Council Leader's Report May 2020

Latest news from Council Leader Adam McVey.

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Heartfelt thanks to Edinburgh’s frontline heroes

I’d like to begin by thanking Council staff and those working for the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership for all their hard work, dedication, and selflessness in these extraordinary times, particularly those caring for our most vulnerable citizens in both care homes and in their own homes. I was pleased to see the Evening News recognise this with a special ‘thank you’ video for Clap for Carers night, featuring colleagues from across our frontline services, who are themselves doing such a fantastic job.

I know everyone is anxious and worried about their loved ones and I’d imagine it must be even harder if they’re feeling vulnerable and being looked after elsewhere. I’d like to reassure you that the Partnership is taking great care to follow government guidance to prevent the spread of the virus to keep our residents and staff safe.

Amongst the sadness, I’ve seen some great uplifting stories on social media about residents chatting to relatives using iPads donated to them as well as a lively outdoor karaoke session in one care home. Keeping spirits up is something every one of us needs to work hard at during this crisis for our own wellbeing – and that of others.

Package of support for our most vulnerable

One of the most affected groups in these extremely testing times is those citizens who are at their most vulnerable or at risk. These include those aged over 70, with a physical or mental disability, and households who don't have online access or are struggling financially. We’re working hard to co-ordinate help for them through our teams, with great support from third sector, community and voluntary organisations.

Thanks to an injection of £1.65m from the Scottish Government’s Food Fund, we’ve linked up with EVOC to set up a food distribution network, which will see over 3,000 emergency food parcels delivered across the first fortnight. These supplies are in addition to the ones we’re already sending to identified families in need with babies, under 5s and the many thousands of parcels being distributed by community groups. Families are also benefitting from Free School Meal payments paid directly to them every fortnight.

We've also partnered with the national homelessness charity, Bethany Christian Trust, to provide accommodation at the Old Waverley Hotel and specialised support for rough sleepers – an alternative to their Care Shelter and a lifeline for many over the coming weeks and months.

Multimillion pound boost for businesses

Our local businesses and independent retailers have always had a special place at the heart of our communities. They help our high streets to thrive, they support thousands of local jobs and they are key to making our neighbourhoods such fantastic and vibrant places to live.

We all want to be able to enjoy our high streets once again and supporting these businesses through the crisis is high on our list of priorities. We’ve now directed £61m in government grants to organisations in Edinburgh to help owners with bills, overheads and staff. We’ve seen high demand for this financial support and recognition from the Federation of Small Businesses for the team's effort in working through almost 6,000 applications. Later today we'll have responded to every application we’ve received, and we’ll be working to widen support to include businesses operating from more than one property, sole traders and social enterprises.

Yesterday we also launched a fund for the newly self-employed, an important scheme that will provide grants of £2,000 to workers who haven't been able to qualify for other support. For those who haven't been successful, our award-winning Business Gateway service has a range of resources to help all organisations through the emergency. We're encouraging anyone would would benefit from advice to get in touch online

Keeping essential services going through the crisis

We’ve made every effort to continue delivering frontline services to the people of Edinburgh over recent weeks. Our refuse collection crews have worked extremely hard to help ensure the majority of waste and recycling services continue uninterrupted and I know residents will join me (as they already are) in recognising the great job they’re doing during these hugely difficult circumstances.

We had to make some changes to services as part of our response, both due to staff shortages but also to protect the safety of crews, but we’re now returning to a full kerbside and communal waste service with the reintroduction of glass recycling collections (blue boxes) this week and garden waste pick-ups from 11 May.

One positive to come from the crisis is how brilliantly people in Edinburgh are looking out for one another – whether that be offering to pick up supplies, walk the dog or put their bins out. I hope to see this community spirit continue as normal services resume, and would encourage residents to look after our collection crews too by following our advice on what to do with waste if you have coronavirus symptoms.

A hub of activities

Under normal circumstances, our pupils would be busy preparing for their exams and starting their new academic session just now but, like many others, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our education landscape dramatically.

Hundreds of children of key workers are coming along to our 10 school hubs every day, including three special schools, having ensured this provision was available over the two-week Easter break as well. The messages of support from both parents and the children themselves have really been appreciated and thanks must go especially to the teams running them in these challenging circumstances.

The success of the hubs, support from our partner provider nurseries in caring for the Under 5s of key workers and the breadth of home learning taking place across the city are welcome signs of everyone working together to ensure all of our young people continue to receive childcare, learning and teaching. Technology has long been a key part of day-to-day school life but never more so than now as our teachers and young people embrace the digital world that is now their classroom. I've heard lots of great examples of fun, innovative learning opportunities being brought to life with technology - whether that be virtual class meetings, live geography field trips (from Ipswich!) or making best use of #edutwitter and other networks. 

We’re currently carrying out a survey of all our young people to explore whether we can provide even more support to those of them who don’t have the same access to devices and internet as their peers.

