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Source: Scotland – Highland Council

Members of The Highland Council’s Black Isle, Dingwall and Seaforth Committee have praised the work of volunteers for the vital role they have played in assisting the Council with its humanitarian response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Meeting virtually for the first time, the meeting held yesterday included presentations by community representatives, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and NHS Highland, all focussing on the huge amount of work and effort that has gone on recently which has strengthened partnership working and benefitted local communities.

First on the agenda was a discussion on the return of pupils to school in August. The Executive Chief Officer for Education and Learning, Paul Senior, gave members an update on the preparations underway, which is focusing on a 100% return in line with the recent Scottish Government announcement. He highlighted to members that the safety and wellbeing of all pupils and staff is the priority contingency plans will be ready and implemented should the scientific and health advice change between now and August.

As well as the schools themselves, plans for transport, catering, and wider facilities are all being considered by 11 special sub groups which have been set up to look at issues and options to support the safe and secure reopening of schools. Members were advised that local engagement with parents and communities is on-going. A webpage has been created which includes frequently asked questions (FAQs) for parents and carers www.highland.gov.uk/backtoschool (external link) and this page also signposts people to the most up-to-date national guidance. This site will be continually updated as new information becomes available.

The Ward Manager Diane Agnew then provided Members with an update on the Council’s local humanitarian response to the pandemic. This was followed by a presentation from Rhona Fraser, Head of Strengthening Communities and Regional Development with Highland and Islands Enterprise Inner Moray Firth Area Team. She featured the Supporting Communities Fund and how this has been distributed to community groups to help them with their work on the ground. 1.85M of funding, which forms part of the Government’s support package, is being administered by HIE to Highland Communities, and so far 66 eligible organisations playing an active emergency role have benefitted. Rhona described how by developing their relationship with the Black Isle Partnership, the Muir of Ord Development Trust and Ross-shire Voluntary Action, these anchor organisations have played a pivotal role in getting money to the right place to provide the right local emergency support.

Community representatives Jon Palmer, Chair of the Black Isle Partnership and Shona Street, Community Support and Information Ross-shire (RVA) then told members about their experiences over the last 4 months.

Jon highlighted the local Black Isle response which he says was “ immediate and impressive.” He explained that when the Partnership was selected as the Black Isle anchor organisation to distribute the Supporting Communities Fund things happened on the ground quickly. He gave some examples focusing particularly on supporting local businesses and the wellbeing of residents. He also mentioned going forward a local campaign is being developed as more visitors start to arrive on the Black Isle with 4 key messages being – support local businesses, respect local needs, stay apart and keep connected.

Shona then described her experiences with Ross-shire Voluntary Action and described how funding has helped local groups hone their services, especially in terms of the distribution of food and supporting people who have been shielding.

The final part of the Committee looked to the future with Executive Chief Officer for Infrastructure and Environment Malcolm Macleod telling members about the work underway to reboot the Highland economy. On an operational level the recently launched Highland Business guide is providing relevant specific guidance for businesses as they adjust to be able to safely welcome back customers and provide services and the Spaces for People project is building on the opportunity to promote wider use of active travel. He also described how long-term recovery will need to address the need for capital investment for projects and digital inclusion. His presentation ended by emphasising that recovery can only be achieved through effective partnership working and regular meetings are already taking place with the chamber of commerce, HIE, Skills Development Scotland and other key agencies. A new Economic Partnership with HIE will meet tomorrow and this will complement the work of the Council’s Recovery Board to look at immediate response in terms of unemployment, skills and to make sure local priorities are effectively brought to the fore nationally.

Looking at the public health dimension, Peter MacPhee, Emergency Planning Officer with NHS Highland described the current Test and Protect strategy arrangements and how this should help monitor and control any local clusters or outbreaks. He pointed out that although Scottish figures are low plans to cope with a second wave have to be considered especially when winter approaches. He also talked about the importance of providing support mental health issues and how the current health messages are being communicated.

Speaking after the Committee the Chair Cllr Gordon Adam said: “Our Committee today included a valuable contribution by community representatives, HIE and NHS Highland and this reflects the very meaningful liaison and joined-up work going on within our communities on the ground. We are all having to react quickly and be very flexible and creative. I found it inspiring to hear how close co-ordination, co-operation and new bonds are being formed which will play a very positive part as we look to the future.

“There is no doubt we are in very challenging times but without all the community volunteer support and the support of our partners, the picture would look a lot grimmer. The commitment of everyone involved is very commendable.  

“I would like to thank all the many volunteers and staff who have worked so hard and are really playing a very important role in this on-going emergency response.”

MIL OSI United Kingdom