Running care homes, collecting rubbish, and building new schools: how essential public services were kept going during the coronavirus lockdown has been recently revealed by the Vale of Glamorgan council.
Councillors on the cabinet met in public for the first time this week since March 23, where those in charge of essential services set out the work that has been carrying on behind the scenes.
On March 24, the ‘Gold Command’ met for the first time, made up of senior managers, heads of services, the communication team and emergency planners. Gold Command met daily for the first 10 weeks, including many weekends, to decide how to respond to the crisis.
Council leader Neil Moore said: “I would like to thank all those who have contributed to these meetings which have ensured that council services, in the main, have been able to operate.”
Cllr Moore also thanked workers across the council, including binmen, carers, social workers, teachers and cleaners. Many staff took on different roles to normal, as some services were shut while other new ones were needed.
Council workers organised Covid-19 tests for both staff and residents; arranged for businesses to be given breaks in paying rates; and awarded almost £26 million in grants to local businesses from the Welsh Government.
Cllr Moore said: “None of us have sat back during this pandemic. It has been a difficult time and much work has gone on in the background. It’s important to note the amount and complexity of the work our staff have carried out to keep the majority of our services in operation. It’s a huge gratitude we have to give to our staff.
“There has been an absolute willingness to experiment and take some measured risks, which have to be done under the circumstances. Projects have been driven through at an unusual pace.”
Cllr Ben Gray, cabinet member for social care and health, said: “Responding to this emergency has been an incredibly complex task with many moving parts — one that isn’t over yet.
“Staff have continued to support those with profound disabilities. Carers are key workers who have been putting themselves in harm’s way to provide their most dedicated support for our most vulnerable. I can’t thank them enough.”
The next issues the council will face is how to reopen schools safely in September; preparing town centres for non-essential shops opening; and managing car parks now the five-mile travel rule has been lifted.
While schools were first shut and lessons began over the internet, some children struggled with a lack of technology at home. But the council provided laptops and internet to those in need.
Cllr Lis Burnett, cabinet member for education, said: “Our children weren’t left without IT connectivity. Our IT department provided 760 laptops or tablets to children, and 208 wifi devices for children who didn’t have broadband.”
Builders are carrying on building new schools in the Vale, on socially distanced construction sites with contracts awarded locally.
Cllr Burnett said: “We haven’t stopped our 21st Century schools building programme, but delivered it in a very socially distanced way. The new building at Pencoedtre high school has started and that complements Whitmore high school and the work at Ysgol Bro Morgannwg.
“In the next few months we should see three new primary schools considered at the planning committee. One will be low carbon and the other two zero-carbon, which I understand will be the first in Wales.
“In such difficult times, it’s important to keep employment going where possible, and this is evident with the economic impact of our schools building programme. So far, 90 per cent of contracts for Whitmore high school have been awarded to businesses in south-east Wales.”