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Highland Council plans move towards sustainable help for the vulnerable as lockdown is eased

By Ian Duncan

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Highland Council headquarters.
Highland Council headquarters.

Staff and communities have been praised for their outstanding response to the Covid-19 emergency.

Highland Council says information gained around need and poverty in communities during lockdown will allow it to tailor its help efforts to those who need it most as the region moves through its phased recovery.

Across the helpline, virtual hub, 10 community hubs and the distribution hub in Inverness, there have been up to 120 council staff and a further 120 High Life Highland workers supporting the response efforts.

An early action from the local authority’s recovery plan is to develop a sustainable service delivery model for help for those in need, including support and coordination of community action.

At the full Highland Council meeting in June, members agreed to review all Covid response services, unless directly funded by the government, at the end of July.

Today councillors were asked to note the scale and reach of the council’s help to date.

Members praised staff, partners in the third sector and communities for their resilience and community spirit in the response to the pandemic.

It was agreed that there needs to be a managed withdrawal of key staff from current arrangements and a move towards a more sustainable model of assistance, designed around the principles of: targetting support to those who need it most; supporting the council’s place-based approach; and helping people to do more.

It is expected that there will be a continuing need to support people with food and other essentials, including those at risk from Covid-19; households who are at risk financially; marginalised households; and those unable to access food and essentials.

While need is difficult to forecast, staff working in the food distribution centre have already noticed that more people outwith the shielding group are seeking food support.

Community bodies have also noted their concern around increasing need for food support as the region moves through recovery.

On July 1 the Scottish Government made a grant offer to councils to continue to provide support for people at risk, including those in the Test and Protect programme. Highland Council was granted £651,000 for July to September.

Highland Council leader Councillor Margaret Davidson.
Highland Council leader Councillor Margaret Davidson.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “I am leading on community engagement as part of the council’s recovery plan and along with the chairman of the communities and place committee, Councillor Allan Henderson, I have been listening to third sector representatives and community groups on how we can work differently to support more community action, learning from our Covid-19 experience.

“Our new approach will harness the experience we have gained and help us to target our humanitarian efforts to those most at need.

“We need to get many of our staff back to their normal roles and also for them to take some well-earned leave. Highland Council has been working with trade unions to ensure all staff take 10 days off before the end of August.”

In considering a more sustainable model the council has listened to feedback from members on community action in their areas as well as to its community and third sector partners to understand better how it can work differently to support more community action.

By July 10, a total of 1234 shielding people had been supported to access Scottish Government food boxes and a further 1024 households had been given access to Highland Council’s food support.

Just over 6000 bags of emergency food – equivalent to 60 tonnes – have been distributed, medicines have been delivered to 438 people, 174 people have been referred for welfare support and over 200 for social support.

The local authority has received more than 6100 calls for support, advice and guidance and made outward calls to more than 5000 people to understand their needs and check on their wellbeing as well as face-to-face contact through deliveries.

Highland Council has borrowed more than 120 staff from across council services, engaged more than 120 volunteers from High Life Highland and Eden Court and worked directly with over 110 community bodies.

The council has also redeployed fleet and made alternative use of local authority buildings.

The council says the new tailored approach does not place any new pressure on the council’s revenue budget as costs will be contained within the government grant of £651,000 which was part of the second tranche of the food fund.

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