Council gives reassurance on actions to support communities during Covid lockdown
7th January 2021
At today's (7th January 2021) meeting of The Highland Council the focus was on the Covid pandemic response and the many actions the Council are taking to support communities during the current lockdown.
The Leader of the Council, Cllr Margaret Davidson said: "At Council today elected members raised many important issues that we will follow up. This is fast moving crisis. We are returning to weekly briefings and will do all we can to improve communications to the public, our community resilience groups and all members.
"There is no doubt that many families are in crises and there are real anxieties about not being able to make ends meet. Staff manning our helpline have highlighted that many callers are expressing concern about increased problems with isolation and deterioration in general and mental health. We will continue to do all we can to provide people with the support they need but we cannot do this alone so we will be looking for all our partners and the hundreds of community groups working on the ground to play a role. The community groups were magnificent last time we locked down and we will be needing them again this time.
She ended by saying: "We can all feel overwhelmed, the situation changes on a daily basis and the rise in cases across the Highlands is of particular concern to us all, but with the roll-out of the vaccine comes hope."
The Depute Leader Cllr Alastair Christie added: “Work is on-going to prioritise tasks for the next 6 weeks to ensure our essential services can be maintained. There are also tasks that are key to the recovery of the Highlands, such as specific support for businesses and these too will form a large part of our work over the next challenging period. The message we want to express is that everything possible is being done to help and people should not feel isolated or alone.
“We must also do all we can to support NHS Highland by reducing admissions including those linked to people having falls on ice so our gritting service will be extended to provide this extra support."
He went on to explain that a priority will be for the gritting team to have additional support to ensure the winter road gritting route service is maintained and people can travel safely. Extra support measures will include the wider distribution of salt heaps at key sites and further engagement with communities to identify suitable locations. A plea was also issued for the public of the Highlands and community groups to help ensure that local pavement walking routes are gritted so that families and especially the elderly can safely have some time out of doors and get to local shops.
More information on how to get involved is on the Council's website https://www.highland.gov.uk/info/20005/roads_and_pavements/99/roads_information/7
The Council is also in the process of transferring all the necessary staff needed to support NHS Highland with the vaccination programme.
The important issue of welfare and supporting employment and businesses were also discussed. The Council's Welfare Team received 394 welfare calls from 28 Dec to 4 Jan. Crises payments are being made to purchase food, to top-up electricity metres, to purchase fuel and for clothing. Other households continue to look for ongoing support, including Universal Credit and Council Tax Reduction as their household incomes have reduced and any savings they had, are now depleted. Other financial support provided includes free school meal payments and COVID hardship payments to 4557 pupils.
The Highland Council’s free Covid helpline is 0300 303 1363 and provides advice on volunteering, welfare and business support.
As was planned before the Christmas and New Year break, a period of remote learning for all pupils will start from Monday 11 January. Rather than just lasting one week, this will now continue until at least the end of January. During this period school transport will continue and vouchers will be provided for pupils eligible for means-tested free school meals to cover each school day until the end of January 2021.
Earlier today the council announced that it had launched the Temporary Business Closure Grant which is available for businesses who have had to close due to the COVID-19 protective measures introduced on Boxing Day.
The Closure Grant operates as a two-tiered scheme, with a grant of £2,000 for premises which have a rateable value of up to and including £51,000 and a grant of £3,000 for those businesses with a rateable value of £51,001 and above. The grant is payable every four weeks, in arrears, for the duration protective measures are in place.
To apply businesses should visit https://www.highland.gov.uk/strategicframeworkfund