The COVID-19 pandemic has had an ‘unprecedented’ impact on the East Lothian community – but plans for recovery are well underway
In light of this unique crisis, councillors also extended a ‘thank you’ to council staff and the many community volunteers who have come together to support people in need across the county.
The meeting also outlined the ongoing response in respect of service delivery and interventions necessary to continue to contain the spread of the virus, particularly the ongoing deployment of Business Continuity Plans and appropriate public health measures including physical distancing.
Council Leader Willie Innes said: “It has been our strategy throughout to follow national guidance and to ensure that this council continued to provide essential services and to work together with national and community partners to minimise the impact of COVID-19, at the same time as planning to ensure council services can recover as we come out of the crisis.
“This is a crisis like no other we have experienced and it is my privilege to extend a thank you to council staff and volunteers who have committed thousands of hours to supporting everyone in our communities and ensuring our most vulnerable residents remained safe and well throughout. This includes Area Partnerships, Community Councils church groups, voluntary organisations and resilience groups.
“Within the council, colleagues rose to the challenge of changing the way they worked. Around 2000 staff were working from home, and many will continue to do so for the time being, while others who could not continue with their substantive posts were deployed to other roles where there was most need. Each and every council service has worked tirelessly to continue to support our communities, from those working in hubs to support key workers’ children, to those processing more than £17million in business support grants, and our infrastructure teams maintaining services including street cleaning, waste collection and recycling uplift. Everyone has pulled together in a fantastic show of solidarity and support. Our education staff have also achieved the re-opening of our schools on time in a rapidly-changing situation and they are to be commended for that work.
“We are not yet ‘safe’ from this pandemic and we must all continue to work together as a community and as a council to protect ourselves from further outbreaks and to ensure we continue to deliver our essential services.”
East Lothian Council COVID-19 Oversight Group (COG), attended by service managers and key officers across council and Health & Social Care Partnership services, was established on 28 February 2020 and has now met 39 times, such has been the breadth and pace of the response required to meet the local challenges of the COVID-19 emergency.
The COG quickly established a number of sub-groups to address specific COVID-19 obligations placed on local authorities and partners. These included:
- Children’s Services and Connected Community Hubs Working Group – to oversee the closure of schools and community centres and creation of Key Worker and Vulnerable Children Childcare Hubs and establishment of six Connected Community Resilience Bases, to support local volunteer efforts.
- Shielding/Support for People Working Group –providing COVID-19 advice, guidance, pharmacy, food and welfare support to East Lothian’s 3462 shielding people
- Food Working Group – to map, co-ordinate and deploy community based Scottish Government grant funds and initiatives to address food insecurity and support local food provision to those unable to access food due to COVID-19 consequences e.g. self-isolating and financial hardship.
- Support for Business Working Group – to oversee deployment of the national package of funding made available to support local businesses and to co-ordinate advice and guidance to the business sector.
- Open Spaces Working Group – to oversee and co-ordinate safe access to public spaces and deployment of council and police resources in support of the gradual easing of lockdown.
Communication has also been key to dealing with the pandemic and measures have included a bespoke COVID-19 helpline operated by the Contact Centre as well as a COVID-19 page on the council’s website, providing up-to-date public news and information about our response and changing service provision as we moved through the phases of the Scottish Government’s Routemap. This has been complemented by Facebook and Twitter updates and news releases. East Lothian’s local press and radio stations have contributed significantly by sharing news and local stories of interest to help keep our community well informed.
Looking at localised outbreaks across the country it is clear the pandemic is far from over and we have to anticipate the possibility of a cluster of positive cases in East Lothian. It is essential that we continue to encourage our community and visitors to the area to continue to follow all public health advice on reducing the spread of the virus.
As we adapt to living with COVID-19 and progress through the four phases of ‘Scotland’s Routemap Through and Out of the Crisis’ and experience ongoing relaxation of lockdown, we also need to be prepared for post-COVID service delivery. With the known annual impact of winter colds and flus across our community and staff groups, were this to be compounded with an increased incidence of positive COVID-19 cases, the ongoing emergency response to COVID-19 would be significantly adversely impacted e.g. reduced workforce capacity across services. Work is already underway to scope and model our response in such circumstances.
Key areas we are focusing on in terms of recovery are:
- Economy – The Connected Economies Group (CEG) has membership from across a wide range of council services as well as from Skills Development Scotland, the DWP, Federation for Small Business, East & Mid Lothian Chamber of Commerce, Scottish Enterprise, Edinburgh College and VisitScotland, with sub-groups covering Town Centres, Tourism & Hospitality, Rural and Employability. A detailed communications plan to support recovery of these key areas has been established and has included the launch of our Stay Safe, Support Local, Love East Lothian campaign to highlight the safe reopening of shops and businesses and use of our outdoor spaces.
- Communities - the multi-agency Community Recovery and Renewal Co-Ordinating Group involves council departments and groups including Area Partnerships and community councils, focusing on issues including public health, physical activity, social isolation, family life, young people (including employment) and community life, including volunteering.
- Health & Social Care - Managers and clinical staff have developed innovative approaches to maintain key services for patients and to sustain supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) across all clinical settings. The actions taken by the Health & Social Care Partnership services and the likely long term plans have been discussed at length with the Integrated Join Board (IJB). The detail of this is available on the IJB website.
- Education & Children’s Services - Whilst there has been an understandable focus on reopening school buildings in August, work has also been taken forward to consider how we can learn the lessons from the creative approaches taken to support young people during COVID-19 and how we can build on the successes of our teams delivering services around the needs of the young person. Our focus will remain on developing our understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our children and families and putting in place support that enables them to succeed and achieve.
- Environment & Infrastructure – This group continues to move forward with social distancing and active travel measures as part of the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People initiative. It is also looking at continuing to provide waste & recycling services, supporting increases in public and school transport provision, continuing maintenance of burial services, Ranger Service management of open spaces and public health management through Protective Services.
Council Leader Willie Innes added: “Working together as a council and with our partners, our recovery work is critical both in terms of restoring all of our council services and in ensuring safe management of our communities, open spaces and businesses.
“Restoration of our education service has been a huge task and we will continue to support school staff to deliver and adapt as we move out of this crisis. Further reports will be made to council to keep us and everyone in our communities updated on our recovery progress and of course we will continue to update everyone via the council website, social media and through our local media partners.”