The Chief Executive introduced the report to the Panel, advising that staff were aware that Members had been appreciative of their efforts. She commended efforts by the Director of Public Service (Director of PS) and the Director of Public Health (Director of PH) for leading the Council’s Covid-19 response arrangements since the first lockdown announcement in March 2020.
The Panel was advised by the Chief Executive that the scale and pace in which the Council should respond had been heightened by the recent Government’s announcements about a second wave of lockdown restrictions, and arrangements that should be in place after the Christmas period. The Panel noted that as part of the announcements, work was underway to commence local testing, and Council officials had a series of logistical meetings with their colleagues in the National Health Service (NHS) to identify how to proceed with the rollout of the vaccination programme.
The Chief Executive also pointed out to the Panel that officers were aware of the impact on the role of scrutiny in terms of implementing its work programme. Notwithstanding that, input from scrutiny Members as an ongoing channel for suggestions and feedback would continue to be useful in the process. Thus, scrutiny remained integral to the Council’s Covid-19 response effort. It was stated that the combined efforts with scrutiny had enabled officers to balance the requirements of delivering in a transparent and democratic setting, whilst meeting the demands of the unprecedented challenges posed by the crisis.
In concluding her introductory remarks, the Chief Executive stated that the Director of PS would present further updates to the Panel.
The Director of PS stated that since the last report to the Panel, schools and colleges had remained opened. More shops were allowed to stay open. There would be no requirement to follow the formal shielding approach during the second wave of the Covid-19 lockdown. However, the Council would continue to support critical services. Staff assigned to the Covid-19 Action Team would be delivering non-critical services. Work was underway to distribute grants to businesses who were experiencing financial problems as a result of the crisis. There would be ongoing supply of personal protective equipment at a local level.
Commenting on the data-sets in the report, the Director of PS highlighted that the increase in the level of the 7-day infection rates was due to pre-lockdown gatherings into the second wave of the pandemic. However, infection rates were stabilising nationally. Although Lewisham had a lower number of infections in comparison to most London boroughs, plans were underway to minimise risks through efforts to set up a local test-booking system. It was stated that the Council would also follow national guidelines in test and trace applications once it becomes clear about the role of councils in the arrangements. Meanwhile, the Council would continue working with its NHS partners on how to identify people who had the virus without showing signs of having it. It was stated that those who show symptoms would be required to self-isolate, ... view the full minutes text for item 3
The Director Public Services (Director of PS) introduced the report, highlighting progress in regard to the Council’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Panel noted progress, and expressed an appreciation that key metrics used by officers to monitor and manage the ongoing response to COVID-19 were included in the report. It was recognised that the strategy and objectives to be employed by Lewisham had also been revised to reflect developments since the last report on the subject was considered. As part of the discussion, the Panel asked questions on aspects of the report, and received responses as follows:
In response to questions raised, the Panel received clarification from the Director of PS that although there was police presence at Lewisham Shopping centre, confrontations would likely occur if enforcement was carried out inside of business premises. Furthermore, the Council do not have sufficient resources to carry out enforcement in queues outside of shops, and across public areas in Lewisham. Thus, enforcement would be a last resort. Notwithstanding that, the police and the Council’s stance remained that residents should be informed and encouraged to comply with restrictions and hygiene guidelines to help minimise the spread of COVID-19.
The Director of PS continued with his response with an assurance to the Panel that the Council was applying lessons learnt from the first lockdown in regard to its work in local parks and open spaces, and had recruited 58 community champions to work jointly with the police to communicate the public health message to residents. It stated that the recruitment exercise for community champions by the Council was ongoing, and that those presently employed were kept up-to-date via webinars and emails to ensure the delivery of timely and consistent information about COVID-19 to residents in Lewisham.
2. Deaths Data
In response to an enquiry about an increase of 29 in the number of deaths figures reported up to 25 September 2020, the Director of PS advised the Panel that the two primary sources of data on COVID-19 mortality in Lewisham came from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and the local Registry Office. It was clarified that the data from the ONS was published fortnightly, and included all deaths that had occurred nationally as a result of COVID-19, irrespective of location at the time of the incident, whereas, the local Registry Office collate similar data immediately after the incidents occur. Thus, the time gap between receiving the ONS data and reporting it locally was the reason for the difference in the figures.
3. Test & Trace Activities
Continuing with his response to questions raised, the Director of PS clarified to the Panel that although Lewisham’s testing rates increased over the last week, positive tests were lower when compared with other London boroughs. The Panel received confirmation that the Council was deploying and training its COVID-19 Action Teams to test and trace in order to supplement the work of the national team at a local level.
