Just over a month ago, Aberdeen City Council agreed its budget for 2020/21 – a task that involved balancing the needs of the city and its most vulnerable residents against a reducing resource.
It compelled us to be open-minded about service delivery and ever more ready to embrace partnership working. It required tough decisions, yes, but compassion too.
The COVID-19 outbreak has made the budget seem like a distance memory.
While we plan for recovery, as we must, the reality is that for many of us life as we know it has stalled, horribly so in some cases.
Streets are empty, shops are shut. Families have been separated. The laughter of children won’t be heard across Aberdeen’s playparks this Easter.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the importance of considering the city’s welfare in a holistic sense, a recurring theme of this year’s budget. If anything, COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief the value of what we do as a local authority.
Things we once took for granted have stopped. Children being educated together in a classroom. A weekend trip to the recycling centre. Much of that has happened in response to government guidance but it’s also because COVID-19 is testing us in ways we never imagined.
Some residents are left wondering where their next meal will come from. Or when they will again see a human face. Or feel the kindly touch of a loved one.
What matters is how we respond.
The public have been brilliant. They have grasped that we as a Council must adjust and adapt in continuing to deliver for the city as best we can. Hundreds of volunteers have signed up already to play their part.
Our staff have responded magnificently too. In the space of a week, more than 1,500 people in non-critical roles have stepped forward to assist with efforts to look after residents. The pride that brings cannot be overstated.
And that is the nub of what we as a Council are about. Putting people first. That’s why we launched a Crisis Support Line as quickly as we could and why we continue to promote our COVID-19 webpage on a variety of channels.
As well as continuing to carry out our statutory duties, we are supporting communities and businesses wherever we can.
We are doing that in partnership with organisations like the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and the voluntary sector, and through our role as a Category 1 responder in the Grampian Local Resilience Partnership.
The weeks and months ahead will be gruelling but the Council must continue to operate with a clear head. COVID-19 will not be allowed compromise the good governance underpinning everything we do, including the difficult decisions we must make.
People seem to have instinctively understood the gravity of the situation; that our response must be framed in a human context. They have understood that waste collection, as but one example, is carried out by people who share their fears about COVID-19 and have families they go back to.
Service revisions have been made to protect frontline workers and the people they directly serve, and very few members of the public are not accepting of that.
Everyone understands that we have some way to go in dealing with this pandemic and that we will emerge changed, more appreciative perhaps of what it means to be part of a community.
COVID-19 may have made the world seem very small but it has also amplified the good in people, not least here in Aberdeen.
So, thank you – for your forbearance and support. Please, stay safe.