Aberdeenshire Council meets to discuss Coronavirus response

The full Aberdeenshire Council met today (Thu, Apr 30) using Skype whilst the Coronavirus lockdown continues.

The business was dominated by discussion on the council’s response to the global pandemic and the local response co-ordinated by the council along with partner agencies.

The commitment and dedication of staff and the resilience of communities was widely acknowledged by all councillors.

A report on the council’s response to Covid-19 was introduced by the Chief Executive, Jim Savege. He set out the council’s contribution as part of the national and local response, describing the response by staff as ‘phenomenal’.

He said: “Our employees have risen to the challenge and delivered in a true One Aberdeenshire way. We have worked hard in challenging circumstances to meet the needs of our communities, placing the welfare of our staff at the heart of our response – we are working to ensure all staff are provided with PPE, providing access to testing for any staff who are symptomatic and looking after them through our support networks.

He added: “We’re not out of the woods yet; we must transition to a new way of living with social distancing. The shape of our organisation and our priorities are likely to continue to change as we respond to the national guidance and our journey to navigate Covid-19 continues.”

The Leader of the Council, Cllr Jim Gifford, reflected on the speed of change, recognising that just six weeks ago full council met at Woodhill House HQ to set its budget for the year ahead.

He said: “The speed of change has been quite incredible and in those six weeks every aspect of the council has been affected. We are operating new facilities that just didn’t exist a few short weeks ago, like the childcare hubs and the assistance hub.

“We should be immensely proud with how the council and our teams have responded. We are being highlighted as an exemplar in the way we are responding to the crisis whilst keeping normal business progressing – this meeting today is a fantastic example of this. The crisis has brought out the best in our communities, through the efforts of volunteers and our staff – teams are stepping up to the plate to ensure everything that needs to be done is done, often under very difficult circumstances.”

He reflected that as the country starts to move from the emergency response phase into recovery, there remains a huge task ahead.

“Whilst there’s still a great deal to do, the phrase ‘build back better’ is a great sentiment to adopt,” said Cllr Gifford.

“The last few weeks have demonstrated there are better ways of working and we can’t go back to what we had before. This council and its incredible staff will continue to adapt to whatever comes next.”

Cllr Peter Argyle echoed the leader’s comments. He said: “I take enormous pride in how the chief executive, directors, senior team, each team and every member of staff have responded brilliantly to an unprecedented crisis.”

Reflecting on the work of Infrastructure Services he highlighted the impact to services, including domestic and trade waste which is operating as normal, although household waste and recycling centres remained closed until Scottish Government guidance advises they reopen.

Routine road maintenance has been halted but urgent repairs continue to be done, staff have been retrained into other roles from landscape services and the fleet continues to run smoothly. The environmental health team are working to enforce Scottish Government regulations, whilst the economic development team are proactively supporting businesses across Aberdeenshire.

Cllr Gwyneth Petrie said: “These are truly unprecedented times, and we have no idea when things will change. Employees have had to adapt to new ways of working, and I’d like to pass on our utmost thanks and gratitude to them.

“Their work has been critical to ensure we continue to support our communities and respond to situation and the staff deserve our utmost respect. There are challenges still to come as we move into the recovery phase and we will continue to work together to support the organisation and our communities.”

Cllr Alison Evison commended the efficient and adaptable way the council has responded. She said: “People in our communities have shown their resilience, along with our partners and third sector. I’d also like to acknowledge those staff who are working to support frontline services – making sure everything keeps going in the background.”

Cllr Gillian Owen highlighted the work of Education and Children’s Services during the crisis. She said: “I’d like to pass on my thanks to the teams who are working to support our most vulnerable families and to those working in childcare hubs to enable key workers to return to work. Whilst schools are closed for now, the curriculum has not stopped and teachers have continued to provide remote learning. There’s some great innovation being shown in very challenging circumstances.”

She also paid tribute to Aberdeenshire’s young people. She said: “It’s not easy to have your world turned upside down, not go to school and not see your friends. We recognise the huge impact this event will have on your wellbeing now and in the future. But we are also impressed by how families are rising to the challenge. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.”

Cllr Mark Findlater thanked area management teams, recognising their role in supporting local activity, whilst Cllr Geva Blackett applauded the work of the team and described her experience of Grampian Assistance Hub as ‘first class’.

Cllr Anne Stirling paid tribute to all staff whose activity reports through the Communities Committee, describing their efforts as ‘remarkable’. She highlighted the redeployment of staff in Live Life Aberdeenshire to support customer services and childcare hubs. The efforts of teams in Housing were recognised to provide assurance to families that there is certainty around their tenancies, with initiatives also in place to address homelessness and emergency repairs.

Cllr Stirling said: “Health & Social Care continues to be at the heart of this crisis. The national situation regards protective equipment has been challenging but staff have continued to care for people in our communities, offering a very high-quality level of service. I am so proud of what they are doing and what they will continue to deliver in the weeks and months ahead.”

She also acknowledged the work of Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland for their local collaboration and co-operation in responding to the crisis.

Cllr Paul Johnston recognised that everybody was working exceptionally hard and pulling together very well. He noted that fragile society that we live in, with pressures on supply lines and that we were learning a lot about our needs in the future to support resilience and different ways of working.

He also asked that special attention be given to supporting social enterprises and charities who do not qualify for business or employment support, recognising their important role in supporting the response.

In his summary, Council Leader Cllr Jim Gifford committed to on-going lobbying of Government to ensure that the council, local communities and businesses, continue to get the help and support that’s needed both during the crisis and as we start to move into recovery.

A recording of the meeting will be available on the council website from Friday, May 1.