Hounslow House - the council's headquarters
A recovery plan to offset the costs of the pandemic has been agreed by borough chiefs as leader Steve Curran warned Hounslow will “certainly” be the worst hit area in West London.
Hounslow’s cabinet members unanimously approved a proposal to set up a Hounslow Recovery Programme Board, led by Cllr Curran, and four task forces looking at economic, social, environmental and community recovery from coronavirus.
The board will be made up of representatives from across the public and private sector, including Heathrow Airport, to develop plans over the best route out of the devastating impact of the pandemic.
During the virtual meeting on Tuesday, June 9, Cllr Curran said: “The council during the coronavirus period of lockdown have been working really hard to think about the future, how do we support residents and businesses after lockdown finishes.
“We’ve heard this evening the opening of non-essential shops in the future, that’s imminent now, the lockdown is coming to an end.
“There is social distancing but this is only the start of a further journey now on how do we deal with economic impact and ensure we can recover quickly from the devastating effect of Covid-19.
“I think this is the biggest threat in the council’s history…We are by likely accounts like to be the second worst affected in London, certainly the worst affected borough in West london. We know this is because of Heathrow, particularly through the supply chain and the massive reduction in flights.”
It is believed 42,000 jobs associated with the airport could be hit by the virus.
As part of the economic recovery task force, analysis has already been commissioned from regeneration consultants Oxford Economics, to look at jobs and skills, housing and construction, and town centres among other sectors to get a “detailed picture” of the local impact.
Chief executive of the council Niall Bolger told members how 22,500 people in the borough had been supported by the council through the highly shielded group – making up around 10 per cent of the borough’s adult population.
Applications for Universal Credit were also on the rise, with the report detailing a 25 per cent increase when April was compared to February levels.
He warned: “The level of need we may need in the future is incredible…
“We have significant implications in relation to the BAME community and we need to deal with that effectively and in a coordinated way so all of our residents have support.”
But he also highlighted that Hounslow had recorded the lowest mortality rate of coronavirus within its care homes.
“Although there has been a tragic loss of life in the borough that has been minimised as far as possible within our care homes, we have the lowest level of mortality of any London borough in terms of the care homes that we have within the borough, due to the fact there’s been highly effective infection control led by our public health director and others within the council,” he said.
Adult social care costs to the council are estimated at £1.9m out of the likely £15m incurred due to the crisis. This is the second-highest cost after £3.6m to cover shielding, the community hub, PPE and more. The council also expects a £14m loss of income from the pandemic.
Speaking in favour of the report and recovery plan, Hounslow’s health and adult social care boss Candice Atterton said: “It’s really good to see the planning for recovery has started really early and I feel very confident that we’re thinking very broadly about what needs to be done to have a successful recovery.
“I’m especially pleased we’ve been using intelligence we’ve gathered and from community groups so we really know where to target resources
“I’m very aware of the huge psychological impact from this pandemic, people are struggling with their emotional health and well-being and we really want to make sure we are supporting holistically whole lives of people we are working with.”
Communities boss Katherine Dunne said her team were looking at how the community hub can still be used after lockdown has ended, and is launching a community response fund this week.
“We need to work out how to keep the good stuff going forward, what we can’t do is go back to how things were before.
“There will be a new normal we are going to figure out what that is and what the role we’re going to play in it is,” she said.
Cllr Joanna Biddolph, Leader of the Conservative group on the council, said, “I want to thank the council’s staff for the way they have coped with and adapted to the crisis. Their support has been vital in keeping existing services running and in delivering new ones. And we shall need their commitment even more as the recovery gets underway.
“It is important for the council to learn the lessons of the pandemic now that the peak has passed, not least because we do not know if there will be a second spike.
“But the biggest task facing the council is the recovery. The plan is very general and misses out some important issues altogether. It also fails to address properly important impacts on society, including education and schools, housing and youth services. There also needs to be greater detail on how the council will work with the voluntary sector. It is good that the council says it wants to be driven by the evidence but we need to see that approach applied in practice.”
The Conservative group highlighted three areas of particular concern about the plan, Heathrow, support for retail and investment in the borough. On retail they said, “It is … deeply disappointing that there is only passing reference to retail businesses in the council’s plan. We should already be looking at a more radical programme of action to support Hounslow traders as they face the uphill task of trying to recover from the lockdown whilst still trying to cope with all the other challenges they face”.
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
June 11, 2020