The Easter weekend marked the eight week anniversary of the floods in Rhondda Cynon Taf after first Storm Ciara and of course, Storm Dennis, caused significant damage in our communities. Storm Dennis was by far the most destructive weather event we have experienced in a generation with substantial rainfall at the tops of our valleys causing all three of our rivers to break records - some going back over 40 years, with devastating consequences.
Over 850 households and 450 businesses suffered from internal flood damage across the length and breadth of our County, and the Council, working with emergency services, volunteers, community organisations and the Welsh Government provided relief efforts to those affected through a number of initiatives, some in the immediate response on the ground and others, including the Community Flood Recovery Grant – Hardship Payment, four weeks of free school meals for school children affected, and Non Domestic Rate relief for affected businesses to ease some of the medium term pressures on those affected. In addition to the damage sustained by private property, the latest estimate of the cost to our public infrastructure stands at a staggering £60m, with a number of highways, river walls, culverts and bridges suffering significant damage.
Whilst the response to the coronavirus, which has been declared a national emergency, is now our absolute priority from a Local Authority perspective, I want to assure those affected by the flooding that we are still allocating as many resources as we can to continue working on improving our flood defences by reviewing and designing before we are ready to start rebuilding and renewing culverts. We are also providing grant assistance to some of those that require help with repairs to their property.
There has been no respite for our communities over the past two months and to say that 2020 has been a challenging year so far would be an understatement. Sadly, we are already witnessing the impact of the coronavirus on our communities, with the number of confirmed cases in RCT now over 1,000 at the time of writing, with over 1,600 across our health board area. This will no doubt mean that some of our residents will now be at the point where someone that they know has contracted the virus, whilst some will have sadly lost loved ones and I would like to express my condolences for their losses.
These are truly unprecedented times for the vast majority of us but it is absolutely vital that we each play our own part by following the Government advice – staying home unless it is for travelling to work when working from home is not possible, to shop for basic necessities or collecting essential medical supplies, caring for a vulnerable person, or for your daily exercise allowance – alone or with members of your household.
As Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, I am having regular conference calls with the Leaders from all 21 other Councils across Wales along with Welsh Government Ministers, and I have also joined the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Group with Cabinet Ministers from the Welsh Government, the Heads of the NHS and Social Care in Wales, and also the Chief Scientific Officer for Wales, feeding in to discussions and ensuring that the views and issues of Councils across Wales are raised, which is particularly important as Local Authorities have the most understanding of the needs and requirements of the local communities we serve. On top of this, I am also having daily virtual meetings with the Senior Leadership Team of Rhondda Cynon Taf to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach in the actions and measures taken locally and also to feed in on any national issues arising in the Wales-wide response.
As a Council, RCT is maintaining the vast majority of its services but some are being delivered in a different way. Our Finance teams for example, have approved and paid out over £35.5m now in business support grants with staff working from home. Teams have also been redeployed to support other services like waste and recycling, while other staff are helping to support those on the shielding list and many others needing support for food shopping and collecting medicines, the response of volunteers to support this effort with Council staff has been overwhelming. The dedication of our social care staff has been extraordinary and I know they are doing all they can to support the most vulnerable in our community.
Despite this adversity, our communities have shown incredible resilience and I have seen some fantastic examples of people coming together throughout these difficult times. One theme that has certainly united people is our appreciation for the commitment and dedication of NHS and social care workers, as well as our Council staff, volunteers, third sector and the frontline staff across all sectors who are continuing to provide the care, support and services that we all rely on. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for the role you are playing in keeping people safe and provided for.
I would also say to those that are worried about the future of our local economy and jobs in our communities that work is already underway, looking how we can, when it is safe to do so, boost our local economy with a stimulus package. Whilst I would hope that the national government will largely do this, I’m clear in my mind that here in RCT we need to build on the huge capital investment we have made in schools, transport, extra care, town centre support, public realm improvements and social housing, along with the significant investment in infrastructure and flood works now needed following damage sustained during the storms.
Lastly, please, remember the Government guidance – Stay Home. Protect the NHS and Save Lives.