To receive a report from the Head of Planning, Economy and Regeneration providing Members with an update regarding the Growth, Economy & Delivery team’s latest COVID19 emergency economic and community response activities.
The Group had before it, and NOTED, a report * from the Head of Planning, Economy and Regeneration providing Members with an update regarding the Growth, Economy & Delivery team’s latest COVID19 emergency economic and community response activities.
The contents of the report were outlined and an update provided regarding developments since the report had been published:
· There had been a significant rise in the number of reported deaths at a national level since the last meeting. However, these numbers were now reducing.
· The vaccination programme was going well with over 23 million people having had the first dose and over 1 million having received the second dose.
· The Government’s roadmap out of restrictions was summarised.
· Reference was made to work undertaken by Devon County Council in producing a graph which illustrated the economic impact of the pandemic upon Devon. It was anticipated that Mid and West Devon would take longer to emerge with potentially a time frame of between 3 and 4 years.
· Devon County Council had produced another graph showing that the accommodation and food sectors had been the hardest hit. Just over 50% of businesses within this sector only had 3 months worth of cash flow. The high street retail sector and tourism had also been badly affected within the district.
· The main concern going forwards was the potential rise in unemployment. However, it was good news that the furlough scheme had been extended. Currently approximately 10% of the Mid Devon workforce were furloughed.
· Ongoing emergency response remained a key priority. A number of grant schemes were currently running which were complex and time consuming.
· Mid Devon District Council currently ranked 14th out of 319 authorities charged with responsibility for getting discretionary funding out to businesses. This was testament to the hard work of the officers involved.
· New grant schemes were expected to emerge within the next month or two but guidance would be needed from Government as how they were to be operated and who would be eligible.
· The clinically extremely vulnerable would need to continue to ‘shield’ until at least 31st March although it was expected that this would date would be extended.
· An increase in applications to the Financial Hardship Fund was expected once the business grants and furlough schemes ended.
· It was anticipated that the Government would issue guidance on the practical support that could be given to those living in social isolation.
· Work continued in preparation for reopening high streets safely and mayoral meetings were being set up to follow the re-opening of non essential shops on 12th April.
· A lot of the aspects to recovery were still in a state of flux, with more information and guidance needed.
· A building grants scheme in Cullompton was nearing its launch. This would allow building owners and repairing leaseholders in the conservation area to apply for grant funding to support shopfront improvement works.
· The tendering process for the landscape project in the Bull Ring, Cullompton, would be complete by mid to late summer.
· A draft Cullompton Town Centre Masterplan would be presented to the Planning Policy Advisory Group imminently. Both the Tiverton and Cullompton Masterplans were expected to be presented to the Cabinet in May 2021.
Discussion took place with regard to:
· The congratulations due to all those officers who had been involved with the dissemination of these funds to businesses.
· 100 businesses had fallen outside of the grant scheme, for example, they may have made an application too late. Assistance, advice and support to these would be dealt with on a chronological basis. These businesses would not just be left in the ‘cold’ but would be signposted to other agencies who could offer support if the council could not. Information had been made available on the council’s website and nationally councils were lobbying Government for additional funding.
· There had been a significant growth in businesses switching to the use of online services such as ‘click and collect’.
· Whilst a large number of businesses had struggled financially to continue, some had utilised grant funding to adapt their businesses in response to the pandemic.
· The effect of the pandemic on the agricultural sector would be a specific issue the PDG could discuss at a future meeting.
· More ‘rapid charging’ of electric vehicles was vital if people were to be encouraged to switch to purchasing this type of vehicle. It was recognised that take up was improving and the various locations within the district where vehicles could be recharged were listed.
· Devon’s hospitality sector being severely affected by the pandemic, however, with the proposed lifting of restrictions, businesses had received an unprecedented number of bookings for the summer months.
· Towns needed strong leadership if they were to successfully emerge from the economic effect of the pandemic and to ensure that high streets were places that people wanted to come back to.
· Recent Covid figures for Mid Devon (and Tiverton in particular) had been very high in the statistics table for Devon with the district figures being above average. It was explained that there were complex reasons for this with the suggestion that figures could have been linked to outbreaks in education and work place settings. Statistical data needed to be treated with caution as many residents of Mid Devon travelled out of the district to their place of work. Figures were now coming down and Devon continued to show rates below the national average.
The Chairman concluded the discussion by stating that he hoped the team would be able to move from a situation of ‘response’ to ‘recovery’ in the coming months and ended by extending his personal thanks to the team for all their efforts.
Note: * Report previously circulated; copy attached to the signed minutes.