Councillors have united to pay tribute to frontline staff and volunteers helping to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Just 15 elected members at Stoke-on-Trent City Council attended Thursday’s shortened full council meeting, in line with a ‘pairing’ agreement to allow social distancing in the chamber.
They set aside party politics to present a united front amid the covid-19 crisis – there have been 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far in Stoke-on-Trent, and probably far more unconfirmed.
The main reason for the meeting was to allow the council to approve new contingency arrangements for decision-making in emergencies – provisions which may be needed if the pandemic worsens.
But the councillors also took the opportunity to thank staff, especially those working in frontline services such as social care, where they are potentially exposed to the virus on a daily basis.
Labour group leader Mohammed Pervez said: “The threat of coronavirus is extremely serious and real. This is not a time for conspiracy theories or party politics. We are in a crisis situation, and things will get worse unless decisive action is taken.
“People staying at home will help limit the spread of this virus. However, staying at home is not an option for everyone, and today I pay tribute to all those courageous frontline staff and volunteers who are working extremely hard, round the clock, to help people in need.
“This is humanity at its very best. We cannot thank you enough for what you are doing, and we pray for your good health.”
Council leader Abi Brown said: “At this particular time in the coronavirus pandemic the role of elected members as community leaders is vital, and I know that every one of my 43 colleagues, regardless of political allegiances, have stepped up to serve their communities.
“To officers, from frontline staff delivering vital services on the ground, right through to our senior officers and city director, I say ‘thank you’. I want you to know that the vital work you are doing is at the forefront of members’ minds, and you have the full support of myself, the cabinet, and indeed all members.”
City Independents deputy leader Randy Conteh added: “In Stoke-on-Trent we should be proud of that voluntary and community sector that we’ve got out there that’s assisting us here at the city council.
“We often talk about our motto, stronger together, and I think sometimes it tends to be almost rhetoric. But I think we’ve proved, at the start of this journey that we’re going on, that we will be stronger together.”
The city council has closed numerous services due to the pandemic, including leisure centres, museums and local centres, with some staff being redeployed to other parts of the authority.
City director Jon Rouse told the meeting that the council was ‘continously reviewing’ its staffing resilience, and warned that further changes might be needed in the weeks ahead.
Mr Rouse, who only started work as the council’s top officer a few weeks ago, said the authority and its staff was responding well to the crisis.
He said: “These are extremely difficult times, and we will be remembered in history for how we as a city, and as a nation, responded.
“I want to thank staff and partners for all their work to date. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time.
“It is abundantly clear that this crisis is not going to be over quickly, and some very difficult times lie ahead. The best science tells us that the impact of this pandemic is likely to get worse before it gets better. We therefore need the residents of Stoke-on-Trent to continue to abide with the instructions from government. By doing so they will save lives.
“We will get through this. By the end we will be changed, individually and as an organisation. Life is not going to be quite the same again. But however long this lasts our mission will remain the same: to be a council that was there for its citizens when it mattered the most.”
Councillors voted to approve the new contingency procedures, which will be enacted if an emergency means most elected members are unable to act. They include the creation of an ’emergency general purposes committee’, and the delegation of powers to the city director.
All other items on the agenda were deferred until the next full council meeting – although it is currently unclear when they will be.