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Council Leader's latest column

Posted on 22 Oct 2020

It’s been another tough week in our fight against coronavirus. The number of new cases in Ayrshire continues to rise, we are seeing increasing numbers in our hospitals including those in ICU and sadly we have lost more Ayrshire residents to the virus. My thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones to this virus over the last seven months.

We are now into the second week of the ‘Central Belt’ restrictions that have been introduced across the Ayrshire and Arran health board area. The now infamous debate about the difference between a café and a restaurant has also taken place in North Ayrshire and I want to thank the Council’s Environmental Health and Business Support teams who are dealing with such matters, supporting affected businesses and ensuring everyone complies with the spirit of the restrictions.

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to speak with a number of businesses in the hospitality sector in North Ayrshire to hear how the new restrictions will impact on them and the staff they employ.

What has been clear from those conversations is that businesses are concerned that the replacement for the current furlough scheme won’t be sufficient. Every business I have spoken to has real concerns that the new scheme won’t provide the levels of support that were provided at the start of the pandemic.

This is a real threat to jobs. The furlough scheme has been a success, it has sustained people’s employment even when the economy shutdown. When the scheme was introduced the UK Government looked at the measures that had already been introduced by other countries to protect jobs, and created a scheme that would work for the UK.

Now more than ever we need this support to continue, it is vital that we look to the support offered by other big economies and use their experiences to inform what we do in the weeks and months ahead to make sure our own workers jobs and wages are protected. 

Businesses not directly affected by closures, but part of the supply chain, also need support if they are to survive.

The financial support being offered to businesses is now the subject of intense debate in England after a number of Mayors and Council Leaders complained about the way in which the UK Government is treating them in the decision-making process for imposing Covid restrictions within their new multi-tier system.

This may be a standoff between English authorities and the UK Government but it does have implications for us in Scotland.

But what has really struck me over the last few days is that wherever you are located – there needs to be consultation and negotiation embedded into the process of applying restrictions.

Like the rest of the country, as Council Leader I found out that the Ayrshire and Arran health board area had been included in the ‘Central Belt’ restrictions when the First Minister announced the measures in the Scottish Parliament chamber.

We are in this for the long haul, so there has to be proper consultation on public health measures and negotiation on support for affected businesses.

From day one I have supported taking a public health approach and those who have read these columns will know that I have always urged local people to comply with restrictions.

 However, , when we move to a multi-tier restriction system, where restrictions could be considerably different across different regions in Scotland, then local government must be respected and the Leaders of any affected area consulted by the Scottish Government on both the public health measures and the financial support package.

This is not political. If cases are on the rise, then we need to take steps to suppress the virus and save lives. I will therefore support measures which do that. What I wouldn’t support is local people and local businesses not being properly supported to deal with the impact of those measures.

All spheres of government are part of this fight against Covid. We need them all working together, and for the crucial role of local government to be respected.