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Letter from Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of the Council - Thursday 21 May 2020

As the country begins to ease some lockdown restrictions, I want to reassure residents that your council is doing all we can to help keep you safe.

Our advice remains the same, please stay at home as much as possible.

We have all played our own part in helping to reduce the spread of coronavirus and I would like to thank the people of South Tyneside for adhering to the restrictions placed upon our communities over recent weeks. I also want to take the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices that many have made and send my deepest condolences to those who have sadly lost loved ones due to the virus.

Whilst our government announces major policy changes nationally, it is up to us as your council to implement these at a local level, providing solutions to help keep us safe. We have worked round the clock to ensure that the services you rely on can continue where safe to do so.

In the first phase of the pandemic we were quick to establish vital support services to help people experiencing financial, physical and mental hardship. We moved swiftly to create brand new services, redeploying and retraining staff from other services to support vulnerable residents and businesses.

Within days, I wrote to every household in South Tyneside to ensure that contact details were provided for those thousands of residents who were required by Government to stay at home. Where residents told us they had no support network, we provided help to access vital food, medical and well-being support through our shielding service, run by Council staff from Hebburn Central. At the same time, we increased the financial support we give to the Borough's three established food banks which use well-established networks to reach people in need right across South Tyneside. Prior to, and throughout this pandemic, these food banks provide fair and consistent support to families in need, playing an experienced role in identifying wider needs and referring individuals and families to support for issues such as loneliness, safeguarding, mental and financial wellbeing. I thank all the volunteers who are playing such an important role at this time.

Whilst we had to speed up some decision making to respond swiftly to new challenges, we remain committed to ensuring local democracy. We have adopted new technologies so that residents can engage with meetings currently undertaking critical business, and we seek to ensure new ways of working so that more people who wish to engage in local democracy, can do so.

As we now move into the next phase of the fight against coronavirus, we move towards recovering some of those services which had to be stood down during lockdown.

Changes in Government rules will enable us to start reintroducing services and we endeavour to do this as near to normal as possible. However, there will of course need to be some service changes as we adhere to updated national guidance.

Already our Recycling Village, Garden Waste and Highways work has restarted. It is important that we strike a balance where we can. We will now work through a rolling programme of recovery as we work through the guidance and apply it to South Tyneside.

I would like to stress that we continue to take a measured approach to service recovery to ensure that council services can operate safely and in line with rules around social distancing. This includes looking carefully at the guidance issued by Government relating to the phased return of some primary school pupils and arrangements for face to face support between secondary schools and pupils in years 10 and 12. 

Ultimately it is a decision for the school governing body to determine whether they wish to re-open their school, not the Council, but we will work closely with our family of schools to support them in undertaking the necessary Risk Assessments prior to any decisions being taken. Each school will have its own set of challenges and we understand that parents and carers will have considerations of their own. We will fully support their judgement and will also respect decisions made by parents and carers.

I would like to give my thanks to our local heroes. The NHS, our care workers, emergency services, all key workers and our amazing army of volunteers - our selfless heroes who continue to serve on the frontline in the war against coronavirus.

Coronavirus is not over yet and we must not be complacent. We all still have a part to play in keeping ourselves and others safe and I would urge you to continue to stay at home as much as you can. It's up to all of us to tackle the virus. We must all do what we can. Rest assured your council is here to support you through this.

Councillor Iain Malcolm
South Tyneside Council

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