Please read the following email from Wiltshire Cllr Philip Whitehead, which contains information on back to school, Covid-19 updates, public transport changes, fines for mass gatherings, and other news.
Please find below the latest update on COVID-19 and other council matters:
Update on COVID-19 in the Swindon Borough Council authority area
You may be aware that last week (28 August) the Swindon Borough Council authority area was been added to the Government’s COVID-19 ‘area for enhanced support’.
Swindon will have prioritised access to increased national support and resources as needed to assist local action. There are no new requirements, restrictions or actions being imposed on Swindon.
We are working closely with colleagues at Swindon Borough Council to support them and will share any messages with yourselves, communities and businesses that will help improve their situation.
The infection rate in Wiltshire remains low, but we cannot be complacent and it’s important that everyone continues with their great efforts so far to follow social distancing measures and maintain good hand hygiene.
The advice remains the same:
· Wash hands – keep washing your hands regularly
· Cover face – wear a face covering over your nose and mouth in enclosed spaces
· Make space – stay at least a metre away from people not in your household
Anyone who is experiencing a new continuous cough or a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell, should isolate and get tested immediately, no matter how slight the symptoms.
*As a reminder, the isolation period is now 10 days. Those living in households should self-isolate for 14 days if they or any members of their household receive a positive test. Staying at home means not going out for any reason, including to work, or to the shops.
Wiltshire Council financial report
Wiltshire Council’s latest financial report shows that there are still challenges ahead, but the forecast overspend now sits at around £5.9m – down considerably from previous estimates.
This is a significant improvement on the forecasts previously reported. At the council’s Cabinet meeting in May an overspend range of between £18m to £51m was estimated, this was consolidated to £50m in June and then reduced to £36m in the first overall budget monitor reported to Cabinet in July.
This is due to a number of factors, including the council reacting quickly to the ever-changing situation, and the Government providing a number of financial packages to offset some of the costs incurred and lost income as a result of COVID-19, which local authorities up and down the country have had to deal with.
The council has received £29m from Government to compensate for some of the pressures so far. In addition, the Government previously announced an income loss scheme to further support councils. Without having all the details on what the allocation will be and how it will be distributed, Wiltshire Council has made a prudent estimate that this could bring in an additional £6m.
Additional money was also provided to the council to administrate and allocate for specific purposes – such as business grants and rate reliefs, hardship funding, bus subsidy, infection control fund and test and trace.
Due to the unprecedented nature of the issues, it is not an exaggeration to say the financial situation changes on a week-to-week, and even a day-to-day basis. For instance, forecast costs associated with Home to School Transport alone will be reducing by over £6m from the May forecast due to schools reopening and the social distancing guidance on transport from September.
Some of the ongoing challenges include some residents still struggling to pay their council tax having been impacted by the crisis. People at 5,600 households chose the option offered by the council to defer paying council tax for two months, but since then there has also been an increase of requests to make further payment amendments. If anyone has any concerns about their ability to pay council tax they are encouraged to speak to the council’s friendly team on 0300 456 0119* to talk these through.
The council quickly acted to put measures in place to mitigate the challenges, including making changes to its capital programme, introducing tight controls on spending and an external recruitment freeze, while still continuing to provide quality services to residents. These measures, coupled with the Government funding, means the council’s General Fund reserve is no longer forecast to be exhausted.
While this is an improving picture and we expect to deliver a balanced budget for this financial year, challenges remain and will do so for the foreseeable future.
The council will continue to provide frequent full transparency on the financial challenges we face as a result of COVID-19, and our plans to meet these head on.
This latest update was part of the council’s 2020/21 budget monitoring report which was recently presented at the council’s cabinet meeting. The full report can be found on the Wiltshire Council website here.
Business grants funding
The window to apply for the £10,000 Small Business Grant, the £10,000 or £25,000 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant and the local Discretionary Grant of up to £7,000 has now closed.
We are still working our way through those applications received and will process these as soon as possible. We have until the end of September 2020 to make grant payments to successful applications, at which time any unspent grant has to be returned to Central Government.
Overall we received 9,091 applications for Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants from 9,728 eligible businesses in Wiltshire and have paid out grants to 7,571 businesses totalling over £90 million. So far we have rejected 1,071 applications as ineligible.
Under the Discretionary Grants scheme, we have received a total of 916 applications and have so far paid 566 applicants, a total of £3.79 million.
Changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
From 1 September 2020, employers need to fund 10% of furloughed employees’ usual wages for the hours they do not work, as well as continuing to pay their National Insurance (NI) and pension contributions.
This will increase to 20% of furloughed employees’ usual wages from October.
Further information and guidance on the Government Job Retention Scheme can be found here
Back to school advice
Schools are welcoming pupils back to school at the beginning of the new academic year, and where possible young people are being encouraged to use the green alternatives to arrive at the school gates, such as walking, cycling or scooting if they live a short distance (two miles or less) from their school.
For those car sharing with someone outside of their support bubble or family, they are being advised they should share with the same people each time, open the windows for ventilation and wear a face covering unless they are under 11 or they are exempt.
