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Council Recognises Staff Achievements Throughout The Pandemic

6th April 2022

Sponsorship and support for the awards ceremony was provided by TUSKER and the Inverness Common Good Fund. The Council extends its thanks to both for making last week's celebration possible.

The 2022 Staff Recognition Awards - which took place on Friday, 1 April at the Kingsmills Hotel - placed a spotlight on the achievements of Council staff working throughout the organisation and recognised the support and care demonstrated by staff in Highland communities during the course of the pandemic.

The event marks the return of the Council's annual Award Ceremony, with a particular focus this year on recognising the compassionate efforts of staff working in difficult circumstances during the last two years.

Officers with long-service to Highland Council were also celebrated during the ceremony and were presented with an engraved glass star. Awards went to:

Donald Morrison – Engineer based in HQ – 50 years
Ailsa MacKay - Business Manager at HQ – 45 years
John McHardy – Housing Development Manager - 48 years
Eileen Baillie – Admin Assistant at Caithness House – 46 years
Barry Reid – Principle Building Standards Surveyor – 48 years

Lorna McGregor – Customer Services Assistant – 46 years
Gary Macdonald – Maintenance Officer – 45 years
Gordon Owens – Senior Architectural Technician – 49 years
Susan Munro – Teacher at Tarbat Old Primary School – 46 years
Donald Mackenzie – Secondary Teacher at various schools – 45 years
Alan Tolmie – Mechanic - 45 years
Marion Fraser – Clerical assistant – 49 years
Nicholas McKeown – Maintenance Officer – 45 years
James Gordon – Foreperson at Elgin Hostel – 47 years

Of particular significance, the event provided an opportunity for reflection and to pay tribute to loved ones who were lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those attending paused for reflection at the beginning of the ceremony while Seffi Allan, a primary 7 pupil at Beauly Primary, performed a song "People Help the People". Xander Johnston and Cailean McKerron – pupils from Kingussie High School – also performed a piece on the keyboard and fiddle.

Teams of Council staff were invited to enter projects and initiatives into six categories and all short-listed entries were assessed by an independent judging panel. During the Award Ceremony, the six category winners were announced. The winning team projects for the following categories were:

Staff Commitment to Supporting Their Communities – Community Support and Resilience – Support for vulnerable and self-isolating people in Highland was coordinated across several teams in the Council and supported by over 100 ‘borrowed’ staff from other Council teams and over 100 staff from HLH teams.

Innovation and Agility – ICT Services Team – COVID-19 response – Changes in the use of multiple new technologies were introduced across all services in a matter of weeks which would normally have taken months or years. This enabled the Council to continue to provide services and an emergency response to the public during the pandemic. New changes to technology were introduced and implemented to enable remote education and staff working from home; committee meetings to be held virtually; and supporting grant applications from businesses.

Pace of Change – Support for bereaved families – The key focus of the group was to ensure bereavement and registrar services were maintained throughout the pandemic. This ensured bereaved families were supported and funerals could continue without delay in a safe manner. The Registrar Service moved to a 7-day death registration service, conducting death registration remotely rather than face to face and complying with new reporting arrangements.

Cross Service Collaboration – COVID-19 Business Grants Team – At the outset of the pandemic the Council was asked by Scottish Government to deliver on their behalf, with less than one week’s notice, a grant scheme to support businesses who had to close and were unable to trade. That grant scheme increased in scale and complexity, in effect remains ‘live’ today with its most recent iteration and has seen the Council deliver its largest grant programme ever, disbursing some £194m and making over 38,000 payments to over 8,000 businesses.

Partnership Collaboration – Supporting businesses with COVID-19 compliance – The Council’s Environmental Health and Trading Standards team played key roles throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the appointed regulators for the Coronavirus legislation. Due to frequent amendments to legislative provisions, the pace of change in regulations and restrictions, the teams required to be flexible and adaptable as they reacted to the changes brought in by Scottish Government and rapidly adapted to how services were delivered. Both teams were required to work closely with Police Scotland and shared the national four E’s enforcement approach (Engage, Explain, Encourage and Enforce).

Local Area Responses and Working With Communities – Seasonal Access Ranger Team – After lockdown, in March 2020, the Council’s Tourism Committee adopted a Visitor Manager Plan to address the issues of ‘staycationing’ and agreed to fund 10 Access Rangers. In partnership with Wester Ross Biosphere, Skye Connect, Visit Inverness/Loch Ness and Applecross Trust, the Scottish Government Better Places 2 fund enabled a further 7 Access Rangers to be appointed.

In addition, Council Chief Executive, Donna Manson, personally presented awards for:

Kindness to Staff Award – awarded to the Human Resources Team.

Kindness to the Public Award – awarded to the Welfare Support Team.

Two further awards were made to:

Waste Collection, Street Cleaning & Waste Strategy Teams – This response was managed during significant service disruption from Government COVID restrictions - sometimes introduced overnight - while providing a much-needed sense of normality for worried communities. With a third of manual staff unable to attend work due to lockdown guidance – borrowing and retraining over 100 staff from other council services was immediately implemented. Not one statutory waste collection route was missed or delayed. The waste strategy team also recovered over £3m income from disrupted commercial collections, maintained key relationships with waste contractors and complied with all waste transfer and landfill sites requirements while undertaking significant re-procurement of large waste contracts valued at over £7m.

Free COVID Helpline – Cross-Service Team – In response to COVID-19 an immediate consideration was how to co-ordinate communication with those shielding, in need, wishing to volunteer (individuals & community groups), those seeking business grants, welfare services or needing urgent advice and support around adult or children’s social care. The Council needed to ensure there was in-person support immediately available. Over 5 days, a small team developed the helpline infrastructure and routing to enable a single free-phone number to access multi-stranded advice and information. A range of services from across the Council then supported the development of call handling scripts to ensure Council staff and Eden Court volunteers handling calls had the information they needed to respond to enquiries.

The winners were presented with a certificate from Trees for Life, a charity working to rewild the Scottish Highlands through additional tree planting. A Scots Pine will be planted in Glen Affric to commemorate each winning team’s success.

Highland Council Chief Executive, Donna Manson, said: "It has been so heartening to hear in more detail about the projects and the dedication and ingenuity of our workforce in what have been complex and challenging situations.

Donna continued: “Meeting and speaking with staff during the ceremony, it was clear to me that everyone has stepped up and gone above and beyond when needed to ensure that we could support and safeguard the most vulnerable in our community."

She concluded: “I am extremely proud of the resilience and dedication demonstrated by our workforce at a time of great uncertainty and extend my sincere thanks to all.”


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