West Berkshire Council

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Find information about community support and our services during the coronavirus pandemic, on our information for residents pages, our information for businesses pages, and our community support hub page which has guidance to help coordinate community organisations.

See a summary of our Local Outbreak Control Plan and read our frequently asked questions. 

West Berkshire Council Coronavirus Weeknotes

Weekly updates from Lynne Doherty (Leader of the Council) and Nick Carter (Chief Executive) on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting West Berkshire, and the council's response.

Our website also has sections on:

Information for Residents

Information for Businesses

Coronavirus: stay alert to save lives graphic

Coronavirus Weeknotes #31

Written on: 23-10-2020

Like us, many of you will have been following the recent decision about whether or not Greater Manchester would move up to Very High in the new coronavirus alert levels. As you will have seen from the debate that ensued, these are complex decisions which require a careful balancing of the need to save lives, protect livelihoods and maintain some degree of normality.

These are far from abstract discussions with the impact being felt in the real world and in many areas of our lives. You could be forgiven for thinking that these are national issues and that the affected urban areas are a long way from West Berkshire. In fact, however, similar conversations are being held closer to home with other nearby councils calling to be moved to a higher alert.

This weekend Slough will be moving up to High, and it has been reported that our neighbour Reading Borough Council is in discussions with the Government about other measures which might be appropriate for the town - including a possible move to High. The argument goes that with cases increasing, an earlier move to a higher alert level and stricter restrictions would be more effective in curbing the coronavirus transmission rates. However, there comes that judgement we mentioned between lives and livelihoods, and we need to be careful we don't go too far, too soon.

A difficult decision becomes harder still when communities straddle two council areas. In the east of our district we have residents who live close to the border and who may well be wondering what this means for them.

In both Reading and West Berkshire cases are below the England average and we remain at the Medium alert level. We are not pushing to increase the alert level here in West Berkshire. Locally we have a lower infection rate per 100,000 people and we are mindful of the impact that moving to High would have on our communities. Whilst we consider the level here to be proportionate, we are monitoring the situation every day and will not hesitate to push for a move if we believe it would be helpful.

Much of the debate about alert levels has centred on the support that is available to residents and businesses affected by the restrictions - particularly those in High and Very High areas. We are all too aware of the impact the pandemic is having on local businesses. Supporting the district in staying open for business continues to be a priority for us. 

This week we agreed to a new package of support for businesses, thanks to a grant from central Government. The grant has been used by some councils to appoint Covid marshals in town centres to encourage social distancing. This works for larger urban areas but locally we feel it would be better to spend the money differently. Rather than have specific individuals, our approach is to boost the support we already have in place. This is being delivered already by our Economic Development and Public Health teams, and by our Public Protection Partnership. So instead of having one or two people patrolling our town centres we will be focusing on raising awareness of the rules and responsibilities for both residents and businesses, following up on any concerns we receive about compliance and providing advice and support to businesses where necessary. We'll also be working closely with Thames Valley Police, the Newbury Business Improvement District and our town and parish councils as we deliver this work.

Elsewhere this week we hosted another of our District Parish Conferences. We hold them twice a year to update town and parish councils on important issues which affect them, and to answer any questions they may have. We value enormously the opportunity to engage with a wide range of community representatives and to strengthen the relationship between our respective tiers of local government.

The conference agenda included coronavirus (naturally), some work we're doing to bring SmartCity technologies to West Berkshire, and central Government proposals for reforming national planning processes. Planning is an issue which always attracts a great deal of interest as it affects how and where our communities develop. The 'Planning for the future' consultation is open until Thursday 29 October and we encourage you to read the proposals and have your say.

Later in the winter we will be consulting on our next Local Plan, which in turn will guide how West Berkshire develops between now and 2036. It's an important document and we are keen to hear your views on it. You can expect to hear more about this in a future Weeknote.

To conclude this week's update we are delighted to bring you news of some national recognition for a local project we have been involved in. The Drug Diversion Scheme, which is being piloted in West Berkshire, involves Thames Valley Police, the Council plus others, and aims to reduce the harm caused by drugs. It allows people caught with small quantities of drugs to be given tailored intervention rather than being prosecuted. Our involvement has been through The Edge - a service supporting young people affected by drugs or alcohol - and we're delighted to be involved.

