Members were presented with a draft strategy on stabilisation, the period between response and recovery, following the COVID 19 outbreak. The strategy set out a general framework that would support a consistent and co-ordinated approach as the Council moved towards recovery. It was noted that the draft strategy was being presented to all Scrutiny Committees for comments before presentation to Cabinet on 30th July 2020 for approval.
Officers gave a brief overview of the content of the strategy, explaining that it was split into three sections which consisted of looking back at what the Council did during the response phase of the crisis, looking forward as the UK moved out of the response phase and a road map of actions.
When looking back at what the Council did during the response phase, it was highlighted that a number of key actions were undertaken including setting up a seven day a week communication service so that guidance from UK Government, Welsh Government and Public Health Wales could be sent out as and when it was available. It was added that the Council closed down services to assist in reducing the spread of the virus and changed the way some critical services operated in order to operate safely, for example the refuse service. Officers mentioned that the first part of the strategy also set out the changes that were made in relation to leadership and governance, including the use of the Urgency Action provision set out in the Constitution, to ensure that key decisions were still being taken during the response phase.
The second part of the strategy was explained to Members, which consisted of looking forward as the UK moved out of response phase into a stabilisation period which is the stage before moving into the recovery phase. It was explained that there were three areas identified as a focus as the Council moved forward:
1. The Test, Trace and Protect Programme
2. Standing up of Council services and functions
3. Understand and respond to the effect and impact that the virus has had on citizens, organisations and businesses across Neath Port Talbot
It was added that the second part also set out the changes required to be made in terms of leadership and governance, as well as some of the risks and issues identified that will need to managed as the Council goes through the implementation of the strategy.
The third part of the strategy was presented as a road map of actions which was framed on the basis of a traffic light system, which set out how to move from a position of total lockdown, through the traffic light system, to a position where services are back up and running. It was noted that a number of services on the road map fall within the remit of the Education, Skills and Culture Scrutiny Committee.
Members asked for feedback on how the remote working with young people had been going, to which it was noted that the feedback had been positive, although the youth service had staff who were redeployed into the Safe and Well service, so the remaining staff had to manage the capacity within the youth service, therefore prioritised the most vulnerable young people. It was added that the staff completed weekly phone calls to ensure that the young people felt safe and had issues, with anxiety for example, addressed. Members were informed that a self-referral system was also set up for young people to use, so that if they felt under pressure they could self-refer into the service. It was noted that Officers were satisfied with the level of engagement, however the benefits of meeting face-to-face with young people was missing.
Officers were asked if any details regarding travel arrangements for pupils had been confirmed, in particular if pupils would need to wear face masks on school buses and how the face masks would be purchased. It was stated that Welsh Government had published operational guidance for schools reopening in September, however some areas had not been developed to date, including home to school transport so the outcome was not known as of yet. It was added that the expectation was that if face masks were to be mandated, it would only be for pupils in secondary school (Key Stages 3 and 4) and not primary school pupils. Although Officers weren’t aware of how the face masks would be purchased, it was noted that they were aware that approximately 3,000 secondary aged pupils were being transported every day, twice a day, therefore 6,000 face masks would need to be provided every day which estimated a significant cost of around £4million. The Committee was informed that once Officers were aware of the position of home to school transport in Wales, they would report back to Members.
The ‘green’ column on the
Road Map was highlighted to be blank for early years, youth service and adult
learning services, to which Members asked if this was due to no recent update
from Welsh Government. Members also mentioned that they were aware that there
had been an increase in mental health problems with young people and asked were
there any considerations going forward to tackle these issues before schools
opened in September.
Officers provided an update on the service areas mentioned, including the community learning services who were currently operating via Microsoft Teams and through other technological provisions, and due to the two meter social distancing measures in place, face to face delivery wasn’t likely to be re-introduced any time soon.
In terms on child care providers, it was noted that there were currently 79 out of 129 providers operating in Neath Port Talbot (around 61%) but the need to ensure that all 129 providers are brought back to serve the communities where they operate from was highlighted.
In relation to funding, it was stated that the Council had two significant funding streams:
1. Summer support for vulnerable learners, which involves working with Social Services, schools and other agencies such as the police and health, to identify the most vulnerable leaners. It was confirmed that £75,000 has been allocated to provide respite and other similar support over the summer.
2. Summer enrichment activities which will take the place of SHEP, as due to the current restrictions it would be difficult to run such an extensive programme. Instead, the summer enrichment activities will be provided from six of the Councils facilities over a fortnight and will be targeted at schools with a Free School Meal (FSM) profile of over 17%. It was confirmed that around £46,000 had been allocated to provide the activities.
Members noted that remote emotional health and wellbeing support for children was being provided and would continue over the summer for those who need it. It was added that the school based counselling service was still active, but was also being delivered remotely.