Hope and dedication the key to beating coronavirus in Moray
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MORAY'S community spirit, hard work and resilience are all giving Moray Council's chief executive hope for the future as the country enters 2021 in Covid lockdown.
Roddy Burns, who took over the role in 2012 from Alistair Keddie, along with thousands of dedicated colleagues at the local authority, has been at the forefront of keeping vital public services running while the nightmare scenario of the Covid pandemic unfolded.
Senior council staff are trained to deal with some of the gravest scenarios, but nothing could ever quite prepare both staff and councillors for what 2020 had in store.
Mr Burns said: "We were literally placed in a situation that could mean life or death for people.
"Of course, we've experienced very difficult situations before – the threat to RAF Lossiemouth, for example, or the major floods – but nothing to compare to Covid in terms of intensity and duration. It's not unprecedented, but it's 100 years since we had the flu epidemic and 300 years since the economy was hit this hard.
"I suppose you could say it was almost of Biblical proportions, in a way.
"There were a lot of late nights and early mornings but the key to it all was having great staff, many of whom had been through and dealt with previous crises such as the floods. Others hadn't and it was important they were supported. Unlike previous situations, this was something which affected us all."
New ways of working had to be rapidly devised, implemented and, for the staff, become accustomed to all while juggling their own personal and family concerns. As phase 1 lockdown slammed into place an Emergency Cabinet took over the running of the council, comprising of the council's corporate management team and representatives from the various groupings represented on the council.
Virtual meetings became the norm and scheduled committees were temporarily suspended. Over the summer, as rules relaxed, committees and other services gradually returned.
"We had a lot of hard decisions to make quite quickly," Mr Burns continued.
"Which services were essential, which do we adapt and which do we have to stop altogether?
"It's a testament to not only council staff and councillors but to the public themselves for coming together to get things working."
Mr Burns spoke often of his pride not only in his staff but in Moray as a whole.
"Our staff stepped up and so did Moray's communities.
"Everywhere has its own special characteristics and Moray is no different. One of those here in Moray is a strong sense of community spirit.
"Unlike a great many local authority areas in Scotland most staff here live in Moray, they have a vested interest in what happens as they are providing services for their family, friends and neighbours.
"There has been so much done on goodwill these last nine months or so, for which I'm very grateful. It's worthwhile remembering that while the majority of the focus has been on Covid, it's not the only thing that's been happening, we've had other things to deal with such as the recent bad weather.
"The council staff have been amazing."
As with everyone else, the pandemic touched Mr Burns's personal life and meant sacrifices for his family.
He said: "I think the real impact of the pandemic has been on my wider family, really.
"My son's been furloughed and my daughter's graduation ceremony was cancelled.
"Everyone has been affected in some way or another and we're no different from anybody else in Moray. It really brings it home to you."
The dawn of 2021 brought with it a lockdown not entirely dissimilar from that of March, the main difference this time around being that the rollout of vaccinations is on the not too distant horizon.
For Mr Burns, hard work and hope are the key planks for the new year.
"I believe we should look ahead with hope and be positive. Teamwork, dedication and hard work has seen us overcome many obstacles over the last year. I want to recognise all staff who have played their part in this, but should give a special mention to our colleagues in education who have done a power of work to set up vital provision for the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children, back in March and again during this extended closure of schools.
"We are working hard with the NHS to support the vaccination programme and with the business community to help recover the economy of Moray.
"We're lucky to have a tremendous and valuable relationship with the business community and, as well as administering millions of pounds of government funding to support businesses in the area, the council has agreed to invest quite significant sums into the local community.
"At the same time we must work hard to support those individuals and families who are vulnerable.
"While we have hope there is still much work to be done. However, there's no reason to believe that we'll not get through this. We've done it before and we'll do it again if, along with a lot of hard work, we stand up together in the belief that we can and will get things done."