Agenda item

Covid Recovery Fund

Cabinet Portfolio: - Leader


Strategic Directorate: Finance and Customer Services


Consideration was given to a report that was submitted for pre-decision scrutiny ahead of the Cabinet Meeting to be held on 28 March 2022. The Cabinet agreed on 19 July 2021, to earmark £2m for a Covid Recovery Fund from the underspend position, with authority delegated to the Cabinet for its use. The Budget and Council Tax Report 2022/23, approved at Council on 2 March 2022, set out the first use of the Covid Recovery Fund, allocating £371k of the fund towards three one-off revenue budget investments for 2022/23, these were:


·       Women’s Euro 2022

·       Additional Customer Call Handling

·       Customer and Digital Developments


The report set out further proposals for use of the Covid Recovery Fund across the following areas:


·       £500k Cash grant scheme to provide support for households with the rising cost of energy bills.

·       £300k additional funding to top up the Councils Discretionary Housing Payments fund. £100k to support cultural recovery events and opportunities that will enable people to reconnect.

·       £50k to facilitate the administration of these proposals.


The remaining funding of £679k was to be retained within the Covid Recovery Fund so that further support could be targeted at issues that arise as the course of the borough’s recovery from Covid continued.


The Leader of the Council, Cllr Chris Read, introduced the item. It was recognised that many residents faced acute financial pressures which had emerged post-pandemic, including rising inflation and energy prices. It was outlined that £500k would be set aside to help those most in need, identifying that approximately 2000 households would be eligible for a one-off payment of £250 to assist with energy bills. Financial advice would also sit alongside this scheme, and it was anticipated that most of those eligible for payment would already be working with advice services.


A further £300k had been allocated to Discretionary Housing Payments, which provided financial support to those household in private or social housing who required assistance to pay their rent. It was anticipated that more people may face increasing financial difficulties in rented accommodation and the additional funds gave further resilience to address issues as they arose.


An additional top-up of £100k had been allocated to support events, recognising the importance of encouraging people to socialise and interact in their communities post-pandemic. It was reported anecdotally that levels of participation had fallen, particularly for older people. There were concerns that lower levels of engagement may mean that more vulnerable people were isolated with consequent impacts on health and well-being. The additional funds gave greater capacity to support future events and community engagement, including those organised to celebrate the forthcoming Jubilee.


The remaining £679k  would be held to support any future covid-recovery issues and would be subject to on-going monitoring to ensure a flexible response should further cost of living pressures arise.


In respect of assistance with energy costs, it was asked if support would be rolled out during winter months when energy use and bills would be greater. It was outlined that the criteria would focus on those in acute crisis. It was anticipated that the majority of those eligible would be referred by advice services and/or apply online. This process would be “light touch”, but evidence of financial hardship would need to be provided. The scheme would be subject to review however, it was important to move swiftly to respond to imminent price rises in April.


Details were asked of the application process and if support would be given to those who were unable to apply online. It was confirmed that face-to-face and telephone support would be available as well as publicising via voluntary and community sector channels.


Clarification was sought on the eligibility criteria and if homeowners or people who may not claim benefits could apply for assistance as inflation, rising interest rates and energy costs would also have an impact on their living standards. It was explained that assistance with energy costs would be available to eligible households regardless of tenure, however discretionary housing payments were only payable to those in rented accommodation. The wider impact on households, including owner-occupiers would be monitored and proposals brought back if appropriate.


The committee welcomed the proposals outlined in the report. It was explained that the fund was not time limited and was to be used at the discretion of the Council to support the borough’s post-covid recovery.


Further details were asked about events to celebrate the Jubilee. It was outlined that there would be a central event arranged in Clifton Park with small-scale events being organised in parishes and neighbourhood. Clarification was sought on the application process for small grants and assurance was given that this would be circulated at the earliest opportunity.


Resolved: -


1)             That Cabinet be advised that the recommendations be supported.


2)             That guidance is issued as soon as is practicable on the application process for community events.

Supporting documents: