SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) and its services have “changed beyond all recognition” as a result of the coronavirus crisis, according to leader Steven Coutts.
It comes as a warning was sounded that people might have to adapt to a “new normal” once social distancing restrictions are lifted.
Coutts’ comments came on Wednesday during what is thought to be the first virtual meeting of the full council.
Councillors logged on to the video chat on Microsoft Teams from their homes as they discussed a report on the SIC’s governance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It highlighted that in the absence of council meetings, decisions can be made by chief executive Maggie Sandison and senior SIC directors if they feel they are “likely to promote or improve the well-being of its area and persons within that area”.
Councillors also agreed to allow majority decisions at Shetland’s community councils to be determined via email or other remote means like teleconferencing if meetings cannot be held.
A report from governance and law manager Jan Riise warned that people may have to expect a “new normal” once the country emerges from the current restrictions.
“As we emerge from the current constraints and a new ‘normal’ presents a substantially changed environment, communities will need to reflect perhaps less on recovery to the position previously held but instead embrace a positive perspective more quickly and perhaps more accurately described as a period of ‘renewal and change’,” he wrote.
This will be addressed in a future report to councillors on the transformation expected after Covid-19.
Council leader Steven Coutts said the SIC has gone through a huge amount of change in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t think we expected to be in this situation here today,” he said.
Pointing to a list of decisions which has been made so far, from closing schools and playparks to reducing public transport, restricting care home visits and encouraging working from home, Coutts said these have been undertaken “appropriately” and quickly.
“The council in its actions over the last few weeks have changed beyond all recognition,” he said.
Councillors praised the communication between officers and members, with the chief executive routinely consulting or updating all of the SIC’s committee chairs so that the “broader impact of decisions being taken can be understood or influenced” by their views.
There is also a weekly update for councillors, while the SIC’s corporate management team meets on a daily basis.
North Mainland’s Emma Macdonald saying: “I think we have really been kept well informed.”
Convener Malcolm Bell praised the “immense” work of council officers since the virus spread.
He said he did not believe there to be another council in the country that was being kept as well informed as the SIC.
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