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9th April 2020

COVID-19 UPDATE from Wiltshire Council – Wednesday 8 April 2020

Please see the latest update regarding COVID-19.

Elections and referendums postponed in Wiltshire due to COVID-19

Government legislation has now been published to confirm the postponement of national and local elections, by-elections and referendums until 2021.

You can view the details of the local by-elections and neighbourhood planning referendum affected on our website http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/news/articles/elections-postponed

All unitary and parish and parish vacancies that had triggered by-elections will remain unfilled until the four-yearly cycle of council elections on 6 May 2021, and all affected neighbourhood planning referendums will also be held on that date. However, this situation will be kept under review, and if safe to do so, further legislation will be laid that will permit by-elections and referendums sooner than 6 May 2021.

Any town and parish council by-elections that have had to be postponed have a vacancy that cannot currently be filled. In these areas, residents should contact their town or parish council directly to access the support they would usually receive from their parish councillor.

In Wiltshire, the Police and Crime Commissioner election, scheduled for 7 May, will now take place on 6 May 2021, the same day as the Wiltshire Council unitary elections and town and parish council elections. The current Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, Angus Macpherson, will remain in post until the next election.

Engagement with Parish Councils

The Neighbourhood Cell has arranged fortnightly briefings for parish clerks to provide updates on community response efforts, and assist with general queries from parishes on community matters, which they can then provide for their own members.

Business support update

Wiltshire Council is providing seven days a week support for local businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Approximately 60 members of staff, the majority of whom have been redeployed from other roles within the council, are working every day, including bank holidays, to help verify and assess the grant forms being submitted by local businesses for vital funding.
In addition, a further 12 members of staff are supporting the recently launched dedicated contact centre which can be reached by emailing Covid-19BusinessSupport@wiltshire.gov.uk.

The council really wants to issue grant money out to businesses as quickly as possible so it’s vital for those businesses who have received our letter come back to the council with the information required as quickly as possible. This will allow us to match their details much faster and quickly process their form. Around 50% of forms being submitted to us do not provide all the information we need, which causes a delay in verifying and processing the form.

Eligible businesses that are closed and are unable to collect their letter, can complete the online grant form at http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/business-advice-support-covid19.

Schools Update

Our school’s team has been working hard in partnership with our school and early years settings to ensure education provision is in place for vulnerable children and those of critical workers over the Easter holiday period.

There are more than 200 schools open over Easter and just over 200 early years settings. Numbers taken late last week show 1,500 children are attending schools and early years settings on a daily basis with approximately 80% of those children of critical workers.

To bring some Easter joy to those children having to attend school over the Easter holiday period, the council has teamed up with Amesbury-based business Home Bargains to provide them with a chocolate Easter Egg before the bank holiday weekend. Home Bargains made a generous donation of 1,000 Easter eggs which the council is distributing to all the schools open over Easter.

Last week, the school’s team published its first edition of a children’s newsletters for both primary and secondary settings. It’s hoped that children and young people will enjoy reading about things that are happening in schools around the county as well as providing some activities to keep them entertained. The schools team warmly welcomes contributions to these newsletters from children, parents and carers. Contributions can be made by emailing events@wiltshire.gov.uk marked ‘Newsletter Contribution’. Items for inclusion should be sent by 5pm on the Tuesday of each week.

Keeping children and young people safe online during COVID-19

Parents are being offered advice and support to ensure their children keep safe, as they spend more time online during COVID-19.

As families stay at home there are concerns children and young people may be vulnerable to online exploitation.

The government has shared a number of online resources for parents to help them speak to their children and ensure they are staying safe while accessing social media and websites.

• Internet matters (support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online which offers age-specific advice)
• Parent info (support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online) – contains a host of information on games, safety and settings relationships, sex and health and wellbeing.
• Net-aware (support for parents and carers from the NSPCC)

We have joined with Wiltshire Police to ask parents or carers to be extra vigilant of what their children are doing online and who they are talking to. If any member of the public has concerns about online exploitation (ie communication with a child in order to commit a sexual offence), they should report them to police or to their partners: Childline on 0800 1111 or NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.

Management of child employment arrangements during COVID-19

The council is joining with other local authorities in the south west to suspend child employment arrangements temporarily during COVID-19.

The council currently has 170 young people aged 16 or under who are working and have an employment licence. This can be in a number of areas including newspaper rounds or retail.

DfE guidance highlights laws which state young people of 16 years or younger should only do light work which is not harmful to the safety, health or development of children.
However, there are concerns it is more difficult to monitor these arrangements during this time including being able to assess whether appropriate health and safety measures have been taken. There are also concerns that children may be asked to work more hours than their licence permits, or during hours when they would ordinarily be at school.

The council will write to all employers currently employing children and advise they need to suspend their child employment. We will also be contacting all young people who have employment licences and their parents.

This is a temporary suspension which will need to be in place and we thank employers and young people and their families for their understanding during this time.

Library service


Our library services continue to support people right in the heart of our communities, even if the buildings themselves aren’t in use.

The libraries team have come up with some innovative ways to develop its remote libraries service to keep the whole family connected and occupied during this time, which have been well received. In the last few weeks the service has seen:
• 177 new members joining online
• eBook loans up 43%, eAudio up 118% and eMagazines up 90% compared to same time last year
• Online Rhyme Time sessions viewed more than 12,400 times so far – with viewers as far away as Australia

Wiltshire’s elibrary services can be found at http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/libraries-ebooks. The online Rhyme Times Facebook sessions can be found on the libraries’ Facebook pages. Regular updates can be found by following @WiltsCouncil and @WiltsLibraries on Twitter.


Regards

Cllr Philip Whitehead

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