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Council warns of potential service impact as COVID staff absences rise

Article date - 26 January 2021

Impact on vital services could be unavoidable St Helens Borough Council says as staff absences due to COVID-19 increase.
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The services suffering include Careline monitoring service for older and vulnerable people, and the security team which monitors CCTV and public buildings, while high numbers of school cleaners, caretakers and catering staff – vital in the efforts to keep schools open and safe for vulnerable children and those of critical workers – are sick or home-working while self-isolating or shielding. 

In some services staff absences are as high as 85 per cent. 

Staff from non-frontline services are being redeployed to maintain these crucial functions, with leisure centre staff, libraries and registrars officers helping to provide school cleaning, supporting the Contact Cares helpline and local testing centres amongst other services.

While some of these services have already ceased temporarily under government guidelines, this may mean the council has to reduce or even halt some currently active services to maintain crucial frontline roles, which could see reduced delivery over the next few weeks. 

The council’s recycling and waste service is continuing to operate normally despite some staff absences but has seen a large increase in the amount of materials to be collected – a result of the national lockdown.  

Similarly, the grounds maintenance team which looks after local streets, parks and green spaces – which many residents are making much more use of under lockdown – is being stretched by an increased workload, with litter and dog fouling rising. Residents are asked to help keep the borough tidy, using the bins provided or take litter home with them. 

Staffing issues were further compounded last week with the impact of Storm Christoph, when officers from across the council were drafted in to tackle flooding throughout the borough. Many officers have worked long hours and well into the night to provide aid and sandbags for people’s homes and businesses and to close off and monitor the road network. 

Kath O’Dwyer, St Helens Borough Council’s Chief Executive, said: 

“While many of our officers are able to continue their work effectively from home, that’s not the case for many of our frontline teams, the staffing of which is by the nature of these crucial services, more vulnerable. 

“Wherever possible we are mitigating this impact through the redeployment of staff, reductions in non-essential services, and the re-prioritising of activity – which we can only do thanks to the flexibility and commitment of our fantastic officers – but we may see an unavoidable impact to some services over the next few weeks.” 

Councillor Martin Bond, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Governance, said: 

“The pressures caused by the pandemic touch all elements of the council's work and we are lucky to have such committed public servants ensuring the safety of residents. The council's ongoing priority is to look after our most vulnerable fellow residents, despite resources being so stretched.” 

Council Leader David Baines added: 

“Like all public sector keyworkers, council staff have gone above and beyond since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, determined to continue to provide essential services as best as possible for residents, support to businesses, and working together with charities and organisations to look after our communities. 

“I can’t express enough my thanks to them for their dedication to our borough. 

“As the pandemic continues, unavoidable staff absences are rising and pressure on services is increasing. The council will continue to do all we can to keep services running but we now must ask residents and partners for their patience, understanding and support.”