2020 – A Year of Challenge and Change
By Orkney Islands Council interim Chief Executive John Mundell
The year 2020 has been one like no other.
It is fair to say when I took up the role of interim Chief Executive of Orkney Islands Council in June 2019, I’d prepared myself for a number of challenges that come with such a post – but a global pandemic was definitely not among them.
The lockdown was imposed nationally one year ago today on the 23 March 2020 and the world as we knew it changed forever.
When the seriousness of Covid-19 emerged, it was all about the immediate response – the need to protect the NHS, the health and safety of everyone, to safeguard jobs, to keep the economy moving while at the same time following restrictions being imposed initially by the UK Government and thereafter the Scottish Government.
We have been on this journey together – learning as we go, and we continue to gain understanding as the days, weeks and months pass.
With the easing of restrictions and the economic implications becoming clearer, we’re looking ahead to our recovery and what this means for our local authority and our current and future employees.
The Council is Orkney’s largest employer – with over 2,700 people employed by the local authority which is over ten per cent of the island’s population.
I can say with confidence and pride that our workforce has gone well above and beyond during these unprecedented times. This has been no mean feat. The unknown leads to fear. Uncertainty leads to fear. Change leads to fear and fear can lead to frustration. Our staff have had to deal with the public’s frustrations and have been impacted to some degree but continue to deal with this admirably. I, again, appeal for the wider public to remember that everyone is trying their best to continue to do their jobs while following the national guidance and restrictions whatever they me be at any given time.
Orkney has built a reputation for looking out for one another – let’s not change that.
Throughout the pandemic, our staff have responded with diligence - finding new innovative ways to connect and support each other and our communities, ensuring that critical services have continued as far as practicable throughout.
The pandemic has shown how fragile the world can be and how we, as a local authority, should move forward – how we optimise what we do, make a more positive impact and change the way we work for the benefit of all.
We have the chance now to make these changes.
We have learned to work in a different way – some from home, others within the workplace and for some it is a combination of both. The vaccination programme is continuing apace and this, combined with the suppression of the virus, has led to a lower level of restrictions compared with the rest of the country and we hope this continues.
Moving forward, what will a continued relaxation mean for our workforce?
Our staff are not “returning to work” – they never stopped working – but for some, this may mean returning to the workplace, as opposed to being at home, or perhaps a combination of both. Discussions will continue with employees as to how best move this forward relating to their own personal circumstances.
As some will recognise, prolonged home working can have a negative impact on mental health and there are additional pressures on those who have been required to home school.
I know that many others have adapted well to the new world of working from home enjoying the flexibility, time with family and no commutes – albeit fairly short ones in Orkney!
We know that some of our staff miss the social interaction, but I do not think any of us expect life and work to return to exactly how it was pre-Covid.
I see this as a positive – an opportunity to rethink how and why we use our workplaces and what we want the future of work to look like.
This is what we will address in the coming months.
It is right and proper to reflect on the year gone by, how far we have all come as a workforce and wider community, but we must look forward - we must not give up now.
I ask that we continue to respect one another; demonstrate resilience, maintain our responsiveness, keep our risk as low as possible and recognise this will come to an end – it is just a matter of time.