Aberdeenshire Council to respond to the long-term impacts of Coronavirus

Aberdeenshire Council will respond to the long-term impact of Coronavirus (Covid-19) by setting new Priorities, agreeing a new Council Plan and a new medium-term financial strategy in the coming months.

Setting out the long-term impact Council Leader Jim Gifford explained: “The virus has had a significant impact on our services and our finances.  It means we must look at the support our communities need in a different way – targeting services towards those areas of greatest need.

“Our Council Plan provides high-level direction to services of where our focus should be. When resources are stretched it’s more important than ever to be clear about our Priorities and what services will need to change, reduce or stop altogether, in order for us to protect what’s most essential.

“We are currently estimating the cost to the council of the virus to be in the region of £60 million up to March 2022. That is as a result of lost income through the closure of leisure facilities and school meals, and increased costs through the childcare hubs and adaptations to services to keep staff and customers safe.

“Unlike private business, we have not been able to furlough staff, so we adapted very quickly to re-train them to where we needed extra help and support. For example, many of our library and leisure staff were redeployed to provide help in care homes, and to answer calls to the assistance centre from individuals who needed urgent support.

“What I am most proud of is how staff have adapted and kept essential services running throughout the crisis. They have been under significant pressure as a large proportion of staff have been shielding, or caring for dependents. Everyone has stepped up to support communities during this difficult time. Indeed, it’s been inspirational to see how communities have supported each other and that’s something we’d like to see continue in the future.

“However, we are now entering a more difficult time where the true financial impact of the virus will become clear and difficult decisions will have to be made in order to work within defined budgets.”

A series of four meetings of the full Aberdeenshire Council have been arranged over the next few months to set the framework for how the council will adapt its approach to meet the future financial challenges.

The first meeting takes place next week where elected members will be asked to approve the recovery plan and agree six new strategic priorities of education, health and wellbeing, infrastructure, resilient communities, economy and enterprise, and estate modernization under three Pillars of Our People, Our Environment and Our Economy.

A further meeting will then take place in September to review the Council’s performance of the previous year, including service performance and financial accounts.

The Council Plan will be put to an extra meeting of full council in October, which will set out more information in relation to the Priorities, how they will be delivered, progress measured and the changes to services as a result.

A further meeting will take place in November that will focus on the budget required to support the delivery of the new Council Plan.

Cllr Gifford added: “Our communities, be those residents or businesses, have had a tough few months and this looks likely to continue into the future. We must be prepared to respond in the case of further waves, be that local, regional or national lockdowns, particularly as we move towards the winter period and the additional pressures that is likely to place on all public services. We also have to do what we can to support the economy get back on its feet and to work with communities to support more of the fantastic work they have been doing to support themselves and each other in these difficult times.

“This truly is a team effort, but we’re not in the clear just yet. Aberdeenshire Council will continue to provide essential services, and focus resources where they will have the greatest impact. But things are going to change and will look very different in the future.”