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Council looks ahead to recovery from pandemic

By Kerry Ashdown | Stafford | Coronavirus | Published:

Money saving and more online transactions are among the ways a council is preparing to recover from the coronavirus pandemic – but the authority has been urged to make sure the area’s most vulnerable residents are not hit hardest by life after lockdown.

Covid-19 has led to a drop in income and increased costs for Stafford Borough Council, which is now facing a £2.4m funding hole.

Now the authority is also looking past the pandemic and making plans for how to maintain critical services and reintroduce others when it is possible to do so, as well as the longer-term recovery of the borough.

Recovery planning will include areas such as the borough’s economy, the council’s finances and the community – including building on the “positive response” to the pandemic shown by residents and organisations who gave their time to assist the vulnerable. This will also involve dealing with Covid-19’s impact on communities, including loss of life, anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and unemployment.

Council leader Patrick Farrington said: “I think it is really important, given this pandemic has overtaken everybody’s lives, we understand how we may move forward with our residents in the borough utmost in our thoughts.”

Councillor Jeremy Pert, cabinet member for community and health, spoke of the importance of the council working with other organisations in the county to move forward.

He said: “We need to find a way of living with Covid-19 now it is endemic in the country. Looking for recovery and renewal is right and there are ways we can come together as a public sector and deliver something that will renew us as a county and a country."

Councillor Frances Beatty, cabinet member for economic development and planning, added: “There are opportunities for working in partnership and part of that I hope will be new partnerships with the private sector, with businesses that operate across the borough large and small. They are going to be the people who make this recovery happen.”

The council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy will have to be reviewed, a report to Thursday’s virtual cabinet meeting said, and savings will need to be identified, dependent on the net cost of the pandemic response.

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The report added: “As part of our approach to recovery it will be necessary to take a strategic look at how the pandemic situation may change life on an ongoing basis for our residents, businesses and the council as an organisation. In order to plan effectively we will need to have a clear understanding of priorities over the coming months and we may need to need to consider re-aligning resources to deliver these priorities.

“It will also be necessary to take a strategic look at how the pandemic situation may change life on an ongoing basis for our residents, businesses and the council as an organisation over the short, medium and long-term. This will need to be reflected in a review of the council’s Corporate Business Plan and our associated major strategies and projects.

“As we move towards recovery it may take time to resume service delivery in those limited areas where Government required them to stop, such as leisure, and we will work with our partners to resume services as the lockdown eases. The focus of services may change and the way we do things will change with a move to more on-line transactions for our customers and more agile working/homeworking for our employees.

“There is still much uncertainty about the pandemic, when and how the lockdown will continue to be eased and ultimately lifted. The council will continue to remain in the response phase for some time to come and this will occur in parallel with the challenges that the recovery will bring.”

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Councillor Aidan Godfrey, the opposition group leader, raised concerns about the increase in online transactions however.

He said: “The more vulnerable and less well-off in our society tend to be the people who don’t use online transactions. These must be the people we want to help the most.

“I want reassurance that cash will also be able to be used for payments to Stafford Borough Council as it’s the most vulnerable and less well-off who use cash.

“Finances are going to be under extreme pressure from now on, coupled with the problems we have already been facing. I want some reassurance that there will be no more increases in fees and charges.

“The people who would be affected the most by an increase in fees and charges are the poorest. I want assurance the poorest in society won’t be funding the recovery.”

Kerry Ashdown

By Kerry Ashdown

Local Democracy Reporting Service

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