Update from Mayor John Biggs

What is Happening at the Town Hall to support the community

There is a massive amount of work happening, and my last email suggested that you could subscribe to the council’s regular email newsletter about our response to the pandemic. Please do sign up here if you haven’t already. This will give you regular updates, plus key information and contacts.

Core Services

The council cannot operate normally at a time like this. We are doing a lot of our ‘day-to-day’ things but we are also playing a key role in supporting our residents, including those affected directly by the virus but also those whose lives have been turned upside down by it, or who are vulnerable. This ranges from adult social care, emergency housing support, housing rough sleepers, making sure children who are eligible receive free school meals even though schools are shut, providing council tax relief through our council tax reduction scheme, paying business rebates and grants to affected small businesses, as well as advice and support on what help is on offer. Our support for residents with reduced incomes is ramping up, such as council tax reduction, anti-poverty work and advice services. Our core adults and children’s social services are operating too, as are a range of other ‘core’ functions, such as waste services (which have now moved back in-house).

Closed Services and re-deployment of staff

The scale of the emergency is such that some of our usual services have closed, either to protect the public and staff from the virus, such as Ideas Stores and Leisure Centres, in some cases because of significant staff sickness. Gradually, we are moving towards a position of redeploying staff into areas where they are needed more. Our staff are doing an incredible job and I thank them for everything they are doing.

Supporting the Community

Although many people are understandably anxious, many in our community have pulled together at this difficult time. We have supported a range of voluntary and third sector organisations, and a number of support networks have sprung up. We are working also with faith communities and other community groups, and have changed a number of our grant conditions to allow greater focus on COVID-19 related support and activity. I’m proud that in Tower Hamlets we had built resilience for our community by protecting frontline services despite austerity.

We already had things like crisis loans which some councils had cut, a council tax reduction scheme, council funded police officers and a Tackling Poverty Fund – which were important to me that we invested in as a Labour council. In areas like Domestic Violence where we already had refuge provision, times like this shows the value of public services and our Labour values.

Councils have shown their value along with our NHS, our carers and other public servants. We need to continue to lobby for support for residents and ensure that in the months ahead the government keeps up support for those who are most vulnerable in our society.

I’d like to make sure you have heard about the new phoneline that the council has set up to support residents that have been identified as being extremely vulnerable and at the highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19 caused by coronavirus. This number is for Tower Hamlets residents, their families or their carers to let the council know if they have any urgent requirements. The line can also be used to discuss any concerns around social isolation and help people may need with food supplies, access to medication or worries about debt, for example.

Details of the phoneline are available here . If you are one of these really vulnerable people, or you know someone who is, please take the time to read this and share it.

Lock-Down

Victoria Park was locked two weeks ago as it became very crowded and was judged to be unsafe with a high risk of the virus being transmitted by the behaviour of some people. This Easter weekend it will open again, with safeguards and signage. I apologise to those of you who have been unhappy with this position, and I know that a daily period of exercise is important for many of us. The rules will change, hopefully before too long, when it is safer to change them.

You can find out the latest about Victoria Park here.

How are your elected representatives working, and how are the politics affecting us

Politics has changed due to Coronavirus and we need strong scrutiny at a national level which the new leader and Shadow Cabinet must offer. Naturally, I want to extend my congratulations to the new Labour leadership, and welcome the end to the campaign . At the time of writing the Prime Minister was still in hospital, and we need him well, to be focused on leadership. And for the Government, which has struggled in a number of ways, to be properly held to account.

The crisis has begun to show new ways of working but is also potentially leaving us with a massive economic problem. I am concerned that this will hit many local people hard and I and others are thinking about and lobbying on some of the steps we might take. I am speaking regularly with our two MPs and with fellow London council leaders, as we have a number of shared challenges.

I am working from home some days but combining my daily exercise with attending at the Town Hall other days. This feels necessary, as democratic oversight and political leadership is necessary. At the Town Hall, a core of senior managers oversees the coordination of our crisis response. This is a similar structure across local and central government during a crisis. I meet my cabinet, and a smaller inner-core of members focused on the Virus response, regularly by video-conference. We have ramped up our comms, with regular broadcasts, information sheets, and newsletters.

We are encouraging councillors, while working safely, to support their communities through being available by phone, email or socially distant physical attendance where they feel confident to do so. There are a range of volunteering activities which, if you feel able and confident to offer yourselves for, can help keep our community together and strong.

I and my colleagues are there to support and serve the community at this difficult, and tragic, time.

Finally, as a reminder, don’t forget about the council’s dedicated webpage full of information about coronavirus (COVID-19). This is updated regularly and well worth visiting:  www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/coronavirus

Stay safe.