Lockdown one year on: Calderdale leaders reflect on the council facing challenges like no other

A year ago Calderdale Council’s leader Tim Swift addressed councillors in the council chamber at Halifax Town Hall outlining the authority’s initial action plan for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 7:10 am

Within days national lockdown followed and as the situation has developed the council has played a major role in implementing and promoting the Government’s guidelines and requirements, from advice and practical help its public health team are giving schools to arranging payment of business grants to those qualifying, and ongoing support for care homes.

It could not have done it alone, and 12 months on Coun Swift (Lab, Town) said partnerships had achieved so much of what has needed to be done.

It is a year in which the council has faced challenges like no other, and accordingly expertise and local knowledge has been called on and used to meet them.

A man wearing a mask through Halifax town centre

A partnership approach has been key to supporting communities through the pandemic, ranging from establishing the local track and trace scheme to the Laptops for Learning appeal, using donations to buy crucial IT equipment to supplement Government supplies allowing children to be able to access online lessons.

It has also revolutionised the way the council works with hundreds of staff working from home to ensure services keep running, bringing technological changes that might ordinarily taken some years to develop in place in a matter of months, including councillors being able to meet, and the public able to watch these meetings via the council’s YouTube channel, to carry out its business.

The pandemic has also impacted on the council’s finances and subsequent budget decisions, including major income sources such as leisure centre and parking revenues and reduced amounts of Business Rates and Council Tax.

Coun Swift said through the year the generosity of spirit – and practical help – shown by volunteers had seen the council’s watchwords met in these difficult circumstances, such as kindness and resilience, building blocks as the borough eventually emerges from the pandemic.

“As we approach the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, our deepest condolences and thoughts remain with everyone who has faced loss and devastation due to COVID-19.

“It has been an incredibly tough year and we have all been affected in some way.

“People continue to make sacrifices to protect each other, and we are truly grateful for everyone’s remarkable efforts.

“We have stuck together through the challenges and achieved so much.

“We can now look ahead with hope thanks to the outstanding vaccine rollout and the cautiously optimistic roadmap out of lockdown.

“Calderdale’s amazing joint community efforts have helped to support our most vulnerable residents, businesses, schools, workplaces, the voluntary and care sectors and faith groups,” he said.

Some figures also told part of the story.

“We have distributed over 2.5 million pieces of PPE locally; paid out around £78 million in business grants; jointly raised £70,000 to provide laptops to pupils learning from home, and over £100,000 to help end child hunger in Calderdale for good.

“Our wonderful local key workers have continued to go above and beyond, putting themselves at risk to keep the rest of us going.

“Impressive statistics from Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network show that people in Calderdale are 140 per cent more likely to have volunteered throughout the pandemic than people elsewhere in the UK, and this kindness is certainly something we look forward to building on in the future,” said Coun Swift.

The importance of partnership is making a practical difference, says Deborah Harkins, the council’s Director of Public Health.

“Throughout the challenges of the pandemic, I have been so proud of the brilliant partnership approach to tackling COVID-19 and supporting our communities.

“Thank you to everyone who continues to play their part.

“It has been a trying time for so many of us and there’s still a way to go, but the incredible vaccination programme and the continued partnership commitment brings me great hope and optimism that we will get through this, together.

“To help control the virus, we are engaging with and supporting communities, particularly in areas with high infection rates; increasing and improving access to testing; ensuring that those most at risk from COVID-19 are offered a vaccine; carrying out local contact tracing; supporting people to enable them to self-isolate; engaging with businesses and helping them to be

COVID-secure; and enforcing COVID-19 restrictions where necessary,” she said.

Ms Harkins also reminded people to keep on their guard and do the basic things to help keep the case rate low while the vaccine rollout continues.

“Every one of us can still make this lockdown count by staying at home and avoiding contact, wearing a face covering unless you are medically exempt, and self-isolating if you test positive or are a contact. Let’s keep up the good work, Calderdale!”