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Post-coronavirus opportunities 'must be grasped' as society edges back to normality

By Alan Beresford

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A YEAR like no other – that was Moray Council convener Councillor Shona Morrison's verdict on what has been an often fraught 12 months.

Last year we spoke to Councillor Morrison – who made history by becoming the first female convener of the council in 2018 – about she and her colleagues were leading the local authority through the uncharted waters of the pandemic.

A year on, and with vaccines providing light at the end of the tunnel, we caught up with her again to see what has changed.

"Nobody could've predicted what happened last March, everything changed literally overnight," she said.

"It was fairly intense between March and June and I think it's fair to say everyone was fairly anxious.

"The speed with which people reacted to the pandemic and the way communities mobilised to help people was very humbling, there was so much resolve showed.

"What the council staff achieved in such a short space of time was phenomenal. We didn't get everything right, that's true, but we did very well considering the circumstances, including having a depleted staff due to illness and people self-isolating.

"There was also a huge shift in the way many people worked, especially moving to digital working."

Councillor Morrison singled out the council's grants team, who helped some of the most vulnerable during the darkest days of the pandemic, and the also those involved with social care.

As the co-leader of the local authority's minority SNP administration, the year of Covid was to highlight some important lessons.

Councillor Morrison continued: "In terms of the council, I think one of the biggest lessons Covid has taught us all is that partnership working is everything, whether that is between the political groups on the council or between the council and other bodies like the NHS and so on.

"Without this partnership working we couldn't have achieved half of what we've managed to over the course of the last 12 months. The political dimension was set aside.

"For example, in the midst of the pandemic we still had to set a budget and we could not have achieved this without our Independent and Labour colleagues.

"It's been very heartening to see and ranks as one of our biggest collective achievements.

"From a personal point of view my work with Health and Social Care Moray, which I'm vice-chair of, was something I was privileged to be a part of. It's been phenomenal to see how resourceful and tenacious they've been over the last year.

"They've done an incredible job, including chief officer Simon Bokor-Ingram, who's done a wonderful job with the vaccine rollout.

"It's very humbling just to be part of this."

While Covid has brought with it challenges aplenty, Councillor Morrison also feels it has extended opportunities for the good, ones which society as a whole cannot afford to miss as we gradually return to normality.

"We're hopefully starting the journey back to normality but I don't believe that should mean we go back to the ways things were.

"We have to avoid the return to certain ways of working. Adapting to the pandemic, especially the use of digital formats, has shown us the potential of other ways of working, delivering education and other services and so on. There's so much we can deliver online.

"There's an opportunity here and we have to grasp it now. As we emerge from lockdown we must keep the transformative elements it has brought, such as homeworking or a blended approach to working.

"I know how frustrating it can be to spend so much time having to travel to meetings in the Central Belt –maybe going forward much of this can be done digitally. It's nice to have more time to spend with my family and the digital option has already meant I have been able to attend more virtual meetings with local community groups.

"If we want to attract more women into councils and the Scottish Parliament then we have to make it more accessibly and family friendly. Over the past 12 months we've demonstrated quite clearly that this can be achieved.

"However, we have to ensure that those who are not so confident with digital technology are not left behind."

The herculean task of rebuilding the economy in Moray after the devastating effect of Covid, Councillor stressed that the recovery had to be social as well as economic in nature.

She added: "Partnership working and community engagement are important as we go forward.

"The likes of participatory budgeting are going to be a focus as we make our way back to normality.

"There has to be a social recovery, too, we need to progress, nurture and guide people."

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