Fri, 10 Jul 2020
A STRATEGY outlining West Berkshire’s priorities for recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic has been released.
The West Berkshire Council strategy sets out the priority areas structured around health, education and the local economy.
It details how the council and its partners aim to improve the quality of life of all of those who live or work in the district.
Speaking in a recent meeting, the council’s chief executive Nick Carter said: “We are at a very early point.
“There is nobody who yet fully understands exactly what the economic impact of Covid-19 is going to be on West Berkshire.”
Early analysis has shown that the number of people int district claiming Universal Credit is projected to rise to 3.7 per cent, compared to 1.5 per cent in February, as a result of the virus.
In West Berkshire, 15.1 per cent of employees are in sectors most impacted by coronavirus – retail, leisure, hospitality, and supply chain.
The district is home to 12,100 13-to-18-year-olds, who will make up 11.7 per cent of the working age population in five years time.
However, ICT, digital, science and technology, financial and business services – strong areas in West Berkshire – have been less affected by the lockdown and are likely to recover faster.
Mr Carter said these businesses were “seen to be resilient through Covid and through the last recession or relatively so."
He said: “West Berkshire should be in a relatively strong position and the impact of this is not going to be felt equally by any stretch.
“There is a lot we don’t know. We need to prepare potentially for a second wave and if we have to impose local lockdowns.”
A masterplan study for Newbury could be commissioned to assess the impact in the town and how the council can harness investment.
Mr Carter said there were “challenges in Newbury in terms of vacant accommodation” and that the council had made funding bids to the Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership for suitable local projects.
He said a lot were focused on job creation and capital projects.
Work with a redundancy and redeployment hub is also being explored as Mr Carter said the younger workforce was likely to be impacted most.
He said: “I think there will be people who will lose their jobs.
“I think they will be potentially younger people and I think it’s going to be really important that we have got something ready to move that forward.
“Hopefully businesses less affected by Covid will be in a position to help the young people who may find themselves out of work in the next few months.”
The council deferred business rates for April and May and has allocated almost £27m of grant funding to eligible local businesses, with a further £1.225m in discretionary funding being distributed.
Mr Carter said: “We have pretty much spent all of the money that the Government gave us but we are continuing to lobby for some further support in particular the cap on rateable value at £51,000 is a bit of a challenge for us.
“We think there are some businesses above that value that are vulnerable.”
Commenting on the strategy, council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) said: “We know that Covid-19 has had a major impact on individuals and communities across our district and will continue to do so for some time.
“We therefore recognise the importance of putting into place proactive recovery plans.
“Our response work has led to some changes to the way we operate and we are keen to maintain these going forward.
“It has been wonderful to see how our communities have stepped up to help one another and we would want to build on this.
“The initial focus of our recovery work will be on recovering what makes West Berkshire a great place to live – our strong health outcomes, excellent educational performance and our vibrant economy.
“We know these areas have been impacted and are committed to getting the district back to a more positive position as soon as possible.
“We will also look to develop the new methods of communication and greater engagement with our residents, which is something that has been a valuable legacy of the current situation.
“Our Recovery Action Plan shows that we have acted quickly to help mitigate the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on the district, such as support for local businesses through relaxing licensing obligations, encouraging environmentally friendly active travel and the safe reopening of our schools.
“We now have the opportunity to take this work even further and will engage with partners and the wider community to support a strong local recovery.”
The strategy will be considered at the council’s executive next Thursday.