The Right Approach to Recovery

We trust that this blog finds you and your family well.

Aberdeen City Council – indeed the whole city – continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a magnificent way.

We have seen 1,600 staff within our organisation complete volunteer forms for new roles. Communities and business are backing one another. Our own Crisis Support Line is helping more than 400 people daily.

For every story of selfish shoppers or people ignoring social distancing rules there are many more stories of acts of kindness within neighbourhoods.

There is plenty to occupy us but as a local authority we must look ahead too – and recognise that goodwill alone won’t deliver renewal. Sound financial management steers resource to where it is needed most.

On May 6, the Urgent Business Committee will be updated on our position. The report describes the financial ravages of COVID-19. A loss of income. Increased expenditure.

Back in March, we wrestled with options for how we might close a funding shortfall of £38 million for 2020/21.

Put bluntly, without additional funding from the Scottish Government we will be forced to find a further amount of between £28m and £90m depending on how long the lockdown continues.

While the health of the nation must come first, we cannot as a council spend our way out of the COVID-19 crisis. The statutory duty to balance our books remains.

Officers will present options this summer for how we might close this new funding gap.

As an Administration we can tell you today that the commitment to no compulsory redundancies remains in place. Our staff are our greatest asset and their response to the pandemic has reminded us why.

Our commitment to tackling climate change also stands. The COVID-19 crisis has underscored the value of seeing the world as one, and acting together make it safe home for generations to come.

It isn’t just underlying health issues that put people at risk. A lack of a support network, food shortages, debt – these threaten our physical and mental well-being too, so tackling inequalities is still an absolute priority.

But beyond protecting critical services, difficult decisions must be made.

Yes, the government is making grants available to councils to support communities and businesses, but more often than not we are simply passing money on. It can’t be used to offset our increasing spending, now or in future.

We still have roads to repair, homes to build and refurbish, infrastructure to upgrade.

We must emerge from COVID-19 well positioned to thrive again. That means getting our priorities right, and having the means to deliver.

Just as a patient goes through a period of rehabilitation – taking discrete steps towards recovery – so must we.

Next week’s committee will tell us how we’re doing as an institution. In summer we will decide the best treatment – where our budget will go, what organisational changes will be required to continue to make our Local Outcome Improvement Plan a reality, how we might work even more closely with partners.

The world has changed but Aberdeen City Council’s purpose hasn’t: putting people and place first.