We will be here for our residents every step of the way

By Cllr David Renard | 30 March 2020

They say a week is a long time in politics. In the world of local government, it can seem like an eternity.

These past seven days have been unprecedented. Exactly a week ago today, we were dealing with the aftermath of members of the public spitting and being abusive to our hard-working staff at our household waste recycling centre.

By the evening, the Prime Minister was telling us we had to remain in our own homes for the good of the country. It marked the start of a quite remarkable week.

A lot of the focus in recent days has, quite rightly, been on the amazing work of our NHS staff as they battle to keep thousands of people alive. Indeed, we paid our own small tribute to health and care staff by turning one of our major roundabouts and our Central Library blue on Thursday.

But as leader of the council, I would like to pay my own special tribute to council staff, not just in Swindon, but up and down the country. Our staff have shown their worth to communities just when local people need them most.

I’m sure when Boris Johnson used the word ‘lockdown’ at his press conference last Monday, IT teams in local councils nationally would have been sweating. As a flexible organisation, which encourages employees to work remotely, we knew the technology supported home working but, of course, we had never tested it with the vast majority of staff working from home.

Thankfully, our systems have stood up well to the strain and teams are getting used to this brave new world of virtual working and are keeping the show on the road. And boy have our staff done us proud.

Our internal major incident response really clicked into gear last week when, following the lockdown, our thoughts immediately turned to what services we could continue to provide in a fast-changing situation.

Like many councils, we closed our libraries, our museums and our Register Office. We temporarily stopped our garden waste collections to try to stop our main waste collections from falling over and we closed some car parks.

So the focus immediately turned to what can we do for our residents in this time of national crisis.

Our senior officers, who had set up an ideas chamber just a few days before, got together and came up with a package of measures to support both residents and businesses alike.

Some of these measures focused on how we were translating the financial support from the Government to local businesses, while others looked at what council tax support we could provide to those residents and council tenants who were struggling to make ends meet.

We have relaxed parking enforcement in residents’ parking zones, extended free bus pass use, provided free parking for NHS and social care staff who are helping the vulnerable during this time of crisis and provided emergency household supplies to those self-isolating.

We also set up a volunteering network and more than 500 people have signed up to volunteering opportunities, which include speaking to people over the phone to offer some companionship or collecting shopping for those who are staying at home.

We badged our support package as #HereForSwindon swindon.gov.uk/HereForSwindon because that is what we as local councils are here to do – serve our residents as best we can.

We don’t know how long this public health emergency is going to last for. But one thing is for sure, we will be here for our residents every step of the way.

Cllr David Renard is leader of Swindon BC

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