Staff absences and other challenges resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to impact significantly on services, East Lothian Council’s Depute Leader said today.
Councillor Norman Hampshire thanked the public for their ongoing patience and understanding at a time when, despite the move beyond Level 0, the delivery of public services continues to be far from normal.
“We are, of course, pleased that the easing of restrictions has enabled people to see more of each other and enable businesses and services to open up.
“But I want to be very clear that life has still not returned to pre-pandemic ‘normal’. The success of the vaccination programme is limiting the harm being caused but infection levels remain too high – people continue to catch, and pass on the virus. And people can still become unwell.
“When people are sick, they still need to self-isolate – as do those who are identified as close contacts. While this is the right course of action, the implications are causing huge staffing pressures within the council right now.
“This is being felt in departments across the council – including Facilities Management, which has responsibilities for the cleaning of public buildings and cleaning, catering and janitorial support in schools. Education and Children’s Services, Health and Social Care and Customer Services teams are other areas under real strain – but these are just a few examples. We are also having to take decisions to adjust opening hours of facilities and sometimes at short notice.
“Council employees have carried out heroic work throughout the pandemic, including doing things differently or covering other duties, and we are extremely grateful. And I know that the communities of East Lothian are supportive, and appreciative of, these incredible efforts, at a time when our business continuity plans remain invoked.
“Unfortunately, we have not returned to ‘normality’ and if these challenges persist, we may need to take difficult decisions to temporarily scale down some non-statutory services or the way in which buildings are used, in order to focus on priority activities in a pandemic and maintain our duty of care to employees.
“Whilst this would, of course, be a last resort we need to be upfront about the scale of the current difficulties being faced across the public sector – from healthcare to local authorities. Our focus must continue to be on maintaining critical services whilst balancing the ongoing requirements of support to test and protect and self-isolation. We are grateful to the public for their patience and kindness towards our staff, who are trying their best despite the difficulties, is very much appreciated. The road to recovery from this pandemic will be long and hard but East Lothian Council, working with our partners, continues to strive to provide the best possible services while supporting efforts to reduce case numbers.”
Councillor Hampshire also highlighted the importance of regular testing, even if people have no symptoms of COVID-19.
“I appreciate that, at a time when restrictions have been eased and aspects of life look and feel ‘normal’, people who feel that they are in good health might not see the need to get tested.
“But case numbers are still too high and it’s concerning that almost 1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 don’t have any of the usual symptoms but are potentially passing the virus on to others. Getting tested – even if you feel fine and have received vaccination – means that, if positive, you can take immediate action to stop the spread of the virus, by self-isolating.
“It’s very easy to get tested in East Lothian with the availability of collection points to get tested, locations where you can take a test, or the option of getting a test kit delivered to your home. More information is available at www.eastlothian.gov.uk/testing.”