A message from the Leader of the Council

A message from the Leader of the Council

A message from the Leader of the Council

 Published: 24-Feb-2021

Following the Prime Minister‘s announcement on Monday evening, we now have a clear route out of what I know has been a particularly tough and demanding lockdown for so many of you.

I would like to thank all of you who have followed the rules and helped get us to the position where we can begin to reopen some of our businesses and breathe new life into the Borough.

It is no secret that either side of Christmas the situation here in Gravesham was incredibly worrying with our rate of Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people at well over 1,000 and among the very worst in the country.

At the time of writing, this has fallen to 112 per 100,000. That‘s entirely due to the discipline of the vast majority of you who have done all that has been asked of you to bring infection rates back under control, but still needs further work to continue to bring the rate down.

A lot has also happened in taking the fight to Covid-19. It started with the opening of the symptomatic testing centre in Lord Street, which was quickly followed by our two centres testing those without symptoms opening in Northfleet and Gravesend town centre.

And, of course, the real beacon of hope was the opening of the large-scale vaccination centre at The Woodville at the start of February.

I know thousands of you along with others from other areas of north west Kent have received at least your first dose of the vaccine at The Woodville and I would like to pay tribute to the local volunteers and the staff from the NHS and the council who have worked so hard to make the centre a success.

However, as we come out of lockdown we must remain vigilant, keep our guard up, and follow the advice and rules in place. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if all the good work of recent weeks was undone and we were to lose more loved ones locally to Covid all for the want of a little patience.

Support for those advised to shield

Earlier this month and in a response to a new method adopted to predict those who are more likely to be at risk from Covid-19, the Government announced that a further 1.7 million people in the UK are being advised to shield, i.e stay at home and not to go out, even to shop for essentials.

Here in Gravesham, we know that more than 1,500 of you will have received letters from the Government advising you that you fall in to that category. We know that almost a year on from the original lockdown, this will have come as an unpleasant and worrying shock to you.

But please know, we are here for you if you need practical help, support or advice.

We have been supporting those on the shielding list in the Borough throughout the pandemic and the various lockdowns and will continue to do so.

If you haven’t already, you will shortly be receiving a letter from us with details of how to contact us if you need help with shopping, collecting medicines or in other ways.

If you need urgent help, the 24 hour Kent Together helpline can be reached by calling 03000 41 92 92.

For general advice and information about support available, visit our Covid advice pages on our website at https://www.gravesham.gov.uk/home/environmental-health/covid-19/help-and-support/overview

We have a diverse range of communities here in Gravesham and we know that for many people English is not their first language. We have multi-lingual messaging directing people to the support ourselves, our partners and our colleagues in the voluntary sector can provide for those facing hardship as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. This can be found via: https://www.gravesham.gov.uk/home/environmental-health/covid-19/translated-support-pages/overview

Please point family, friends and neighbours to this page if you think it will help them access support they may need.

Supporting our residents

We know the last year has been tough for many of you who have either been furloughed or who have lost your jobs because of Covid-19.

It has been financially challenging for the council too. We have faced considerable additional expenditure in responding to the pandemic, while seeing a dramatic fall in income from items such as unpaid council tax and rent, The Woodville, our leisure centres, Gravesend Borough Market and car parking charges.

Despite some additional financial support from Government, this year we have recorded a deficit of around £2million.

Against this backdrop, we have made the decision to raise our council tax charge for the coming year from £208.08 to £213.03 for a Band D property, a rise of £4.95 or less than 10p a week. More than 60% of properties in Gravesham fall within Band D or below,

While we collect council tax, only about 12% comes to us. The majority goes to Kent County Council, with other amounts going to Kent Fire and Rescue Service, and Kent Police. If you live in an area with a parish council, they will raise a levy too.

When you add in the increases from our partners, the total increase for a Band D property in Gravesham will come to around £89 this year.

As financial support from central Government has decreased over the past decade or so, so we have had to rely increasingly on the council tax we collect to pay to maintain our essential services to you, our residents.

