Over 35,000 calls for help received by Greenwich’s community hub

Woolwich Town Hall
Council officers are warning of a new round of austerity cuts after the pandemic

Greenwich Council has taken over 35,000 calls from people wanting help from its community hub, senior councillors have been told in a report on the impact of the coronavirus on the borough.

Nearly 6,400 meals and over 1,300 food boxes had been distributed to residents, the documents for a cabinet meeting to be held next week say.

However, the figures were dated 1 May, so the true numbers will be much higher.

The report will be discussed at the first formal meeting of the council’s main decision-making body for over two months, with councillors meeting via video.

The community hub was set up by the council in the early days of the lockdown, with the help of Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency, Charlton Athletic Community Trust and Volunteer Centre Greenwich. It assists vulnerable residents by delivering food to them, asking volunteers to do shopping or pick up prescriptions, or just telephoning vulnerable residents to check on their wellbeing.

A total of 2,164 residents expressed interest in signing up, and 1,259 provided proof of identity and were registered on the system. There are 401 volunteers who have passed checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service. Recruitment has now been stopped.

Temporary mortuary

The council now has one to two weeks’ stocks of PPE, after early delays in getting supplies led to a public appeal from the council leader. It has distributed 26,200 pairs of gloves, 18,750 aprons, 28,230 fluid-resistant masks and 325 bottles of hand sanitiser to care homes, hospice staff, refuse collectors and prison staff. PPE was even provided for registrars so they could officiate at a deathbed wedding.

Greenwich has also had to build a temporary mortuary. The existing facility, in Devonshire Drive, west Greenwich, also serves other south London boroughs. “Some bodies have been transferred to hub facilities, and a temporary mortuary is being set up to provide additional capacity in the area,” the report says.

The report also makes clear the financial impact of the coronavirus. There are still over 50 applications for universal credit each day in the borough – twice the normal level, but during April that figure reached 280 per day. In the same month there were 355 emergency support payments to people in crisis, seven times the usual level.

Greenwich has distributed over £20 million of government grants to 2,000 local businesses, while it also warns of “serious financial implications” for GLL, its leisure and libraries provider, from the prolonged shutdown.

‘More cuts a possibility’

Developers have also contacted the council requesting that community infrastructure levy and Section 106 payments – cash given to mitigate the impact of construction work – be deferred; which would then have a knock-on effect on the council’s payments towards the new Woolwich Crossrail station.

The report warns that the government is unlikely to pay for all the council’s coronavirus costs – putting more strain on an already- heavily stretched budget, and leading to yet more cuts: “The direct financial effect through additional expense, lost income and foregone savings is likely to run into the tens of millions of pounds and with £17.1m received to date, it now appears that the government will not meet this gap pound for pound, but will concentrate on the costs of those functions it has specifically requested to be undertaken.

“The council will likely incur costs for capital programme overruns, receive less income from council tax, business rates and fees and charges, plus be unable to achieve planned efficiency savings. [There is] a significant risk that the financial effect of these areas may not be covered by the government and will fall instead to the local authority to meet by way of its own financial resilience and ultimately potential service reductions, at a time when the community needs its local support services the most.”

“The likelihood of a further round of public sector austerity post 2020/21 is a real possibility,” it adds.

The cabinet meeting will be the first to be streamed to the public by the council, and the first to feature the new-look cabinet. It will be held at 5pm on Monday.

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