Pupils who use public transport and are aged over 11 are being reminded to wear a face covering while travelling. Where needed, Wiltshire Council is adding on additional buses to ensure social distancing can be maintained. They will be advising pupils via schools of these plans.
It is recognised that social distancing can be difficult to maintain on dedicated school transport. Therefore, alongside other local authorities, we are asking pupils who use dedicated home to school transport such as a school bus, minibus or taxi arranged by Wiltshire Council, that where they can, they should wear a face covering if they are over 11 years old. There is no requirement for primary aged pupils or children who are exempt to wear one, although it is strongly recommended.
Other bus users are also being asked to consider taking their bus journey after 9am to help maintain the social distancing on the public buses.
The council has put guidance on our website for those pupils using dedicated school buses and for those who use public transport. It is difficult to predict how many school pupils will use public transport at this stage but the council has worked hard to ensure there is enough transportation available and it will be monitored as the days go forward.
Students using public transport, should continue to follow government guidelines to ensure they can travel safely on the network.
· Plan their journey in advance
· Allow more time to get to their school or college.
· Wear a face covering for the entirety of their journey if they are over 11 years old and are not exempt, wash or sanitise their hands regularly and social distance where possible.
All pupils who are entitled to bus passes for dedicated school transport should have now received them. If they haven’t arrived parents/carers are asked to email:
Special schools project in north Wiltshire takes major step forward
Pupils with special educational needs and or disabilities in North Wiltshire will be part of a new school when they take up their places in class this week.
From 1 September a new single school will operate across the three sites of Larkrise, Rowdeford and St. Nicholas, using the working name of North Wiltshire School.
Sean McKeown has been appointed as interim executive head and will have a key role supporting the new school in its transformation. The rest of the senior leadership team within all three sites will remain the same, and the current headteachers will continue to be responsible for the day-to-day running of their school sites.
Mr McKeown, who has been a registered Ofsted inspector for five years and has a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and Innovation, will be working closely with the Full Governing Board to lead the new school in an exciting period of development. He will be working closely with existing staff, including the senior leadership teams of the three sites, to ensure this is a joint effort across all three sites.
Earlier this summer it was announced contractors Willmott Dixon will oversee the work to invest £33m to build the school and provide up to 400 places for SEND pupils aged from early years to post-16 on the Rowdeford site. Main construction works are expected to start in Summer 2021 and be complete for Sept 2023.
The involvement of children from all three sites and the wider school community was included in the contract as their views are important to how the project will go forward.
Public transport update
Changes to concessionary bus fares
The council will be reintroducing the normal time restrictions for using concessionary bus fares from 1 September.
The council took the decision to relax its Concessionary Fare Scheme times in March so that concessionary bus pass holders were able to make essential journeys to shops and health appointments, before 9.30am during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to ensure there is enough capacity on the public transport network at peak times for commuters and the return of school and college students, the time restriction has been reintroduced so that transport and social distancing can be managed effectively.
This means Wiltshire falls into line with the rest of the local authorities in the country in reintroducing allotted times for the scheme.
Concessionary bus pass holders can now only use their bus passes from 9:30am on weekdays, but can continue to use them at any time at weekends.
Bus operators have been notified of this change, and bus passes will not be accepted on ticket machines before 09:30hrs, unless travelling on an infrequent exempted route.
Wiltshire Council website
The council launched its new website last week.
The new website is aligned to the GOV.UK format to improve the customer experience and provides improved security, accessibility and reliability making it easier for our residents to find the information they need.
We are currently aware of some issues with areas of the site including planning – our IT team are working to resolve these as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience and apologies for the inconvenience.
Waste and recycling update
Wiltshire Council is at the start of a programme to bring more services online, to make it simpler, quicker and easier for residents to transact with the council securely across a range of services.
The first step is creating a new unique ‘Citizen ID’ online account and moving some of our existing services over.
If residents set up a waste account to manage requests like HRC bookings and reporting a missed bin before 4 September 2020, they will need to reset their password.
Residents can do this by clicking this ‘Forgot your password?’ link and follow the on-screen instructions.
Changes to Bradford on Avon Town Council social distancing scheme
Following feedback from residents and businesses and monitoring of traffic flows, Wiltshire Council and Bradford on Avon Town Council have agreed to make changes to the town’s social distancing scheme.
The traffic lights on the Town Bridge, which were implemented to allow pedestrians to safely social distance while walking across the bridge, have been removed this week to allow traffic to travel across the bridge in both directions. Pedestrians can follow the directional signage to cross the Town Bridge safely, and there is also an alternative route for pedestrians across the river via McKeever Bridge.
The rest of the temporary one-way system in the town will remain in place for the life of the scheme, which is expected to last at least six months, and potentially up to 18 months. Semi-permanent bollards on Market Street and Silver Street will be installed this week to make improvements to the one way-system and additional space for pedestrians has been provided to help shoppers, residents and visitors to socially distance.
Wiltshire Council and Bradford on Avon Town Council will continue to monitor and review the scheme to establish what is required to meet the needs of pedestrians and motorists.
