A In accordance with Standing Order No. 8, the following question was put by Councillor Sills to the Leader.
Can the Leader update Members on the loss of revenue because of the virus, and what the Government’s support package means to Exeter City Council?
The restrictions put in place to protect the public and the NHS have had a significant impact on the Council’s income. Car Park income has reduced from £170,000 to around £1,000 a week. This is income that we will be unable to recover. On top of that, our visitor attractions, entertainment venues, Museum and Livestock Centre are all closed. Income for our statutory services is also heavily impacted and we expect there to be a negative effect on the collection of Council Tax, Business Rates, Commercial Rent and other debts. The Council sent its return to the Government last week outlining an estimated loss of income totalling £0.315m for March and £1.584m for April. It is also projected that there is a risk of losing an additional £0.681m in Council Tax and Business Rates bad debts in April alone based on current payments received compared to last year.
To date, the Government has provided £23,400 to support rough sleepers and £72,737 in general grant. The additional cost of providing emergency accommodation for rough sleepers has itself amounted to £193,000, far in excess of the grants received. In total, it is estimated that the Council has spent an extra £0.238m in March and April over and above the amounts provided by Government.
The additional £1.6bn is welcome, but the Government are yet to announce how this will be allocated to individual Councils. I will ensure that the Section 151 Officer provides the allocation as and when the Government announce it.
Councillor Sills asked a supplementary question as to whether it was the intention to discuss issues with Leaders of other authorities to ensure a concerted response to the current problems.
The Leader confirmed that the Chief Executive & Growth Director was in regular contact with his counterparts in other authorities and that the Devon Districts, together with other authorities, continued to lobby the Government through the Local Government Association seeking the necessary financial commitment to local Councils who were in the best position to support their communities through the crisis.
B In accordance with Standing Order No. 8, the following question was put by Councillor Martin to the Leader.
Can the Leader update Members on what actions have been taken in regards to the travellers currently in the city and what is, and can be done to resolve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction?
Firstly I would like to thank the residents of Lakeside Avenue for their patience. I understand their frustration and I have spent a significant amount of time with officers trying to resolve the concerns.
It is critical at this time to reduce the spread of coronavirus by minimising non-essential travel in line with Government rules. The Government guidance for dealing with travellers during the current outbreak is very clear in that we should not be moving groups on. Instead we should be tolerating them where they currently are, or offering alternative sites with improved sanitary facilities. This unique situation, combined with the suspension of our usual route to regain possession via the courts, has provided unique challenges.
Two alternative sites, with facilities, were offered to the group of travellers and both were declined. Following a productive meeting yesterday with our colleagues at Devon and Cornwall Police, a direction was issued yesterday evening, ordering the travellers to move and relocate to one of the more appropriate sites that we had proposed. All travellers have now left Lakeside but decided not to use the sites provided and have left the city. Our Public and Green Spaces Teams started the clean-up of the site this morning and I thank them for their work and commitment in response to this difficult situation. I have spoken to the Director and options are now been considered on the best means to secure the site in consultation with the local community.
C In accordance with Standing Order No. 8, the following question was put by Councillor D. Moore to the Leader.
While schools remain shut the Department of Education launched a national scheme on 31 March for schools in England providing free school meals, whereby weekly shopping vouchers are available worth £15 to spend at a limited number of supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and M&S Food. The Department for Education and their contractor, Edenred, chose not to include the Co-op, other supermarkets, small and independent retailers and other local food supplier’s example local suppliers of fresh vegetables when they launched the scheme. It is vital that families can access affordable food, including fresh food, as close to home as possible.
Please can the Council write to the Department of Education as a matter of urgency and ask them to review the scheme.
I agree that it is vital that families can access affordable food - especially at this time.
Prior to the national scheme you talk about, our colleagues at Devon had put in place a scheme to provide free school meals to certain children.
For those now based at home, schools had used a variety of strategies including pack lunch collection from schools, food hamper deliveries, gift cards for local stores and online vouchers for bigger stores.
The National scheme was designed to support families and schools by putting in place a simpler system which schools/families could use as an alternative to the local provision.
However, over the Easter holiday period, there were some issues with the national vouchers not arriving with parents in a timely manner. In these cases schools have intervened to try and ensure children still received the meal to which they were entitled.
Devon County Council along with other Local Authorities have already escalated this to the Department of Education and we understand these initial problems have now been resolved. It was also asked that more local and budget shops could be included. It was agreed that this would be looked into and it is understood that both Aldi and Tesco have now joined the scheme.
It will now be important for the Leaders of all Devon Districts and the Leader of Devon County Council to work in unison to ensure that mechanisms continue to be in place to ensure appropriate delivery of meals to those children in need.