The Coronavirus is not only novel for its first appearance in humanity but also for the devastating impact it’s having and will continue to have on communities around the globe and also on our local communities here in Neath Port Talbot.
I can’t help thinking back, as we move deeper into a new world of lockdown, social distancing and grim daily virus updates, to May 2017, when I became the Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council – a great source of pride to me, being a Port Talbot boy.
The challenges were clear then, with austerity being just one of a long list of problems to overcome, but needless to say, the unstoppable march of a deadly, invisible virus changing all our lives was not on the agenda.
In the last, history making few weeks though, I have been thoroughly impressed by the strong community spirit and willingness to help and to change behaviours being displayed by residents throughout Neath and Port Talbot – and of course by our heroic health workers, roundly and rightly applauded from the front doors of houses and balconies of flats here last Thursday night.
And my Council has risen to the considerable Coronavirus challenge. Having managed huge service changes like the closure of schools and then mobilising care for key workers’ children, staff have made tremendous efforts across all departments.
And they have adapted to our fast changing world.
Many of the authority’s staff now work from home, others have been re-deployed to new roles and others, like our waste and recycling staff, remain at their posts, helping ensure front line services continue to support our communities despite the global emergency.
These are just some of the initiatives we have taken to help:
- NPT Buy Local, a free online advertising webpage (www.npt.gov.uk/nptbuylocal) to enable local businesses to promote what services they can continue to offer at this time. This service will be particularly relevant for businesses who offer a delivery service and may help sustain their business during this period. More features are due to be added to expand its capability to connect with local transport providers.
- NPT Safe and Well, this will support medically vulnerable residents who have been told to self-isolate but don’t have any family, friends or neighbours to call on for help. It will arrange for a trusted volunteer to help with daily living tasks such as food shopping, collecting deliveries, posting mail and any other reasonable tasks. We have set up a dedicated contact centre team and residents in need of the service can contact (01639) 686868. Those wishing to volunteer can sign up at: www.npt.gov.uk/volunteering
- We have identified businesses eligible for the first Government financial support package, and have mailed 2,400 letters to those who qualify for the support. A new online portal for businesses has been established so we can get the money out as quickly as possible. We have also mobilised the £10,000 of Welsh Government support for small businesses which qualify. Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in Neath Port Talbot are to get a 100% discount on business rates for 2020/21 to help them during the coronavirus outbreak.
- We continue to promote the messages from Public Health Wales and Welsh Government to our residents, businesses and key partner organisations, while also continuing to update on the changes we are making to Council services on www.npt.gov.uk/coronavirus.
- We have teamed up with South Wales Police to use drones to survey hotspots where people are not following Government measures on social distancing. The drones are equipped with speakers that transmit messages directly to the public. We are reminding residents to stay at home except for: shopping for necessities, obtaining medical supplies, one period of daily exercise, and travelling to and from essential work.
The Council, in line with social distancing requirements, has also closed libraries, leisure centres, parks and other Council owned buildings including closing civic centres to the public and our licensing officers carried out a sweep of pubs and clubs throughout the entire County Borough, finding businesses were complying with closure requirements.
In these eerie new times of quiet streets and deserted public squares from Dubai and India to Paris and New York and right here in Neath Port Talbot, we are at war with an unseen enemy – but the good thing is we are all, throughout the world, on the same side.
The emergency has brought the best out of us, from health and emergency services workers (I used to be a police officer myself so I know what it’s like to be on the front line in a crisis) to residents ready to help their elderly neighbours, to volunteer, and to accept changes without complaint.
I want to reassure residents we will do everything necessary to keep you safe and I applaud the vast majority who are obeying lockdown rules so we can move on.
As Winston Churchill once said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Let’s all work together to keep Neath Port Talbot safe.