A review of the outcomes delivered by Chichester District Council since the pandemic began showed that over £70 million of grants were issued to local businesses, community groups and those residents who are struggling financially.
Diane Shepherd, Chief Executive of Chichester District Council, reported to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday (15 June) on the progress and achievements of the council over the past 15 months.
As well as working with partners on the emergency response, the council created four recovery groups last June, which identified the actions that needed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. These looked at housing; the local economy; planning, health and environmental protection; and also the organisation.
“The past 15 months have been some of the most challenging any of us have ever faced,” says Diane Shepherd, Chief Executive if Chichester District Council. “I am so proud of our communities, staff, councillors and partners in the way that they have responded to the pandemic. Everyone has supported one another, whether that’s offering to pick up someone’s shopping, volunteering at the vaccination centres, or supporting our amazing local businesses.
“The list of achievements since the pandemic began is considerable. Over the past year we have issued well over £70 million of grants to businesses, community groups and those residents who are struggling financially. Due to the speed at which we issued our business grants, we also qualified for a further £1.1 million, which is also being distributed.
“We’ve worked tirelessly with rough sleepers and due to the hard work of our outreach team the amount of rough sleepers in the city has reduced from 32 in 2019 to 3 in 2021. We were also awarded a £324k grant to assist with ongoing support for rough sleepers and provided funding to Stonepillow to purchase a property for move-on accommodation and the construction of four additional rooms at the lodge.”
The council also launched its ‘Make your change count’ campaign to discourage residents from giving money directly to rough sleepers and instead to divert this money to local charities who can offer ongoing support. During the pandemic, the council has also been moving ahead with the development of its short stay accommodation for households who find themselves homeless. This is due to open next year.
As well as issuing millions of pounds in grants and support to local businesses, the council has been supporting its local high streets and businesses in many other ways.
“Supporting local businesses has been, and continues to be, a key priority for us Training, retail support grants, support for the self-employed and micro businesses, and working with the Observer series on a campaign to support local, are just a few of the actions we have taken. We’ve also advised businesses how they make their premises covid-secure, and offered reassurance to visitors through our Covid Ambassadors. We’ve got lots planned for the months and years ahead, including the launch of Invest Chichester; preparing for events to return to the district when restrictions ease; celebrating our cultural offering through a series of events next year; continuing to provide high quality business accommodation; and, attracting businesses to relocate here.”
Climate change, health, and planning for the future of the area are other priorities the council has been focusing on. While some officers have been directly responding to the crisis, others have been busy progressing vital work such as the Local Plan Review. Huge amounts of work has been carried out on this, including in relation to employment and horticultural development, to make sure that future planning policies are capable of supporting economic recovery.
“It’s important to point out that financially, the pandemic has hit councils hard too.
We’ve completed the first round of an efficiency review and are currently on track to achieve £932k of savings in 2021-22. Our target is to save £2 million across the next three years, but things are changing all of the time, and this may well need to be increased. We’ve also been developing our website and making it even easier for people to access our services online and improving our customer service centre ready for when it reopens. The safety of our customers, staff and councillors is a top priority for us. Although some restrictions have been lifted there is still some way to go, and so we want to assure our residents and businesses that we are here to support them every step of the way,” adds Diane.