At a meeting on Friday 20th March 2020,which lasted all of 10 minutes, members of Bridgwater Town Council (who weren’t self-isolating or closing down their businesses in line with Government instructions) met to vote through Emergency Measures which included the closing down of Council offices and approving emergency powers to Town Clerk, David Mears, in conjunction with the appropriate Executive Portfolio Holders. Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley said “These measures will last for as long as the emergency lasts and can be lifted or downgraded when deemed appropriate. Council staff and councillors can still be contacted by email and by phone and information will be put out through the Town Council website. Members are encouraged to get involved in Community Support Groups if health and circumstance allows and meetings will continue online weekly for the Executive and monthly for the Full Council. We will be working in conjunction with the other authorities and supporting the Government and Public Health England in confronting this serious international emergency.” Thereafter Mayor of Bridgwater, Cllr Tony Heywood, immediately locked the front doors of the Town Hall.
The full text of the resolution is as follows
I. to suspend all BTC meetings, standing orders and financial regulations
II. to close all Town Council owned public used buildings
III. to delegate all powers and decision making of the council to the Town Clerk (except those that are prohibited by legislation) in conjunction with the appropriate Executive PFH as follows
Smedley – Finance, Communications, Art Centre, Museum
Pearce – Community, Environment, Waterways
Heywood – Civic engagements
Redman – Town Hall, Premises, Hinkley Point, Carnival
Lerry – Staff, Economy, Cemeteries, Planning
Burrows – Transport
Cordiner – Youth
Gibson – Climate Change
IV. That these actions should be in place until annual town council meeting of 21 May 2020; thus allowing for plans for the Mayor Making to go ahead, but can be lifted at any time should the national emergency be downgraded and can be extended by the Town Clerk in consultation with and with the agreement of the majority of the portfolio holders if the situation is still prevalent
V. Staff should be asked to work from home. No staff shall be penalised or forced to use holiday entitlement if work becomes in short supply or if their role doesn’t lend itself to home working
VI. A system of virtual conferencing to be investigated for weekly link ups with the Town Clerk as controller
VII. A freeze on all grants funding and unessential planned spend until such a time as finances are clearer. This will not apply to community centres, wages or where expenditure is contractual or essential to the running of the council. Cemeteries operations are exempt and the Town Clerk has full delegated authority over the running of the cemeteries
VIII. Getting communication right with regular daily announcements from a trusted source is important and the Leader should take on the role of External Communications pulling together information from the Local Authorities as issued with access to the town council web for dissemination. A statement from lead councillors at times is permitted.
IX. Setting up a Community Support Group is something BTC should facilitate (but not run) and the PFH for Premises should be granted right of access to the Council premises to facilitate this demand as it develops whether this be resource hubs in the form of neighbourhood groups, village shops, delivery networks or storage.
X. To work with SDC & SCC to work towards a community plan to include:
a) Provision for Care for the elderly in the case of mass self-isolation
b) Provision for childcare for essential workers if schools and nurseries close
b) All office jobs to be done remotely where possible
c) Minimisation of travel and movement
d) Encourage social distancing
e) More CV testing to be made available
f) Noting that the Supply and Demand system will change drastically, alternatives should be put in place to deal with the potential for mass income loss in Bridgwater, we request that SDC consider the temporary suspension of council rents, council tax, business rates.
g) We call upon utility organisations and banks to consider the temporary suspension of utility bills, VAT and mortgage payments.
Proposed Cllr Brian Smedley (Leader)
Seconded Cllr Kathy Pearce (Deputy Leader)