Taking Edinburgh forwards into a more sustainable future

The climate emergency has been pushed off the front pages temporarily. But the 50th anniversary of Earth Day last Wednesday saw this crucial issue regain the foreground, not least with the thoughtful and instructive article by the Chair of our new Edinburgh Climate Commission, Dr Sam Gardner.

In this, Dr Gardner makes a compelling case for the need for us to build a better and more sustainable Capital once the Covid-19 crisis has passed – as he says, “back to normal” simply won’t be good enough. Our City’s new Climate Commission Chair argues that the vastly improved air quality as road traffic has fallen, with lots more of us travelling (when essential) by bike or on foot, and working efficiently from home rather than commuting – are all changes we’re living with now that we should look to sustain to tackle carbon emissions.

The crisis we’re living through has brought enormous challenges for each and every one of us, but we can use this experience to inform our next steps towards tackling the looming climate crisis.

Acting now to prepare for recovery

Helping our businesses and industries get back into shape is another pressing priority and we’re already ramping up recovery plans, working closely with partners and organisations across the city. In recent weeks I’ve spoken to dozens of businesses, we’ve held a meeting of the City’s Economic Advisory Panel, I joined the first meeting of the new Climate Commission to discuss how we can recover sustainably and chaired the first tourism roundtable, focusing on one of the Capital’s key economic engines.

In all of these discussions, there’s been consensus that we need to put sustainability and inclusivity at the heart of our economy as Edinburgh recovers. This means a responsible visitor economy, balancing the needs of residents and using our many economic strengths, including emerging technologies, as a platform for recovery. 

As we expand on this work to consult with other key sectors in the coming weeks and months, it will be important for us to look at Edinburgh’s recovery plan in the round and consider residents’ views too. Thanks to our recent 2050 City Vision project, we have a wealth of ideas and opinions on the type of city the people of Edinburgh want us to be in years to come. I’m sure this feedback will prove vitally important when the whole city is ready to move forward.

Now is a good time to reflect on our latest accolade, courtesy of National Geographic last month, as one of the five most forward-thinking cities in Europe – as well as ‘the greenest city in the UK.’

Green spaces help us tackle the Covid blues

It’s more important than ever that we stay active and spend some time outdoors – and being the greenest city in the UK, our 144 public parks and greenspaces can accommodate lots of people walking, running, cycling or playing without being within two metres of others. While these remain open for local people, please continue to follow the national guidance for physical distancing: stay local, limit outings to once a day for exercise and adhere to our guidelines.

If you live close to Princes Street Gardens you’ll have seen how sensational the West gardens are looking in all their spring glory, judging by some photos I’ve seen on social media. You’ll also have noticed that works, including new drainage and the re-turfing of banks and lawns, are progressing well in the East.

We’re also implementing emergency measures to help our pedestrians and cyclists remain socially distant along pinch point pathways and roads, working closely with Transport Scotland and Sustrans to develop an approach to re-designating road space. We’ve already begun making changes, and you’ll continue to see improvements being made around the city in the coming weeks. We want to ensure that our City can support essential journeys and help local people to use open spaces, with the safest, most accessible routes we can offer.

Ensuring all voices can be heard

In the weeks and months ahead, the outbreak will remain firmly at the forefront of residents’ minds and, as agreed at last week’s Leadership Advisory Panel (LAP), it’s right that our public consultations should be delayed.

This includes the much-anticipated public conversation on the future of Edinburgh’s winter festivals, an important and timely debate for our city to have. All political parties agree that the next contract for these events (for the winter of 2022 and beyond) should be shaped by the people of Edinburgh and we’re absolutely committed to conducting a wide-ranging exercise to gather their views, but only when it’s safe and practical to do so.

In the coming weeks, councillors will have further key decisions to make and we’re committed to these being subject to the right scrutiny and transparency. Starting this month, the LAP will be replaced by the reinstated Policy and Sustainability Committee, allowing a broader spectrum of political involvement. From June, the opposition-chaired Governance, Risk and Best Value committee will also return, allowing for further scrutiny of our decision making. 

It’s good to talk

We all know that staying safe at home is really important when it comes to getting through this pandemic but it can also bring great pressures on families. Our day to day lives have been turned upside down and many of our young people may be feeling particularly unsettled and struggling to cope with the big changes that have now become normality.

That’s why our educational psychologists are making sure they are there for our young people and their families. They are offering advice to young people, parents, carers and school staff who want support in managing their home learning and wellbeing.

They’ve produced a guide which provides key messages and recommended resources which will prove helpful. So please don’t hesitate to contact them on 0131 469 2800 or [email protected] if you want support and advice. Please make sure you take time to look after yourself, as well as others.

There are lots of great tips out there on protecting your personal wellbeing, and we're also sharing a treasure trove of activities to do at home, compiled by one of our lifelong learning team and offering options for people of all ages to try out. 

Thank you once again for playing your part in Edinburgh’s response to this crisis. We’ll get through it together, and I know we’ll emerge stronger.

Published: May 1st 2020