Councillors, staff and volunteers at Monmouthshire County Council continue to work exceptionally hard to ensure key services operate as the COVID-19 pandemic reaches a crucial stage across the country. The council has sustained its call to residents to stay safe and stay home to minimise the spread of coronavirus and reduce pressure on the NHS.
The scale and nature of the pandemic means that the council has taken every possible measure, including the redeployment of staff and intense planning, to support all residents, especially the most vulnerable in the county.
Westminster and the Welsh government have relaxed or amended legislation and the council’s Emergency Response Team has seized the opportunity to implement changes and reduce impacts on residents as rapidly as possible.
Coordination across the organisation has been key to the many initiatives implemented. Recycling and waste collections have continued as normal although some routes have operated on a different pattern because staff are unavailable due to self-isolation.
The council is endeavouring to ensure any missed collections due to lack of staff are dealt with as soon as possible. Meanwhile, lack of staff has led the council to temporarily suspend its garden waste collection service after Friday 3rd April. This follows last week’s closure of household waste recycling centres across the country.
The council has tried to maintain other services as long as possible, but the safety of residents and waste collection staff is paramount. Reducing non-essential services will allow the council to continue to operate priority waste collections. Additional factors leading to the decision to suspend garden waste collections are that supermarkets are unable to store and issue garden bags and containers safely and the closure of certain parts manufacturers may reduce the number of council vehicles in operation. Customers who have already paid for the service will have their permit extended when the collections service restarts. Supermarkets and other retailers will continue to stock the council’s red, purple and food waste bags.
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The Monmouthshire Meals service which distributes cooked food to the vulnerable across the county is operating as normal but an increase in demand means that it is at nearly full capacity. To cope with this, an extra evening round of deliveries has been introduced.
The council has created an inter-disciplinary Community Support Team to support the local response to the pandemic which has already received over 125 calls for support with 97 calls from those wishing to volunteer and help their local community. Area development teams are working directly with volunteer-led community action groups offering support, guidance and help with coordination.
The council is actively looking to increase the number of volunteers engaging safely in their community during the COVID-19 pandemic and is offering them an opportunity to obtain a DBS check, complete safeguarding training and receive a guide to volunteering. The team is also able to connect self-isolating residents with volunteer action groups to help them with matters like essential shopping or telephone befriending.
Residents needing support or wishing to volunteer should contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01633 644696.
During the Easter holidays two hubs providing care for children of key workers will be open between 8am to 6pm from Monday to Friday. These are at Deri View Primary School, Abergavenny and Caldicot’s Dewstow Primary School and will be organised by MonLife employees redeployed from leisure centres, libraries, the youth service and elsewhere.
Monmouthshire is a leader in embracing digital technology and it has enhanced its reputation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff are successfully holding virtual meetings across the organisation and participating in a weekly Digital Cwtch session where they can raise issues or concerns. Within days, the council will establish 600 further IT accounts so that employees currently unable to communicate digitally with colleagues can receive emails and access the MCC Coronavirus Communication Hub – a source of news, information, helpful tips, FAQs and emergency contact details – powered by Microsoft.
Like other teams, Monmouthshire’s environmental health food safety officers have adapted well to working remotely from home with support from the council and have enjoyed the resulting benefits of increased trust and willingness to help.
They have been in touch with businesses looking to diversify or change operation while the coronavirus pandemic persists to offer guidance, advice and interpretation of government rules. Environmental health officers have also appealed to the county’s residents to be good neighbours during these difficult times and ensure their activities cause no unnecessary disturbance.
Monmouthshire’s cabinet member with responsibility for public protection, Councillor Sara Jones said: “With all of us largely confined to our homes please ensure music levels are appropriate and if taking advantage of the fine weather to carry out garden clearance I ask you to think twice about a bonfire.
Good air quality is crucial for those with respiratory conditions, particularly at the moment, so if planning a bonfire make sure weather conditions are appropriate, burn dry material only and do not allow the fire to smoulder for long periods.”
By Friday 3rd April the council had issued £5.09m worth of grants to 359 businesses and it will endeavour to pay 80% of all eligible grants within three weeks. Businesses that have not yet registered are urged to do so quickly, in order that the council can support them.
Their first step to check eligibility is to visit: https://businesswales.gov.wales/covid-19-grants and then register at https://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/business-advice/
Monmouthshire’s Highways Operations team is focusing efforts on urgent and emergency work only and no planned maintenance schemes will be undertaken until the Welsh Government gives the go ahead to lift its restrictions.
The team will react to emergencies, such as road traffic collisions, fallen trees, emergency road sweeping, obstructions and hazards as well as undertaking its normal winter service.
It is also supporting other departments and colleagues in urgent and emergency work. The council is following guidance provided by Welsh Government regarding highways street works for a coordinated approach throughout Wales and consequently, many schemes have been postponed and events cancelled or postponed. In addition, utility companies are concentrating on emergency and reactive works so meetings between them and the council have been suspended until further notice. The council’s weekly roadworks report is of particular assistance to the emergency services and highways duty officers at this time.
The county’s community hubs and libraries remain closed in line with government advice but staff are joining forces with other teams across the council to provide assistance where most needed. All community education services continue to be suspended. Staff have recently upgraded the library registration process so residents are able to register online via the library service catalogue to gain immediate access to digital resources such as audio and e-audio books, magazines and comics.
More information is available on the council’s library online information web pages. Cemeteries in Monmouthshire remain open but in line with government regulations funerals are restricted to five mourners. Drivers from the council’s Passenger Transport Unit (PTU) have been redeployed to collect waste and recycling as well as deliver community meals across the county and parcels from the Chepstow, Abergavenny and Caldicot food banks. The PTU will run a free bus service from Usk to Raglan Post Office on Mondays following the closure of Usk’s community hub and its in-house postal service.
The 65 (Monmouth to Chepstow via Trelech), 75 (Sudbrook – Caldicot – Caerwent) and W (local Monmouth town routes) Saturday services are suspended due to lack of demand but the council’s volunteer-run Grass Routes service continues to operate. To accommodate social distancing only two passengers per vehicle are permitted. Council Leader Peter Fox said: “I’d like to thank all those across the council, in the county and those key workers who are involved in the fight against coronavirus. We’re all working around the clock to keep vital services afloat. Meanwhile, even though it’s great that the vast majority of residents are observing the need to stay at home and stay safe, a stubborn minority are still out and about.
“I can’t emphasise enough that a failure to follow government advice on social distancing means that our ability to contain and ultimately defeat coronavirus is greatly diminished. The more assiduously we follow government advice, the sooner we can return to normal. This is a marathon, not a sprint – we’ll all have to make changes to our lives for many weeks to come. The weather forecast looks promising for the week ahead but please do not be tempted to venture out. I urge everyone to stay safe and stay at home to protect lives.”