Published 21 June 2021

Councillors have praised West Dunbartonshire Council for the way it responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, and for the help and support provided to residents and businesses

An internal review by members of the Audit Committee assessed the actions taken by the Council since last March against an Audit Scotland checklist detailing the immediate and ongoing challenges public bodies face as a result of the pandemic.

The checklist focused on a range of Council areas from how well the organisation’s IT service performed to how well residents were supported in areas where there was disruption.

Following the review, the Council’s response was found to be in the top level in almost every key area, meaning the categories recommended for consideration were well-managed and  delivered to support the community whilst maintaining appropriate levels of service and governance.

The results were shared with all the members of the Council’s Audit Committee on Wednesday, with officers praised for their efforts in ensuring essential services continued despite unprecedented challenges.

Councillor John Mooney, Convener of the Council’s Audit Committee, said: “I welcome this report which details the exceptional hard work that has gone into guiding our communities and employees through the challenges we have all faced over the past 15 months.

“Our employees have worked under extreme pressure and at pace to adapt to rapidly unfolding events and it is testament to their efforts that our organisation scored so highly against Audit Scotland’s areas for consideration.

“We have all learned valuable lessons from the current pandemic to enable us to deal with future emergencies, including pandemics. I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of all elected members to thank officers, whose knowledge and expertise has ensured that the risks that came along with the pandemic were mitigated as much as possible.”

The report highlighted a number of positive and proactive steps which were taken in the days and weeks after the first national lockdown was announced.

These included completing a detailed workforce plan based around scenarios including which services could stop or be reduced as a result of pandemic-driven resource issues, while ensuring essential services were maintained.

The Council’s ICT teams acted quickly to enhance the Council’s digital provision, significantly extending the remote working capability to support 2000 employees to work from home effectively at the peak of the pandemic as well as working at pace to resolve any technical issues quickly and avoid interruptions in service delivery.

A review was undertaken to identify the financial impact of Covid-19 due to the restrictions on service delivery and additional spend required to maintain safe working conditions . This included financial support to external organisations like school transport contractors and care home providers.

In addition, the Council has implemented a number of additional Covid-19 related schemes on behalf of the Scottish Government including  Business Support Grants, changes to Non-Domestic Rates, additional Free School Meals, and Winter and Spring hardship payments.

Councillor Martin Rooney, Vice Convener of the Audit Committee, said: “This review shows that as a Council we truly recognised the challenges experienced at the start of the pandemic and did all we could to mitigate them, as well as worked to understand how these might progress as we go forward. We recognise there are ongoing challenges with Covid-19  and this hard work will continue to ensure our area has the best chance of making a full recovery.”

One recommended improvement raised as a result of the review – to widen the audience for briefing to lay members of the Audit Committee - has now also been implemented.