Our COVID-19 response
After the Government announced £170 million in funding would be available for local authorities through its COVID-19 Winter Grant Scheme, the Council received £925,000 to support residents with food, fuel utility bill and emergency payments.
In July 2020 Community Interest Company’s Edsential's local partnership (Cheshire West and Chester Council, The Welcome Network and Cheshire West Voluntary Action) received £1.8m grant to provide funding for over 30 community, voluntary and faith sector organisations, along with schools. They supported over 3,800 children across west Cheshire, delivering healthy food and family cooking sessions, online physical activities and diverse art, craft, play and gardening sessions. Holiday Hunger funding from The Welcome Network supported the delivery of 1,300 meals to families across the borough by offering £1,000 to community food groups across Cheshire West and Chester to provide food to families for the holidays, from October 2020 to Easter 2021.
Deployment of grants and advice to support business and the High St (COVID-19)
In June 2020, the Council launched a Business Recovery Support Programme to support businesses to develop and grow during these challenging times. Vital financial support was provided to businesses quickly to help get them through an incredibly difficult time, particularly those within the hospitality sector. Our Business Growth team gave businesses in all sectors advice and guidance to navigate through the restrictions
6,000 businesses across west Cheshire were eligible for a payment of either £10,000 or £25,000 as part of a range of support to help them. Transactional Services and Finance teams have played a crucial role administering this support. Grant payments totalling £8.5 million were paid to local business over one weekend in April alone. Almost £117m was paid directly to thousands of local businesses and grant payments are continuing in the new financial year with the Restart Grant programme.
Guidance has been provided in terms of navigating through the various restrictions and, as those restrictions begin to ease, that much-needed support will continue to be provided.
Support to families during lockdown
As with so many of our teams, staff across Early Help and Prevention, Children’s Social Care and Education and Inclusion embraced the challenge of finding new ways to deliver a wide range of vital front-line services during lockdown.
Fostering, Leaving Care, Youth Services and others provided Covid-guidance packs for families and activity packs for children and young people. One-to-one support was provided to those on the edge of family or placement breakdown.
Disabled Children’s Services provided flexible outreach to the families who needed support during the pandemic, in place of the usual centre-based provision. A consistent approach to support was maintained, with links promoted between the work of our teams across Early Help and Social Care, and the work taking place in schools. Throughout the pandemic national guidance was regularly shared with staff, partners, schools and families on a including workforce safety, care planning and home visits - to ensure that all face-to-face contact was carried out as safely as possible.
3,436 digital devices were ordered by local schools from the Governments Get Help with Technology programme.
The Council has supported 3,724 Children in Need from 1 April 2020 to 31 January 2021, 592 of these children have had or are in care. There were 485 children in care at 31 January 2021.
Support for Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people (shielding)
During the pandemic we supported the 21,649 Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) people in our borough, setting up an entirely new public service urgently from scratch. Our virtual support hub offered support with access to food and essential supplies, medical supplies, social support and financial assistance throughout the periods that CEV people were asked to shield.
Support to care providers (COVID-19)
In May 2020, the Council received over £4million of the Government’s £600million infection control fund. 75 per cent was passed to care homes within the borough to be used to implement infection control measures. The remaining 25 per cent was used to offer a grant to care at home, supported living and extra-care providers.
We provided 329,000 items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to care home across the borough during the pandemic.
Vaccination programme (COVID-19)
The roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines in Cheshire West and Chester began in December with the Countess of Chester hospital, and moved to Primary Care Network sites and other vaccination sites across the borough. This work took place through Cheshire Integrated Care Partnership.
Residents in care homes and frontline health and social care staff were prioritised by the end of January 2021, with 85% or care home residents taking up the offer of a vaccine. The first NHS large-scale COVID-19 mass vaccination centre in the borough opened at Chester Racecourse in mid-February.
Cheshire West and Chester has now passed a major landmark, with nearly 180,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine having been administered which represents 60% of the population, and nearly 22,000 people receiving their second dose of the vaccine (May 2021).
Testing programme (COVID-19)
We led the localised rollout of the national Test and Trace programme, as one of eleven beacon councils in England. Its success was the result of a strong partnership approach between the Council, one of our Council Companies (Qwest) and the NHS, and was an approach later adopted by local authorities across the country. It has also resulted in us becoming an integral member of the Government’s Local Outbreak Plan Advisory Board, a key forum for council leaders and ministers to support the development of local testing, tracing and outbreak control systems.
From September 2020, our Public Health team also facilitated the rollout of Government-run local testing sites (for people with and without symptoms) as well as setting up and running Council-led testing sites across the borough. Later in 2021, these sites also became collection points for home test kits.
In November 2020, we launched a local contact tracing partnership between NHS Test and Trace and our Council company, Qwest. The partnership means the Council will contact any borough residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 which the national NHS Test and Trace service has not been able to contact within 24 hours.
Community response fund and crowdfunding (COVID-19)
Our Community Response Fund distributed £500,000 in grants to local community initiatives. After the Council originally set up the fund with a pot of £250,000, it was matched by a donation from the Westminster Foundation. 120 different community initiatives across the borough were supported through the Community Response Fund.
A crowdfunding page was set up by the Council on the online platform Spacehive before Christmas 2020 to follow on from the Community Response Fund, raising nearly £83,000 in total to provide further funding opportunities. The Council started the crowdfunding effort with a £50,000 donation and the Westminster Foundation added a further £25,000. Other local funders, councillors, businesses and residents got behind the crowdfunding effort and most funding has now been distributed to community initiatives. We’re developing the Spacehive platform further so community initiatives can add their own projects to the platform and crowdfund for them.
Supporting volunteering during pandemic and Community Champions (COVID 19)
We inspired around 2,300 local people to play their part and sign up to volunteer across the borough - and working with our Voluntary and Community Service partners, helped those people to deliver vital, often life-saving, support where it was needed the most. A network of nearly 400 Community Champions was established, providing a crucial information and advocacy link with vulnerable and isolated residents, and a clear route for local issues and concerns to be fed back to us.
Budgeting through the pandemic
We have successfully managed an incredibly difficult budget challenge in 2020/21, despite £47m of additional COVID-19 -related costs and set a balanced budget for 2021/22 which includes targeted investments to further progress our priorities.
The Council continues to face unprecedented pressure on its finances, including a funding gap of £83.4m over the next four years to 2025. We have set a budget to protect vital services for children and vulnerable people and support the borough’s economic recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic, including putting aside £9.7m to respond to the pressures of COVID-19. We will invest more than £12m extra in adult services over 2021/2022.
The budget for 2021/22 will also continue to support the regeneration of our city and town centres, respond to the challenges of climate change and provide support for people living in poverty in the borough. At the same time, the Council will invest an extra £39.8m in services which includes tackling the Climate and Poverty Emergencies as well as an investment of £0.450m in mental health.
The Council has also made an extra £250,000 available to support communities affected by the recent flooding in the borough.
We continued to provide essential support to our local population throughout the year, including shielding residents; wide-ranging PPE, continuity and financial support for our care homes; £70m funds distributed to 7,500 local businesses; and a range of interventions for vulnerable children and adults. These and ongoing universal services were maintained with 70 per cent of our staff enabled to work from home - a tenfold increase on the previous year - and our entire workforce upgraded to Windows 10.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a shift in the way our residents contacted us. 55.55 per cent of contact was through digital channels. This was a marked increase on 38 per cent in 2010-20.