Agenda item

Verbal updates by Cabinet Members and Corporate Director


1.    Mr M Hill, OBE (Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services) provided an update to Members on the response of Community Services to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the following:


(a)  Libraries, Registration and Archives

This service continued to work to the specific government unlocking timetable and had fully engaged corporate support from Health and Safety, Infrastructure and Communications.  To date they had successfully:


·    Restarted the home library service,

·    Restarted record management service,

·   Restarted face to face birth registrations on 17th June (which had a significant backlog; and

·    Restarted notice of marriage appointments


The next step of the re-opening phase required a careful and programmed approach to ensure the health and safety of staff and public. This was due to start July with a basic offer comprising of a select and collect system for books and one hour of pre-booked IT access. The planned sequence of reopening to customers was as follows:


·         From Monday 13th July KCC would open 12 libraries, one in each district with opening hours to the public from 10:00am to 4:00pm Monday to Saturday.  The detailed list of libraries to be opened was included in the briefing note that Mr Hill sent to Members earlier in the week. 


·         In August, subject to confirmation and based on initial opening experience, KCC intended to open a further 12 libraries, again one in each district. 


·         Finally, in September, KCC hoped to open another handful of libraries to complete all its tier one and tier two libraries. Depending on the ability to staff buildings and the Council’s reopening policy, KCC would then look at opening additional libraries.


Risk assessments had been completed for all the services that were operating or proposed to operate in the near future and had been completed with the support of Health and Safety and Infrastructure.  The appropriate PPE was in place.


Plans had also been put in place to support the potential return of the Archive Search Room at the Kent History and Library Centre in August. Mr Hill confirmed that the planned approach to Libraries was in-line with many local authorities who were taking a phased approach to reopening.


(b)  Wedding Ceremonies


Wedding ceremonies were due to commence from 4th July in accordance with government guidelines.  The maximum number of people able to attend a ceremony was 30 and this figure included staff, photographers etc.  Due to social distancing measures, space limitations had been applied to all KCC venues.


(c)  Public Protection Group


The Public Protection Group’s alerts and messages to protect Kent residents and business from Covid scams successfully achieved a reach of over 3 million between 17th March and 8th June.  On 16th June, Public Protection hosted a live on-line session to answer questions from businesses on reopening trading safely and had scheduled a further live session at 1.00 pm on 3rd July which was aimed specifically at the tourism and hospitality sector.


(d)  Community Wardens


Community Wardens continued to work across the county and had supported 3,631 vulnerable people with food, prescriptions, advice and welfare support since the start of lockdown.  They had also been working alongside local colleagues helping to ensure that the town centres and shops could safely reopen.  They continued to respond to emergencies and had recently been involved in the Eastchurch landslide cliff collapse. 


(e)  The Emergency Planning Team


The Emergency Planning Team had arranged the donation, storage, quality assurance and distribution of over 100,000 items of PPE to support infection control.   This generous gifting of much-needed equipment by local businesses, academic institutions and KCC staff  was fundamental to ensuring that appropriate PPE was available to support KCC staff and care providers (including care homes) - especially when conventional supply chains were at their most challenged in late March and April. 


(f)   Trading Standards


Since the 23rd of March, Trading Standards had focused on dealing with Covid related issues and received 2,200 referrals of which 630 required action. These ranged from businesses overcharging for their goods, scammers selling fake goods, sanitiser safety concerns, social distancing complaints, fake PPE and prohibited shops trading.  


As part of the World Customs Union activity to stop unsafe and counterfeit PPE putting users and patients at risk, Trading Standards had worked with the UK Border Force and the National Crime Agency to stop the importation of large quantities of illegal surgical masks , respirators  and protective suits  and the successful detention of over 130,000 illegal facemasks concealing £1 million pounds worth of cocaine.  They had also established a referral system to offer support to care homes.


(g)  Kent Sport


Kent Sport had successfully supported sports organisations to attract £750,000 of funding from the Sport England Community Emergency Fund and had provided 42 everyday active small grants.  Sport England has also recently awarded Kent Sport £110,000 to support organisations that worked with vulnerable people. One example is the Young Lives Foundation which supported the most vulnerable young people in the County.


(h)  Kent School Games


KCC were unable to hold its flagship Kent School Games this year.  However, two schemes; My Active Rainbow and My Active Life had been developed as an alternative option to the Games. This provided young people with the opportunity to work through a series of challenges and gain rewards including Kent School Games Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals.


(i)    Public Rights of Way (PRoW) and Explore Kent 


During the lockdown there had been a significant increase in people wishing to get out into the countryside to visit KCC’s Country Parks and use the extensive PROW network.  The Explore Kent website had experienced a significant spike for people looking for information and record engagements on their social media platform.  Mr Hill actively encouraged everyone to make use of the excellent service.  


Explore Kent was also working with the PRoW service to access government funding to promote safe travel and route improvements. All KCC’s Country Parks were busy, often with full car parks and were running a popular take away offer from the cafes.


(j)    Kent’s Creative Economy


The creative sector had been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and Kent experienced the sudden and complete shutdown of all spaces for public performance with rehearsal spaces, studios and workshops closed.  Kent’s creative economy continued to rely heavily on tourism, particularly the night-time economy and festivals sector, all of which were temporarily redundant.   In response to the crisis, the KCC Culture and Economy team lead a series of roundtable discussions with over 100 sector professionals.  Information gathered from the sessions helped to inform KCC’s plan for renewal and resilience and was also used to inform the Arts Council England and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in order to access emergency funding.  KCC also refocussed the arts investment fund to provide immediate support to struggling businesses and continued to work with the Arts Council as part of their national initiative to distribute 4,000 ‘Let’s Create’ packs containing art and craft materials to primary and secondary age children across the county.  The service is currently working with the Kent Cultural Transformation Board to look at opportunities and innovations to support economic and social renewal of the creative sector in Kent. 


2.    Mr Whiting (Cabinet Member for Economic Development) provided an

update on the following:


(a)  Mr Whiting thanked the staff and officers at KCC for their continued hard work and their ability to provide an excellent service during the pandemic.


(b)  The National Institute of Agricultural Botany


The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) had received £18million from the government’s Strength in Places Fund which formed part of the £33million investment programme for innovative projects and emerging technologies that would help to drive economic growth in the UK.


(c)  Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme


KCC continued to make the case to government for an increased number of workers to be included within the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) and continued to support the Pick for Britain campaign launched by the National Farmers Union (NFU).


(d)  Kent Film Unit


Mr Whiting informed Members that 20 projects had been cancelled as a result of Covid with a consequential loss of £2.5million, however, officers had undertaken a significant amount of work to ensure that KCC was in the best possible position to progress with projects as restrictions around Covid were lifted.


3.    The Cabinet Members responded to comments and questions as follows:


(a)  Mr Hill responded to a request to reopen libraries in the eastern part of Swale and within the Faversham, Canterbury area and confirmed that in line with Government guidelines, KCC would only be reopening one library within each district in the first tranche. A review of the geographical spread of libraries would take place as further libraries were reopened.


(b)  Mr Hill confirmed that the public toilets within KCC’s country parks had reopened when the public car parks had reopened.


(c)  In response to the backlog of birth registrations, Mr Hill confirmed that 12 locations had reopened and anticipated that the backlog would reduce within a 4 to 6-week period. 


4.    It was RESOLVED that the update be noted, with thanks.