On Monday 16 March 2020, the Victorian Government declared a State of Emergency in Victoria due to the serious risk to public health posed by COVID-19.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we activated our emergency management operations. Local Government performs a critical role in Victoria’s emergency management arrangements as it is the level of government closest to communities and has access to specialised local knowledge.
Therefore, we have responsibilities and play an integral role in emergency preparedness, response and recovery.
To ensure a reasonable and proportionate response to the pandemic, we formed several working groups to respond to the emerging needs. This included a COVID-19 Pandemic Committee and a dedicated Response and Recovery team.
The role of the Pandemic Committee is to co-ordinate and orchestrate Council’s response to the pandemic. The Committee was and still is responsible for leading the integrated approach and decision making relating to:
- Emergency management and community recovery.
- Authorisation of external and internal communications.
- General cleaning and infection control and advice.
- Advice on interpretation and application of public health directives.
- People and Culture staff matters.
- Business continuity planning.
- Information technology planning.
- Community, contractors and other considerations.
The Pandemic Committee consisted of senior leaders from across Council and representatives from important external agencies including: Victoria Police; Red Cross; Jewish Emergency Management Group; community support agencies; and local health providers.
The role of the Response Recovery team is to enact the recommendations of the COVID-19 Pandemic Committee and support the Department of Health and Human Services to minimise impacts of the COVID-19 through the following objectives:
- Preparedness — implementing arrangements to reduce the pandemic impact.
- Containment — preventing transmission, implementing infection control measures, providing support services to people within the municipality who are isolated or quarantined.
- Communication — developing media and communication messages in-line with government messages to inform the community and employees of any changes to normal municipal service delivery.
- Community support and recovery — ensuring a comprehensive approach to emergency recovery planning and provision of recovery services based on the City of Glen Eira Municipal Emergency Management Plan.
The Response Recovery team also co-ordinated the provision of emergency relief services to support vulnerable members of our community to access food, pharmaceuticals, community transport and emergency accommodation during the crisis.
In-line with State Government directives and for the continued good health of our community, we had to postpone non-essential services and events and close some of our facilities, including the Service Centre front counter at Glen Eira Town Hall, Glen Eira Leisure facilities, Glen Eira Libraries and the Youth Centre.
We also had to make several changes to the operation of facilities offered within public open space, including closing playgrounds and fitness equipment across the municipality, closing the Bailey Reserve Skate Park in Bentleigh East and ceasing bookings of sportsgrounds, pavilions and sports facilities, such as multi-purpose courts, rotundas and picnic shelters.
For those essential services we needed to maintain, such as immunisation sessions, in-home support, waste collection and cleaning, customer service and Maternal and Child Health, we adopted innovative processes that allowed us to operate while complying with physical distancing and hygiene measures. This included moving our services online where possible, conducting telephone consultations/appointments and using FaceTime to hold onsite meetings.
On 24 May 2020, the State Government announced the gradual easing of restrictions, which allowed us to reopen key services and facilities, however, the number of patrons was capped in-line with Chief Health Officer directives preventing us from returning to a complete service.
Following the Government restrictions, we had to close our Glen Eira Leisure and Glen Eira Library services during the COVID-19 period and some casual and permanent staff were impacted. Four hundred and forty casual staff were unable to be offered shifts from 23 March 2020 and 60 permanent staff were impacted and requested to take their leave entitlements. We did our best to support affected staff members by introducing a special COVID-19 leave entitlement of two weeks and offering redeployment opportunities into other areas of Council. We also successfully advocated to the State Government to participate in the Working for Victoria Program, which created an additional 169 new roles — 20 per cent of which were able to be set aside for placement of our own at risk staff. More than 75 staff were redeployed between April and June 2020.
Those staff that could work from home, worked from home. All of our 434 office-based staff, including our Customer Service call centre staff, successfully made the transition to working from home with access to business systems and technology. More than 500 of our remaining staff were able to continue working in the field and in their workplaces providing essential services. This included our Residential Aged Care workers, In-Home Support workers, Works Depot team, Immunisation team, Parks Services team and our community compliance officers. We continued to support our staff through the pandemic by promoting safe work environments, providing strategies for good mental health and access to counselling services.
Like many Victorians, our local community and local businesses have been hard hit by COVID-19 and will continue to be impacted for months and years to come.
