Cabinet Portfolio: - Leader
Strategic Directorate: - Assistant Chief Executive
Consideration was given to a report that was submitted for pre-decision scrutiny ahead of the Cabinet meeting scheduled for 25 January 2021 that provided an update on how the Council was currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and that also outlined proposals to introduce a local self-isolation support payment scheme. The Leader of the Council, the Chief Executive, the Assistant Chief Executive, the Strategic Director – Adult Care, Housing and Public Health and the Director of Public Health attended the meeting to present the report.
The Leader noted that in addition to the national scheme of payments designed to support individuals who were required to self-isolate as a result of a positive diagnosis or from having been in close contact with an individual that had tested positive, the Council had been administering a scheme of discretionary payments for individuals who would as a result of self-isolating experience financial hardship but who were not in receipt of a qualifying benefit.
The Leader advised that for the discretionary payments scheme the Government would not be providing any additional funding once the funding that had already been allocated had been used. As such each local authority would be required to manage their allocation of funding by either making smaller payments, stopping payments once the fund had been exhausted or looking to fund discretionary payments through another route. It was noted that discretionary payments fund at Rotherham was expected to have been fully utilised during January 2021. The Leader advised that in order to address the likely shortfall on the discretionary payments scheme that it was being proposed that an additional discretionary payments fund be established that was funded with a sum of up to £100,000 to come from the Council’s allocation of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF), £2.123m.
In addition to the additional funding being used to enable discretionary payments to continue to be made the Leader advised that the it was proposed that a local self-isolation payments scheme be established to further support the Contain Strategy by further supporting and encouraging self-isolation where required. The Leader advised that the proposed local scheme would broadly follow the same principles of the Government’s self-isolation support payment scheme, but that entitlement would not be based on financial hardship, The Leader advised that the only requirement to be able access the scheme would be for individuals to be able to provide evidence of loss of income due to having had to self-isolate. The Leader stated that the aim of the scheme would be to encourage and incentivise individuals to self-isolate if they were required to do so. It was noted that the payments of £250 and would be funded from the COMF, with a maximum funding allocation of £100,000.
The report provided an update that was summarised by the Chief Executive and the Assistant Chief Executive on key activities surrounding the pandemic including support for businesses, community testing, enforcement activity, the Community Hub and support for vulnerable residents and the roll out of the vaccination programme in Rotherham. The Director of Public Health provided information on the latest case figures surrounding the pandemic in Rotherham.
The Chair asked for further information on the work that had been done with supermarkets on the Government direction regarding checks on their compliance with measures to ensure that supermarkets were as safe an environment as was possible. The Chief Executive advised that all large supermarkets were being visited to check compliance with safety procedures, with activity being targeted at shops where reports of non-compliance had been received. Members asked if the smaller local supermarkets would be visited to ensure that they were operating safely. The Assistant Chief Executive advised that the directive from Government had been to focus on large stores but assured members that if reports of non-compliance were received regarding smaller stores then these would be investigated.
Members welcomed the roll out of the vaccine programme across the Borough and noted the reports of positive experiences of the programme that they had received from residents.
Members noted concerns about the temporary closure of the community testing facility at Forge Island due to concerns regarding flooding in the area. The Director of Public Health advised members that the testing site would reopen in the coming week and assured members that other testing sites across the Borough had more than enough capacity to take up the demand for testing that had been displaced from the Forge Island testing site.
Members noted their support for the additional local scheme of discretionary payments to help people self-isolate but expressed concern about reports about the high number of applications for discretionary support nationally being refused and asked whether this was the case in Rotherham. The Leader advised that unfortunately that this was the case in Rotherham, as while the scheme was administered locally, the rules were set nationally. The Leader assured members that as the proposed local support scheme would have different eligibility criteria to the other self-isolation support schemes it would enable more residents to be able to access the financial support that they needed.
Members asked for further information on the latest situation regarding the payment of financial support for businesses. The Head of Corporate Finance who was in attendance meeting provided further information on the payment of financial support and assured members that all payments were being made promptly and to all those businesses who were entitled to support.
Members asked about how the clinically extremely vulnerable residents who were accessing support from the Community Hub were being supported if they advised that they were experiencing financial difficulties. Members also asked how many clinically extremely vulnerable residents there were in the Borough. The Chief Executive advised that the Council’s advocacy and other support services could assist with advice for residents who were experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic. The Leader noted that many of the financial concerns that people had were surrounding Council Tax and advised that options for support with or for the deferment of Council Tax payments were available. The Director of Public Health advised that information on the number of clinically extremely vulnerable residents in the Borough would be circulated to members.
Members asked if there were any expectations of further financial support being received from the Government to support increased costs related to the pandemic. The Strategic Director – Finance and Corporate Services who was in attendance at the meeting advised that there was no expectation of any further additional funding being received.
The Chair thanked the Leader of the Council, the Chief Executive, the Assistant Chief Executive, the Strategic Director – Adult Care, Housing and Public Health and the Director of Public Health for attending the meeting and answering members’ questions.
That Cabinet be advised that the recommendations be supported.