4. Safety in Care Homes
Following on ... view the full minutes text for item 3
The Director of Public Services (Director of PS) introduced the report to the Panel, highlighting updates relating to the Council’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Panel noted the report and key developments. It was recognised that there had been further updates since the report was published, and that plans had been adjusted to manage a second wave of the outbreak in the coming months. The Panel understood that as part of the preparatory work going forward, the Council had revised its strategy to include community cohesion. It was noted that initiatives in place to keep local schools open were also being reviewed.
The Panel was advised by the Director of PS that Lewisham undertook a four-day exercise with its south-east London partners to test its strategic response to the outbreak across borough boundaries. It was noted that the outcome from that exercise comprised of 15 key learning points, which the Council had built into its preparatory plans. It was confirmed that testing outbreak plans had been implemented by the Council, and that front-line staff would continue to receive assistance in regard to coaching and first-aid, and support they might require to help manage their mental health and general wellbeing.
The Panel asked questions about care homes, and suggested that the data metrics in regards of the impact of Covid-19 should be expanded. Questions relating to infection rates and deaths, testing, and finances were also raised by the Panel, including concerns about the disproportionate level of impact of the outbreak on the Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) group. The Panel further enquired about lessons learnt during the first round of the crisis outbreak, as they could be applied in the second wave into the future if considered appropriate. Officers responded to the issues as follows:
1. Care Homes
The Director of PS gave an assurance to the Panel that the Council was closely monitoring the application of processes and procedures in care homes. The level of concern specific to the outbreak continue to remain because of complexity in managing within a care home setting. Notwithstanding that, liaisons between the Council and its partners in hospitals were ongoing, and there were appropriate guidelines for managing discharges relating to Covid-19 patients into care homes.
2. Data Reporting
The Panel noted a suggestion by the Chief Executive that it would be effective for officers to continue presenting data metrics which the Council was already collecting for a consistent approach in monitoring trends relating to the Covid-19 outbreak.
3. Testing & Infections
The Director of PS advised the Panel that capacity in the lab system had improved, and the number of tests performed were increasing. However, the expectation across London was that infection rates would increase during the second wave of the outbreak, and the trend would be partly the result of increased capacity in the lab system, resulting in more tests being performed than at the start of the outbreak.
The Panel was advised by the Director of PS that there had been concerns ... view the full minutes text for item 3
The report was introduced by the Chief Executive and the Director of Public
Councillor Mallory referred to the financial section in paragraph 6.8.1 and
noted that while there had been a £53.2m financial impact, only £18m had
been received leaving a gap of £35m. He urged for robust financial monitoring
and asked for updated information. The Acting Chief Finance Officer reported
a further £3.2m had been received as a share of a national allocation and that
the next income return would be prepared at the end of July.
Councillor Campbell asked if a public health communications strategy was
being formulated as the borough headed out of lockdown. Councillor Millbank
added that a summary of lessons learned was required as well as consistent
data management. The Chief Executive explained that the borough was
mirroring Londonwide messaging which reflected NHS provision and timing
provided by Public Health England.
The Chair pointed out there was likely to be new rules on social distancing
and public behaviour including the requirement to wear masks in shops and
he asked if the communications strategy targeted likely affected groups.
Councillor Codd underlined the need to collaborate with local communities,
the rapid introduction of traffic calming measures being a prime example of
The Chief Executive indicated a new Director of Programme Management
would tackle some of the issues raised and indicated there were lessons that
could be learned on air quality and traffic calming.
Councillor Muldoon highlighted a review of BAME Health inequalities to be
undertaken by Birmingham City Council and Lewisham and he issued a
general invitation for nominations to be made to both an Academic Board and
an Advisory Board.
Councillor Curran raised three questions, asking when normal Council
meetings might return; what had been the financial impact on major town
centre developments such as the A205 realignment and was it possible for
emergency signage to have details of sources of further information.
The Chair indicated he thought the next step for the return of meetings would
be a hybrid option and he asked for an update on the feasibility of this to be
considered in August. The Acting Chief Finance Officer said information on
the financial impact on town centre developments would be provided
subsequent to the meeting. The Chief Executive said revisions to road closure
signage could form part of a wider communications strategy.
Councillor Bernards raised concerns about the increase in the numbers of
rough sleepers. He noted steps already taken by Councillor Bonavia with
regard to those with No Recourse to Public Funds. He pointed out those who
lacked access to digital technology might be prevented from making Council
Tax reduction claims or from accessing Homesearch facilities.
The Director of Public Services responded by explaining safeguards had been
put in place for the digitally excluded including all Universal Credit claimants.
A comprehensive telephone service was in place for all Homesearch queries.
