For some Edinburgh residents, the only sign of city council activity during the coronavirus outbreak can be seen with the continuing waste collection service. For the majority of people in lockdown, we have no cause to see the small army of people who are continuing to work and putting themselves at risk, for the service of us all.
When we stood outside and applauded people on the front line of the fight against coronavirus, we probably thought especially about people in the NHS and quite rightly so. But without council workers, continuing municipal services and a huge support effort by the third sector organisations, our testing times would be unimaginable.
Last week, when out on my sanctioned exercise hour with the dogs, I bumped into a friend who works on the street-team helping accommodate vulnerable people. It made me think about him and everyone else who is keeping the city going. These include the school staff providing care for children of key workers, waste collection crews, cleaners and carers, as well as social workers, parks officers and parking attendants.
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In recent weeks there has been a suspension of non-essential waste collection, but most on-street waste and recycling services are continuing. While kids’ play areas in parks have been closed to reduce the risk of infection, our green spaces have been kept open for the exercise we all need to take.
Schools and nurseries are providing vital childcare to 3,500 kids of key workers, the most vulnerable in society still need help and support and there are major efforts to do just that, just as emergency intervention is required for some council tenants.
All of these frontline services continue to be delivered by our city authority while less critical functions are being postponed or suspended, including administrative functions like planning, licence-holding or pay and display parking.
Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey is quite right to stress: “I know we all recognise the great job being done and I understand some of frustrations people will feel, but I would urge everyone to get behind the effort of key staff and give them our support during this difficult time – by being kind to each other we can make this unfortunate situation a little easier for everyone who is working so hard for us.”
Unfortunately, difficult decisions are having to be made which will have a huge impact on the city, including the cancellation of the Edinburgh festivals. For the first time in more than 70 years, the five festivals that transform the Capital into the world’s leading cultural destination every August are not going ahead. In a normal year, more than 5,000 events would take place, welcoming audiences of 4.4 million and over 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries, making them the second biggest cultural event in the world after the Olympics.
Although a necessary decision, it can’t have been an easy one to make. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, council workers continue to support people directly with five special resilience centres and a big online information effort. If you need to find out more, you should visit their website or follow them on social media.
Edinburgh, just like all other parts of the country, owes a huge debt of gratitude to its council workers. Thank you to everyone involved.