Published: Thursday, 9th July 2020

Read the Leader of Medway Council's latest message to residents.

I hope this message finds you well.

I would like to start by thanking everyone in our communities for everything they are doing in the fight against coronavirus. I’ve said before that there is no praise high enough for the fantastic, tireless work our NHS colleagues have been doing throughout the pandemic and I would also like to thank social workers who continue to support the most vulnerable children in our communities. I am also delighted to tell you that all of Medway’s schools have reopened for selected pupils which is a huge accomplishment and testament to the hard work of head teachers, teachers, school support staff and our own schools team who have been supporting them throughout the pandemic, and, of course, to the pupils themselves and their parents and guardians.

We are now starting to see life get back to what we are all calling the ‘new normal’ and I was delighted that from last weekend we were able to reopen a number of our much loved facilities including some of our heritage sites, play areas, outdoor gyms and our community hubs. Following the successful reopening of our high streets two weeks ago, last weekend also saw the opening of hairdressers, barbers, pubs and restaurants and I would like to thank our residents for drinking responsibly and continuing to follow the government’s advice on social distancing to protect and keep Medway safe.

We produced a guidance pack for the hospitality sector ahead of reopening and we will continue to provide advice to food and drink businesses as well as to businesses in our high streets.

I would encourage residents to continue to support local businesses however, we are still in a pandemic and we need to do this sensibly and safely so please keep following social distancing guidelines.

Continuing to support businesses

We are committed to helping support local businesses and I am pleased that we have been able to help thousands of Medway businesses and self-employed people with government grant schemes during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the 2,817 grants worth £34.635m paid to small Medway businesses, we have recently issued £1,225,925 funding to 226 small businesses as part of the government’s discretionary grant scheme. The discretionary grant fund is for businesses with fewer than 50 employees which have not benefitted from other government COVID-19 support schemes, excluding the coronavirus job retention scheme (furlough) and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

I was pleased that the Chancellor announced a package of measures to support jobs across the country in the Summer Economic Update in Parliament yesterday. It is incredibly important that businesses have the confidence to retain and hire staff, as well as providing young people with the tools they need to learn new skills and reach their full potential.

Council finances

As you may have heard in local media reports, Medway Council, like other local authorities across the country, is forecasting to spend around £16million in 2020-2021 as part of our emergency response to coronavirus. We are also forecasting risks to council income which could total as much as £41million. Although the coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on council finances, as always, we remain committed to supporting our most vulnerable residents and we will continue to do so.

We have already received more than £14million from the government and last week the Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced that a further £500million will be distributed to local authorities and support for income lost to councils during the pandemic.  Although we are awaiting further details about our allocation we welcome any additional government funding as this will help us bridge the gap we face. Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been lobbying government to underwrite all local authority expenditure in response to COVID-19 and we will continue to do so.

I also welcomed the news that the government had launched a £1.57billion emergency support package to help protect the future of theatres, galleries and museums.

We have a very strong creative and cultural sector here in Medway which we are keen to see thriving again. Medway is home to a number of theatres and cultural venues, including the council-owned Brook and Central Theatres in Chatham, and although we are waiting for further guidance about which organisations will be eligible for this funding, I am pleased that the government has recognised how much of a positive contribution our creative community has on our way of life and how important it is to protect them. Our creative community will play an incredibly important role in Medway’s bid for City of Culture 2025 and we look forward to working with them over the coming months as we develop our bid.

Managing COVID-19 at a local level

We are delighted that central government has devolved management of COVID-19 cases to a more local level as we believe that concentrating intelligence, control and treatment at a local level can allow for a more effective response.  Last week, together with our colleagues at Kent County Council and alongside Public Health England we launched  the Kent and Medway Outbreak Control Plan, which sets out how we will link up with health partners and emergency services, regional PHE teams and other government departments to respond to and deal with clusters or outbreaks locally, in whatever setting they arise including schools, care homes, hospitals, prisons and other community settings.

We are not planning for whole area lockdowns but sometimes it may be necessary to shut down buildings or settings to control the spread of the virus, but this will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

It is, however, very important that everyone understands the need to work together as a community to stop this disease spreading and It has never been more important for residents to continue to follow public health advice and guidance. Keep social distancing, regularly wash your hands and follow the advice you are given if you’re contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service.  

Looking forward

Although our primary focus remains responding to the coronavirus pandemic it is incredibly important that we continue to look ahead and invest and improve in our community facilities. This is why I was pleased that Cabinet approved plans to invest up to £5million in Splashes Sports Centre at our Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, 7 July.

We also approved plans to invest £135,000 in our play areas. These investments will help support our aspiration to become a Child-Friendly city, putting young people at the centre of everything we do. Both investments will be discussed at our next Full Council meeting.

Take care, stay alert and stay safe.

Cllr Alan Jarrett

Leader of Medway Council

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