26 Feb Norman’s Notes February 2021
Apart from the Roadmap out of Lockdown, there have been some significant happenings which I want to highlight this month.
£700 million educational recovery package for children and young people
This week the government announced a £700 million recovery package for children and young people in England. This is intended to be used to help them catch up on learning lost, due to the pandemic and access the opportunities they deserve, to learn and fulfil their individual potential.
• Teachers have worked hard to provide remote learning for pupils and parents have been juggling home schooling with their own work commitments. What a brilliant effort, but we know that the classroom is the best place for our children to be.
• To further support the re-opening of schools on 8 March, government is providing a £700 million programme of catch-up funding, including a Recovery Premium for the most disadvantaged students, funding the extension of the already successful National Tutoring Programme and delivering face-to-face summer schools.
• This extensive programme of catch-up funding will equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to support their pupils and give children the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential.
Computers for Kids initiative
Last month, I wrote about this excellent initiative being run between Mid Sussex Voluntary Action and Computers for Kids, through which IT equipment is supplied to children who have no access to online learning.
Please, if your company has any redundant laptops, tablets, or smart phones, get in touch with: www.computersforkids.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Currently 1,000 pieces of kit are required across West Sussex.
United Nations Security Council session on Climate and Security
This week, for the first time in almost 30 years, Boris Johnson became the first British Prime Minister to chair the Council – he used the opportunity to call for international action to reduce carbon emissions and help vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change, thereby enhancing the prosperity and security of our planet for the future.
• Climate change represents one of the gravest threats to global peace and security. Unless we join together and take bold action jointly to tackle it, the world risks more conflict, displacement of people, and insecurity in the future.
• That is why the Prime Minister used our presidency of the UN Security Council to urge world leaders to follow the UK’s lead in committing to reach net zero emissions and push for more support to help fragile states adapt to climate change, helping avert future conflict, misery and famine.
• The UK has led the way on climate action and as we build towards COP26, in the autumn, we will continue to urge others to be equally bold, so that we can avert climate conflicts and protect our planet for future generations.
WSCC agrees public consultation for revised Early Help Service
West Sussex County Council is well on the way with its improvement journey to ensure they provide the level of service children and families deserve. This involves strengthening its practice model, redesigning services and where they operate from, and ensuring manageable caseloads for officers.
People will have the chance to give their views on proposed changes. This week WSCC Cabinet approved a consultation looking at options to redesign their Early Help Service. A 10-week public consultation starts on 8 March and people will be able to take part in virtual engagement sessions, with dates to be announced shortly.
Early Help staff support children and families who are facing any number of challenging circumstances, working to ensure every child has a safe environment in which to thrive. The proposals put forward aim to meet a growing demand on these services by focussing support where it is needed most, including closer working with schools.
If agreed following consultation, Early Help Services would remain in 11 Children & Family Centres across West Sussex, a reduction from the current 43 centres. Some of the Early Help Centres could withdraw from locations such as libraries, schools, village halls and churches will remain open and will continue to be used by community groups.
Under the proposals, WSCC would cease group work and relocate the Find It Out offer to the remaining 11 Children & Family Centres. This would ensure a full-time drop-in service for young people remains available in each district and borough. This will complement the range of youth services the council run, which includes Youth Emotional Support (YES), mental health in schools and support for children affected by domestic abuse.
Cllr Jacquie Russell, currently elected to represent East Grinstead South and Ashurst Wood with additional responsibility as Cabinet Member for Children & Young People, said: “Our commitment to putting children and families first is at the heart of these proposals, which are to improve our Early Help Service and enhance the support we can give to those who need it most.
“We know that our Children & Family Centres are not widely used by the families that need Early Help. Since the first lockdown, all children and family centres have been closed, but requests for help have been at a record high, indicating that despite the lack of access to buildings, we are still able to reach the families that need us. Discussions are ongoing with partners and other organisations that normally operate from the centres we are looking at, to explore how families will continue to access these services.
“We understand the concerns people have about the potential changes to centres and I would encourage everyone to share their views about these proposals when the consultation opens.”
The proposed changes will deliver savings already identified in the council’s financial plan. A report on the proposals, was discussed at the Children & Young People’s Scrutiny Committee on 7 January.
More information on the proposals, including video explanations and details of how people can take part in the consultation when it opens, can be found on the Early Help Redesign project webpage.
Full cost of Covid response becoming clear as reserves needed to plug MSDC’s Covid-19 deficit
Mid Sussex District Council is proposing to use General Reserve funds to cover the immediate costs associated with the response to Covid-19.
Cabinet met on Monday 8 February to discuss the Mid Sussex District Council draft Corporate Plan and Budget 2021/22.
The financial cost of supporting local communities through Covid-19 has been huge and, even with some support from the Government, the cost to MSDC will be £1.9 million during the 2020/21 financial year and is expected to continue to have a significant impact on the Council’s finances over the coming years.
The closure of local leisure centres, because of national and regional lockdown measures, has been one of the most significant losses of income experienced by MSDC. For 2021/22, the Council has created a specific financial reserve of £500,000, to protect the long-term future of the leisure centres and to cover the costs associated with regularly closing and reopening.
Cabinet recommended a Council Tax increase of 2.9%, £4.95 for an average Band D property, to balance the budget and protect council services in the short-term. The proposals will now be considered by Full Council on Wednesday 3 March.
Councillor Jonathan Ash-Edwards, Leader of the Council said:
“The Council has done excellent work in building up our financial reserves over the last 10 years and that diligence means we’re now in a strong financial position to cope with the huge losses of income we have experienced because of the pandemic.
“We hold financial reserves in place to help us cope in times of emergency and it’s right that we use them to aid our recovery from the impacts of Covid-19.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that has transformed the way we live our lives. MSDC has responded quickly to take on new responsibilities and to help support our residents and businesses, but the costs involved are significant. We took the unprecedented step of revising our Corporate Plan and Budget for 2020/21 last September and that document has laid the foundations for our recovery from Covid-19.
“The use of reserves will help significantly but it is not a sustainable long-term solution, so it’s important that we work to rebuild our reserves and bring the budget back into balance. We’re proposing a modest increase in Council Tax to help us maintain a secure financial position and protect the valuable services that mean so much to local people.”
MSDC allocates over £70,000 to help local micro businesses grow
Mid Sussex District Council has allocated over £70,000 in grants to help local micro businesses fund projects that will support their growth.
The Council’s Cabinet Grants Panel, which I chair, met on Tuesday 26 January to consider grant funding applications from micro businesses located right across Mid Sussex. The panel awarded 46 grants that totalled £70,544.
Projects ranged widely from launching a new line of products, to staff training and development, expanding business premises and offering new services to targeted marketing campaigns and increasing the delivery of services online.
The Micro Business Grant Scheme boosts the local economy, by encouraging sustainable business growth and supporting micro businesses in the District.
The scheme was open to any Mid Sussex business with less than 10 employees and that had an idea for a project that will support their business growth. In addition to funding for growth projects, a further £1,500 was also available for any micro business looking to hire an apprentice.
Councillor Stephen Hillier, MSDC Cabinet Member for Economic Growth said:
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant damage to the global economy, so it has never been more important to support local businesses in Mid Sussex and encourage economic growth.
“Each year we provide local micro businesses with grant funding to back their plans to grow, expand, develop new ways of working and reach new customers. This year’s grants will give another 46 local companies in Mid Sussex a huge boost in these difficult times and will help them to make the most of the opportunities they have to grow and thrive”.