The council’s response to coronavirus was grilled at a marathon four-hour hearing last night.
The Overview and Scrutiny committee quizzed top council officials on their reaction to Covid-19, after the council published a 24-page report outlining steps taken so far.
The meeting laid bare the difficulties the town hall faced on the virus, including issues in the national spotlight such as PPE, testing, and food parcels.
“PPE has been problematic,” said Caroline Bruce, strategic director for environment and leisure. “But we’ve never ran out, we’ve never had to ration to make it spread.
“That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult – it’s been close to the wire sometimes.”
The council also had difficulties in the food parcels given from central government, supposed to be given to those on the most vulnerable ‘shielded’ list.
An ‘emergency’ supply contained just 53 food parcels, which only arrived on April 8, said Stephen Douglass, the council’s director of communities.
There are now around 9,500 people on the shielded list in Southwark, the meeting heard, although not all will need a food parcel delivered.
“It has been very confusing from central government,” he said. “The 53 [parcels] was central government sending an ‘emergency delivery.’
“There was issues with the quality on that delivery, and we only got ours on April 8. So in the meantime we developed our own supply.”
The News revealed last month that at one point only six tests a day were being offered to Southwark Council care workers.
Cllr Jasmine Ali, who holds the social care portfolio at the town hall, said she intended to write to Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night over the “shocking” access to tests.
Concerns were raised by councillors on housing, mental health, and children attending schools.
Cllr Helen Dennis (Labour) asked whether developers might use this crisis to avoid their affordable housing commitments.
Housing campaigners in the borough, including the 35 per cent campaign, have spoken of their fear that this is already beginning to happen.
Cllr Johnson Situ, responsible for development at Southwark Council, said it insisted on publishing viability assessments of affordable housing from developers “as a really important tool to hold developers to account.”
Numbers of rough sleepers have increased during the lockdown, but the council’s housing teams have accommodated more than 176 of them in self-contained accommodation, such as hotels, the meeting heard.
But fears were raised of a “spike” on evictions from the private rented sector, after a government ban elapses in the summer.
Asked by Cllr Victor Chamberlain (Lib Dem) what the town hall was doing to make sure that children are still receiving an education during the lockdown, it was revealed that 75 per cent of Southwark schools remain open to children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Teams from the council are contacting families of those they have concerns about, responded David Quirke-Thornton, strategic director for children’s and adult services.
This past week, there have been eight children about whom the authorities are still worried they may not be receiving a proper education, he said.
Coronavirus could challenge finances worse than even the long recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, bosses have repeatedly warned.
Council bosses hope that the government will pick up the tab for their spending during the crisis, with leader Cllr Peter John alleging: “We were effectively told, ‘spend now and we’ll see you right in due course’, but now we’re hearing another thing.”
As the News has previously reported, the local authority is set to see a £45m gap in its coffers, raising the prospect of hefty cuts at the budget next year.