By Martin Tett - 31st March 2020 6:04pm
Each day I take huge pride in the immense community effort that we are seeing across the whole county. It is a time of crisis, but we are seeing in all of our towns and villages just how well people are pulling together, supporting each other and volunteering to help especially in looking after the people who need it the most.
My colleagues and I are truly humbled and inspired by the amazing work people are doing.
I'm delighted to be able to say that the council is now in the process — via a team of staff and wonderful volunteers — of getting food parcels out to the most vulnerable. Please read on for more on what Buckinghamshire Council is doing and how we are helping to provide and coordinate community support.
Can I thank each and every one of you too for doing your bit by staying home, except where absolutely essential, to help stop the spread of the virus and to save lives. We have all made huge adjustments and I am thankful to everyone for the lengths you are all going to.
This week we received the food parcels from the Government for our most vulnerable residents and our teams are starting to send these out. Again, I am just so proud of how quickly our staff and volunteers have got this process up and running. This is an interim measure, as the aim is that the government will start sending these directly to vulnerable people using supermarket delivery services. But for now, we are helping to co-ordinate getting these out to the most vulnerable people who need them.
Local Support Hubs
I'm really pleased to be able to give you further detail about Buckinghamshire Council's eight local support hubs that are now set up for residents with severe medical conditions who might not have friends or family nearby.
The hubs will act as co-ordination and distribution points for the council's volunteer support network to help with the food parcels, fuel top-up cards and help with getting medicines and medical appointments.
They won't be open to the public but are there to co-ordinate the support for these most vulnerable residents.
Residents at high risk will get letters from the NHS or their GPs explaining how to register for support and we are making contact with vulnerable residents too. The Council's social care team has also identified 750 older and more vulnerable residents and is keeping in daily contact with them to make sure they are safe and that they have the support they need.
All residents can also see what wider help and support is available — and can offer to volunteer too — via Buckinghamshire Council's online Community Hub at www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/coronavirus
As I've already said, I'm just so inspired by the immense community effort we're seeing across the county. Just one example has been in High Wycombe, where local councillor Arif Hussain and his children raised money through the charity Five Pillars to buy food and care packages for elderly residents. Through a team of wonderful local volunteers, they then delivered the parcels to 68 flats of elderly local residents.
I know that this is just one of many such stories from across Bucks and I want to hear more. Please let us know what you are doing in your community and we'll share this on our website so people in your local area can find you.
We've had an amazing response to our call for volunteers, almost 800 so far! If you would like to volunteer to help in your local community please visit our online community hub at www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/coronavirus/community-hub
You can also use the hub to find local support for yourself or if you have an elderly friend or relative in Buckinghamshire that you are worried about.
Our daily video update — #AskBucksCouncil
We're all enjoying staying in touch online more, and at Buckinghamshire Council we are no exception! We are producing a daily video update — our Vlog — and it's a brilliant way of getting the latest updates from the Council — plus I enjoy that it can be a more personal, face to face, form of communicating as well as emailing you all.
Please do check it out via the Buckinghamshire Council website and most importantly — we want you to take part. We don't want this to be a one-way conversation. Please give us your stories, comments, questions via social media (Twitter, Facebook) using the #AskBucksCouncil hashtag and we will do all we can to include your comments and respond to any questions.
We know how difficult life is at the moment and also how peoples' circumstances vary tremendously. I know that many people are under financial strain and will find their council tax an added burden at a difficult time. The council's advice is that you continue to pay if you possibly can -council tax funds essential local services like rubbish collection, local fire and police services and helps pay for the care vulnerable adults and children need from us.
However, I want you to know that Buckinghamshire Council does recognise the financial impact of coronavirus and will be supporting working-age residents who already have Council Tax Reduction by initially reducing their council tax bill by up to £150.
We also know that other customers will have difficulty making payments, and we urge you to let us know so we can work through a solution together. For example, it might be easier for some households who pay in ten instalments to pay in twelve smaller instalments.
If you are facing financial hardship and need to talk to us about how to pay your council tax bill please go to www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/council-tax/help-council-tax-payments
Free school meal vouchers
Children eligible for free school meals will benefit from a national voucher scheme so they can still get meals while they stay at home during the school closure period. Schools can now provide, where needed, every eligible child with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets while schools are closed.
Some schools will continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but where this isn't possible, the scheme will allow schools to provide vouchers to families electronically, or as a gift card for those without internet access.
The voucher scheme means that families who usually benefit from free school meals still have access to healthy and nutritious meals while they are not attending school.
Where schools are issuing vouchers rather than continuing to provide meals, parents will receive the voucher directly from their child's school, which can then be redeemed online via a code or sent to their home as a gift card and used at supermarkets. Parents and carers should check with their school in the first instance to find out more about how this is being arranged.
Staying healthy while you stay home
I also want to take a moment to remind everyone that taking care of your mind is really important while staying at home. You may feel bored, frustrated or lonely. You might also be low, worried or anxious, or concerned about your finances, your health or those close to you.
It's important to remember that it is OK to feel this way and that everyone reacts differently. Remember, this situation is temporary and, for most of us, these difficult feelings will pass.
Staying at home may be difficult, but you are helping to protect yourself and others by doing it.
Check out the tips and advice that Every Mind Matters suggests.
There are things you can do to help you keep on top of your mental well-being and cope with how you may feel while staying at home. Make sure you get further support if you feel you need it.
The new Buckinghamshire Council
And finally — an important reminder that from tomorrow the new Buckinghamshire Council comes into being. It replaces the county council and the four district councils of Buckinghamshire, which will no longer exist after today.
There has been a monumental effort from staff and councillors in all five councils to get us to where we are today. Thanks to the huge amount of work that has been done over the last 16 months, all five authorities are now working as one and this has meant we have been able to respond as one team to the coronavirus pandemic. This is a great testament to all of our teams and I am so proud of the hard work and dedication shown by all of our staff and councillors.
Because all elections have been postponed until next year, all 202 current Shadow Authority councillors will become Buckinghamshire Council councillors from tomorrow until May 2021.
The existing Shadow Executive members will form Buckinghamshire Council's new cabinet until the elections in May 2021.
I'm so proud that we are in such a strong position to move forward as one new single council under such challenging circumstances.
Leader of the Shadow Executive