On Tuesday 7 April 2020, Council approved a $7.3 million COVID-19 Response and Recovery Package to support the Glen Eira community. This Package aimed to provide immediate financial relief to those most at risk and to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of residents, particularly those more vulnerable and those already experiencing disadvantage. The Package also provided immediate and ongoing support to local businesses, local community groups and sporting clubs to assist them with their ongoing viability post COVID-19.
Some of the key financial concessions and initiatives included in the Package:
- The ability to defer rates for 15 months without penalty interest or late fees. Six hundred and eighty-six, close to one percent of ratepayers had taken up deferrals to 30 June 2020. We expect this number to rise in 2020–21.
- Waivers to certain fees and charges and rent relief for 70 Council community tenants ($62,000) and 29 winter sporting clubs ($64,000).
- Waivers to footpath trading permits for businesses and some registration fees for businesses that fall under the Food Act and Public Health and Wellbeing Act. We automatically refunded 612 footpath trading permit fees ($139,618) and some registration fees of 1,108 food businesses, beauty and personal care service businesses and prescribed accommodation businesses ($396,000).
- The introduction of the COVID-19 Community Action Grants — providing community groups and organisations grants of up to $10,000. We provided $127,300 of grants through this program, approving 30 grants to 26 community-based not-for-profit groups. The average amount of grant is $4,500.
- The introduction of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Small Business Grants — providing local businesses with grants of up to $2,000. We approved grants for 118 small businesses totalling $230,000 to June 2020.
- Relaxation of issuing fines for parking infringements in timed parking zones in activity centres and around medical facilities such as hospitals and medical centres.
- The opportunity to access free, professional and confidential counselling sessions for local business owners through Council’s existing Employee Assistance Program. Three business owners have participated in these sessions so far. An online business portal was developed where businesses could seek advice from other business mentors. Access to webinars developed by our BusEd partner Monash University allows business owners to upskill in e-commerce and cybersecurity methods.
- A dedicated local COVID-19 Hotline to support residents, business and community groups looking for information, advice and support during the COVID-19 crisis. The Hotline received 43 calls throughout May and June 2020 on rates relief, local business support and food relief and recovery.
- Increase the capacity of Council’s Delivered Meals program and work in partnership with Foodbank Victoria and the Red Cross to address food security issues for vulnerable residents. There was a 64 per cent increase in meals being provided to the community through our Delivered Meals program from March (471 meals a week) to 30 June 2020 (737 meals a week), because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A Social Distancing Support Program supporting young people in crisis whilst self-isolating by providing one-on-one support with a youth worker online. Twenty-six young people accessed the program to 30 June 2020 to seek assistance with feelings of loneliness and isolation, motivation and goal setting, online learning and family relationships stress.
- Establishment of a COVID-19 Community Groups Committee and online portal for information sharing, responding to challenges that are facing the community and providing Council with feedback about issues and priorities for consideration.
- Increase our community vaccination sessions to increase take up of the flu vaccine. During the State of Emergency, 2,069 people accessed our community flu immunisation sessions, an increase of 398 on the previous year. Many of those being vaccinated were accessing the Over 65s free flu shot program.
- The Glen Eira Be Kind campaign — enabling safe and effective ways to create and strengthen community connections, to lift community spirits and reduce the negative social and mental health impacts of isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our community and workforce significantly. We have all had to be flexible and adapt to new ways of working. We will continue our role in support and recovery to the Glen Eira community throughout 2020 onwards. Our planning will be adjusted to ensure our efforts focus on assisting our local community in the recovery phase through what have been unprecedented times. We will continue to consult widely with the impacted community to ensure that the measures implemented will assist and strengthen community groups, businesses and sporting clubs to remain viable, connected and resilient beyond this challenging time.
Every crisis brings an opportunity and COVID-19 is no different. Internally, we will evaluate our response to the pandemic and think about how our people, our skill sets and our core capabilities can be used into the future to grow our current services and invest in more innovations. We will also review our ways of working and our workplace design to ensure that they remain relevant for a contemporary post-COVID workplace.
For further information see our COVID-19 Response and Recovery Package.
Agenda Item 8.1 — Support for Business, Residents and Community Groups during COVID-19
Agenda Item 8.2 — COVID-19 Rates Financial Hardship Policy
Agenda Item 8.8 — COVID-19 — Amended Stimulus Package to Support Businesses, Residents and Community Groups