Statement from the Leader of the Council, Councillor Mike Steptoe, and MD Shaun Scrutton 24.03.2020

Date: 
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Updates from Rochford District Council 
 
Council operations
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement last night there are new measures to require everyone to stay at home. 
The Government’s full advice can be found here: 
With immediate effect, these new measures are:
1. Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes; 
2. Closing non-essential shops and community spaces; and 
3. Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public. 
 
Every citizen must comply with these new measures. The relevant authorities, including the police, will be given the powers to enforce them – including through fines and dispersing gatherings. The Government will look again at these measures in three weeks and relax them if the evidence shows this is possible. 
 
The measures require the council to close its communal places within parks, such as playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms. These will be cordoned off today. 
 
Gatherings are permitted where the gathering is essential for work purposes - but workers should be trying to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace.  The council will be following this advice. 
The existing general guidance on social distancing has been updated to reflect these new measures. 
 
This document supports the Government’s guidance on staying at home. It provides full guidance on the government’s announcement made on 23rd March 2020 and the list of businesses and premises expected to close.
 
Council meetings
In consultation with the Chairman and the Leader, the meeting of full council on 26th March 2020 will be postponed until such time as local government legislation has been amended to enable the meeting to be conducted virtually. No other council meetings will be scheduled unless/until they can be safely conducted.
Customer services 
Residents should be directed to access services online at www.rochford.gov.uk or to contact the council by phone on 01702 546366 or 01702 318111. Further contact numbers are being set up and these will be advised as soon as possible. 
 
The Health Protection Regulations 2020
This legislation has now been passed and makes it an offence for business premises to remain open in defiance of the Government’s social distancing requirements. Government confirmed yesterday that Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers, with police support if appropriate, will work together to issue prohibition notices challenging unsafe behaviours where businesses do not follow these restrictions. Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will monitor compliance, and businesses who fail to comply can also receive fines. Continued non-compliance could then lead to the loss of alcohol licenses. Essex Police’s primary role during this difficult time will be to save lives, respond to emergency calls and provide reassurance to the community. 
 
 
Car parking
Our car parks continue to operate as usual, subject to any operational pressures on our workforce as a result of COVID 19. If a resident has any issues arising from overstaying e.g. because they park their car overnight for free, but is then required to self-isolate, they should contact the council in the usual way and we will, of course, be sympathetic. 
 
Community support 
The Government has strongly advised everyone to reduce social interaction to help minimise the spread of the virus, especially those aged 70 or over, people with underlying medical conditions or pregnant women. Those considered most at risk of having serious complications from the virus, e.g. people receiving treatment for cancer, have also been asked to stay at home for 12 weeks as part of efforts to shield them from the virus.
A Community Response Hub (Megacentre, Rayleigh) and a number of local distribution “cells” are being set up across our district organised by faith/community and partner agencies including support from the council. The hubs are being designed to be able to act as the primary vehicle for supporting Rochford residents who have been identified as part of the at-risk groups by the NHS in partnership with our ECC colleagues (i.e. those residents who are part of the 1.5m nationwide who are required to take extra “shielding” precautions). The hubs/cells will take the lead in coordinating the response to vulnerable residents, to ensure the right help is given in the right places at the right time. 
For others who don’t fall within the shielded community but still need community support e.g. those who are self-isolating or are otherwise vulnerable, the council’s website continues to be the best source of up to date information. www.rochford.gov.uk/HelpingOthers
 
Please be aware that criminals are taking advantage of people’s anxiety and vulnerability so beware of scams and only work with people you know and trust. Safeguarding information is set out below if anyone has concerns. 
 
Safeguarding 
Anyone wishing to discuss/report a safeguarding concern, should always contact via Safeguarding@Rochford.gov.uk in the first instance. ECC Social Care teams can also provide advice and their telephone numbers are as follows:
Adults - 0345 603 7630
Children - 0345 603 7627
Out of hours - 0345 606 1212
Some other useful numbers include:
Compass - (Essex Domestic Abuse helpline) - 0330 333 7 444
Samaritans - 116 123
Victim Support - 0808 178 1694
 
Council tax
Council tax payments should continue to be made as normal. If you are in financial distress please contact the Council who will provide advice. The Council is waiting for Government to release details of a national £500m hardship fund, which will be distributed to those council tax payers in greatest need - more information will be provided once available.
 
Building control
For the time being Government guidance appears to support continued construction on sites provided that social distancing measures are met. The council’s building control services will continue to provide a site inspection service but this will be kept under review. Officers are taking sensible precautions when on site; only doing outdoor inspections and maintaining 2m separation. We will prioritize inspections of excavations, drains and structural elements. We will not be doing completion inspections inside occupied dwellings until the situation changes (unless critical for conveyancing). Residents are asked to visit our website and contact the office by  email  Building.Control@rochford.gov.uk.
 
 
Planning Inspectorate
The Planning Inspectorate has recommended that its staff avoid unnecessary or non-essential travel. This may result in some events such as site visits, hearings and inquiries being cancelled. As and when this changes, we will share updates. 
 
