Coronavirus – District Councillor update

Weekly update from Simon Howell

The following is the weekly communication from our local District Councillor, Simon Howell.  Some of the issues raised are specific to Parish & Town Councils (eg the planning application process) but we’ve included the full email for completeness.  

You can get in touch with Simon on 01793 784491 or

Dear All,
Please find below a rather belated update for last week. We will aim to send these out once a week to avoid clogging up your inbox, but any urgent changes or very important information will be sent round asap. Thank you all for your continued hard work. We still have a long way to go, but every moment helping really makes a huge difference.
Waste collections
This week all our waste collection services will be back up and running – from today crews will be collecting batteries, textiles and small electrical items once again. These collections had to be paused at the outset of the pandemic as the centres we take these items for processing had closed but have now reopened.
Business grants
The government will be extending its grants scheme to small businesses that don’t currently pay business rates – for example, businesses operating from serviced offices. Guidance will follow shortly, but we encourage all those who have not yet applied to please put their application in.
A quick update on the current scheme:
  • We’ve paid all of the straightforward requests we’ve received
  • We’re processing all straightforward grant requests on the day we receive them (it takes a couple of days for payments to reach bank accounts)
  • We’re putting all available resources into working through the remaining requests that require additional checks as a matter of urgency.
Government business loans scheme
You may be aware that the government has announced a business loans scheme, which we are promoting to our local businesses. Here’s what we know from the government so far:
  • The scheme will go live from Monday 4 May and cash will be released within days for eligible businesses.
  • Businesses can borrow between £2,000 and £50,000.
  • Loan terms will be up to six years.
  • The government will guarantee the entire loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.
  • The government hasn’t yet announced what interest rates will be for the remaining period of the loan but says it will work with accredited lenders to agree a low rate.
  • The loan scheme will be delivered using the accredited lenders.
Update on fly-tips
There has been a lot of coverage in the local and national media about fly-tipping in the lockdown, particularly while household recycling centres are closed. Locally it’s had a lot of focus since a press release earlier this week by Oxford City Council on the subject.
Here are our figures for February to April this year, and the same period last year for comparison. We haven’t seen the significant increase in fly-tipping in the Vale that is being reported in other parts of the country.
*The figures for April this year are provisional
Community hub
Our Community Hub teams have had a busy week providing help to those in our communities most in need, although we believe the amount of need out in the district is stabilising. This indicates that we are successfully handling urgent referrals and are now managing ongoing support for our vulnerable residents. We have increased our staff numbers to help us tackle some of the more complex referrals we’re receiving.
We’ve now referred over 590 residents to our network of volunteers across South Oxfordshire and the Vale since the service began. We’ve also called over 800 residents on the shielded list in the last week to check if they needed additional or ongoing support.
Food and assistance with shopping remains the main area people require support. We’ve noticed that we are delivering more food parcels to residents who are in financial hardship as the weeks go by.
Last week we provided 41 food parcels to residents of both districts that had nobody else to turn to and where we couldn’t immediately refer them to a volunteer group. This takes the total number of food parcels to 128 since launching the service, which has helped to feed 139 adults and 32 children.
 Please make sure you’re using the correct details (below) to contact our Community Support service and please share these details widely.
Good practice for community support
We know you are keen to do as much as you can to support your local communities throughout the pandemic, and so we wanted to share some examples of good ideas happening around the district and further afield in case any of them are things you’re able to do in your areas.  If you have any examples of good things you’re doing or that your volunteer groups are doing, please share them with our Community Hub team using the details above, so we can share them more widely.
One recent good example is being carried out by Horspath Parish Council in South Oxfordshire – they are launching a hardship fund for residents in the village allowing them to get assistance in accessing food and medicine. This would be supported by a local charity that will make a contribution to household food and medical costs, with payments being made in the form of vouchers for high street stores or NHS prescriptions.
Clinical Lead urges people to use Emergency Departments
Staff at OUH are encouraging people whose health may be at risk to come to the Emergency Departments at the John Radcliffe and Horton General hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendances have been significantly lower since the pandemic started and the Trust is concerned that people are putting their health at risk by not accessing life-saving services. Staff will treat any serious conditions or ailments. There are systems in place to triage patients with suspected COVID-19, so everyone who comes to hospital will be treated in a safe way. More information is available on the OUH website.
