The Town Hall’s emergency response team spent today planning for the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as it was announced all council buildings were closed from late last night.
All non-essential services provided by the council are to cease and all face-to-face appointments conducted over the phone, with plans being made for how services will be run and if necessary redeployed with 50 per cent, or in some cases 20 per cent, of their current workforce.
The Town Hall is prioritising core services such as waste disposal and fulfilling statutory duties for the provision of adult social care and for homeless people, having already announced yesterday the closure of its markets to all but stalls selling essential goods.
Hackney Service Centre, the administrative hub for all council services for the borough, is running on a skeleton staff who will continue to provide statutory homeless assistance to the most vulnerable who arrive seeking help.
Parking will also continue to be enforced, with exemptions in place for NHS and key workers, and an attempt to help local businesses with cash flow will be made with the council pledging to pay invoices immediately.
In one poignant impact of the machinery of local government coming to a halt, births will no longer be able to be registered in the borough, with the council operating a waiting list for new parents, who under normal circumstances would book a registration within six weeks.
The government has now announced new legislation to allow council meetings to be held virtually, with the law only previously allowing for any meeting, from licensing to planning to key decisions made by cabinet, to happen face to face.
The Town Hall had made plans last week to hold a meeting scrutinising the local economy through an invited group of councillors and members of the press over virtual meeting app Google Hangouts, though this was swiftly blocked by the council’s own monitoring officer as not permitted under current legislation.
Though the majority of planned-for council meetings in the coming weeks have been either cancelled or postponed, it is understood that the Town Hall’s annual general meeting in May must be held in public in order for the local authority’s constitution to be valid.
There are currently no plans to close parks in the borough, with the Town Hall’s green space boss Cllr Jon Burke voicing his “barely contained contempt” for those pressuring the council to do so, due to the impact this would have on residents living in overcrowded conditions without gardens or balconies.
Burke also responded to suggestions of timed rota schedules for residents to visit parks booked through the internet and one-way pavements as “quite good ideas, but logistically impossible to enforce”, calling for government-led measures to enforce strict social distancing.
Residents are being warned that if users of parks do not observe social distancing (see below), the government is likely to take action to close them itself, with Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville saying: “Fundamentally anyone using our parks must be respectful, be mindful of those that are vulnerable and understand the social distancing guidance.”
Council maintained outdoor gyms, play areas, adventure playgrounds, multi-use games areas, the Hackney Museum, Library and Archive are now closed.
The Town Hall call centre remains open on 020 8356 3000.
More information on how council services have been impacted can be found here.
You can read the government’s full stay at home advice here.
Information on coronavirus can be found here.