Agenda item

Covid Response Report (Agenda item 9)

Paul Corney, Head of ARP.


The ARP Strategic Manager (Support) presented the report that informed Members of the impact of Covid-19 on the provision of ARP services.


Referring to when the pandemic first started in March 2020 and following lockdown, 296 staff across the four partner authorities had migrated to working from home.


There had also been many other demands on resource since March to communicate with and update customers, Government and the partner authorities.


These included:  

·           Updates to website

·           Updates to recorded messages on the telephones (RAD messages)

·           Amendments to templates which mention recovery action/costs

·           Additional web forms published to allow ratepayers to request payment arrangements

·           Provision of statistical data for comparison & monitoring of progress

·           Regular review meetings with partner authorities for Grant application queries

·           Daily monitoring of info from the Government

·           Government returns


To address the additional pressure on resources, additional agency staff had been taken on and staff had been re-deployed from other departments to support the Business Rates Team.


Relief had been granted to 5,444 businesses amounting to over £100M and various grants provided by Government had been awarded.


Mitel phone systems had to be re-configured for home workers.  A Communication Group had been set up using WhatsApp, and an ARP Staff Support chat group had been created on Facebook. 


The post room at Breckland House operates for all partners, receiving all ARP post and document submissions centrally to Breckland House. The post opening procedures had been immediately revised in line with Government guidelines and included a reduction to two members of staff opening the post 2 days after delivery, with gloves and hand sanitising available to staff.


The ARP Strategic Manager (Support) stated that all partners, particularly West Suffolk, had played a huge part in getting all the IT infrastructure in place to allow ARP operations to continue during the transition to homeworking, and he formally thanked them for their commitment.


The forward planning of the desktop disaster recovery exercise and the business continuity actions carried out in December 2019 had put ARP in a very good position.


Councillor Cook felt that the ARP had done an incredible job and had achieved damage limitation.  All had learnt to cope with this new technology, and he hoped that all working practices would be continually revised going forward.


Councillor Broughton admired everyone for working from home but asked if there were any plans to gradually return to the office.  Members were informed that for those who were working in the office information had been circulated to use Teams rather than walking round the building and speaking to people in person.  Additionally, all sites were constantly being sanitised.


The Head of ARP stated that the strategic work that Officers had been involved in was to get a better understanding of what office space would be needed in future.  All Team Managers had been having regular one to ones and staff meetings.  The one to ones were increasing and the discussions held were not all about work.


In response to a question, the Head of ARP explained the process in respect of the additional claim forms as noted on page 50 of the agenda pack.


The Chairman added his thanks for the work carried out across all Councils.  He asked how ARP was going to manage going forward in respect of customers and clients visiting the building.  Members were informed that the Customer Strategy Group (Customer Leads from each Council and ARP Managers) were discussing each Councils plans for customers to come back into their buildings and ARPs part in these plans.


ARP was also working with Capita to enable more to be done on-line and had an assisted process for customers who found self-service difficult. 


The report was otherwise noted.

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