Review praises council’s Covid support for needy

A review into help given to vulnerable Walsall people during Covid has praised how the community came together to offer support.

Volunteers from across Walsall have been supporting vulnerable residents during the coronavirus lockdown. PIC: Janet Davies
Volunteers from across Walsall have been supporting vulnerable residents during the coronavirus lockdown. PIC: Janet Davies

Walsall Council commissioned an independent report into its performance in October last year, in the wake of criticism aimed at the authority over its decision not to provide free school meals at half term.

And consultant Bryn Hamer said the council acted as a catalyst to ensure help and support reached those in need of it most.

He also highlighted Walsall’s Making Connections initiative, set up to help tackle loneliness and social isolation, for the crucial role it has played.

Praise was given to the authority’s Walsall Covid-19 Winter Grant Fund, which used council tax reduction eligibility to select who received cash payments rather than basing it only on those who received free school meals.

Mr Hamer said this ensured 44 per cent more families received grants than would otherwise have been the case.

The use of cash payments rather than vouchers also meant parents had more choice where to shop and this in turn boosted local retailers.

He did say some areas need working on such as improving its communications by making better use of digital and enhancing the procurement to ensure better value for money.

But he made a series of recommendations such as the council needing to continue working closely with other agencies and strengthen Making Connections even further and develop a plan for the next six months looking at post Covid issues.

Authority leader Mike Bird said: “This was an important piece of work following some criticisms that Walsall Council weren’t doing as much as we should.

“But I think what this does show is that we were doing as much as we were able to do at that time. But you can always do more.”

Councillor Garry Perry, deputy leader for resilient communities, said: “I don’t think anyone would say we are doing too badly as an authority.

“Alongside business relief and the different furlough schemes, we focused that money to get it to the people who really needed it.

“The community and voluntary sector will continue through Making Connections to deliver what we need to through this pivotal period of time where people are still affected by the pandemic.

“I get really invigorated when I go out and see the work being done at the grassroots level. You cannot fail to be impressed by the processes.

“People are now talking to each other. That neighbourliness, that sense of kindness, that British spirit around us being in this together.

“We need not to lose sight of this in the future as we reset and recover.”

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