By far the largest proportion of extra Government grants, plus most of your regular council taxes, flow straight into the accounts of Somerset County Council. Everyone understands that the current pandemic has caused huge new administrative burdens for all of local government. And many extra costs too. But here in Somerset the efforts of SCC seem, perhaps, somewhat lacking in vision and purpose. I say this in sadness. Several County Councillors have confided their concern. I am also well aware of the lack of regular detailed information coming from County Hall. Devon County Council, by contrast, sends me complete updates – good impressive work.
With these thoughts in mind I raised the matter in Parliament during Business Questions to the Leader of the House:
The following is the material I received from Somerset five days ago. The list may read well but most of the work actually performed is done by the District Councils and the voluntary sector. A casual reader might well assume that the list represents a mammoth effort performed by SCC’s team. But it isn’t quite like that at all.
“The Somerset Coronavirus Support Helpline 0300 790 6275 has now been operational for 3 weeks and during that time has received over 1600 calls. The helpline is open 7 days a week from 8 – 6pm and runs in addition to existing Contact Centres. The types of calls being received are predominantly for requests for personal care, financial matters such as council tax relief, grants and benefits, housing issues, food supplies and emotional support for callers who are anxious or worried. The Contact Centre staff are also undertaking 1596 call outs this week to residents identified as potentially requiring support (in accordance with our Contact Strategy). So far 822 calls have been made with 456 residents responding that they are ok and that their families, friends and communities around them are helping. 248 calls failed on the first go but advisers are persevering and will make 3 attempts. The Helpline staff have also arranged call backs to speak to several residents in the next few weeks to ensure their circumstances have not changed. Call advisers have been thanked for taking the time to ring from nearly all they have contacted. Where residents are not contactable by phone, other mechanisms such as a letter and welfare visits are being explored.
Brokerage work is continuing to contact people on the shield list to check welfare and to reach out to other people at risk in Somerset via letter and outbound calls. In total over 70,000 people will be contacted in the next week in one format or another. Community Council for Somerset Agents have undertaken 32,407 community support activities since 23rd March. This includes helping people with shopping and prescriptions, through to more in-depth support with discharge from hospital or working with complex mental health and social welfare calls. 84% of those they are supporting have not been in contact before supporting the evidence on the ground that is seeing low income people start to tip into not coping, particularly towards the end of the month and where universal credit or furlough payments have been applied for but not received. We have also started to identify large families (+3 children) who are struggling and are working with Children’s Service commissioners to ensure we have robust mechanisms in place to provide support. Brokerage is linking with community food banks and community shops to improve countywide data on resilience of these important community resources.
Joint Business Intelligence Group continues to support brokerage and the Somerset Corona Virus Support Line in many ways. Particular focus this week is providing contact details to the support line and addresses for the brokerage group to send letters to that fit within either the amber or green risk group. Issue has arisen around missing phone numbers for amber and red group so are working with tele solutions to mitigate. Going forward work continues to establish a system to capture contact flows through the various channels
Distribution Hubs continue to operate well and emergency food supplies are now available for vulnerable people should they not be able to access food through existing support networks. Processes and resources have now been put in place to deliver food supplies from 4 District based hubs. To date 324 food parcels have been distributed through the Distribution Hubs.
Safer and Stronger Communities continue to promote Mindline, this was the first week that Mindline has been running 24/7 and resulted in 265 calls. People can also connect to Mindline through the Corona Virus Helpline. In the first 2 weeks of the helpline, 51 people chose the Mindline option. Calls are across the County. People that are making contact may never have been anxious before through to people who are trying to manage acute anxiety and suicidal feelings.
Domestic abuse continues to be a priority for all councils in Somerset due to its long lasting impact on the lives of survivors and their families. During the pandemic, a Somerset Domestic Abuse Task Group meets weekly, to assess the prevalence of domestic abuse in Somerset and manage the response. Communications with the public is ramping up to promote services and ways to get support. The important is message for professionals and the public cis that Somerset Integrated Domestic Abuse Service (SIDAS) continues to operate, supporting survivors, families, perpetrators and offering emergency accommodation for those who need to leave their homes as part of a national refuge network. All details of the service can be found at the dedicated website http://www.somersetsurvivors.org.uk/.
Volunteering and Voluntary Sector support continuing which is evidenced with close working with Spark Somerset to help join up the county’s approach to volunteering through https://www.corona-helpers.co.uk/ to promote volunteer opportunities and enable individuals to register if they wish to help. We would advise partners to make full use of local schemes and to encourage anyone who has signed up to NHS Responders to make themselves known to Spark Somerset who can be contacted via 01460 202970 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to the online resources for groups to help them manage COVID-19 support groups safely and effectively, Spark Somerset are delivering a free programme of webinars for Somerset voluntary and community groups. To support groups in identifying funding opportunities, Spark have launched a one-stop shop for all things funding, and completely free to access! Visit www.sparksomerset.org.uk/somerset-funding-portal to browse hundreds of funding opportunities by category. You can also join Spark Somerset’s Facebook Group for Somerset Fundraisers.
The Somerset Coronavirus Appeal established by Somerset Community Foundation to raise funds for local charitable groups that are supporting the most vulnerable people affected by the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has now raised over £500,000. Grants of up to £10,000 are available and to apply groups need to complete a short application form via: www.somersetcf.org.uk/coronavirus. For information on how to donate to the appeal visit: https://www.somersetcf.org.uk/appeal . You can now explore an interactive map which shows the grants they have awarded, the different types of projects they are funding, and gives a sense of how donations have been focused in the most affected communities. Explore the map here
Support for Community and Social Enterprise. Community Council for Somerset (CCS) in addition to delivering frontline work through the Village and Community Agent teams are supporting community and social enterprise. Their specialist Community Buildings and Village Halls advisory service has been adapted to run remotely and more information about the range of support on offer can be found here https://ccslovesomerset.org/community-buildings/ and there is specific support for halls eligible to apply to the government retails, Hospitality and Leisure grants https://acre.org.uk/cms/resources/guidance-on-eligibility-for-government-support-for-halls-2.4.20.pdf .
CCS has also contacted all 27 existing Community Shops in Somerset to ensure they have access to appropriate supply chains and brokered arrangements where they had indicated they have problems. A free webinar is being offered to Community and Social Enterprises on the 1st May as part of the Enhance programme in the Heart of the South West LEP area to support businesses with e-commerce, further information here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/free-webinar-get-your-social-enterprise-or-community-shop-trading-online-tickets-102676351732. CCS is a member of the ACRE network (Action with Communities in Rural England) and senior staff at ACRE are in discussion with DEFRA ministers regarding additional resource to help support rural communities who face additional challenges at this time.
Homelessness group reported that there are now 90 individuals in accommodation with approximately 19 known to be rough sleeping and 5 more need to confirmed. Cell have also agreed establish a sub group to consider any Covid 19 issues arising from Traveller / Nomadic communities in Somerset. Cell is also working with Somerset Partnership to help with Alcohol detoxing through a virtual call/offer, attend ‘anywhere model’ used by NHS will probably be used with a physical presence at cannon grove which others can ring to access.”