Newham Council is issuing regular e-bulletins to residents about what’s happening at the Council and in the borough, including the latest information about how we are responding to Covid-19.
You can read the latest message from Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz below:
I hope you’ve been keeping well and safe as we continue with Covid-19 living. Please continue to play your part in preventing the further spread of coronavirus in Newham in the weeks ahead, as there remain risks of local outbreaks if we don’t remain careful and vigilant.
Already the Health Secretary has confirmed that there have been more than 100 local Covid-19 outbreaks emerging every week since the easing of lockdown restrictions; and on Monday he confirmed that the wearing of masks or face coverings in shops in England will become mandatory from 24 July.
This follows concerns about the possible airborne transmission of the virus by the World Health Organisation (WHO), who issued an advisory note stating that ‘it is also prudent to encourage the use of fabric face masks in public places where there is community transmission and where other prevention measures, such as physical distancing, are not possible’. You can read the WHO advisory note.
I really don’t understand why the Government is delaying wearing of face masks till 24 July, when Scotland made it mandatory last Friday. That’s why I’d encourage you to start wearing a face covering now - remember it’s not so much about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting those around you.
Asymptomatic spread, where you pass on the virus without knowing you have it, is a real threat especially to the most vulnerable. Because we are more vulnerable to the virus, Newham has been selected for a testing pilot, with people selected for tests from the walk-in site that is based in East Ham. As part of the pilot, those who work in occupations such as taxi drivers, cleaners and in shops are also being tested. The virus is still with us, and terrifyingly all the experts seem certain a second wave is coming. We must help one another to keep safe.
It’s been a busy week at the Council. On Tuesday I chaired our fifth Cabinet meeting held under Covid-19 crisis conditions, and tonight was our first ever Full Council meeting via Zoom. A report about finance in the light of the Covid-19 crisis revealed the impact dealing with coronavirus has had so far. It is estimated that a combination of lost income and extra expenditure to support residents during the crisis has cost almost £61m so far.
To date Newham has received three funding allocations from national Government of £10.6m, £9.7m and £4m – which was announced just this afternoon. This still falls significantly short of the money that the Council needs. That is why I continue to demand that the Government gives us more money through a Covid-19 Deprivation Premium to reflect the disproportionate impact the virus has had on our borough.
Funding needs to properly reflect the scale of the challenges we face to tackle the significant impact coronavirus has had and will continue to have on us. We have the most furloughed residents than anywhere else in London, the highest increase in unemployment, and the largest number of young people that will feel the economic impact the most. Added to this is the corrosive impact of austerity over the past ten years which has entrenched inequality. Paying for the economic impact of Covid-19 cannot be carried by our people.
Back in March we agreed for the first time in many years, a three-year budget which offered stability and a clear framework to help make residents’ lives better by addressing poverty and inequality through community wealth building and inclusive economy strategies, keeping young people safe, building much needed homes and tackling the climate emergency and the worst levels of air pollution in the country. That has given us an important baseline for the hard work that has to begin on realigning and redefining our financial planning in line with our Covid-19 recovery plan and Government imposed restrictions on spending.
It’s time for the Government to save the economy, to save jobs, and to save many millions from falling into poverty, and next week I’ll be launching Newham’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy, which will set out how we plan to respond to the worst recession this country has faced for nearly 300 years.
We have already heard that some councils fear they face running out of money and while Newham is not one of those, we cannot be complacent. Every precious pound that we have has to be used for the benefit of our residents. That’s why a report about our independent Internal Control Commission this week was absolutely significant.
The Commission is another vital step towards my manifesto pledge to ‘clean up the Council’ and restore people’s trust in us, which I have been committed to since I was elected. I asked the Commission to look at significant control failures under previous administrations, which cost the Council millions, and what lessons can be learned. That should have been a massive wake up call for the organisation, yet sadly, two years on, the report makes for sobering reading. It is quite clear; we have a long way to go to get to where I want us to be.
I am putting the Council on notice. Some progress has been made, but we must work much harder and faster on embedding the culture and practice our residents deserve.
Positively, the Commission’s report acknowledges progress made in transparency in decision-making; and along with the Democracy and Civic Participation Commission plus the Air Quality and Climate Emergency Annual Report (along with an Action Plan), we are showing how we are addressing the big issues to reset the relationship between residents and the Council.
The climate emergency plan, following our declaration last year to become carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon zero by 2050, offers a range of exciting and challenging schemes, plans and pledges which are already being rolled out. The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the need to clean up our air and create safer environments with more space provided for people to walk and cycle.
I know that these are issues of concern to some residents and businesses, but creating more space to enable residents to shop at a safe social distance is part of a series of requirements placed on us by the Government in order to prevent local Covid-19 outbreaks and is driven by our collective public health imperative to prevent the transmission of the virus and more deaths in the borough.
Statutory guidance published by the Government last month, requires all councils to take measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling. This is to encourage active travel and to enable social distancing because of the significant reductions in public transport capacity on our buses and trains. You can read the guidance here. More than 50 per cent of Newham households don’t own a car, and for them additional capacity to be able to walk and cycle is especially important as public transport becomes constrained.
The Council will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these measures in light of supporting town centres and local businesses, as well as ensuring that we meet our public health duty to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission and save lives. If you want to feedback your views on the measures or suggest ways for making our streets better for social distancing, walking and cycling, you can do so here.
For more on all the changes, challenges and plans we have for the short, medium and long term, I urge you to take note of the reports presented to councillors this week. You can do so here. They make clear Newham’s particular vulnerability, not only to the recession, but to the very real possibility of a second wave of infection in Newham, so keep safe, keep each other safe, and stay covered up.
While Newham was tragically hardest hit by the virus in the early days, following lockdown and the sacrifices you have all made, together with the courageous service of our key and frontline workers, we have seen the tide turn, and perhaps even a little light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s keep it that way.
Rokhsana Fiaz OBE
Mayor of Newham