The scheme has won the Policing and Children category at the prestigious Howard League Community Awards which every year recognises the best community projects. We congratulate everyone who has been involved and helped make it such a success.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #30

Written on: 16-10-2020

A new three-tier arrangement setting out the Covid-19 escalation process was unveiled this week.

It comes at a time when the situation nationally is deteriorating, with autumn continuing to take hold and with it the second wave of the virus. Right now, here in West Berkshire we are in the medium category as is the case for much of the country. However, and the importance of this point cannot be overstated, being in the bottom rung of the ladder does not mean we can become complacent.

We've seen a significant increase in the past fortnight with more than 100 new cases and it is likely that rates will continue to rise over the coming weeks. Some of our neighbours are edging closer to the next level - high - and so we need to continue to do all we can to prevent the transmission of the virus. It is likely that the second wave of COVID-19 will last for longer and sadly result in more deaths. This will largely be dependent on the effectiveness of restrictions and whether any additional measures are put in place.

But what is it that we should be doing? One the main benefits of the new tiered approach is that we have clarity about the rules under each alert level. Put simply, under the current Medium level things will largely remain as they are but we continue to urge extra vigilance in complying with the existing measures which are:

  • You should continue to wear a face covering in areas where it is required to so
  • Social distancing rules must be followed - including the rule of six. This means you must not socialise in groups larger than six people, indoors or outdoors
  • Work from home where you can effectively do so
  • Schools and universities can remain open, as can places of worship (subject to the rule of six)
  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate, in a COVID-secure manner, except for those that remain closed by law
  • Certain businesses are required to ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and must close between 10pm and 5am
  • Businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers of attendees
  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, or indoors if the rule of 6 is followed

It goes without saying that the next two levels, high and very high, further strengthen these measures. For example, in 'high' areas you cannot socialise outside of your household or support bubble indoors. By the time you get to 'very high' there is ban on socialising with anyone you don't live with or aren't in a bubble with, and pubs can only open as if they were a restaurant. Of course there is more to it than that but it gives you a flavour of these new arrangements.

Along with the tiered approach the Government has launched a new postcode checker which provides you with up-to-date advice for that area - whether here at home in West Berkshire or in any areas you may be travelling to. You can find it here:

https://www.gov.uk/find-coronavirus-local-restrictions

The point of this new three tier system is to standardise this activity and advice across the country, which this will do, and to provide some parameters about how areas move between the two settings. On this second point we await further details.

In seeking a consistent approach it should also help provide clarity as to where we can expect Central Government to step in and where we have the discretion to act on our own merits. To give one example, legislation sets out when pubs have to shut and we cannot influence that - but we do make decisions locally on whether events can go ahead. Where we act at a local level we are always mindful of any national guidance which is available and we work closely with our partners through the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum, as well as our own Local Outbreak Engagement Board. Now that we have the new three-tier response we are reviewing our own arrangements to make sure we remain ready to step up should a move to 'very high' become necessary.

As part of our local outbreak control plan we have good governance processes in place that regularly review the latest data and information on COVID-19 across the district. This involves working with partners such as Public Health England, the NHS and our neighbouring councils to monitor trends and respond to outbreaks.

As part of this collaborative work, Public Health for Berkshire has launched a website which provides a dashboard of data relating to coronavirus cases across the county. It allows you to break the information down so you can get information for West Berkshire, as well as the other five local authorities should you wish to see how we compare. It also provides the information in a number of languages and is an excellent resource which we highly recommend. You can find it here: https://www.berkshirepublichealth.co.uk/

We will continue to share these regular updates each week to keep you informed about the work we are doing each week in an ever-changing situation. As part of our ongoing commitment to engaging with our local communities you can now sign up to receive these updates direct to your inbox each week. You can sign up here.

One final point today which we hope you will take away with you today, and which will help us all to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.

Wash your hands.

Cover your face.

Make space.

It's simple but effective, and something which is easy to do and which will help us all to reduce the transmission of coronavirus and to protect those we love.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #29

Written on: 9-10-2020

The last six months have been completely unique for the country, and indeed the world, in dealing with a virus which spread rapidly throughout the globe. It has required some difficult decisions to be made balancing the need to keep us all safe whilst allowing life to continue as normal. To hear the Prime Minister speak and to read the national media coverage we've seen that the answers are not always straightforward.

