Public assurance is being provided by Highland Council that the organisation is fully transparent and accountable during the COVID-19 emergency response as it publishes decisions made by its group of senior officers – or Gold Group* – under emergency procedures.
The list of decisions made since 19 March 2020 is on the Council’s website at the following link and will continue to the added to and updated as further decisions are made using emergency procedures.
Chaired by Chief Executive, Donna Manson, the strategic Gold Group was set up to provide governance for the Council’s emergency response to COVID-19 and continuing business, using emergency procedures under the Council’s existing Scheme of Delegation, and within the Civil Contingencies Act and Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.
On 17 March all council committee meetings were postponed during March and April 2020 following the Prime Minister and First Minister’s announcements marking the beginning of lockdown on 16 March.
Since then, a strategic Gold Group* of senior cross-party councillors was also set up, meeting virtually, to provide oversight for decisions made under emergency powers. On 15 April, this group agreed that committees should only be held during May and June if urgent business required it, but they would be postponed until the end of June, except for a special Council meeting on 25 June. Corporate Resources Committee is now being planned for 3 June and the Planning Review Body meeting for 30 June. These meetings will be held virtually.
Highland Council Convener, Cllr Bill Lobban said: “I welcome the publication of decisions made under emergency procedures which will help to assure Members and the wider communitiy that decisions made have been appropriate, proportionate, and in direct response to the Covid-19 emergency. Many of the decisions have been minor in nature and they have all required a quick response by Council officers and the ability to adjust to that response as situations have developed. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Council staff for their unstinting response to this national emergency, many of whom, unable to carry out their normal duties, have volunteered to help in any way they can. You have, and continue to help the most vulnerable in our local communities and I sincerely thank you.”
The re-introduction of Committee meetings and Member-led governance will be a gradual process as the Council continues to operate under emergency procedures. This is due to staff requirements to continue to work on the COVID-19 emergency response and therefore insufficient capacity to service committees as normal. The Council is also working on providing a robust and reliable ICT alternative through which it can deliver council meetings remotely to all Members together with appropriate support and training. The Council, however will be unable to operate in “business as usual” for a long time due to the impact of Covid-19 and the uncertain period ahead.
Meanwhile, the decisions being made under emergency procedures will be circulated to all Members on a weekly basis and published on the Council’s website. This will include notification if no decisions have been made.
- GOLD represents one level of the three levels public sector organisations work at during a crisis or major incident. Gold is strategic level, Silver is tactical level and Bronze is operational level. All members of the Executive Leadership Team sit at the Gold or Strategic Officer meeting.
- The Chief Executive also holds a Strategic Gold Group meeting twice weekly for senior members. This includes the Convener, the Group Leaders of the coalition Administration, the Budget Leader plus the joint Leaders of the Opposition.