Recovery Board chair responds to high level of workers furloughed in Highland
12th June 2020
Statistics released by HMRC show that the Highland has the highest number of workers on furlough per head of population across Scotland. 32,000 people, 27% of the working population are currently furloughed in the Highlands.
Reflecting on the figure, Depute Leader of The Highland Council, Councillor Alasdair Christie who chairs the Council's Recovery Board said: "The chair of the Scottish government's growth commission says Scotland is more exposed to the impact of the Covid crisis and the figure for furloughed workers here, demonstrates the additional vulnerability of the Highlands.
"We have an economy that is very heavily reliant on tourism and the hospitality trade as well as public sector jobs. The figures don't take into account difference in demographic make-up such as the number of retired people or economically inactive people in each area, so the true picture in Highland is likely to be even more stark.
“We have always been clear that in Highland we face unique challenges, such as a very dispersed and ageing population, high levels of deprivation, many fragile rural communities, as well as infrastructure and public transport issues and unreliable broadband coverage in many areas.
“The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of our economy being so reliant on tourism, hospitality and public sector jobs. I know anyone who finds themselves currently furloughed must be feeling apprehensive about the future. At the first meeting of our Recovery Board we discussed at length the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and the need for a Highland wide approach to economic recovery. To do this we are committed to work in partnership with other agencies, local businesses and our communities. We will also continue to press for additional funding that takes into account our unique challenges."
Following the freezing of some charges and suspension of enforcement for others during the lockdown period, The Highland Council has been following a phased return to normal operations since the 26th of June. Further details are given below.
Many Highland Council tenants may be missing out on help towards their rent from Universal Credit because they have not notified the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of their annual rent increase which came into effect on the 30th March 2020. Those tenants who have not yet reported their rent increase could be facing a shortfall in the help they receive towards their rent, putting them at risk of rent arrears.
The Highland Council is updating parents and carers of its position on early learning and childcare (ELC). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Scottish Government removed the statutory requirement for Local Authorities to deliver 1140 hours of ELC from August.
Following on from the recent publication of Highland Council's Supporting Economic Recovery in Highland - A Guide for Businesses - the Council is announcing relaxation of some controls that will assist tourist accommodation providers have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In recognition of this where there are specific planning and licensing controls in relation to occupancy, for example: a restriction on the occupancy of any caravan for a continuous 12 month period; or where conditions restrict occupancy for specific periods of time, ...these will be relaxed by the Council up to and including April 2021.
The Caithness Committee met virtual today for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic and it's agenda focused on the actions taken by the Council and the third sector to deal with the effects of Coronavirus in Caithness. The Executive Chief Officer for Education and Learning, Paul Senior, gave members an update on the plans and preparations underway to prepare for the return of pupils and staff to Caithness schools in August.
Margaret Davidson, the Leader of the Highland Council has given her strong support to the efforts of the Scottish Government to obtain greater fiscal flexibility from the UK Government. The Scottish Government have sought flexibility to offset capital underspend against resource expenditure, more flexibility over resource borrowing and greater flexibility over the use of the reserve for capital.
The Highland Council is planning to re-open play areas across the region throughout summer. Advice was provided by the Scottish Government on 28 June as to the safety measures that should be applied.
The Highland Council was one of the first local authorities in Scotland recognised to develop a Schools Digital Learning Hub, which provides a resource for staff, parents and pupils to support home learning. Prior to Covid-19, we had an estate of 27,000 Chromebooks that were already a part of our ICT in Learning Strategy.
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.