There was unanimous approval and cross party agreement as elected members from all parties endorsed East Ayrshire Council’s plans for local recovery and renewal in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report, which was presented at a Full Council meeting last week, reflects upon the Council’s shared experience of lockdown and its immediate response to the pandemic and considers a framework for creating a ‘new normal’, within the context of the Scottish Government’s Route Map.
The agreed vision for driving local renewal plans was set out as follows:
“To learn from our response to Covid-19, viewing recovery and renewal through the lenses of our emerging priorities and accelerated transformational aspirations, to re-imagine and positively challenge what and how we deliver safe and sustainable services, ensuring our vibrant communities remain at the heart of everything we do.”
In her introduction to the report, Chief Executive, Fiona Lees, on behalf of East Ayrshire Council, expressed her sympathies and condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones to Covid-19 and thanked key workers, employees and volunteers from local communities for their overwhelming kindness, compassion and practical support in responding to the global crisis. She commended East Ayrshire’s collective partnership response to the pandemic, maintaining essential services, and supporting those most at risk, and reaffirmed the central role of communities and partners in local renewal and recovery plans.
Fiona explains: “It now feels like all of us know someone who has died from Covid-19 or of someone who has lost a loved one. This has impacted on all of our lives and we will need time to recover. Many will need the time and space to heal and we want to help people to do that and to have the opportunity to tell their stories. But this is also a time for renewal. We have all had to re-assess what’s important to us and the services and support that are vital to our communities.
“We will want to capture and nurture the kindness and compassion we have seen and experienced. Equally we will want to invest in those services that are key to the social and economic health of our communities. In turn, that means we will need to stop doing the things that have not worked for us or those we no longer consider essential. And we need to do all of this whilst still living with Covid -19, for some time to come.
“So this is not a race back to normal. This is a time for change. Those we serve and those who serve us, all expect that. They should receive no less”
The report also considers the socio - economic impacts of Covid-19 Pandemic and associated lockdown measures, recognising that these could have a profound and long-lasting effect on local communities, driving more individuals and families into poverty.
Reflecting on the vital role communities have played in East Ayrshire’s collective Covid-19 response to date, the Council’s renewal framework puts communities at the heart of future recovery and renewal plans and feedback from community engagement will continue to inform these plans.
Katie Kelly, Depute Chief Executive, Safer Communities explains: “As a Council, we are committed to place-based working and community empowerment and by working in partnership with our communities we have been able to plan, design and deliver services around people and place as part of our immediate response to lockdown. In so many ways our communities have demonstrated their resilience and capacity to look after each other; their local knowledge and understanding of the needs of their communities has been vitally important and will continue to be important as we plan for the new normal.
“Going forward, as our plans for recovery and renewal evolve, we want communities to become more involved in the delivery of services within the context of locality and place-based delivery models.
“And we will continue to maximise the impact of partnership working with our existing Community Planning structures to further develop our shared response to the challenges associated with the pandemic and its aftermath, as part of the renewal and recovery of our communities.”
The Council has identified three cross-cutting priorities during its response to Covid -19: Children and Young People, Economy and the Environment and Wellbeing, and these will sit at the heart of future renewal and recovery planning.
Detailed planning is underway in terms of education and early years, with extensive engagement taking place locally and nationally to look at approaches around the practical aspects of a return to school based learning and the opportunity for a renewed approach to education, reflecting on practice and developments during Covid -19 and emerging Scottish Government Guidance.
There will be a clear focus on supporting the recovery of the local economy, including support for local businesses and visitor attractions, with the principles of community wealth building and fair work at its core.
Wellbeing features highly on the renewal agenda, both for employees and communities. Covid-19 is having a significant impact on the most vulnerable in our society, exacerbating some existing challenges including poverty and health inequalities; recovery from alcohol and drugs; social isolation and mental health.
Since the launch of its first transformation strategy in 2012 the Council has been immersed in a culture of transformation and change, but the urgency required to respond to COVID-19 seen the acceleration of many projects at a pace almost unimaginable in normal circumstances in order to overcome and solve problems presented by the pandemic.
Katie explained: “The challenge for us going forward is to preserve the momentum of transformation that has taken place in recent weeks. Our recovery and renewal plans will capture the behaviours and mind-sets that enabled changes to be implemented so quickly, to ensure they become part of the new normal way of operating. This will be essential if we, as an organisation wish to remain agile and dynamic in responding to and living with COVID-19 for some time to come.
“We appreciate that some difficult decisions and conversations lie ahead, but we have learned an enormous amount over the last few weeks – about our workforce, our communities and our priorities, and our renewal plans will reflect this.”
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council commended the report. He said: “Over the last three months, our Council has been working hard to respond to and mitigate the impact of this virus. The impact on all of our lives has been unprecedented, but for many individuals, families and businesses, this pandemic has created significant hardship.
“As a Council, we moved very quickly to ensure we could continue to deliver our most essential services and I’m hugely grateful for our volunteers and partners who worked with us to help keep our communities safe.
“This report clearly sets out our intentions to continue to support and involve our communities as we emerge from this crisis. We will take our best experiences from this time to inform how we will do business in the future.”
Councillor John McGhee, Leader of the East Ayrshire Labour Group also welcomed the report. He said: “Our communities have been badly affected by COVID-19, but at the same time they have rallied round to help us respond to the crisis. They know what they need and what works best for them, and I’m pleased that our plans for renewal will allow us to continue to build on these relationships and reflect on lessons learned over this time.”
Councillor Tom Cook, Leader of the East Ayrshire Conservative Group said: “We have seen considerable change over the last three months, and it would be wrong to assume that things will return to normal. I commend our workforce and our communities for developing solutions which allowed us to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis and I welcome the proposals set out in this report which will allow us to harness that creativity as we move forward in our recovery plans.”