This week we made history as Comhairle Councillors as we had our first online Council committee meeting. This took a lot of preparation from officers, included thirty agenda items and was a real wakeup call (as if we needed it) about how much things have changed in this COVID-19 world we are all experiencing.
As is our usual practice, the meeting was preceded with Prayer, led on this occasion by Donald Crichton, Loch a Tuath Ward. This was another first as we all sat for prayer unlike the usual practice in the Council Chamber where we stand. (That would have been a bit impractical as we were all on phone or iPad screens)
Our ambitions to live stream the meeting for the public and press were thwarted as the technology did not match our ambitions, but we plan to utilise a different system next time which we hope will prove more effective.
The meeting agenda showed that despite the prominence of COVID-19 in our lives at the minute, a lot of business and the delivery of services needs to continue, so a wide range of subjects from education, transport, care and budgets were looked at, as well as reports on subjects like the Islands Deal, Islands Act and Crown Estate Funds.
The Chief Executive provided an overview of COVID-19 responses, arrangements, management and planning and there was appreciation and thanks expressed regarding the staff in the Comhairle across all areas including Care, Teaching, Waste collection, Comhairle Emergency Planning Response Team, Economic Assistance, Press and Communications.
Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education and Children’s Services, gave a very positive report on the work of the ongoing developments and challenges around education delivery and Robert Emmott, Director of Assets, Finance and Resources, detailed the significant financial challenges facing the Comhairle given the combination of lost income and increased costs in this period. Robert also acknowledged the help from Government to date but reminded us that the decision at budget time, to maintain rather than spend balances, is a key factor in helping us through the current difficult period.
I hope that gives you a flavour of our first ‘virtual’ council meeting ever in the 45 years since the Comhairle was formed. Hopefully we’ll do better with the technology next time and we can resume fuller and more detailed debates.
Please be assured that your councillors have your best interests at heart and they do stand up for their respective communities and causes, looking for the best outcome they can for the people they serve. Please also remember that as councillors they are operating in very challenging times where financial strictures and difficult choices are part of the job.
To date, and organised ably by officers, your councillors have collectively maintained a decent ongoing service and they will be the first to acknowledge that key to that delivery is effective collaboration and partnership with the people and organisations in the communities they serve. Councillors are doing their best, communities are rising to the challenges and volunteers exemplify the neighbourly spirit that is a signature of our islands.
Let’s keep at it for a little longer and stay safe, stay positive and observe the guidance from our Government.