Major planning framework for Salisbury gets seal of approval
The Salisbury Central Area Framework (CAF), a major planning document which will help shape the future of Salisbury city centre, was unanimously endorsed by the Strategic Planning Committee at their meeting on 26 August 2020.
This was the final stage in the development of the CAF which over the last couple of years has involved significant engagement with a wide range of stakeholders and two public consultations on the proposals.
The endorsed framework reflects the comments received from the public consultations held last summer and in January/February this year and provides a cohesive vision which will guide future developments and initiatives in the city centre.
The CAF creates an exciting and challenging strategy to deliver a more vibrant, attractive and sustainable Salisbury. It provides an ambitious set of recommendations which seek to protect the environment, reduce the likelihood of flooding, and reduce motor vehicle movements through the city while ensuring the city remains accessible to all.
Wiltshire Council and its partners have commenced initial work on a number of projects to deliver the objectives of the CAF and ensure the city recovers from the impacts of the nerve agent incidents of 2018, COVID-19 and adapts to the economic opportunities and challenges which face the city.
Once funding has been secured we will involve local people again, so they can help shape the various projects moving forward.
The Committee report, CAF (in full and in summary) plus the reports from the two public consultations can be viewed here (agenda item 7).
New measures in place to tackle mass gatherings
From Friday, 28 August, tougher measures came into force to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
People facilitating or organising illegal raves, unlicensed music events or any other unlawful gathering of 30 people or more may face a £10,000 fine.
Fines of £100 can continue to be issued to those who participate in illegal gatherings and those who have already received a fine will see the amount doubled on each offence, up to a maximum of £3,200.
In light of these new measures coming into force the council is urging residents to continue to practice social distancing and to ensure they don’t fall foul of the new measures.
The majority of people in Wiltshire have done brilliantly to stick to the guidance and keep themselves and each other safe during this time to keep COVID-19 under control in Wiltshire. Mass gatherings threaten to undermine so many people’s great efforts over the past five months so these new measures send out a clear message they are not acceptable at the moment.
If anyone has information about a large gathering or event, they are asked to call Wiltshire Police on 101.
Health and wellbeing
Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG
A new campaign has been launched by Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG to encourage people to act early when it comes to their health and wellbeing.
A drop in the number of people across Wiltshire, Swindon and B&NES seeking help from their GP for symptoms that could be cancer has prompted a warning that not getting checked could lead to serious consequences.
The Don’t Wait and Worry Campaign, which will be promoted through a series of regular radio adverts, also reinforces the message that the NHS, regardless of COVID-19, is always ready to offer care, help and support to those who need it.
Additionally, the campaign shines a light on mental health, with one of its key aims being to reassure people that it is perfectly normal to feel isolated, run down and anxious, and to seek help early on.
Further details of the Don’t wait and Worry campaign can be found here.
Salisbury Hospital – getting back to normal
Salisbury District Hospital is working to get back to providing its regular services following the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some non-emergency services have restarted and clinicians are reviewing all waiting lists carefully to prioritise patients dependent on the state of their health. This means that those with the greatest need will be seen first.
Anyone who was on a waiting list before the outbreak will still be on the waiting list unless they have been contacted to advise differently. However, it is likely that waiting times will be longer than would normally be expected.
Many services are now open in hospital and alternative ways to see patients have been introduced, including video and telephone consultations where it is clinically appropriate to do so. By working in these new ways it is also helping staff to work through waiting lists as quickly as possible.
Wiltshire Alzheimer’s Support
The return of its wide range of groups including Movement for the Mind, gardening and memory cafes will be gradual and controlled, with the popular art sessions in Lyneham being the first to welcome back members on September 14th.
The charity began reopening its day clubs at the end of July, but many of its community groups were held in village halls and could only be restarted once the venues’ managing committees had put their reopening plans in place. As with its day clubs, Alzheimer’s Support has carried out a thorough risk assessment and strict guidelines set by Public Health England will be followed to ensure everyone stays safe.
The groups are currently open only to existing members. Anyone wishing to join should contact the charity’s Devizes office on 01380 739055.
Community First – Link Scheme recruitment campaign
A campaign has been launched to appeal for new volunteers to support local Link Schemes in Wiltshire.
Link Schemes are voluntary groups which offer transport and ‘good neighbour’ services to local people who are in need, perhaps because they are elderly, disabled, isolated and lonely, single parents, or perhaps temporarily in need because of illness.
These essential services provide a safety net for those unable to access services in other ways. Link Schemes aim to complement other services, statutory and voluntary. They operate as small, independent charitable organisations and all volunteers use their own private vehicles (insurance and DBS checks are carried out and mileage expenses covered).
To demonstrate the level of support the schemes offer, last year they made 31,351 health related journeys and completed 48,027 ‘good neighbour’ tasks, for example collecting prescriptions and shopping.
Due to COVID-19, Wiltshire Link Schemes have found themselves suffering from a large number of volunteers being unable to drive because of age and or vulnerability.
Two campaign posters are attached to this briefing and we’d be grateful if you could share these with your communities.
Anyone who is interested in helping out can contact Community First on 01380 722 241 or send an email to email@example.com to request more details.
May I wish you an enjoyable weekend.
Cllr Philip Whitehead