Key public information
The Public Health England and NHS advice remains to wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, to use a tissue and bin it and stay at home for seven days if you have a high temperature or new, continuous cough. They are advising that you do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home. However if you have concerns that your condition is getting worse or has not gone after seven days go to NHS 111 online.
Westminster Council is encouraging people to sign up to digital updates here and that they keep checking the Council website (where they are currently providing the link to NHS England information).
The Department of Education has a new helpline to answer questions about COVID-19 related to education. Staff, parents and young people can contact the helpline as follows on Phone: 0800 046 8687 Email: DfE.firstname.lastname@example.org (Opening hours: 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday).
Government information for health professionals and organisations is available here.
The Local Government Association is also providing advice here
Westminster Labour’s local response
There is an understandable desire from residents for information and many of you have already been in touch with Westminster Labour Councillors and Karen Buck MP wanting to know what Westminster Council is doing about the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.
All councillors have received two briefings outlining the council’s response and preparedness. These have shown that all services dealing with vulnerable people (such as Adult Social Care and Health) are analysing in detail potential risks (including for those not currently receiving support from council services). They are working closely with Public Health England and other public bodies (for example the Department of Education around schools, and the GLA and other London Councils around rough sleeping).
Westminster is practised at responding to emergencies, given its unique position in Central London and we are confident that officers are as prepared as they can be under the current circumstances. However, given then scale of the issue there will inevitably be real challenges ahead that everyone will be working to respond to.
Westminster Labour Councillors and Karen Buck MP have raised a number of specific issues with the council based on our concerns and those raised with us by residents. These have included:
- Ensuring the Council takes measures to ensure safe continuity of care for elderly and vulnerable groups, given pressures on care workers, and that they are specific measures to protect rough sleepers (in both areas the council has confirmed they were urgently looking at matters and that systems are being put in place).
- Asking what additional support can be provided to those reliant on online delivery services for their groceries, particularly ensuring that those who until recently received ‘meals on wheels’ are being checked on.
- Advice for families where adults in the ‘at risk’ groups are sharing a home with children who are going to school. We have asked that parents should not be fined if they withdraw their children from school in these circumstances.
- What help there can be for children who receive free schools meals in the event of school closures (at present they have said this does not look viable but will keep under review pending advice from the DfE and Public Health England)
- Requested that the council not evict people from council flats (except in cases where resident safety is at risk) and that it should use any influence it has in the local private sector to stop evictions at this difficult time.
- Argued for an increase in the Council’s Discretionary Housing Payments to ensure people don’t lose their homes.
- Asking for clarity on the support implications for Westminster residents who have been placed in out-of-borough Temporary Accommodation and to urge that all necessary information is being shared with host boroughs.
- Looking at support for small businesses and voluntary organisations at risk from the economic impact of CV 19 including halting the planned pitch rent rises for street markets (such as Berwick Street) due to go into effect on 1st April.
- Asking what steps are being taken to encourage non-essential council staff to move to home working and whether more public meetings being hosted by the council should be cancelled.
- Making the case that all non-essential communications capacity that the council has should be focused on assisting the council’s response to the challenge.
- Asking that more information about the council’s response, appropriate contacts for key services and how to access email updates be added to the Council’s main website page and social media
- Requesting advice about how to best support residents who want to help volunteer in their communities, assisting the work of local charities and voluntary organisations and urging the council to develop clear local structures that help officers and councillors to work with the local community on this.
While we are looking for answers to these questions, we have made clear to officers that the most important thing is that these issues are urgently looked at, appropriate action is taken, and that necessary communication is made to residents and those who need such information most.
While there are many local voluntary groups that are likely to need our help over the coming months we wanted to raise awareness that the North Paddington Food Bank, which does such vital work with vulnerable communities in North Westminster, is currently struggling for donations and volunteers. Please visit their website here if you might be able to help. As set out above we are urging the council to help coordinate this community response and many of our councillors are already involved in local support efforts.
There are a number of important political questions about the current capacity of institutions across the UK to respond to the crisis as many residents are raising with us. We will support the wider efforts of the Labour Party nationally and the Local Government Association (LGA) Labour group to get answers from government about the national strategy. However it is imperative that our focus is on doing what we can to help Westminster Council target the resources it has to help those most at risk in our communities and on ensuring it is communicating and responding as best it can.
As opposition councillors we are not directly involved in the Council’s decision making but if residents have questions about what the Council is doing to protect vulnerable residents we will endeavour to raise them with the relevant officers. Please contact us here. We will post further updates as we get answers to other key questions.