Merton Council’s rapid and wide-ranging response to Covid-19

A report covering how the council speedily reacted and adapted to meet the unprecedented challenges Covid -19 brought was presented at Merton’s cabinet meeting on Monday.

The mobilisation of staff to the front-line to support residents vulnerable to the virus, the speedy allocation of financial support to businesses and the council’s key role to help create one of London’s first volunteer hubs to help those most impacted by the virus, are among the highlights. The council also worked to ensure the safe-guarding of vulnerable adults and children remained a priority and that services important to all residents such as refuse collections continued.

The Borough Emergency Control Centre operated seven days a week during the lockdown to meet the changing and increasing demands on services. As part of the operation 94 members of staff were urgently deployed to take part in the emergency response, and to ensure critical services for residents could continue to be delivered.

The Leader of the Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, said: “The council’s rapid reaction to the unprecedented challenges Covid-19 brought and its work to adapt services has been hugely impressive.

“I am particularly proud of the way Merton’s residents, voluntary and community groups and businesses have worked with the council to help make the borough safe and ensure our  most vulnerable residents have been protected.

“There is still a long way to go and the council is now working hard on recovery plans so we can continue to support our residents and businesses every step of the way.”

Work across the council to meet the challenges of the life under lockdown, included:

  • Contacting 6,959 residents on the shielding program, for those extra-vulnerable to the virus due to underlying health conditions. The residents were contacted, either by calls or home visits, to make sure all their needs in regard to food, medicine and social contact were met.
  • Playing a key role in setting up one of London’s first community response hubs in partnership with Merton Voluntary Service Council, Merton Clinical Commissioning Group and other key voluntary groups from across the borough. The Merton COVID-19 Community Response Hub was able to mobilise volunteer help for residents in need from day one of the lockdown.
  • A further challenge was the urgently sourcing of Personal Protective Equipment, in a time of national shortage, for around 70 social care workers and to meet the emergency requirements of 10 care homes.
  • Council staff have been working closely with schools to ensure that vulnerable children are being safe-guarded and essential social work home visits continued. During the lockdown staff have also been supporting vulnerable adults via daily phone calls or by contacting them online.
  • Since the onset of the pandemic, the council has worked with partners to successfully secure emergency accommodation for 52 rough sleepers, and help them access support for mental health, drug and alcohol issues if needed.
  • As part of its work to support businesses the council swiftly delivered payments of the Business Support Grants for small and medium businesses affected by the Covid-19 crisis. More than 95% of the allocated funding has now been delivered totalling £26.79 million. Merton was one of the top three fastest boroughs in London to get the vital grants distributed. Further support for businesses included offering businesses the opportunity to defer paying rent for three months.
  • The council’s regulatory services worked to ensure compliance to the new regulations which came into force with the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and other venues.
  • Licensing and Trading Standards Officers have been undertaking checks to ensure that business are trading safely and within the guidelines. They also gave direct advice to businesses during the lockdown and are now dealing with an increasing number of calls from companies seeking advice on how they can re-open safely from June 15
  • The number of complaints and enquiries received by the service during lockdown increased by 25 per cent residents concerned about noise, nuisance and social distancing.
  • Understanding the financial challenge to the authority and working with government to get additional support.

Since May 11 when the Government published its road map for the easing of the lockdown the council has been working on plans to ensure this can be achieved safely. Work is ongoing to support the phased reopening of schools and the opening of non-essential businesses from June 15.

With more people needing to travel safely the council has prepared an emergency transport plan, which has involved extensive engagement with residents and groups across the borough. To help keep public transport for key workers and reduce driving in the borough, the plans aim to help people take more journeys by bike or foot. The plans are focused on supporting safe distancing by providing more space for walking and cycling.  Pavements are to be extended into the road in busy areas such as town centres and cycle lanes are to be created. Funding bids are being made for longer term work to improve walking and cycling routes across the borough.