Year in lockdown: Fife ‘will never be same again’ say council leaders
Fife will "never be the same again" following Covid-19, the co-leaders of the council have said as they reflected on a year of the pandemic in the Kingdom.
Following a national day of reflection on Tuesday, commemorating a year to the day that the UK first entered lockdown, Fife's co-leaders David Alexander (SNP) and David Ross (Labour) have been looking back on the past 365 days.
Since Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the first lockdown Fife has experienced practical and financial challenges, as staff adapted to new ways of working and sports centres, theatres and swimming pools emptied, depriving the authority of precious income.
The council even had to consider renting a warehouse to act as a backup morgue in the event that existing moratoriums filled up.
Cllrs Alexander and Ross have paid tribute to the thousands of local authority workers who have stepped up to the mantle in the face of adversity in order to keep the region going over the last year.
"The pandemic has brought out the best in local government and public services. Whilst many staff had to isolate hundreds, if not thousands, volunteered for tasks that were not natural to them," Cllr Ross said in a joint statement provided to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
"The public don’t see the efforts and hours spent behind the scenes by staff distributing the varied funding streams from government to individuals and businesses that qualify for help and all the other functions that require to be thought through prior to implementation.
"At every level the efforts put in to respond to the impact of this pandemic have been immense."
Cllr Alexander added: "The first lockdown last year was a huge shock and it took some time to adapt to the situation. Our staff responded magnificently.
"Not being able to meet face to face with work colleagues has been extremely difficult, but we have adjusted to this, some better than others.
"Working from home can sound like an easy option, but as we have all found, it brings its own difficulties and pressures.
"All our staff have gone above and beyond during the last year."
The first cases of Covid-19 were detected in Fife on March 4, a few days after the virus was first identified elsewhere in Scotland.
Since then social care staff, education workers and grounds maintenance and recycling crews have dug in to ensure that Fife endures.
However, the Kingdom has reported over 10,500 cases of the virus - peaking at 158 in a single day on December 30 last year - and a total of 374 deaths since the pandemic began.
The impact of those figures is not lost on the co-leaders, who say the last year has been "horrific and a tragedy" for legions of Fifers who have lost relatives to the virus or have been kept apart due to care home restrictions.
"We have yet to see what the 'new normal' will look like as we slowly ease our way out of this awful year," they added.
"At the same time we have witnessed remarkable community and voluntary efforts in so many ways with local heroes in every village and town.
"Plans for the recovery are being put in place, but the pace of this will be dependent on how we suppress the virus.
"Only by suppressing this virus and keeping it suppressed will we return to anything like a normal existence."
The pair have also reflected individually on how the pandemic has affected them – and the difficult decisions they faced as it took hold.
SNP group leader Cllr Alexander said he now looks at key workers - that newly identified group of people whose work is critical to keeping society going - in a different light.
"I never thought I’d ever be in a situation where I’d be discussing what empty factory unit the council should rent to prepare for morgues being overwhelmed," he said.
"From the very beginning it was made clear the awful potential of this virus and discussions like that leave a mark. Like many others I know people who have succumbed to this virus.
"Even though the toll has been bad enough it was predicted to be a lot worse.
"The fact that the worst predictions didn’t happen is due to so many people.
"I look at the NHS, carers, council staff, and so many others in a different way now. We need to reassess how we reward people in this society."
David Ross, the Labour group leader, added: "From a personal point of view as co-leader, I have very much appreciated the support and dedication of our chief executive and senior managers in helping keep the council operating and on track to address our priorities.
"There have been many difficult moments during the last year: the frustration that we couldn’t get supplies of PPE for our staff quickly enough, though our procurement team did a great job in sourcing our own supplies when national supplies were delayed; the impact on our care homes despite the best efforts to protect them.
"Like everyone else, I have been affected by the loss of people we know and from not being able to visit family for more than a year.
"We can only hope that with the vaccination programme well advanced, things will begin to improve, though as everyone has come to realise, they will never be the same again."