Date: June 2020
Nobody can afford to underestimate the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is cutting across every aspect of all our lives be that health, family and virtually all socioeconomic matters. Local Government has very much been in the eye of the storm and Southend Council staff have worked very hard to deliver, and to continue to deliver, what was and is required. Southend Council offers a myriad of services which are integral to daily life and require human intervention.
One of the obvious and widely articulated consequences of the of the pandemic is the re-emergence of the status of public servants. I have seen and heard of numerous acts of kindness and going beyond the call of duty from Council staff. It is heart-warming to see this shift and I hope it is acknowledged by wider society and our national government.
I cannot mention public service without of course expressing my personal heartfelt thanks to all NHS staff who showed what a truly brave and magnificent group they are with a such a vocational spirit. As mentioned previously I hope this is reflected in the Governments thoughts. Woe betide any political party that ever threatens our jewel, in our crown, the NHS. Our system, whilst not perfect, is the envy of the world.
The coming economic consequences of Coronavirus is going to be a massive challenge for us all. We are caught in a challenging time, needing to move forward, needing think about the safe and gradual opening of the economy and needing to consider the effects on the group identified to be most economically affected, the 18 to 25-year-old cohort.
Being Safe and Well is the primary objective cutting through everything that the Joint Administration is trying to achieve. I currently hold the Portfolio for Community Safety and Customer Contact. As I have been furloughed myself from my normal work, I have offered to lead on the Administration’s behalf the safe unlocking, or to use the PM’s language, the first baby steps. This challenge sits very well with my Community Safety Portfolio. Southend has a segmented economy, including many small enterprises along with a significant Leisure/tourism offer and it is this that presents the first major challenge.
We have been forward planning, looking at what unlocking may look like for Southend but the whole nation had to wait for the PM’S announcement on Sunday 10th as to what the plan would be. Within that announcement we were told that we may exercise as much as we want visit destinations, sunbath in a park or on a beach.
The messaging around Covid 19 has been a major challenge for us. We have spent years promoting a “Visit Southend” campaign then we suddenly had to switch to “Don’t Visit Southend” during lockdown. In recent years visitor numbers have reached 7 million PA. Following the PM’s announcement, we had to change to a different track recognising that people will come but that we need to be clear about the risks and not over encourage. As a result, we have changed to messaging to Stay Safe, Stay Apart. We have also made significant physical interventions such as the contraflow system that provides more space for Social Distancing on the promenade. We have also suspended all parking on City Beach for the same reason.
In order to facilitate, as safe as possible, a reopening of Southend and Southend’s economy we have set up a stakeholder group involving key business players, town centre, other Borough centres such as Leigh, Shoeburyness, Thorpe, relevant Council Officers, Police and Essex Chamber of Commerce.
As we move into the new normal the Council must try to read the situation and facilitate businesses to succeed in what are unchartered waters. It is absolutely essential that Southend, with its well-established history of small business start-ups, takes every opportunity to help create employment for all but especially the 18-25 year old’s identified as the highest risk group.
We are working together to plan to open as safely as possible whilst recognising that many businesses are on their knees. It is an extremely tricky situation trying to balance off the risks of Covid 19, against visitor numbers, trying to save our local businesses, provide jobs for local people and restart our economy safely. At the forefront of every decision is keeping the “R” number down well below 1 and being mindful that Social Distancing is here to stay for some time. Southend residents have by and large complied with Social Distancing very well. NHS staff have literally sacrificed themselves. We cannot afford to have all this undone. I will summarise by saying Stay Safe and Stay Apart.