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Council / SIC to curtail services to cope with coronavirus impact

The SIC headquarters at 8 North Ness is part of the SLAP portfolio the council seeks to buy back from Shetland Charitable Trust. Photo: Shetland NewsThe SIC will not be able to sustain current service levels. Photo: Shetland News

THE LEVEL of council service in Shetland will be reduced significantly over coming weeks and months as the deteriorating coronavirus pandemic takes its toll.

Shetland Islands Council (SIC) chief executive Maggie Sandison said on Wednesday that the local authority was coping with the situation but was very much “recognising the challenges” council staff were facing.

“We also recognise that the level of service that we offer will need to change because we will not be able to sustain services at the level that we currently deliver them,” she said.

And Sandison added that the worst is still to come.

“We need to direct our resources to where they are needed most. If the UK is a couple of weeks behind what is happening in Italy or Spain, then we might have to expect that level of change to our communities.”

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland NewsSIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

Sandison said the council was working closely with local and national partners but was often overtaken by developments in a rapidly changing overall picture.

She was unable to say how many staff were currently off work due to Covid-19 but said managers had daily meetings to assess who was available and how and where best to deploy them to maintain services.

“We are seeing staff off sick with symptoms, we are having staff with family members with symptoms, and we have staff with vulnerabilities and who are therefore in a position where they need to reduce contact with the public,” Sandison said.

“We need to ensure that we can keep key workers at work.

“The provision of childcare hubs is very much about recognising that we need to prioritise child care for people who need to be at work to support the community and the most vulnerable in our community.”

These childcare hubs, set up across Shetland at the start of the week, are open to parents who fulfil key roles in the community, not just at the council but also for instance at Sumburgh Airport or the supermarkets in Lerwick.

The council has now extended the offer of a limited number of childcare places in Shetland for next week, starting on Monday 23 March, for people serving as frontline staff across the a number of sectors.

The childcare places will be available at Hame Fae Hame, Peerie Foxes, Isles Haven Nursery (3-5 year olds) and Islesburgh Out of School Club (five years plus).

With regards to social care provision, Sandison said that while some staff were off, efforts were ongoing “to redirect from non-essential services to support those essential services.”

The SIC reiterated that although most of its offices were closed to the public at the moment, they were nevertheless open for business.

“I would like to ask the public to recognise that our services are needing to change and in order to protect our staff and themselves please phone first and ask before coming in,” Sandison said.

“A lot of out staff at the moment are working out of the office, so we need to match people by phone rather than face-to-face.”

Council leader Steven Coutts added that the number one priority had to be the health of the community.

“It is absolutely essential that everyone in our community continues to follow the advice of public health professionals. We all have a role in managing the spread of the virus,” he said.

“There is no shying away from that this is going to continue for a considerable period of time. I would like to thank the community for their understanding, and this must continue.”