The City of Whittlesea has decided how the $2 million in its COVID-19 pandemic recovery fund will be spent.

A group of 32 randomly selected residents representative of the diversity of the municipality, as part of an extensive community consultation process, combined with council officials to decide the areas of funding and their priority listings.

At the most recent council meeting chief executive Craig Lloyd outlined the report, and recommendations made by the public, which he said complemented the COVID-19 relief funding that had already been allocated.   

Mr Lloyd said the group developed a list of 17 action items that they then voted on as individuals to prioritise.

The actions were categorised to address social, economic or natural recovery, or improving or building infrastructure such as community gardens, public amenities and supporting events.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Plan includes $400,000 for emergency recovery grants to community service organisations to support vulnerable communities and to provide emergency relief; $400,000 to deliver a ‘support local’ campaign and incentive program to support the community and local businesses; $200,000 to develop and commence implementing a plan for public toilets making them accessible, useable and safe; $150,000 for training in the community to enhance employment opportunities; and $150,000 to lead recovery with vaccinations and COVID-19 safe health messaging.

Administrators commented the fund, codesigned by the public, was a first for the City of Whittlesea and perhaps Victoria.

“I’m not aware of any other local governments that have used such a strong and robust participatory engagement process for a targeted support program,” administrator Chris Eddy said.

“I think it’s a terrific way for this council to be as responsive as it can, with the resources it has to recognise the impact of the pandemic in its community.”

Chair administrator Lydia Wilson said she was optimistic the funding would make a positive impact, and council would monitor the progress through three-monthly reports.

“We had 32 residents who gave up considerable time and effort to participate in a series of workshops over a month and really contribute to the codesign of the recommendations, but what was really pleasing is we also applied another lens, looking at research that was gathered through the COVID-19 pandemic period and community and business perspectives,” she said.

The funding actions took into consideration a City of Whittlesea survey that found 88 per cent of respondents indicated the pandemic had had a negative impact on their social life, and that 56 per cent of parents were ‘very concerned’ about their children’s social wellbeing.

Two out of three people also said the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health.

The unemployment rate in the City of Whittlesea continues to rise, reaching 8.5 per cent in March 2021, an increase from 7.8 per cent from December 2020.

Unemployment has increased the most in Wollert and Epping, where it is now 9.9 per cent and 12.6 per cent respectively.

The survey found that 14 per cent of residents had lost working hours and 10 per cent had lost income.

More than 80 per cent of businesses reported lost revenue and customers, while one in three businesses have laid off casual workers.

The $2 million in council funding will be delivered in the form of grants within the current financial year.

More information and a full list of actions can be found on the City of Whittlesea website.

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