Pregnant women encouraged to attend important appointments
Pregnant women in Oxfordshire are being reminded that medical help is still at hand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many providers of maternity services, the OUH has made a number of changes to how maternity care is provided during pregnancy, to keep both women and staff safe. This has included carrying out some appointments by telephone or video. However, maternity services are still open 24/7 for births, urgent care, and clinical advice for women who have concerns about their health or their unborn baby. Some face-to-face appointments with a midwife or doctor are essential, and it is important for women to attend. It is understandable that many people have anxieties around their health during this very unusual time – especially pregnant women.
Women are reminded care is still available and it is important that they stay in contact with their maternity team and attend their scheduled appointments. Appropriate measures will be taken to keep
Mental Health Helpline 24/7 for all in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire
People of all ages living in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire can get mental health support for themselves or a loved one round the clock by using the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Helpline, launched by Oxford Health with third sector partners earlier this month. This service is open to all and it’s not just for those in crisis, but for anyone who is concerned about their emotional or mental wellbeing at the current time.
· Adults: 01865 904997.
· Children and young people: 01865 904998
An update on our grounds maintenance work
 Here’s a quick update on how our grounds maintenance work has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 Our contractor is continuing to work, but only on essential work. They are still maintaining our parks and gardens, the land around play areas, and other open spaces so nearby residents can exercise safely within them. In line with government guidance we closed all play areas and exercise equipment from 24 March.
Crews are observing the social distancing measures while they cut grass, clear litter and weeds. The teams are also undertaking urgent tree work, regular site inspections, maintenance checks and essential repairs of play areas – they may be closed but people can still physically get to some of them, so we need to make sure they’re safe.
A Planning update
Our Planning department has put together a comprehensive overview of how the service is currently running in the attached letter from our Head of Planning – there’s lots of important information in there, so please do give it a read.
Here are a couple of bits of latest news featured in more detail in the letter that you might not yet be aware of:
New neighbourhood plan workshops
We’re planning to introduce a new workshop for neighbourhood plans once they’ve formally been adopted. The workshops will give the people who made the plans the opportunity to discuss the policies with our officers who consider planning applications to give them a better understanding of why policies were made.  We’ll be offering these workshops for all currently adopted plans in due course.
New planning application comments template
We’ve attached a new template [n/a] that you can use to provide comments on planning applications if you would find it useful. The template is based on feedback you provided us at the last Town and Parish Council planning training session. (Parish Councils should have received this earlier this week, if not please let me know)
Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award (iDEA)
South and Vale Business Support has launched the Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award,(iDEA) .
With schools currently closed due to COVID-19, parents will be looking for ways to keep their children engaged and stimulated, as part of supporting their learning and development.  iDEA is about lifelong learning, for anyone who wants to develop their skills. Through a series of online challenges, users complete interactive modules known as ‘badges’, which can be accessed for free on any device connected to the internet. The badges vary in length and difficulty and there is a huge range to choose from.  Find out more here and do share with family and friends.
Staff testing Guidance from NHS/Local Resilience Forum was circulated on Thursday 23 April setting out the national arrangements for staff testing. This guidance included information for employers and staff about how to access the testing service. Two testing arrangements are now in place: one is for health and care staff, who will be tested at local NHS testing sites; the other is for staff identified as key workers and their household members who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, who will be tested at Government-run regional testing centres. For Oxfordshire, the regional testing centre, now open, is at Thornhill Park and Ride.
I have had several people get in touch about breaching and enforcement of CoVID measures by Thames Valley Police. I spoke with Deputy PCC Matthew Barber and he has passed several specific issues onto the local policing team. TVP are patrolling our local areas as much as they can during this difficult time. If there are continued issues that are coming up, and have been reported, please do get in touch.
As ever, any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Best wishes, and stay safe
Cllr Simon Howell
Watchfield and Shrivenham Ward
Vale of White Horse District Council
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