Elected members of Derry City and Strabane District Council attended an online briefing yesterday evening to get an overview on how Council is continuing to provide services and responding accordingly to the worrying increase in COVID 19 cases across the Council area.
Members attending the meeting agreed to a proposal for all Council committee meetings, including the Planning Committee and Full Council to resume to online for the month of October, to be reviewed at the end of the month. It was also agreed at the meeting that the focus of the Halloween celebrations will be on digital programming and city dressing, with plans for fireworks to be cancelled in the interests of health and safety and to ensure there is no gatherings of people in our city and town centres on Halloween night. Details of the online programme, animation and street dressing will be unveiled next week.
Members were informed how senior officers engage on a daily basis with Government and the Health authorities to obtain and analyse the most up to date statistics and that Council was playing a key role in reinforcing the Public Health Authority messaging around washing hands, socially distancing and wearing masks and proactively urging people to take whatever steps they can to reduce their social contacts. It was outlined to members that the people of this Council area have the power to bring down the numbers by following these simple guidelines.
Members were also informed that Council is engaging with sports organisations, schools, churches, the community and voluntary sector to assist with messaging and providing reassurance to the public at this time. It was agreed that simple concise and clear messaging, in keeping with PHA guidelines, would be communicated regularly and in a manner that does not cause unnecessary alarm or concern.
Details of the current regulations in place by the NI Executive were outlined to members as well as information relating to the work being done by teams within Council to support businesses to remind them of the regulations and to encourage compliance. Officers have increased their presence across the Council area offering advice and assistance to local businesses in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and have teamed up with key statutory and business stakeholders across the city in calling for compliance to new restrictions by urging people across the Council area to do all they can to curb the spread of the Corona Virus in the region.
Elected members were also provided with an update in relation to the continuation of services. They were informed that while the majority of Council services are operating, Council continues to face a number of challenges in the current environment and that the patience and understanding of the public is needed over the weeks and months ahead. Members were reminded that some of the services are still affected with closures and restrictions, they include tier two leisure centres, some of the recycling centres, public toilets, sports pitches and pavilions, and festival and events and that these restrictions are necessary to allow Council to comply with the Government regulations and to keep our staff and the public safe.
Members heard how a small number of staff – less than 10 out of a workforce of 1000, have tested positive and a small number of staff are self-isolating and all measures to protect staff are in place. Members were reminded that every effort would be made to retain all essential services and that possible impacts on services was inevitable over the coming days and weeks as managers adapt to new working practices and possible further staff issues.
Reassurance was provided to members in relation to the work that is being done across the Council to keep staff and the public safe. Staff who can work from home are being encouraged to continue to do so, there is signage and cleaning procedures in place at all centres, revised risk assessments and safe systems of work carried out across all services, including the bubbling of crews and staggered shift times where possible, as well as a wide range of HR support mechanisms in place.
Members were informed that a full report outlining the Council’s current financial situation, including details of the recent Government announcement about additional funding for Councils, will come before a future meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Brian Tierney, who chaired the meeting, acknowledged the work being done by officials to keep essential services operating in difficult circumstances and praised the leadership role the Council has taken throughout the situation. He said Council had responded promptly and proportionately to the first wave of the virus and had the mechanisms in place to deal with the current situation and any pending second wave.
He appealed to the wider community in Derry and Strabane not to be fearful but to act proactively and with their usual goodwill and community spirit they are renowned for, by taking the necessary steps to reduce the spread of the virus. He said by following the simple rules around hand washing, keeping 2metres apart, wearing a face covering and reducing the number of social contacts, they can make a positive impact to reduce the numbers and keep people safe over the coming days and weeks.