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Move towards a more sustainable delivery of humanitarian assistance proposed as Highland navigates recovery

By Tom Ramage

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Highland staff and communities have been praised for their outstanding response to the Covid-19 emergency.

Intelligence gained around need and poverty in local communities will allow Highland Council to tailor its humanitarian efforts to those who need it most as the region moves through its phased recovery from COVID-19.

"It is widely recognised, however, that the current delivery model is not sustainable in the long-term and staff will be required to return to core duties or be assigned new tasks," said communities chief Carron McDiarmid.

Across the helpline, virtual hub, 10 community hubs and the distribution hub in Inverness, there have been up to 120 council staff and a further 120 High Life Highland staff supporting the response efforts.

"These arrangements have worked very well, but now need to change." she said today (Thursday).

Council leader Margaret Davidson
Council leader Margaret Davidson

Early action from the local authority’s recovery plan is to develop a sustainable service delivery model for humanitarian assistance, including support and co-ordination of community action.

At the full Highland Council meeting in June, Members agreed to review all COVID response services, unless directly funded by government, at the end of July.

Today members were asked to note the scale and reach of the council’s humanitarian assistance to date, as highlighted in the report from the executive chief officer for communities and place.

Members praised staff, partners in the Third Sector and communities for their resilience and community spirit in the response to the pandemic.

It was agreed that there needs to be a managed withdrawal of key staff from current arrangements and move to a more sustainable model of assistance, designed around the principles of: targeting support to those who need it most; supporting the Council’s place-based approach; and helping people to do more.

It is expected that there will be a continuing need to support people with food and other essentials, including:

Those at risk from COVID-19, including those required to self-isolate or undertake stringent physical distancing and others self-isolating through the Trace and Protect programme should local outbreaks occur.

Financially at-risk households, and this number may grow depending on economic recovery

Marginalised households; and

People unable to access food and/or essentials due to other barriers.

While need is difficult to forecast, staff working in the food distribution centre have already noticed that more people out with the shielding group are seeking food support. Community bodies have also noted their concern around increasing need for food support as we move through recovery.

On July 1 the Scottish Government made a grant offer to councils to continue to provide support for people at risk, including those in the Test and Protect programme. Highland Council was granted £651K and covers the period July to September.

Council Leader Margaret Davidson said: “I am leading on community engagement as part of the council’s recovery plan and along with the chair of the communities and place committee, Cllr Allan Henderson, I have been listening to Third Sector representatives and community groups on how we can work differently to support more community action, learning from our COVID-19 experience.

“Our new approach will harness the experience we have gained and help us to target our humanitarian efforts to those most at need.

“We need to get many of our staff back to their normal roles and also for them to take some well-earned leave. Highland Council has been working with trade unions to ensure all staff take 10 days off before the end of August.”

In considering a more sustainable model the council had listened to feedback from members on community action in their area, she said.

"We are also listening carefully to our community and third sector partners to understand better how we can work differently to support more community action, learning from our COVID-19 experience.

The scale of Highland Council’s humanitarian task has been considerable. By 10 July 1,234 shielding people had been supported to access Scottish Government food boxes and a further 1,024 households have been given access to Highland Council’s food support. Just over 6,000 bags of emergency food (equivalent of 60 tonnes) have been distributed, medicines have been delivered to 438 people, 174 people have been referred for welfare support and over 200 for social support.

The local authority has received over 6,100 calls for support, advice and guidance and made outward calls to over 5,000 people to understand their needs and check-in on their wellbeing as well as face-to-face contact through deliveries.

Highland Council has borrowed over 120 staff from across council services, engaged over 120 volunteers from High Life Highland, Eden Court and worked directly with over 110 community bodies.

The council has also redeployed fleet and made alternative use of local authority buildings.

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