Highland Council Members agreed to adjust full council agenda in light of COVID lockdown and Brexit
8th January 2021
Members at yesterday's previously adjourned and re-scheduled meeting of Highland Council voted to carry a motion introduced to make adjustments to the agenda in light of the situation in relation to COVID-19 and Brexit.
The urgent motion was proposed by Highland Council Leader Cllr Margaret Davidson and supported by the Leader of the official Opposition, Cllr Raymond Bremner.
The motion asked Members to agree to make adjustments to the Council agenda and the conduct of the meeting in order to provide time to debate two urgent items of business - the implications of the First Minister's recent statement in response to COVID and the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
After the motion was carried (51 for, 11 in favour of an amendment proposed by Cllr Andrew Jarvie and four abstentions) both issues became new agenda items 3 (i) and 3 (ii) respectively.
The following items were consequently deferred: item 19, Highland Labour Market; item 21, Annual Review of Standing Orders; and item 22, Annual Review of the Scheme of Delegation. The former to be taken to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee on 4 February and the others to come to the next full meeting of the Council in March.
It was further agreed that Supplementary Questions would be submitted and responded to in writing. The supplementary answers will be circulated to all Members and also published on the Council's website. Following discussions with the member of the public who submitted a question the supplementary question and answer will be dealt with in the same way.
Members were asked to acknowledge that the whole of the country is in a deteriorating position with regard to the progress of the virus and the tougher COVID restrictions would have a material impact on the way in which the Council delivers its core services and emergency response.
Whilst formal Council, Committee and Board meetings will all continue to be held as planned, it is anticipated that urgent actions will need to be taken outwith these scheduled times and which will be of sufficient importance to justify member notification.
These actions are likely to fall into 3 categories:
Actions taken as directed by an external authority - i.e. UK Government; Scottish Government; Public Health/NHS; new legislation etc;
Actions taken at operational level that are within officers’ existing delegated authority;
Actions taken to respond to an emergency situation, out with current policy and so the decision will require homologation - as is already provided for within the Scheme of Delegation;
Members will be provided with a briefing on all such matters on a weekly basis and decisions requiring homologation will also published on the Council’s website in advance of being taken to Council.
The agreed motion resulted in Members acknowledging that the shift back into national lockdown and the likelihood of increased staff absence will have an impact on the Council’s physical, staffing and financial resources.
Cllr Margaret Davidson said: "This will require the redirection of Council resources to areas of highest priority, including working with partners to support the NHS. Committee and Board agendas will likewise be pared back to essential items only to ensure staff are able to focus on these priority areas."
Members of The Highland Council's Caithness Committee have approved additional funding for a project to bring new life to the site of a former derelict building on Wick High Street. In September last year the Scottish Government announced extra funding through the Town Centre Fund as part of its national economic recovery stimulus package, particularly aimed at supporting construction activity across Scotland.
Inverness Councillors on The Highland Council's City and Area Recovery Group today discussed the importance of local businesses having an online digital presence for customer access during the pandemic and post-lockdown recovery. Good digital access via websites and social media was the common theme raised by two speakers from Business Gateway and the Highland Food and Drink Trail in presentations to Councillors.
The Highland Council has begun detailed designs works on a major £2.5m energy project, part-funded by the Scottish Government through Salix Finance. At a site on the River Ness, near Whin Park in Inverness, the council is preparing to install a 92kW ‘Archimedes Screw' hydroelectric power turbine.
The Council's ICT in Learning team have been working hard to continue to support our school communities as we deliver remote learning to all children and young people across Highland. Chair of Education committee, Cllr John Finlayson said: "I want to thank all of our staff in Education who have worked incredibly hard to ensure that our school communities are receiving support and a quality education experience.
Enrolment for all ELC providers, including local authority nurseries, partner settings and commissioned childminders, will take place online this year. Enrolment week for ELC places will take place on Monday 8 February to Friday 12 February 2021.
Following discussions at the recent Council meeting, the Council Leader has formally written to the Local Government Boundary Commission on their proposals for councillor numbers and ward boundaries in the Highland Council area. She advised the Boundary Commission that the Council rejected the Commission's proposals in their entirety and formally requested that they halt this process immediately and review the whole issue of remote and rural area boundaries and councillor numbers in consultation with the Highland Council and other local authorities who have mainland councils with inhabited islands.
The Scottish Government has launched a £1,500 grant scheme to assist each individual licensed taxi or private hire driver with their fixed costs including licence plate fees, rental fees and insurance payments for taxis not on the road. The Highland Council's Chair of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Trish Robertson said: "The Highland Council has been asked by the Scottish Government to deliver this grant scheme on their behalf.
Applicants for the Scottish Government's Temporary Business Closure Grant can now apply even if they do not have a formal business bank account. Businesses will now be able to use a personal bank account as evidence, if the account is mainly used for their business banking.
A significant top-up to the grant support available for hospitality, retail and leisure businesses across Scotland closed by level 4 restrictions will be paid following an announcement by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes. In addition to the grants businesses receive through the Strategic Business Framework Fund, eligible businesses will also get a one off grant of.
The Highland Council has issued a letter to all parents providing an update regarding the reopening of schools and early learning and childcare settings following the announcement made yesterday by the First Minister that the country is now in a national lockdown. All Highland schools will remain open but the only pupils who should attend are those identified as vulnerable and the children of Key Workers when no other arrangements can be made.