Council services still greatly impacted by Covid

In the week that East Lothian moved to Covid Protection Level Zero, Depute Council Leader, Norman Hampshire, urges residents and visitors to be both patient and understanding of the extreme pressures that the ongoing infection rates and impact of restrictions arising from government and health Covid guidelines continue to have on council services.

“Whilst the announcement by the First Minister that East Lothian was able to move into Protection Level Zero from this week is broadly welcomed there is unfortunately an expectation held by some people that life is returning to pre-pandemic ‘normal’. However infection rates remain high which continues to impact on individuals, families and workplaces. In common with many other local authorities and businesses we are still facing significant challenges providing essential services with some areas experiencing significant staff shortages through illness, self-isolation or care for dependents who are self-isolating.”

“It is of course also the peak holiday season and I am aware of instances where employees have delayed or postponed annual leave to ensure cover within their service. As an employer, we have a duty of care towards our employees who have continued to work around the clock throughout the pandemic and so suggested or actual postponement of holidays must be kept to a minimum.”

“I am equally aware of some frustration and dissatisfaction expressed regarding our current public toilet provision. East Lothian Council re-opened all its public toilets when restrictions first started to ease and has continued to endeavour to keep this service available. Unfortunately, we have been hit by significant staff shortages and this, coupled with temporary staff not being available through recruitment agencies – something which other councils are also experiencing –has meant that we have had to reduce access at some locations. This is far from our ideal situation but this matter has also been greatly compounded by the actions of a small minority of people who have abused both the toilet facilities and our attendants.”

“Attendants are currently carrying out enhanced cleaning regimes four times a day at each facility to ensure the comfort and safety of users but on occasions have faced verbal abuse and have actually been stopped from entering to carry out their duties.”

“We have also unfortunately recorded incidents of verbal abuse directed towards Parking Attendants, Countryside Rangers and other staff who are assisting people to enjoy a day at the beach. All such incidents are recorded and reported as the Council has a zero tolerance approach towards abuse of employees and our staff have a right to carry out their duties without fear of being attacked or abused.”

 “We too want to see a return to ‘normality’ but would appreciate some understanding of the intense pressures council staff are currently working under. Our focus must be on maintaining critical services whilst balancing the ongoing requirements of support to test and protect, self-isolation and planned staff leave.”

“I would like to extend my thanks to our employees who are continuing to work hard to maintain essential services during this ongoing crisis and I am aware of many comments of appreciation from local residents and communities.”

Similar pressures in East Lothian are also being experienced in the health and social care sector.

Iain Gorman, ELHSCP Operations Manager, said: ‘The rise in Covid infections has also impacted ELHSCP staff and those of its partners. We do have a higher number of staff off work at the moment than is usual, as do the organisations that we commission. However, we have still managed to maintain essential services to service-users. We would ask service-users and carers to take account of the much increased pressure on staff at the moment and to be patient when services are delivered by different people or to a slightly different schedule.”

“I would also like to thank staff who have worked valiantly to maintain services – they have done a fantastic job.”

Published: Thursday, 22nd July 2021