THE leader of a local authority which has seen more than 80 of its residents die from Covid-19 and a wave of calls for help from vulnerable residents has spoken of her determination to support the recovery of the community and local economy. 

Councillor Heather Scott has issued thanks to both residents and frontline workers in Darlington for helping limiting confirmed cases of the virus in the borough to 410.

A report by the borough council concluded the tragedy would have been greater if it were not for the co-ordinated response of the Government, the public, the NHS, care workers, council and volunteers.

She said Darlington residents had displayed “resilience and strength”, adding:  “I’d like to pay tribute to those who have sadly lost their lives to this dreadful illness – some 84 Darlington families have lost a loved one in the most difficult circumstances and my thoughts are with all of them.

“To our NHS staff and our care workers on the frontline we say – thank you. You have faced the worst in recent weeks and helped some of the most vulnerable people in our society at often great personal sacrifice.”

The pandemic has also seen surging pressure on key services provided by the council, as well as services launched to respond to the emergency. Between April to June the council has worked to find accommodation for 359 homeless people - many of whom a council update on the crisis states “represent some of the hidden homeless and sofa surfers”. The authority’s officers have also ensured all essential services have continued throughout the pandemic, particularly for vulnerable residents, carrying out 7,550 welfare phone calls, responding to 1,335 emergency call-outs, undertaking 1,849 lifts for clients who have fallen and delivering 697 food packages and 258 medicine packages.

Cllr Scott said: “As leader of Darlington Borough Council, the way our staff responded and adapted to the many changes and risks placed on them makes me extremely proud. The Community Hub, staffed by team members from across the council, stepped up in days to create a service that made sure food and medical supplies were delivered to Shielding and vulnerable people as they need it.

“Thanks to all of our keyworkers, who kept us going during the tightest days of lockdown. The refuse collectors who never missed a day of collections, the delivery drivers and postal workers keeping us connected, the social workers supporting the vulnerable. The teachers who continued to teach, those unsung heroes who kept food on our tables, the lights on and that all important internet working.

To help town centre’s recovery, the authority is set to extend the free parking scheme it launched at the start of lockdown for health protection reasons until the end of September, at an anticipated cost of £342,000 to the public purse.

The move reflects the the Conservative-led administration’s concerns for business after lockdown saw 2,049 firms share Business Support Grants of £23.26m and business rates discounts worth £16.4m awarded to 667 local retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, providing full exemption for business rates for the coming year.

However, it has emerged some 151 of the 291 firms that applied for Discretionary Grants have been refused and question marks hang over a further 71 of the applications.

Cllr Scott said: “As lockdown eases, the majority of council services are now back up and running and we are determined to support the long-term recovery of our local economy and the businesses that make Darlington what it is.

“We would encourage people to support our local businesses as much as possible in the coming weeks and months, all the while remembering that Covid-19 has not gone away – it’s just as important as it always was to follow social distancing guidance. The very last thing we want is to be forced back into lockdown as we’re seeing in other parts of the country.

“The impacts of the pandemic will undoubtedly loom large for a long time to come, both socially and financially.”

The authority believes regaining employment and pressing on with its regeneration plans for Bank Top station, Ingenium Park, Central Park, Railway Heritage Quarter and the town centre will be key for Darlington’s economic recovery.

Cllr Scott said: “The future is unclear, but by working together, we can make the best of it.”