Councillor Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing explained that in terms of
assisting rough sleepers the policy was ... view the full minutes text for item 11
The Chief Executive gave an overview of the report. She recommended to the Panel to note efforts by the Council in response to the Covid-19 crisis, and consider and comment on the anchoring principles of recovery outlined in paragraph 5.6.
Members noted the report, commended officers for their hard work, and expressed an appreciation that efforts made by the Council’s Shielding Outreach Team had been effective.
Commenting on the details in the report, Members stated that the internal processes were useful but insufficient because there was not much evidence to suggest that local people who should benefit from them were aware of the available support. Thus, collaboration with partners should underline the anchoring principles as an assurance to residents that were receiving the best possible services that the Council was able to deliver during the crisis. Members also expressed a concern about health inequalities revealed by Covid-19 reports across the country, and suggested that officers should perhaps consider implementing some national recommendations into the work of the local recovering group, such as those from the Marmot Review on health.
· Officers to publicise services that the Council was delivering with its partners to respond to the crisis, including information about continuity of provision to vulnerable people, so that local people are aware of them.
In response to questions raised, the Chief Executive advised the Panel that the co-ordination of efforts with the voluntary sector and local community groups was vital in enabling the Council to invent and reinvent its approaches to deliver and sustain critical services into the transition phase. However, to maintain up-to-date data on activities about shielding and the distribution of food was a challenge because residents’ demands were constantly changing. Furthermore, most foods distributed by national government to residents were inappropriate. Notwithstanding that, staff in the Shielding Telephone Support Team were contacting residents on the shielding list within 24 hour of registration to check that their needs were being met. Members also received confirmation that employees would continue to be deployed in accordance to demand.
In light of a concern about aspects of the local place-shaping programme, the Chief Executive advised Members that the Council had implemented an online package support for its staff. It was stated that the Black and Minority Ethnic Group (BAME) network of staff had sent a survey to their members. Members were further advised that regular staff surveys would shortly be implemented across the board, with a view to collate responses for an assessment of support that might be required by individuals. On aspect about roads, the Chief Executive stated that a safe and sustainable transport system would in no doubt benefit users, but that she would consult with engineers to investigate whether a re-design of current highways plans were necessary in light of the Government’s recent revised announcement relating to social distancing rules.
· Officers to share the Council’s approaches of possible review to Lewisham’s highway programme with partners in the voluntary sector and local community centres.
Members noted ... view the full minutes text for item 3
The Panel received a report introduced by the Chief Executive about the Council’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and expressed an appreciation to the workforce and Members for embracing the “One Council” approach adopted by Lewisham.
In response to question during the presentation of the report, the Chief Executive gave an assurance to the Panel that the efforts employed to address the crisis were consistent with aspects of Council’s corporate priorities about the protection of the health and wellbeing of residents, particularly the most vulnerable. However, the easing of the lockdown could be challenging due to concerns that surges of infections that might occur. The Chief Executive stated that the scale and pace of the work had been unprecedented but the benefits from lessons learnt in the last few weeks, and those to be developed would be captured to harness and showcase the Council’s resilience in working with its partners to deliver to residents.
The Panel noted the report, and welcomed information that the Council was also contributing to the wider London arrangements by learning and sharing experiences with other local authorities, with a view to enhance its resilience to sustain capacity for timely delivery and response.
The Chair, Councillor Bill Brown, expressed a concern about the lack of clarity of funds to be reimbursed by the government in light of its promise that councils should provide whatever was necessary to support local people during the Covid-19 crisis. The concern expressed by the Chair was echoed by other Members of the Panel, including Councillor Jim Mallory, Chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee, who stated that he had no question at the present time on the matter due to inadequate information.
Councillor Mallory sated that it was however right to inform the meeting that he had received an assurance from the Acting Director of Finance and Section 151 Officer that the Council would prepare separate budget headings for money spent on Covid-19 related items and other existing service. Nevertheless, a published communication strategy would have enabled local people to see what would be involved in the process. Councillor Mallory informed that he would attend Mayor and Cabinet meeting on 10 June 2020 to express his views about the uncertainty and potential gaps in the Council’s finances that could occur if the government’s refunds were insufficient.
The meeting moved into a question and answer session. The Chief Executive and the Executive Director of Housing, Regeneration and Environment responded as follows:
1. The Council’s Recovery Group
It was confirmed that work to implement the Group was underway. The details would be submitted to Members when completed. A strand of the work required the Council to provide an interim ‘lessons-learned’ report to inform the London-wide arrangement. Internally, efforts would focus on improvement opportunities against achievements as a means of identifying what the Council would continue to do going forward.
· Actions: information about the types of community involvement and consultation processes to be employed should be communicated to the Panel. The Panel ... view the full minutes text for item 3