Depute Council Leader, Norman Hampshire, advises continued pressures impacting on council services

Staff absences, recruitment challenges and other pressures resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are still having a massive impact on the delivery of public services, East Lothian Council’s Depute Leader said today.

Councillor Norman Hampshire highlighted the pressing need to fill key roles – including relief caretaking and cleaning positions.

As of 18th October, there were 250 council employees unable to work. In recent weeks, the number of employees unable to work for COVID-related reasons has been higher than at earlier stages of the pandemic. Combined with other absence and annual leave, this puts huge pressure on service delivery and employees.

The council’s Facilities Management service - which has responsibilities for the cleaning of public buildings and cleaning, catering and janitorial support in schools - currently has around 70 vacancies which are at various stages of recruitment, with an additional 50 of its employees off work due to COVID-related absence, annual leave or sickness.  This combined unfilled vacancy level and staff absence level equates to around 23% of the Facilities Management workforce.  

With enhanced cleaning requirements in schools having increased by 20%, resources have to be diverted from elsewhere – meaning some services and buildings cannot open to their full operating hours and, in some cases, cannot open at all.

This results in some employees having to be re-deployed on a daily basis in a bid to keep facilities open. In addition to ensuring all schools are being maintained in line with current enhanced cleaning requirements, all libraries and public toilets are open. However, there is no capacity at present to reopen all community buildings. 

Long way from pre-pandemic ‘normal’

Councillor Norman Hampshire, Depute Council Leader, highlighted current vacancies and opportunities to work with the council, and said:

“Everyone welcomes the fact that COVID-19 restrictions have been eased but I’m afraid we are still a long way from pre-pandemic ‘normal’.

“Despite the success of the vaccination programme in limiting harm, people continue to catch and pass on the virus.

“It is still necessary for people to self-isolate when they catch COVID, as well as their close contacts. While this is correct, when combined with other absence, normal leave, vacancies and difficulties recruiting to certain posts, there are escalating staffing pressures.

“Our fantastic employees and hard-working teams continue to carry out amazing work to maintain essential services, but they are under real strain.”

Significant impact

Councillor Hampshire added: “COVID related absences are not spread evenly across the council and some areas have higher concentrations of absences. Although the challenges are not unique to East Lothian, the overall number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the county, and elsewhere, is still high. This is reflected in the challenges being faced by the council.

“That’s why we are sometimes having to make difficult decisions about the allocation of staff resources, so that we can manage extreme COVID-related pressures while delivering priority services safely and maintain our duty of care to employees and customers.

“Massive pressures are still being felt across the council. Facilities Management, Education and Children’s Services, Health and Social Care and Customer Services teams are among the areas under real strain – but these are just a few examples.

“I’m afraid that, in some instances, we cannot keep all community facilities open or are having to operate them on a reduced basis. We currently have a shortage of cleaning staff – and difficulties recruiting – and are having to focus our limited resources on the enhanced cleaning of schools. This unfortunately has a detrimental impact on our ability to operate some other community facilities.

“There has of course been some improvements moving on from periods of lockdown when  government and health guidelines for workplaces and physical distancing restricted many aspects of the council’s work. Our Road Services are now able to undertake a wider range of work including within urban locations which had been avoided during lockdown periods and our vital roads winter maintenance programme will start at the end of the month. We have also been able to re-start modernisation programmes in our council housing and resume non-emergency repairs.

“We do appreciate the fact that we cannot fully deliver services as ‘normal’ is inconvenient, but it is a difficult situation and we are grateful to residents for their patience and understanding at this time.

“We are recruiting to key posts and I would encourage people interested to consider applying for a role with the council. It’s a great place to work where you can make a real difference in local communities. Vacancies are advertised on the myjobscotland website.

“We also have relief caretaking and cleaning positions available, with flexible work patterns on offer. Anyone interested can call our Facilities Management Team on 01620 827811 and leave a message.

Filling posts will help us to get back on track and resume some of the activities that we are currently struggling with.”

Published: Friday, 22nd October 2021