Badenoch and Strathspey Councillors updated on COVID-19 response in first virtual committee
In a virtual meeting of The Highland Council’s Badenoch and Strathspey Area Committee today (7 July 2020) Councillors heard about plans for reopening schools; the impact of COVID-19 on the local economy and the Council’s COVID-19 community response in the area.
Cllr Bill Lobban, Chair of the Committee: “The Council’s response to coronavirus; getting schools back open in August; and the support for local businesses and tourism are all interconnected to the wellbeing and recovery of our local communities and economy. I thank our guests today for their updates.
“We all agree on the importance of tourism to the economy of Badenoch and Strathspey which is possibly the most dependent area on tourism in Scotland. We look forward to reopening within government guidelines and welcoming visitors back to our area safely. We have great community support in our area because we have VABS (Voluntary Action Badenoch & Strathspey) which is one of the reasons why the response has been so successful. This makes us well placed to cope with any coronavirus spike or second wave in the future as we move safely into recovery.”
Paul Senior, Executive Chief Officer for Education and Learning gave members an update on the plans and preparations underway to prepare for the return of pupils and staff to Badenoch and Strathspey schools in August. He thanked all staff for their hard work in IT, transport, catering, early learning and childcare, and facilities and cleaning. He said: “I am keen that we recognise the whole school system including teachers as it comes together in readiness for August.”
Paul confirmed with Councillors that risk assessments continue and Badenoch and Strathspey schools are working towards a Plan A - C scenario-based criterion, with Plan A – (100% return with no social distancing measures) as the key focus for pupils returning to schools on 12th August. Plans B and C will remain as a contingency to be implemented should the scientific and health advice indicate that it would not be safe to proceed with a full reopening.
Mark Tate, Chief Executive of Cairngorm Business Partnership, then updated Councillors on the current impacts on the local economy and his attendance on a national tourism recovery task force which is providing recommendations to the Scottish Government in September about how to support the tourism industry in winter.
Mark added that the Partnership has been working on how to reopen local communities and the local economy with the National Park in a way that gives confidence to local communities. He explained that the Partnership had developed #CairngormsTogether - a framework for communicating confidence for communities with employees and visitors. The framework has 4 key messages: Know the guidelines; Plan ahead; Be flexible; and Be kind. A new website status.visitcairngorms.com/ was also set up to help people plan their experience ahead.
Mark said: “Visitors will come back to our area so we need to be prepared and as open as possible to welcome them in a safe and socially distant way. I would like to congratulate the council for their assistance across the past 3 months for the operation of the business grants scheme and support from the planning service is also welcomed with their latest announcement of relaxation on some planning conditions.”
Ward Manager, Liz Cowie provided information on the Council’s local community COVID-19 response touching on the huge amount of work carried out supporting 8,059 vulnerable people shielding across the Highlands. She highlighted the work in setting up the phone helpline, local community Hubs; the main food distribution hub; virtual hubs and pharmacy deliveries and in particular to Badenoch and Strathspey water deliveries to residents experiencing drought with private water supplies.
She said: “There has been an impressive community response and too many individuals to thank separately. We had great support however, from the Virtual Hub Team in often complex and challenging situation regarding to shielding; High Life Highland volunteers in running the local community hub; support from Highland Council staff was invaluable; and feedback from NHS colleagues was that the food deliveries not only provide nutritionally balanced diets but also remove anxiety and a lifeline to vulnerable people. So, I thank all our volunteers. One person who does require particular commendation is Fraser Morrison a High Life Highland Youth worker who volunteered and we found had particular skills and aptitude in helping older callers set up on mobile phones. His ability to engage with and help this group of people was hugely important in helping to connect people in our communities.”
Karen Derrick, Voluntary Action Badenoch & Strathspey (VABS) echoed the huge volunteering response from the Third Sector and local community. Nine community response teams with over 800 registered volunteers have been working across the area.
She said: “VABS has experienced an overwhelmingly positive response and we have seen the most fantastic work undertaken by community volunteers over the past months. There is a real appreciation of the partnership working going on which has been phenomenal and The Highland Council has paid a very key part through working with the Ward Manager elected Members and other council staff.
“We thank Local Councillors in particular for the Ward Discretionary Budget that came in with 24 hours of lockdown that enabled us to set up the Community Phone Lines. And we thank all our partners and volunteers for their support enabling us to be nimble in our response.”