Steady progress the goal ahead

Scotland is set to move into Phase 3 of its route map for lifting COVID-19 restrictions. We can’t be sure exactly what tomorrow will bring but the expectation is that it will move us one step closer towards the normality we all desperately crave.

That is certainly what Aberdeen City Council has been planning for in parallel with supporting our most vulnerable residents and safeguarding life.

Last week the Urgent Business Committee approved a series of reports that together mapped out how both the Council and the city can move safely forward.

First up was the Financial Resilience Recovery Plan, a towering piece of work that gives us the foundations to keep delivering key services whilst still balancing our books, as we must.

The economic fall-out of the pandemic will be with us for a long time, perhaps after the threat of the virus itself has receded. However, our Financial Resilience Recovery Plan is not designed to shore up our balance sheet as we retreat from the storm.

We need to get Aberdeen back on its feet and emerge from COVID-19 well positioned to thrive – which brings us to our Socio Economic Rescue Plan.

Our business-facing services – trading standards, environmental health, licensing or planning – will assist private enterprise in these difficult trading conditions.

A Business Charter commits us to making sure that as far as possible the goods and services we buy in are benefiting local business and creating training and skills opportunities.  It also recognises the role of business in supporting our vision of a successful city and our people and place ambitions – developing our young workforce and the transition to a Net Zero city.

The Plan’s implementation will be overseen by the Community Planning Aberdeen Board, which already brings together the public, private and the third sector and community groups to deliver the Local Outcome Improvement Plan (LOIP).

Like the LOIP, the Socio-Economic Rescue Plan’s interventions promote the idea that Aberdeen should be a place where everyone can prosper, regardless of their background.

This pandemic has resulted in an increased demand for Council services, yes. However, it also has given rise to new ways of working. New ways of living, too, as the city emerges from lockdown. The Plan recognises the uptake of active travel and seeks to preserve that.

Which takes us to the subject of the third paper: Spaces for People.

The £1.76 million project has seen road layouts temporarily altered to allow people to walk and cycle, as well as queue for buses, visit shops, bars, and restaurants, all the while keeping to physical distancing guidance.

Our actions have allowed thousands of people to return daily to our city centre.

It has not been without challenge but we make no apology for putting people and lives first. That’s why we have the support of NHS Grampian and business organisations. They recognise that by staying apart, people can succeed together.

We had to move quickly to securely lock the city down. In bringing the city back to life, we also need pace, but canniness too – or we risk losing all the progress to date.

People living in parts of Dumfries and Galloway were effectively cordoned off due to a new outbreak while contact tracing and testing was carried out. Not quite a local lockdown like that in Leicester, but a stark reminder that COVID-19 moves among us still.

The impact in terms of people’s health and economic recovery of a localised or national return to lockdown cannot be underestimated.

We are committed to playing our part in minimising that risk – that’s what collective leadership is about – so Aberdeen might emerge from lockdown in a way that protects public health and sustains our local economy.

So let’s look forward to tomorrow with a sense of anticipation but also sobriety. Steady progress is what we need.