However, we fully understand that this year many people will find an increase in bills challenging and will, perhaps for the first time, be wondering how they will be able to pay them.

To help those who need it the most, we intend to ensure that residents eligible to receive Localised Support for Council Tax (LSCT) during the coming year will not have to pay the £4.95 rise in the Gravesham Borough Council element on this year‘s bill, by providing them with a £5 credit on their Council Tax account

Support is available to anyone struggling to pay their Council Tax and there are a number of ways we can help you.

If you are concerned that you cannot afford to pay your council tax – or rent if you are one of our tenants – please contact us sooner rather than later.

If you pay council tax and would like our help or advice, visit https://www.gravesham.gov.uk/home/council-tax/problems-paying/overview

If you are one of our tenants, speak to your housing officer or one of our customer advisors who can be reached on 01474 337000.

Supporting businesses

Throughout the pandemic we’ve worked hard to support local businesses survive long periods of closure and reduced custom.

Recently we reopened applications for grants designed to help local businesses and charitable organisations that are either not registered for Business Rates and have been required to close during lockdown, or who are able to show they have been severely impacted during the same period. They could qualify for grants of between £500 and £3,000.

All eligible applications, with the exception of home-based businesses, received no later than 31 March will also be considered for a one-off top up sum worth between £4,000 and £9,000.

Owners of businesses unsure whether they are eligible but which have been severely impacted by Covid-19 related restrictions, should email: economic.development@gravesham.gov.uk to arrange a confidential call back for further advice.

For full details of the discretionary scheme and to apply, visit https://www.gravesham.gov.uk/home/business/covid-19-guidance-for-businesses/overview/

We have also recently announced details of a £2.2 million economic support package to help get the local economy back on its feet and to help counter the high rates of youth unemployment we are currently seeing in the Borough.

This is made up of immediate support to help businesses reopen after lockdown, and longer term measures to ensure a sustained recovery, and include:

  • Grants for businesses severely impacted by Covid-19 and assessed as being of strategic importance to the Borough and/or able to demonstrate a significant contribution to employment, training, wellbeing or culture.
  • Grants for licence holders for taxis, licensed premises and Members’ Clubs in Gravesham to offset renewal of fees for 2021/22.
  • Adaptation grants to help businesses respond to the impact of Covid-19, for example, to help moves to online trading, responses to changed consumer patterns, digital skills training, transition to low carbon business activity, etc.
  • A business start-up grant scheme.
  • Procurement workshops for local businesses on how to work effectively with the council and the wider public sector in supplying goods and services, influencing the impact of the council’s procurement activity on the local economy.
  • An incentive scheme encouraging the take up of vacant retail units in Gravesend town centre
  • Strengthening of the council‘s apprenticeship and work experience programmes, and putting in place new career graded posts
  • Making up to 25% of the council‘s apprenticeship levy funds available to other local employers, helping to boost apprenticeship numbers within the Borough.
  • Additionally, the council will be part of the Government‘s Kickstart youth employment programme, offering more than 30 roles for local young people across various departments, and will be continuing its apprenticeship programme.

We are lucky to have a local economy that boasts so many independent traders. We value all of them highly and will do all we can to help them recover from the impact of the past year.

May elections

Local elections will be taking place on 6 May. There are votes for the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Kent County Council seats, and a by election in the Westcourt ward for this council.

If you have been made aware you are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, or are just uncomfortable at the thought of visiting a polling station to cast your vote while Covid-19 is prevalent, you can still make you voice heard by registering for absent voting.

To find out more and to register, visit https://www.gravesham.gov.uk/waystovote

Stay safe      

Hopefully this week‘s announcement of a route out of lockdown has given us all hope and renewed optimism.

But it is important all of us, including those who have received the vaccine, continue to follow all the rules and guidance. If we all work together, we will be able to put this terrible period behind us much quicker.

Please, stay safe.

Wish best wishes

John Burden

Leader

Gravesham Borough Council

 Last updated: 09-Apr-2021

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