Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay has spoken about the ongoing work being carried out by the Comhairle and other agencies across the Western Isles in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“I am full of admiration for the ongoing response work being carried out by our staff and those in other agencies, including - but not limited to - Public Health, Department of Work and Pensions and Hebridean Housing Partnership.

“This is likely to be the most challenging set of circumstances that most of us have ever faced in our lives. However, by working together and following advice - particularly to stay at home unless absolutely essential - I am confident that we are well prepared and that we will come through this stronger as a community.

“No one is complacent, as no one knows to what extent we will be affected, but all our work last week, this week and next week is about effective preparation.

“My main message to each and every one of you, is that you look after yourselves, and look after each other.

“The following are just some of the key steps that we have undertaken in response to the crisis.”

Volunteers

We have launched an online form and Contact Centre 01851 822899 to collect details of individuals and community groups throughout the Western Isles looking to provide volunteering support during COVID-19.

The Contact Centre will operate Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and enable the Comhairle to match volunteers against the needs of individuals and families in our communities.

We would also urge anyone in need of help or support to contact our Customer Services team in the usual manner on 01851 600 501. We are anticipating a high number of calls, therefore we would ask for your patience

Education & Children’s Services

Education & Children’s Services are pleased to report that out of 313 teachers, 160 have volunteered to be deployed anywhere across Comhairle. The EIS have been - and continue to be - very supportive around this issue. There will be 268 pupils and staff in schools over the Easter break in order to support Key Workers.

Provision for Key Workers

It is currently expected that the period of closure announced by the Scottish Government will extend into term four. It is not clear at this time how long closure restrictions will last.

We will review how the hub approach to provision operated during the holidays and are likely to continue that approach in term four.  Where there is demand for it, we will open additional hubs, with provisional plans to do so at Daliburgh School and Sgoil an Rubha. Any changes will be communicated to key worker parents in good time

 Free School Meals

The Comhairle has made a commitment to make a payment of £154 to the parents of every child in P4-S6 who qualify for Free School Meals, covering the period from now to 30th June 2020. In P1-3, the same payment has been made to all those in receipt of School Clothing Grants.

 Education Maintenance Allowance

We recognise the importance of these payments to the young people who receive them and have made a commitment to make a single advance bulk payment to all eligible pupils to cover the time from now to 5th June. The situation will be reviewed after this date and a further payment up to 30th June 2020 may be made.

 Vulnerable Pupils

The Scottish Government has made provision to allow councils to continue to allow children and young people with complex ASN needs and other vulnerabilities to continue to attend schools and centres where their needs are best met.  Comhairle officers have worked with schools to identify and support vulnerable young people and make provision for them. Provision will be discussed with each individual family and confirmed by the HT or senior officer.  From Tuesday 14th April, identified vulnerable pupils who have been attending at their local school will be able to access provision at the hubs unless it’s been agreed with parents to provide bespoke provision elsewhere. The provisions for vulnerable pupils are the same as the ones described above for key workers.

Home Care

The Home Care Service has been indirectly affected by COVID-19, in that a number of staff have had to self-isolate due to underlying health issues. Remaining staff have assumed additional hours allowing the Service to continue much as before. We are also in the process of training additional, new staff who have responded to Mr Ron Culley’s public appeal. The response to Mr Culley’s public appeal has exceeded 100 applicants. We are in the process of examining each and every application, and prioritising those applicants with existing and valid PVG and/or those with relevant caring experience. In addition to this, a significant number of families have assumed caring responsibilities, both all or in part which has allowed Home Care staff to focus on covering service need arising out of staff absence.

Business Support Grants

The Comhairle has been accepting applications since Wednesday 25th and there has already been a significant number of applications received. Staff are working through these as quickly as possible and would request that applicants do not submit multiple emails seeking updates, we are dealing with these in the order we received them and will contact applicants as these are processed. The first payments under the scheme will be made today. This will provide support to 30 businesses. Queries about support for businesses that are not eligible for this scheme should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

An online form is now available for Council Tax Reduction applications. Members of the community who experience a reduction in income, and who have capital of less than £16k, can apply.

Partnership

The Comhairle and NHS Western Isles continue to work closely in a joint response to the Covid-19 crisis. The Pandemic Resilience Group, which is multi-agency, also continues to meet regularly and is attended by the Comhairle Chief Executive and chaired by the NHS Western Isles Chief Executive. In addition, all NHS Western Isles local news updates - as well as our own - are on the special section of the Comhairle website. Rest assured will continue to work in close partnership with a range of agencies across the Western Isles and particularly our colleagues in Public Health.