Locally we've had to make difficult decisions along the way. Most recently we took the decision this week not to allow the Michaelmas Fair to go ahead. A regular fixture in Newbury's calendar each October, it's something we know people look forward to - including many Councillors and council staff. After careful deliberation, we came to the view that the event could not be held safely. It was a difficult decision, and one we made in the context of recent increases in national infection rates and guidance from Government, including the Rule of Six.

It wasn't a decision which we came to in isolation and was based on advice from health professionals and the police. Although we concluded the event could not proceed, we believe that local people will understand our predicament and support the decision we reached.

As we head into autumn we will need to continue to respond to the pandemic and changes in infection rates. There has been a noticeable increase in tempo in recent weeks after a steady summer, and coronavirus prevention and containment continues to be a priority for us. Locally there has been a significant increase - 100 new cases in the past fortnight in our District- so now more than ever we all need to play our part in protecting ourselves, and our loved ones.

Work has begun on the creation of a local contact tracing cell to supplement national test and trace efforts. It will provide a local support in helping to trace people who might have been exposed to Covid-19 and where national efforts to locate people have been unsuccessful. Importantly, calls will come from a local number which we hope will encourage people to answer them. The local system will launch early next month and you'll soon see publicity about the new arrangements. We want people to know about the service and what to expect, both to ensure that calls are answered and help people distinguish genuine calls from anyone seeking to take advantage of people's concerns around this. As unbelievable as it might sound, there are people who will seek to use the test and trace service to scam people and we want to avoid that at all costs.

Elsewhere there continues to be discussions nationally about a new three-tier system for local lockdowns. This would standardise the approach to the coronavirus restrictions and, we hope, some criteria for each tier so it's clear what the measures are and what triggers them.

While our response to Covid remains a core priority for us we are also heavily focussed on our other important areas of work. This week we have launched a public consultation on our leisure strategy for the next ten years. Concentrating on physical activity, sport and the recreational use of our open spaces, we've set out our plans for the leisure offer in the area and its contribution towards making sure the district remains a great place to live, work and learn. 

Elsewhere we have recently provided an update on our plans to invest £43 million in our schools in the next three years with new buildings, expansions, refurbishments and special needs facilities. These include the recently completed new school in Theale, a new kitchen at Hungerford Primary School, Castle Gate refurbishments and extensive improvements planned for Falkland Primary School in Newbury. These are just some of our projects - there is lots going on and plenty to be excited about.

To conclude what has been a busy week, it was Clean Air Day yesterday and a chance for us to reflect on our new Environment Strategy and all that we hope to achieve for our green district. We recently published our strategy for ultra-low emission vehicles and the work we will do to encourage cleaner travel. It includes ensuring new homes in the district have charging points for electric vehicles and to provide on-street charging infrastructure in residential areas where people do not have driveways to charge on. It is broader than this however, and it includes working with businesses and other partners such as the rail industry to deliver private charging infrastructure too.

Alongside cleaner and greener cars, cycling and other forms of active travel will continue to be a focus for us. We hope to hear soon about our latest application for national active travel funding - and as soon as we hear anything we'll let you know.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #28

Written on: 2-10-2020

It's October; the weather is rapidly becoming autumnal and with it sees the start of the second wave of coronavirus for the country to get to grips with.

Although we have seen a small increase in cases locally, the impact here in West Berkshire is nowhere near as significant as in other parts of the country. A few days ago the Local Outbreak Engagement Board met and provided an update on some of the activities which are taking place locally to support communities through Covid-19. This includes running a public awareness campaign to ensure people continue to follow the "Hands, Face, Space" advice which should now be familiar to us all. We have also supported individual communities where possible. For example, we have listened to feedback from parents unsure about what to do if their child has a cough or cold and have produced a new leaflet providing specific advice about this for schools to distribute to parents.

Communication continues to be at the core of our approach to Covid-19 and to that end we held a live question and answer session on Facebook earlier in the week. Thank you to everyone who came along to listen and to engage with us on the issue. We welcomed the opportunity to update residents on the work we are doing and listen to their experiences, and we will be holding these events on a regular basis.

During the Facebook Live session, there were several questions about schools, the impact of Covid-19 and the precautions being taken to reduce Covid in these settings. We understand these are anxious times for parents sending their children off to school or university and particularly for those with exams coming up at the end of the year. The current plan is that exams will happen as normal, but there are discussions taking place about whether this is appropriate given the impact of time out from school for those sitting exams. Should things change, we will share information with you as it becomes available.

