Council provides latest news in weekly column
Posted on 8 Jul 2020
Well, what a weekend! And, no it clearly wasn’t the weather but rather, almost 12 weeks after she was born, our baby daughter Caitlin finally got to hug her grans, papa, aunty and big cousin. A special moment that, at times, felt like it would never arrive. Now, we just wait for further progress in suppressing the virus so the hugs can take place indoors.
Another first last week was our virtual Cabinet meeting. When we entered lockdown council and committee meetings were cancelled due to the Government’s guidance and whilst I’ve been able to use technology throughout the crisis to undertake essential Council business, it is great to get some formal meetings back up and running.
We’ve become so reliant on technology throughout this pandemic but its sometimes no substitute for normal face-to-face business. On the whole, barring the odd blip here and there, it has worked well for me but unfortunately on Tuesday we did encounter a technical issue and, after delaying the meeting for half an hour in an attempt to resolve the issue, we weren’t able to record the meeting to upload to the Council’s website. That was obviously disappointing because we are a Council that is open and transparent, and our Cabinet meetings are normally streamed live from the Council chambers. Hopefully all will be resolved by the time we hold our next meeting after the recess.
Holding a Cabinet meeting before summer recess was important. It’s the main decision-making body of the Council and we need to return to some form of normal democratic decision-making process.
The meeting itself went well and we covered some important topics and approved reports that will make a difference going forward.
I talked about Free School Meals in last week’s column and we approved the proposals to introduce a voucher system over the summer holiday. We think this will be a good alternative for all our young people and their families over the next few weeks.
Our Education team have put in an incredible amount of work right through this crisis and they presented their Education Phasing Delivery Plan. The aspiration is for full-time learning come August but it’s absolutely essential that we have robust contingency plans in place and the report outlined the blended learning model if schools can’t return full-time.
You will be aware that we are one of four Scottish councils working with NHS Scotland looking to deliver a basic income pilot. Partners involved in exploring the feasibility of a Citizens Basic Income (CBI) pilot in Scotland have completed the draft final report on their findings. The report concludes that a CBI pilot is desirable, but recognises the significant challenges involved. We were happy to approve this draft report at Cabinet and will continue to work with our local authority colleagues on this as it has the real potential to combat poverty and tackle economic insecurity.
It was a privilege that we were able to name our new Additional Support Needs School. The naming process went through an extensive consultation with parents and pupils of the proposed Campus and we’re delighted to have chosen the name Lockhart Campus. Stephen Lockhart is such an important person in the town’s history and we felt it was right that he was recognised.
We also approved three bids to the Scottish Regeneration Capital Grant Fund. I am delighted that all three bids – for the restoration of Millport Town Hall, the Raise Your Voice with Ardeer Multifunctional Facility project at Stevenston Beach Park and for the upgrade and renovation of Geilsland Courtyard Hall, owned by the Beith Community Development Trust – have already received funding from our Community Investment Fund and involve community ownership, which aligns with community wealth building strategy.
On a more worrying note, a report on the financial impact of Covid-19 on the council’s finances was tabled. The headline figure is that the projected cost of responding to Covid-19, through to the 31st March 2021, is £23.5million. To date we have received £7.4million of funding from the Scottish Government so there is a substantial financial gap that remains. With that in mind, we have asked council officers to consider options to mitigate the financial risk to the council and therefore our residents, but to also accelerate capital investment to create and protect jobs as we face up to the impending tsunami of redundancies as the furlough nears closure.
It's now summer recess and council officers, who have been working flat-out since March responding to Covid-19, deserve a break. Work to support our communities will continue throughout the summer but I am looking forward to further Cabinet meetings after the summer recess