CORONAVIRUS LATEST: Southend cancels council meetings

A series of Southend Council meetings are to be cancelled to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading to councillors and members of the public.

The council announced that all meetings would be cancelled until April, a move that puts several crucial decisions and debates on hold including discussions over Seaway Leisure, Queensway regeneration and a strategy on the future of the pier.

It comes just a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson escalated the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic by urging people to avoid all “non-essential” travel, as well a social contact with others by no longer going to restaurants or pubs and working from home.

In a letter to councillors, a council spokesman said: “After March 26, 2020, we are entering a period when there are only a few meetings planned up until the end of the municipal year.

“We will review the position as circumstances change.

“It may be possible to deal with meetings virtually if Government enact legislation which was muted yesterday and we can find a technical solution.

“If urgent matters arise over the next few weeks then these will be dealt with under the council’s urgency procedures as far as possible.”

Last week the government also announced that local elections will be postponed for 12 months. A decision that council leader Councillor Ian Gilbert said was the “sensible” thing to do.

Mr Gilbert explained elections would have presented a range of risks to the public, due in part to councillors going door to door to campaign, as well as people gathering at voting stations.

Cancelling will allow the council to focus on vital services needed to deal with the outbreak.

“We are monitoring Government announcements and advice constantly, and are ready to continue acting on and sharing that advice locally,” Mr Gilbert continued.

“As a large organisation ourselves we are reviewing our own business continuity arrangements and particularly focussing on those key services such as social care, ensuring we do all we can to ensure elderly and vulnerable people get the care and services they need at this time.

“We are aware of a wealth of support and community help being offered already and we are looking internally and with our partners at how we can best coordinate this activity in a helpful and structured way and hope to announce more on that soon.”

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick has also said there will be a national effort to support councils to continue delivering priority services, such as social care and providing support for vulnerable people.

“My absolute priority is to ensure they are well placed to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services, including social care,” said Mr Jenrick.

“Everyone needs to play their part to help the most vulnerable in society and support their local economy, and the government will do whatever is necessary to support these efforts.”

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter