Media Round-up for March 23, 2020

This roundup is intended to keep the media briefed on the COVID-19 impact on Council services across Aberdeenshire. The public can keep up-to-date with changes online at https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/featured-items/coronavirus-covid-19/

Schools

Director of Education and Children's Services, Laurence Findlay explained: "Our 171 schools across Aberdeenshire have been working hard to make arrangements for the children of keyworkers and our most vulnerable children and young people, since the Scottish Government announcement on Thursday. We have hub schools in place in each cluster and places are open to the children of Category 1 keyworkers only.

"Schools have been asking parents directly to register if they are eligible for this provision and then head along to their hub. I must stress that there are very limited places available and this is not 'business as usual'. Please bear with us as we respond to this fast-moving international crisis.

"I would also like to take the opportunity to thank colleagues across Aberdeenshire who have been working on this more-or-less around the clock. Everyone has really pulled together and the quality of home learning packs for those not able to attend schools is also excellent. Well done, folks."

Please note Category 1 means health and care workers, energy suppliers and those providing learning and childcare to the children of other Category 1 workers. Further details can be found on the Scottish Government’s website at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus---school-and-elc-closures-guidance-on-critical-childcare-provision-for-key-workers/

Details of all of our hub schools, which are also open for the collection of free school meals for those who are eligible, can be found on our website at: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/schools/schools-covid-19/

Please note, this is the current position and will be subject to ongoing review.

Children’s Services

Children’s social workers have had to review the way they carry out their work. This has resulted in all groups and non-essential meetings being suspended. Signs will be displayed on family centres and offices with phone numbers and contact information to avoid unnecessary contact.

Direct support will be provided to our most vulnerable families to the best of our capability at this difficult time.

Contact details for the various Children & Families Teams are available on the Aberdeenshire Council website, where information can also be found on adoption and fostering.

Young People

Young Scot has a dedicated campaign site - find out more about what's happening and the simple steps you can take to help prevent catching COVID-19 and spreading to others. Also find out more about what you can do if you are feeling anxious and worried, and how you can support others in your community - https://young.scot/campaigns/national/coronavirus

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland site has some information about children’s rights in a time of crisis and a number of helpful links to resources - https://www.cypcs.org.uk/news/in-the-news/getting-human-rights-advice-in-scary-times-the-coronavirus

In particular CYPCS recommend the #Covibook for children under 7 which can be downloaded here https://www.mindheart.co/descargables · https://660919d3-b85b-43c3-a3ad-3de6a9d37099.filesusr.com/ugd/64c685_319c5acf38d34604b537ac9fae37fc80.pdf

Childline has a dedicated Cornoavirus page which covers what coronavirus is, what to do if you are worried and how to cope if you are staying at home. It should be noted that as of tonight the phone line/online chat will only be available from 9am till midnight - https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/your-feelings/anxiety-stress-panic/worries-about-the-world/coronavirus/

Health and Social Care

It has been truly heartwarming to see the exceptional community response and offers of help for vulnerable people across Aberdeenshire. However, there are always a very few individuals who will exploit those who are vulnerable. There have been many suggestions on social media about the use of window signs to indicate if someone needs support, or people being urged to phone people they don’t know for support.

Unfortunately, these suggestions are open to abuse by exploitative individuals. We do not want to stop people from offering their help and support as that community response will be vital over the coming weeks. However, we would urge caution and ask communities to be alert to individuals using this situation as an opportunity to harm and abuse our most vulnerable citizens.

If you have concerns about any individual acting inappropriately, please report your concern to Police Scotland on 101 Learning Disability and Older Adults Day Services will be suspended from today (Friday) in an effort to protect and shield some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

We are expecting a greater demand on many of our Community Services over the coming weeks and months and we will do all we can to continue support our communities however there will be changes to what we can offer and we thank you in advance for your understanding

British Sign Language has launched a series of videos explaining steps you can take to help avoid infection from coronavirus (COVID-19) and self-isolation advice https://www.nhsinform.scot/translations/languages/british-sign-language-bsl/illnesses-and-conditions/coronavirus-covid-19

Financial Hardship

We appreciate that a number of residents will find themselves in a very different financial position than they may be used to. We will respond to individual cases regarding financial hardship on a case by case basis.

If you are struggling to pay any of the debts owed to Aberdeenshire Council (like Council Tax) please speak to us on 03456 081201. We will make arrangements for a payment plan, based on what you can afford.

If you are experiencing financial difficulty, please seek help both via the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and also by completing an online application for Council tax reduction

How to apply for Council Tax Reduction - https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/benefits-and-grants/welfare-reform/council-tax-reduction/

How to apply for Universal Credit - https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit

You may also be considered for a Crisis Grant or Community Care Grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund - https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/benefits-and-grants/welfare-reform/scottish-welfare-fund/

To help owners of non-domestic properties, including businesses, deal with the impact of COVID-19, the Scottish Government has made changes to non-domestic rates (business rates) for 2020/21 - https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/coronavirus-advice

Aberdeenshire Homeless Service

As a result of the Coronavirus (Covid- 19) outbreak we have made some changes to our homeless service.

We ask customers who are facing immediate homelessness to contact us by phone. We have a generic phone number to contact during office hours on 01467 533509. We also a text only service (07776 190987).

Customers should leave their name and contact details and we will get in touch with them. Calls to this number will not be answered and will be monitored between 8am and 8pm. Out of hours the service can be contacted on 03456 081203

The Scottish Government has confirmed that there will be no evictions granted by the courts from any rented housing. This includes renting from local authorities, housing associations and in the private rented sector. Protection has also been put in place for homeowners.

At this time, we ask customers to remain in their current accommodation where possible and to consider all available accommodation options to resolve their homelessness. Our ability to assist is limited and alternative accommodation if needed would be anywhere within Aberdeenshire.

The Housing waiting list is also suspended initially until 30th April 2020. No new applications will be accepted during this period. No properties will be allocated until then either except for those in exceptional need.

A2B Bus Services

From tomorrow (Tuesday, March 24) the majority of in-house A2B bus services listed on the website are suspended https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/roads-and-travel/public-transport/a2b-dial-a-bus/

Turriff Town & Rural A2B is still operating but may be suspended later this week or next

Westhill A2B continues to operate on Mondays to Fridays (operated by Falcon Coach Hire) but is continually under review

Central Buchan A2B continues to operate on Mondays to Saturdays (operated by Kininmonth Cabs) but is continually under review

Anyone who tells us that they have problems in accessing essentials will be provided with advice on local delivery services and help in their area.

We have not taken a decision on how long services are suspended. This is something that we will review over the coming weeks based on the general situation and local circumstances

Planning Services

In light of the current guidance on Covid-19/Coronavirus Planning Services are taking steps to allow us to continue to deliver our Development Management services with as little disruption as possible. To help minimise risk to our staff and the public, the following measures have been put in place:

Staff are working from home wherever possible until further notice.

The Development Management Team will continue to carry out all work in association with the receipt, validation, processing, assessment and decision-making for planning applications and can be contacted where necessary: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/planning/planning-applications/contact/#offices

Our Planning Offices will be closed to the public and will only be accessible to staff.

Any external meetings will no longer take place face-to-face and will be conducted by telephone or skype video call. Communication by the Development Management Teams will be through telephone, video call, email or formal letter.

Please continue to submit planning applications through the Eplanning portal at: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/planning/planning-applications/eplanning/

The planning website continues to operate and provides the tool for viewing planning applications and submitting representations at https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/planning/public-access/#planning

Waste Services

All household bin collections are currently operating as normal. Residents should put out their containers for collection for 7am on collection day as there may be changes to collection times. More here: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/waste/waste-covid-19/

All recycling centres are currently operating as normal. We may need to temporarily close the recycling centres at short notice or to suspend some materials depending on the availability of outlets

Seasonal garden waste points suspended until further notice

Bulky waste uplifts now suspended until further notice. Reuse containers available for items in good reusable condition at Peterhead, Ellon and Banchory Recycling Centres. Alternatively, call local charity Stella’s Voice on 0300 303 2520 which is still operating as normal and can uplift your item free of charge

Other news:

Public Toilets

We have decided to close all public toilets. Cleaners will continue to carry out a clean within the facilities over the week and will be available for duties at other establishments. We will be in a position to open facilities at short notice for any emergency requirements if deemed necessary

Transport Update

Nestrans have provided an update of what has changed in terms of public transport inc. ScotRail, Stagecoach and FirstBus Aberdeen timetable https://www.nestrans.org.uk/news/changes-to-public-transport-services/

Area Committees

The Formartine and the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee both take place tomorrow on Skype rather than in public. If you are interested in attending, please email news@aberdeenshire.gov.uk so we can ask the Committee Officers to include you in the Skype call.