Waste collection and disposal
Due to disruption to staffing levels, some recycling and waste services may be impacted. The council continues to assess the situation and is making plans to continue vital bin collection services if our workforce is reduced. This may result in general rubbish and food waste collections being prioritised, and other services being suspended at short notice, such as recycling or bulky waste collections. At this time, we are urging residents to do their very best to reduce their waste wherever possible. We are asking people to think about how you they could reduce their waste and to try composting garden waste at home. This situation is being constantly monitored and further updates will be provided. Please check the council’s website https://www.rochford.gov.uk/recycle for any changes to bin collections.
ECC has announced that all Essex recycling centres will be closed from Monday 23rd March until further notice. More information can be found here https://www.loveessex.org/news-and-ideas/coronavirus-impact-on-waste-col...
 
Fusion Lifestyle
The only Fusion Lifestyle staff currently required to be undertaking any duties relating to our leisure sites are centre management. All centre members have been contacted and informed that their memberships have been frozen. Fusion Lifestyle ask that all enquiries are directed to https://www.fusion-lifestyle.com/contact-us/
Civil Ceremonies
All civil ceremonies that were due to take place at Rayleigh Windmill and The Old House, Rochford during the next 3 weeks will be postponed. The council will contact all affected couples and others with upcoming ceremonies to discuss their options, which includes a full refund.
 
Updates from Government 
Business
The guidance for employees, employers and businesses has been updated to include information on the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme, which is now open and updated eligibility criteria for COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility to include the Bank of England's eligibility criteria.
Businesses will be able to access government support from today (Monday 23 March) to keep operating .https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-business-support-to-launc...
Details of two new loan schemes are being confirmed and an information campaign launched so that businesses know how to get help. More than £330 billion of loans and guarantees to help firms continue operating will be available for applications from the two schemes launching today. For small and medium sized businesses, the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is now available for applications. This scheme will help any viable business with a turnover of up to £45m to access government-backed finance of up to £5 million. Interest payments and any lender-levied fees for businesses will be covered by the Government for an initial period of up to twelve months.
The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each facility to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The scheme is available through more than 40 accredited lenders, which are listed on the British Business Bank website.
The Bank of England’s new lending facility for larger firms – the Covid Corporate Financing Facility - will also be open for applications to participate from this morning. By purchasing short-term corporate debt – known as commercial paper – the scheme provides a quick and cost-effective way to raise working capital for companies who are fundamentally strong but are experiencing severe disruption to cashflows, helping businesses across a range of sectors to pay wages and suppliers. The scheme is open to firms that can demonstrate that they were in sound financial health prior to the impact of Coronavirus. Companies who wish to use the scheme do not need to have issued commercial paper before.
A government information campaign has also launched today to ensure businesses are aware of the support available to them and how to access it. In addition to a new central website, the campaign will use media channels including radio, social media and television to reach businesses eligible for help.
In addition, commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction; the Government has announced. Many landlords and tenants are already having conversations and reaching voluntary arrangements about rental payments due shortly but the Government recognises businesses struggling with their cashflow due to coronavirus remain worried about eviction. These measures, included in the emergency Coronavirus Bill currently going through Parliament, will mean no business will be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment in the next three months.
 
Welfare and benefits 
The government has announced that Working Tax Credits payments will be increased by £20 per week from 6 April 2020 until 5 April 2021. The amount a claimant or household will benefit from will depend on their circumstances, including their level of household income. But the increase could mean up to an extra £3,040 in the 2020 to 2021 tax year.  Anyone who is already in receipt of Working Tax Credits, does not need to take any action or contact HMRC - the increase in your payments will start from 6 April 2020. The tax credits calculator will be updated on 6 April 2020. https://www.gov.uk/tax-credits-calculator
Other information relating to benefits can be found here:
Personal independence payment - https://www.gov.uk/pip/how-to-claim
 
Education 
This document sets out guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations in response to the impact of COVID-19.
Operational guidance for further education (FE) providers on maintaining education and skills training provision.
The Government is asking higher education providers not to change their offers to students for two weeks to maintain stability.
 
NHS advice
Everyone is reminded to follow the NHS advice which includes preventative measures about social distancing and stay at home guidance. Please also remember to keep your hands clean, especially if you have been outside e.g. at the supermarket or using an ATM. 
Please use our website!
Don’t forget a lot of useful content is available via our website and this will be updated regularly, so www.rochford.gov.uk is the best place to check first and we have a dedicated section at www.rochford.gov.uk/coronavirus. Our other media channels are also good sources of information - www.rochford.gov.uk/tellmemore, Facebook:  Rochford District Council, Instagram @RochfordDC and Twitter @RochfordDC
We would like to reassure everyone that we are working closely with our partners from across Essex in the NHS, emergency services, county council and other local authorities, ensuring that well-practiced plans are put into place.
 
Daily updates
The council is monitoring Government guidance daily and will be issuing communications to staff, members and the public with increasing regularity but in the meantime, so please watch our website, sign up for e-mail alerts or go to our social media channels to keep up-to-date with the latest information.