Brief from the Chief: COVID-19 Update - 21 April
Tue, 21 Apr 2020

Dear colleagues,

Today the council held its first ever "remote" Cabinet meeting - by teleconference - so that important business and decisions can continue despite the restraints of the Government's COVID-19 measures.

As well as Cabinet members who took part in the telephone meeting, other ward councillors as well as members of the public and the press were also able to dial in to the conference call and listen to proceedings.

It's the same system we have used to keep the planning committees in operation and it enables us to keep the democratic and decision-making process going to support council work and our local communities.

Today's Cabinet meeting included a revenue and capital budget monitoring report for the 2019-20 financial year.

Since the previous monitoring report, the council has been impacted by two major emergency events. The first was the flooding at Snaith, Gowdall, East Cowick and West Cowick in late February and early March and the second has been the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

You won't be surprised to read that the COVID-19 pandemic has had the most significant impact of the two, in financial terms.

The majority of the cost and income pressures will fall in the 2020-21 financial year and, because of the provision of additional Government funding to help manage the crisis, it is not expected to increase the projected overspend position for 2019-20.

However, the financial impact for 2020-21 could be huge.

The scale is difficult to predict at this stage, as the time period for the COVID-19 restrictions on households and businesses remains uncertain, but what is certain is that the council's response to the national emergency will continue while the crisis prevails and this will continue to bring additional costs.

The longer-term impact on society is another unknown but it is clear that the economy, employment, household budgets and people's health and wellbeing are all going to be major concerns and that people's lives and businesses' livelihoods are going to be affected for a long time to come.

The council has been playing a key role in supporting residents, businesses and communities - as well as you, our staff - through this crisis and that role will continue as and when the restrictions are lifted and the global battle against COVID-19 has been won.

On Saturday, Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced £1.6billion of new funding for local government to help deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new funding is in addition to the initial £1.6billion announced for local government last month and we hope to receive more information later this week from the Ministry about how the money will be allocated to individual authorities and when we will receive it.

The funding is very welcome because the challenges all councils face are significant and wide-ranging as we try to keep essential services operating in the face of huge pressures and reduced income.

Mr Jenrick has praised councils' magnificent efforts in supporting communities through this unprecedented crisis and has thanked us for our continued efforts, describing local government as the "unsung heroes" of the coronavirus response.

These are, indeed, unprecedented times - for all of us at East Riding of Yorkshire Council and all of our residents and businesses in the East Riding, for all councils, all governments and all nations.

As such, we will continue to lobby Government about the financial strain the crisis is putting on local government and we will continue to keep providing information and insights about the work we are doing and the impact on our financial position so that our vital support of local communities is reflected in the resources which the Secretary of State makes available to us and all other councils.

The closure of facilities and venues including tourism sites and leisure centres, combined with the suspension of car parking charges, has resulted in about £500,000 in lost income for the council and our increased costs of about £300,000 include upgrading the ICT network capacity to enable thousands of staff to work from home at the end of the last financial year.

Looking forward the council is currently facing a £4million-a-month deficit in 2020-21 because of additional costs and lost revenue caused by the impacts of COVID-19 and the Government's measures to reduce its spread.

If our share of the Government relief funding falls short of our £4million-a-month budget gap, the council will have to utilise reserves and change our future spending plans, so we wait with keen anticipation to find out what our allocation from the £1.6 billion pot will be.

In the meantime, and as agreed at Cabinet today, we will continue to focus resource on where it is needed most to support residents and businesses through this continuing challenge and keep our revenue and capital budget under review.

The council's Corporate and Senior Management Teams have also started to consider the council's strategic and operational recovery plans for how to return to "normal" business after the crisis is over and to consider any lessons learned from how we have responded and from the ways we have been working.

The planning will consider the organisation's recovery and future, including how we further embrace digital opportunities, the council's financial position, the East Riding's economy, our communities, in terms of their resilience and other factors, and our frontline services and the people they support.

This planning will cover the whole council and myself, directors and heads of service appreciate that you all have an important role to play in that and in helping to not only shape the recovery process but the council's and East Riding's future.

It is incredible to think back just two months to February, when we were dealing with the prolonged effects of severe flooding in the Snaith area, and that this emergency was immediately followed by the arrival of COVID-19 in the UK and its escalation into a global pandemic - and all that has happened since.

It seems such a long time ago because of the volume and scale of the issues which we have all been dealing with.

Yet we as an organisation and you as a workforce have not only coped with all the challenges these emergencies have presented but have risen to the challenges and have been absolutely magnificent in our collective response. The steps forward that we have made in the last few weeks in remote working and the use of digital have been impressive.

We will need to continue that superb response through the weeks and months to come.

There are going to be new issues and fresh pressures and we need to continue to be resilient, flexible, determined and dedicated to the tasks in hand.

There will continue to be personal and professional pressures and it will continue to be very important that we all look after our mental and physical health.

On that topic, your suggestions to support our own, our colleagues' and our loved ones' health keep coming in, so thank you very much for those.

I'm delighted to say that animal health officer Antonia Holtby's idea of a virtual tea party is happening at 3pm this Thursday, courtesy of our social media team.

We only have to be socially distant in the physical sense - and there's nothing like a good old cuppa to keep up the spirits - so, if you want to join in an East Riding-wide communi-tea break, please join Tea at Three this Thursday on the council's Facebook page.

See https://www.facebook.com/events/1314913448898185/ for more details.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has supported the council's communications campaign based on staff selfies and selfie videos. The second video is due to be launched on social media this week and I know that the selfie images we have used on social media so far have gone down well.

Please keep them coming so that the whole East Riding - and colleagues - can see the many faces of the council as we do our best to keep supporting our communities through this national emergency.

Thank you. #TogetherEastRiding


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