Highland Council publishes decisions made during COVID-19 emergency
25th May 2020
Public assurance is being provided by Highland Council that the organisation is fully transparent and accountable during the COVID-19 emergency response as it publishes decisions made by its group of senior officers - or Gold Group* - under emergency procedures.
The list of decisions made since 19 March 2020 is on the Council's website at the following link and will continue to the added to and updated as further decisions are made using emergency procedures. https://www.highland.gov.uk/info/695/council_information_performance_and_statistics/526/meetings_and_minutes/2
Chaired by Chief Executive, Donna Manson, the strategic Gold Group was set up to provide governance for the Council's emergency response to COVID-19 and continuing business, using emergency procedures under the Council's existing Scheme of Delegation, and within the Civil Contingencies Act and Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.
On 17 March all council committee meetings were postponed during March and April 2020 following the Prime Minister and First Minister's announcements marking the beginning of lockdown on 16 March.
Since then, a strategic Gold Group* of senior cross-party councillors was also set up, meeting virtually, to provide oversight for decisions made under emergency powers. On 15 April, this group agreed that committees should only be held during May and June if urgent business required it, but they would be postponed until the end of June, except for a special Council meeting on 25 June. Corporate Resources Committee is now being planned for 3 June and the Planning Review Body meeting for 30 June. These meetings will be held virtually.
Highland Council Convener, Cllr Bill Lobban said: "I welcome the publication of decisions made under emergency procedures which will help to assure Members and the wider communitiy that decisions made have been appropriate, proportionate, and in direct response to the Covid-19 emergency. Many of the decisions have been minor in nature and they have all required a quick response by Council officers and the ability to adjust to that response as situations have developed. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Council staff for their unstinting response to this national emergency, many of whom, unable to carry out their normal duties, have volunteered to help in any way they can. You have, and continue to help the most vulnerable in our local communities and I sincerely thank you."
The re-introduction of Committee meetings and Member-led governance will be a gradual process as the Council continues to operate under emergency procedures. This is due to staff requirements to continue to work on the COVID-19 emergency response and therefore insufficient capacity to service committees as normal. The Council is also working on providing a robust and reliable ICT alternative through which it can deliver council meetings remotely to all Members together with appropriate support and training. The Council, however will be unable to operate in "business as usual" for a long time due to the impact of Covid-19 and the uncertain period ahead.
Meanwhile, the decisions being made under emergency procedures will be circulated to all Members on a weekly basis and published on the Council’s website. This will include notification if no decisions have been made.
Earlier today (Wednesday 1 July 2020) members of The Highland Council's Economy and Infrastructure Committee had the opportunity to discuss (by video conference) progress made with the Corran Ferry Project which is reviewing the options for securing a replacement ferry and considering the way forward for the future operation and management of the service. The Corran ferry service has reached a critical point and strategic decisions need to be made.
As Scotland prepares for the easing of lockdown and the re-opening of the tourism and hospitality sector, The Highland Council's Environmental Health are advising holiday accommodation providers to make sure their private water supplies are safe to drink. A large number of self-catering and tourist accommodation in the Highlands are served by private water supplies and with these being closed during the lockdown period, the water supply system may not have been maintained and could create a risk to the quality and safety of the drinking water.
Lesley, who previously worked for Hackney Local Authority in London, expressed how much she has enjoyed working for the Council. Lelsey started with highland council on 13 August 2019.
Following Scottish Government guidance on returning to construction sites across Scotland, works will be restarting on the EES:ABS scheme across the Highlands. In line with the guidance, contractors will be undertaking phased restarts and adhering to social distancing to allow workers to return to construction sites gradually while using measures such as hand hygiene.
Two prominent derelict buildings in Wick High Street are to be demolished following decades lying empty. Numbers 30 and 126 (known locally as Dominoes (the former cinema) and Sloans are to benefit from demolition and site clearance, before ownership is returned to the local community.
Highland Council has produced a new video which shines a spotlight on how children across the region have been able to continue learning during lockdown. Last month the Council produced a video 'Learning During Lockdown' to highlight how teachers were able to continue to deliver education despite the closure of school across the UK.
The Leader of The Highland Council has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP, raising her deepest concerns over Eastern Airways decision to withdraw their Wick - Aberdeen Service. The decision by Eastern Airways follows Loganair's earlier decision to withdraw its Wick-Edinburgh route, which now leaves Wick John O'Groats Airport with no commercial services operating.
£257.6 million to help tackle COVID-19 approved by Parliament. Almost £258 million of additional funding for vital local services, such as food provision for those in need, education and social care, has been approved by the Scottish Parliament.
The Highland Council is inviting private landlords and providers of short-term lets, including Air B&B hosts who may be interested in leasing their property to the Council to get in touch. Chair of the Housing and Property Committee, Councillor Ben Thompson said: "The COVID-19 outbreak has affected all aspects of our daily lives and we have seen increased pressure on our homelessness service, including demand from the loss of tied accommodation in the hotel industry.
Councillor John Finlayson, Chair of the Highland Council's Education Committee responded to the announcement today by John Swinney, Deputy First Minister on the return of education. "Today’s announcement by the Deputy First Minister that the planning assumption will now be for a full return to school for all pupils in August if it is safe to do so, is very welcome news for everyone and it reflects the aspirations that have been communicated to me over recent days by so many parents.