To receive a report from the Head of Planning, Economy and Regeneration providing members with update information regarding the Growth, Economy & Delivery team’s latest COVID19 emergency economic and community response activities. To also update members on the Devon-wide economic recovery work and seek members’ endorsement for the current business support and economic recovery activities.
The Group had before it, and NOTED, a report * from the Head of Planning, Economy and Regeneration providing members with update information regarding the Growth, Economy & Delivery team’s latest COVID19 emergency, economic and community response activities. It also updated the Group on the Devon-wide economic recovery work and sought Members endorsement for the current business support and economic recovery activities.
The contents of the report were outlined, with updates provided as follows:
· The country was now officially in recession, unemployment was a particular worry with rises in the numbers of people out of work.
· It was expected that the end of the furlough scheme would lead to a significant rise in the number of people claiming unemployment benefit. The Mid Devon area currently had 9,000 people on the furlough scheme but the effect of its cessation would not be known for several months yet. The Council would work closely with DWP, local business and colleagues across the county to support and offer advice wherever possible.
· Liaising with the organisers of food banks provided a useful indicator of how the community was being affected financially.
· In terms of the Initial Emergency Response it was explained that the Discretionary and Business Grant scheme had now come to an end and the amounts that had been distributed had been communicated to Members on a regular basis throughout the pandemic.
· It was explained that, as of this week, the Government had announced a new grants scheme for local lockdowns and targeted areas. There would obviously be qualification rules but it would be possible for grants to be issued up to the sum of £1500. Pubs, for example, would be likely to qualify if they were required to close because of a local lockdown. As a precaution officers in the Growth, Economy and Delivery team plus the Revenues and Benefits area were making the necessary preparations in advance should Mid Devon become a targeted area.
· Community Outbreak Plan: It wasn’t possible to know what a local lockdown would look like therefore a lot of contingency plans were having to be made. There would be a greater focus on ‘need’ rather than ‘vulnerability’. Initially there had been a focus on supporting people with a medical need but often these people had been able to support themselves. The end of the furlough scheme was raising considerable concern in terms of the predicted number of people who would experience financial hardship. Greater homelessness was a particular concern. The Council was working closely with CHAT regarding food banks, money advice and plans for the future. The Government would be providing a pot of money in the region of £757k across Devon to support financially vulnerable people. CHAT had the necessary technical and professional skills to assess applicants in terms of the eligibility to access these small grants. Up till now uptake had not been as much as expected with the local assistance fund. There had been more need for support and advice generally.
· Town centres: close liaison continued with Town Mayors and Town Clerks Clerks. A recent focus had been on the re-opening of schools. There had been some very positive conversations with schools especially in relation to transport, student congregation points and helpful messaging to students and parents. However, it was too early to predict how the re-opening of schools would affect COVID numbers going forwards, however, initial signs were encouraging.
· Planning for Recovery: 120 business across the Tiverton and Honiton constituency had registered for the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme and £128k had been claimed. The average customer spend had been £4.50. However feedback from some businesses had been that August would normally be a good month for them anyway and that really assistance was needed in the autumn and winter months. Ministers were lobbying Government at the current time to see if the scheme could be extended. Nationally there had been increases in positive COVID cases, it was vital that the team continued to work with colleagues across Devon and the Local Enterprise Partnership. The Government was frequently bringing in new approaches and schemes which local authorities were having to adapt to and deliver swiftly. This included skills support packages for those likely to be made redundant. Also initiatives for apprenticeships since there were significant concerns that younger people would be disproportionately affected by unemployment. A number of ‘kick start’ schemes were proposed aimed at young people and smaller businesses. The ‘Solar Together’ scheme was also described as an initiative designed to help with economies of scale benefiting those wanting to install solar panels. Funding initiatives, other than those already described were also listed including LEP initiatives, Inward Investment and an ERDF of £900k being made available to small and medium enterprises.
· Recovery interventions and prioritisation: the team were committed to getting the best funding deals for Mid Devon and in exploring all opportunities to support Mid Devon residents. The team needed to be flexible in order to respond and adapt to constantly changing circumstances. Economic recovery as a result of COVID was a top priority with other work needing to take a back seat for the moment.
Note: * Report previously circulated; copy attached to the signed minutes.