The reports of the Management Team reviewed by Extraordinary Cabinet on 19 May and Cabinet on 3 June 2020 are attached for information.
The report of Management Team, considered by Extraordinary Cabinet on 19 May, provided a strategic overview of the Borough Council’s response to the national emergency, the impacts on service delivery, the introduction of priority initiatives and financial impacts. A framework for the development of a future recovery was also considered.
As part of this future recovery plan, the Cabinet of 3 June had approved a one-year addendum to the Borough Council’s Corporate Strategy. This would provide a framework within which to consider a wide range of issues in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Particular reference was made to the Climate Change Strategy and it was reported that the consultation period had been extended until the end of June. The responses submitted during the earlier consultation period had been received and recorded.
The Chief Executive was pleased to report that the Borough Council had been well prepared for remote working, with 90% of staff working from home where possible. In addition, a number of staff had been redeployed to support the work of the Community Support Hub, which had been established to support vulnerable residents by providing essential food supplies and telephone befriending services. The Borough Council had worked with parish councils, community groups and voluntary organisations to identify and signpost to long term support networks.
Reference was made to the financial support distributed to local businesses via rate relief and the delivery of Small Business Grants and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants. It was also reported that there had been 160 applications to the Discretionary Business Grant Scheme. These applications were being assessed and funds would be allocated as soon as possible.
The financial pressures faced by the Borough Council continued to be significant and extremely challenging, with a loss of income of circa £2m - £5m predicted. A number of options related to the Medium Term Financial Strategy and the Savings and Transformation Strategy would be reviewed by Cabinet on 30 June.
The Borough Council recognised the uncertainty around how long lockdown measures would continue. However, it was important for the authority to plan for the future and this would be done within the themes of ‘review, recover and reorient’. It was noted that Kent County Council had statutory responsibility to establish a countywide recovery framework.
As a first step towards recovery, retail centres and Tonbridge High Street would reopen on Monday 15 June and the Borough Council was providing guidance to traders. In addition the Borough Council was raising awareness via a communication campaign in the local press, on social media and messaging from the Leader to residents. Posters and signage reminding customers about social distancing would be available to businesses. A number of High Street Support Officers had been engaged to patrol Tonbridge High Street and monitor the retail centres in Borough Green, Snodland and West Malling and to engage with customers and businesses offering reassurance.
The Parish Councils thanked Borough Council officers for continuing to work during the lockdown and for keeping essential services operating. It was hoped that lessons could be learned from the early days of the crisis, especially related to communication, and future emergency planning refined to take account of potential improvements.