The Town Hall is desperate to keep secret its ‘delivery’ record to those in greatest need during the covid-19 quarantine. WALTER CRONXITE reports
According to a top-level briefing at the Town Hall this week, 15 is the total number of emergency aid packages that Croydon Council managed to deliver in the first week of the coronavirus lockdown.
The packages were provided by the government and were intended for people identified as “vulnerable” and at high-risk from the deadly virus.
While Croydon’s volunteer-run soup kitchens, community charity groups and food banks have been working tirelessly for the past fortnight in efforts to provide some food and comfort to the frail, elderly and disabled, and to assist their carers, it seems that the Town Hall’s “strategy” – such as it is – has been misfiring.
Under Jo Negrini, the council’s reclusive chief executive, Gold Command meetings have been held, though no public briefings on their planning or decision-making have been forthcoming, as was the case in previous borough-wide emergencies, such as the riots in 2011 or the floods of 2014.
Negrini and the council have refused to answer questions about the number of council employees who have had to self-isolate or contracted coronavirus.
It is understood that Steve Phaure, the former council employee installed as the head of CVA – Croydon Voluntary Action – has been attending Gold Command, as the council has sought to funnel all charity and voluntary efforts through its own quango.
Yet by last weekend, CVA was putting out appeals for donations of food for its distribution efforts, as they had run short of supplies.
Last night, the council’s own propaganda unit issued an appeal for PPE – the personal protective equipment, essential for health workers and care staff who place themselves at risk when visiting and caring for the sick and vulnerable during the crisis.
Meanwhile, voluntary groups such as the South Norwood Community Kitchen, as Inside Croydon reported earlier this week, have managed to transform their weekly operation into a twice-weekly meals-on-wheels service. The Oval Tavern, in Addiscombe, is delivering packages of food, prepared in the closed pub’s kitchens, to NHS workers at Mayday Hospital. And one hub for the elderly and disabled operating in the south of the borough has managed to deliver 10 times more aid parcels than the council has done, and do it twice in the past fortnight.
“In Croydon, it’s a bit like that old joke about how The Ark was built by amateurs, and the Titanic built by the so-called professionals,” a Katharine Street source said.
According to this week’s Town Hall briefing, the government has identified 250 vulnerable people living in Croydon who might have need of the emergency food parcels and other aid.
Yet Croydon Council received only 44 of these government-supplied packages.
That just 15 of these were eventually delivered in the first week after lockdown was declared on March 23 is a cause of mounting concern, and some embarrassment, among senior council officials.
“What’s happening to those 200-odd other people who have not received any aid through the council?” the source told Inside Croydon last night.
“There’s growing concerns about some of the information and figures the public are being provided with by the government not matching the realities of the situation. But the disconnect between the number on the vulnerable list and the number receiving deliveries from Croydon Council is very worrying.”
The government says that, through the NHS, nearly 1million people identified as being at high risk from infection had been sent letters containing instructions on how to isolate themselves.
However, official guidance sent to local authorities shows that the government anticipates that no more than 400,000 people self-isolating in their homes would sign up for free food parcels, with the rest expected to turn it down because they have support from family and friends.
Guidance issued to local authorities, such as Croydon Council, from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The food industry can deliver 50,000 parcels to the doorstep in Week 1, 150,000 parcels in Week 2 and 350,000 parcels in Week 3, rising to over 400,000 in Week 4 should this be required.”
Given the experience in Croydon in the first week, there has to be extreme scepticism over the validity of any of these government figures.
The MHCLG guidance also stated, “We would expect that a large number of people identified as medically vulnerable will have some form of social network around them who can help to support them throughout their period of shielding (and will not need to take up the offer outlined here).”
The food parcels are intended to provide a week’s food for one person, but they appear to be of low-quality, often tinned food with limited nutritional value. Inventories include creamed rice, sweetened custard and long-life ready meals such as sausages and mash. There is little by way of fresh fruit or vegetables.
This week, The Guardian reported national charities warning that vulnerable people were going hungry.
“Questions over the efficacy of the government’s scheme came amid rows between councils and ministers over the volume and nutritional composition of the free food packages, which are being distributed to people with cancer, heart problems and other respiratory conditions who are advised to ‘shield’ themselves at home for 12 weeks,” the newspaper reported.
“The government disclosed this week that its plan to distribute emergency food parcels using commercial food distributors and local authority emergency planning teams was ‘the biggest effort to deliver supplies to those in need since World War II’.”
A present, the government’s misjudged choice of WWII comparisons risk placing its efforts closer to a Dunkirk retreat than a D-Day triumph.
Read more on coronavirus in Croydon and how to claim Council Tax relief or business grants:
- Ten top tips to help do your bit during the covid-19 emergency
- Council Tax relief announcement delay nets £20m to Town Hall
- Croydon slips out news that parking charges are suspended
- Council promises to pay business virus grants in seven days
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