-critical decisions that need to be taken.

It will use all channels to communicate updates to the plan and the council’s delivery of it, said Coun Swift.

The council heard that one Cabinet member, Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge), who holds the Children and Young People’s Services portfolio, was absent because he was self-isolating after feeling ill after he left work last Friday.

The ten-point plan in full is as follows.

1. Deliver our statutory public health responsibilities – to do all that we can within our resources, and within our ability, to protect the health and wellbeing of our population in Calderdale, working within the National Action Plan and ensuring effective partnership with our colleagues in the NHS.

2. Target our efforts on those who will most need our help and support if they contract Covid-19 – this includes the most at risk groups, the elderly and those with pre-existing long term conditions through redeploying existing resource where we can, by working with our local hospitals to support transfers of care, by supporting providers of social care, and ensuring other vulnerable groups are assisted through a dedicated social care hub.

3. Target support on other key vulnerable groups to reduce inequalities – we are anticipating an increase in safeguarding and vulnerability issues as a result of self-isolation policies and challenges in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of groups at risk including the homeless, asylum seekers, those who use food banks, those at risk of domestic abuse and those with existing multiple and complex needs. We are working closely with providers and voluntary organisations on this.

4. Co-ordinate our community response – we will establish a virtual volunteer hub to ensure we safely and effectively manage the numerous offers to help to maximise support for our communities, working alongside our voluntary and community organisation partners.

5. Support our businesses – we are working with Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce to develop a business hub to support and advise businesses. We are lobbying Government for rapid implementation of Covid-19 budget decisions on business support and relaxation of a range of costs and requirements.

6. Enhance our workforce resilience and care for our staff – we are implementing our plans to deliver home working across all services, building upon our work on digital transformation through our Workforce/ICT hub to be established later this week, and will prioritise the most critical services, redeploying resources accordingly.

7. Support governance, decision making and community leadership – we will suspend all council, committee and panel meetings, ward forums, and working parties from Tuesday 17 March until Friday 15 May. We understand that guidance and legislative change is imminent from Government to remove the requirement to meet face to face to agree decisions at Cabinet, Council and Committees, which currently exists in the extremely outdated Local Government Act, 1972. I will work with the Chief Executive on emergency business critical decisions as set out in the Council’s constitution in the interim. We will divert staff to support the community leadership role of our elected members.

8. Monitor and respond to community, faith and neighbourhood issues and tensions – our neighbourhoods, Staying Well team and community wardens will support communities, in partnership with the Police and the voluntary sector.

9. Capture financial and organisational impact – we will collate financial impact of additional burdens and loss of income for services to reduce organisational risk, and the impact of decisions taken by other organisations such as transport providers.

10. Communicate, communicate, communicate – we will use all channels to issue very regular updates on this plan and our delivery of it.

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