Mr R Gough, Leader of the Council; Ms Z Cooke, Corporate Director of Finance; Mr D Shipton, Head of Finance Policy, Planning and Strategy; and Ms L Alesbrook, Financial Hardship Programme Manager were in attendance for this item.
1. The Chairman gave the rationale for bringing the Covid-19 Financial Monitoring item to the Committee, noted the magnitude of the grant funding received and confirmed that the item had been a join request by himself and the Opposition Group Spokesmen.
2. Following an invitation from the Chairman, Mr Gough provided a verbal overview of the Council’s Covid-19 grant spending. He reminded Members of the different grants received, that they had been provided in ringfenced and un-ringfenced forms, covered significantly differing periods and had been carried over in some instances from the previous financial year, due to the timing of receipt. Members were informed that there would be no further carry forward of existing grant funding. He emphasised that the focus of Covid-19 grant funded programmes, especially Helping Hands, had been to support families and people in distress, which had become more important when the impact of the pandemic on living standards was considered.
3. Ms Alesbrook gave a presentation on the key grant funding received and programmes undertaken. Key developments highlighted included: the impact of Covid-19; Winter Grant Fund and Local Support Grants; Kent Together; the Household Support Grant; an overview of the current climate; governance and communication; support to residents and businesses via the Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF); Helping Hands; financial hardship; and the next steps.
4. A Member asked whether there were any ways free school meal vouchers could be delivered flexibly or funded locally by Members using their devolved grant funds. Ms Cooke set out the free school meal voucher financial requirements and recognised the suitable role of schools in coordinating the scheme. She added that KCC provided funding for community hubs, foodbanks and delivered support through the Kent Support and Assistance Service (KSAS). Mr Gough acknowledged the importance of building community resilience beyond the grant funded programmes and investigating how best KCC shared data with the voluntary and community sector (VCS).
5. Members asked for reassurances that KCC would not face a financial cliff edge when the grant funding had been expended and that the impact of future changes on vulnerable residents would be mitigated to the greatest possible extent. Mr Gough confirmed that analysis of how signposting could be effectively used, where services could not continue beyond grant funding, had been undertaken. The continuation of digital support services and resources was also highlighted. Ms Cooke reassured the Committee that Finance had worked to ensure the financial sustainability of programmes and that there was no time limit on the funding of the Helping Hands scheme, as it had been financed by un-ringfenced grant funding.
6. In relation to the £6m national grant to fund targeted support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC), a Member asked how much had been allocated to KCC. Ms Cooke confirmed that £800k had been received and that the grant covered costs directly related to Covid-19.
7. Further information on the operation of the Crowdfund Kent scheme was requested by a Member. Ms Cooke confirmed that the scheme was a civic crowd funding scheme open to properly constituted community organisations and used a match funding model to ensure that projects had public support.
8. A Member asked how KCC could fill the gaps left by a lack of VCS provision, in order to build community resilience. Mr Gough confirmed that KCC would continue to provide financial advice to VCS organisations and that the findings from programmes during the pandemic had been applied to new initiatives, to ensure positive community outcomes.
9. A lack of community engagement in relation to Active Travel schemes was highlighted by a Member, who stressed the need to look at the effectiveness of consultations and soft community engagement. Mr Gough acknowledged that the first Active Travel tranche had been hurried, due to a series of tight centrally set deadlines and that it had not been an issue unique to Kent. He reassured Members that investigations were underway on creating a long-term bank of future schemes.
10. Concerning the 1,659 devices issued to support home learning, a Member asked who was responsible for their maintenance and warranty? Ms Alesbrook agreed to share the requested information with the Committee following the meeting.
11. Following a question from a Member, Ms Cooke confirmed that Lydia Jackson, the Crowdfund Kent scheme lead, could provide advice for community groups that sought constitution.
12. Members commended the grant funded initiatives and noted the positive outcomes they had for Kent’s residents.
RESOLVED that the report be noted.