Whether it's at schools, in workplaces or elsewhere, coronavirus continues to be part of our everyday lives and the guidance on what we should do continues to be refined according to the latest government guidelines. Last weekend it was difficult to escape the publicity for the new NHS Covid-19 app - an important part of our collective response to the virus. The latest figures show that the app has been downloaded 12 million times and we continue to encourage local people to use it to keep everyone safe. It is an important part of the national Test and Trace programme as well as providing users with quick access to information and the online test booking system.

This week we have also focused on finalising the online application process for the new £500 Test and Trace Support Payment. The grant will be available to those on lower incomes who are required to self-isolate, but cannot work from home and have lost income as a result. We know this will make a difference to people who may be worried about making ends meet. More details about the fund and the online application process will be available on our website in the next few days.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #27

Written on: 25-9-2020

Preparing for potential outbreaks of Covid-19 is something we've discussed previously as we mitigate and manage local cases as part of our Local Outbreak Plan. Looking at events elsewhere in the country we had to be realistic in expecting there to be cases locally and making sure we are ready to respond to those.

Over the weekend we learnt that a number of police officers based here in West Berkshire had tested positive for Covid-19. When the positive tests were reported Thames Valley Police acted quickly to ensure the appropriate steps were taken to minimise any spread of the virus. This included making sure those who had the virus or were showing symptoms began self-isolating as well as referring anyone who had had close contact with them to the NHS Test and Trace service. Crucially though, it also involved a wider partnership response in line with our Local Outbreak Plan.

In the past few days we have been working closely with Thames Valley Police, Public Health England and other partner agencies to review the situation and ensure that collectively we are doing all we can to minimise the spread of the virus. It's inevitable that there will be cases in our communities and occasional outbreaks, and as well as the preventative measures we can all take, it's also how we respond to these that will make all the difference.

It feels over the last ten days or so that the pace of change in response to Covid-19 is picking up again. Yesterday the new NHS Covid-19 app was launched and the onus is on us all now to download it, to use it and to help protect our loved ones. The more people who use it the more effective it will be, and we urge people across West Berkshire to embrace it as another step we can all take to help tackle the virus as well as to keep our district open.

Elsewhere we have also seen a new package of support unveiled by the Chancellor to help local businesses and in particular to protect jobs wherever possible. This will be welcome news for many of our local businesses and is one of several initiatives launched recently to protect jobs. At the Council we're working hard to support the implementation of these schemes locally so that our communities get the most benefit from them. Earlier this week we began working on the process for distributing a recently announced £500 grant for self-employed residents who are asked to self-isolate - and we'll share more details about that soon.

To give another example, the Kickstart Scheme aims to support young people who are currently on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. New job placements, funded by central Government, will support participants to develop the skills and experience they need to find work - which is crucial at a time when the job market will be fiercely competitive. Not only are we looking at how we might create some placement opportunities within the Council, but also we've registered with the scheme to help other smaller businesses in the area to offer placements themselves where they need support through the process. If your business in interested in the scheme, please get in touch with our Economic Development Team, who would be happy to advise you on how to take part.

Aside from the immediate response to the latest coronavirus response we continue to work on the district's longer-term recovery, and this includes progressing with our new climate change bond scheme. Known as a Community Municipal Investment*, it has so far raised more than £700,000 from more than 500 investors. As the first council to offer a product like this, we are really pleased with the response - and there's just a month left to invest if you'd like to take part. Cllr Ross Mackinnon recently took part in a Green Fest event talking about the CMI's benefits for investors who want to combine a low risk financial return with an immediate positive local impact - you can watch it again here. And as children return to school, Aldermaston Primary and the Willink secondary schools are also generating their own green electricity thanks to panels installed over the summer funded by the CMI. We're now looking at a range of exciting environmental initiatives to benefit from the next tranche of capital investment.

Finally, we are continuing to consult with local communities on three important strategies; our Housing Strategy, our Culture and Heritage Strategy and our future plans for the London Road Industrial Estate. Each will contribute towards making sure West Berkshire remains a great place to live, work and visit and will guide the work of the Council in the coming years. If you haven't already done so please take a look here and help shape our future plans.

*Capital at risk. Investments are long term and may not be readily realisable.