2020 presented many challenges for Cork County Council and the communities we serve. The resilience, flexibility and adaptability of the Council working alongside statutory bodies, volunteer organisations, families and communities enabled us to respond effectively to these challenges, while paving the way for future success in the region.
Prior to the global pandemic in March, Cork County Council made international news in its response to the grounding of the ghost ship MV Alta on the coast of Ballycotton.
The Council’s Oil Spill Assessment team was mobilised and over the course of the week that followed, the ship was secured, the risks were assessed, and plans were put in motion to gather and remove oil and other materials that posed a pollution risk.
The operation was executed without fault, thanks to Council staff from across a number of directorates including the Coastal Projects Team, Environment, Coastal Operations, Roads and Communications. The Council’s marine contractor LCF marine, An Garda Síochána, the Coastguard and the landowner near the wreckage were instrumental in the success and safety of the operation.
The next major challenge to arrive to our shores, as we know, was not to be short-lived.
March began for the Council with a series of announcements, including the addition of supports for neuro-diverse children in our libraries, an expansion of the Council’s Age Friendly Programme and public consultations opened for our County Development Plan 2022-2028. By mid-March, the ordinary operations of Council ceased, as the demands of the county community radically changed.
The arrival of Covid-19 created an immediate need for support throughout our local authority area.
Many found themselves vulnerable and cut off from their normal routines and supports, with restrictions on movement and the closure of many public spaces.
The Council responded by rapidly deploying resources and utilising the localised knowledge of staff throughout the county to identify who needed support and where.
Our wide-reaching contacts with community groups, voluntary and statutory organisations made us the suitable co-ordinating body for the countywide Covid-19 Community Response Programme. The Council was able to quickly adapt to its new and vital role in service of the wider community.
The Council continues to operate a Community Call helpline to connect those in need with non-emergency practical and emotional supports.
Since its inception, the helpline has handled over 5,500 calls, arranging collection and delivery, meal service, and providing support to those experiencing social isolation.
At the same time, Cork County Council’s online service portal, YourCouncil.ie, rapidly extended its service offerings, allowing us to continue to provide necessary services to the people, businesses and communities. Over 120 services are now available through YourCouncil.ie. With 39.5k online requests received since the start of March, our online services have allowed people to engage with the Council safely throughout the pandemic.
Our experience as the largest local authority in terms of geographical area has, over the years, taught us that the needs of local communities are diverse, and ‘one size fits all’ solutions are not best suited to catering for those needs. This motivated our radical approach to safely reopening towns and villages throughout the county as restrictions eased.
Our concerns, and those of our communities, were both the safety of town and village users and mitigating the negative impacts of the pandemic to local economies.
With these concerns front and centre, and an understanding that tailored responses would be needed for each town and village, Cork County Council launched Project ACT (Activating County Towns), which involved the establishment of Town Teams throughout our eight Municipal Districts consisting of local elected representatives, businesspeople, community leaders, tidy towns, traders, An Garda Siochana, and representatives of the Cork County Older Person’s Council amongst others.
Through these Town Teams, targeted local interventions were designed to best facilitate the safe and socially distanced restoration of social, civic and economic life countywide.
Initiatives included pedestrianisation of streets, facilitation of on-street dining, the provision of age-friendly and disability friendly parking and more, as befitted the individual needs of towns and villages.
Cork County Council’s ability to implement these changes rapidly alongside our community partners enabled many towns to take advantage of domestic tourism this summer, while providing safety for residents.
Economic support also came from the Council’s Economic Development, Enterprise and Tourism Department and our Local Enterprise Offices: €28 Million has been administered to businesses in the county alongside the provision of 913 Trading Online Vouchers and 715 Business Continuity Vouchers.
Eligible businesses also availed of a Commercial Rates waiver, while our Local Enterprise Offices offered a series of online training courses to help businesses adapt and continue to trade through the pandemic.
The Council launched a ‘Rediscover Cork County’ campaign in the summer to promote local and domestic tourism, focusing on the broad range of recreational, educational and heritage offerings available. An online interactive ‘Rediscover Cork County’ map continues to provide a guide to locations of interest not only for visitors, but for locals to rediscover what’s available on their doorsteps.
The needs of the community were ever prevalent in our planning for the run up to winter, with concerns over people’s ability to enjoy Christmas with their families and worries about the negative impacts of the pandemic on retail an imminent concern.
The Council developed ‘A Real Cork Christmas’ to connect with everyone in the county, to foster a sense of solidarity and hope, and to give local retailers a boost this holiday season.
Businesses, families and individuals joined together in shining a light in their windows, sharing images on social media with the hashtag #ARealCorkChristmas.
Cork County Council’s website now hosts a list of retailers throughout the county from which everyone can access. The Council also engaged schools through the Mayor’s Christmas Postcard Competition.
In preparation for the challenges of the year ahead, and with a view to securing long term sustainable commerce, growth and community life in the county, Cork County Council adopted its 2021 Budget to €348 million, an increase of almost €10 million on last year.
This maintains core services such as housing, roads and municipal districts at 2020 levels, while providing a Town Presentation Approaches Fund of €1.1m, a dedicated fund for the development of an Arts Programme to deliver creative projects in towns and villages, and an Economic Development Fund of €1m for supporting a wide range of economic activity including tourism, biotech and hospitality.
This budget enables us to put our best foot forward and continue to rise to the challenges we face, standing side by side with the communities we serve. Cork County Council will continue to deliver for our communities, who can rely on the agility, adaptability and resourcefulness of the Council in the years to come.
We wish everyone a very peaceful and safe Christmas and all the very best for 2021.