The Leader of Gateshead Council, Councillor Martin Gannon and Sheena Ramsey, Chief Executive, write an open letter to GO Gateshead customers advising of the council's decision to prioritise its Covid-19 response and how this will affect the reopening of leisure facilities.
With local Covid-19 infection rates decreasing and the vaccination programme progressing at pace we have every reason to be optimistic for the future. However, we wanted to write to you to reiterate Gateshead Council's commitment to continuing to prioritise the lives, health and wellbeing of our communities.
This week saw pupils return to Gateshead's schools as the first part in the Government's roadmap to the gradual easing of national restrictions. While this is a very positive step in the recovery process, it is important we understand the pandemic is not over and we all must remain vigilant in our actions to help prevent transmission of the virus.
The national roadmap presents a route to less severe restrictions, however as we have seen on previous occasions any easing can create a surge in infections. It is vital we do all we can to make sure the sacrifices we have all made over the past year do not go to waste, therefore it is Gateshead Council's intention to base local decisions on the relaxing of restrictions on local data rather than dates specified by central government. This includes transmission trends, case numbers, the impact on NHS services and any emerging variants of concern.
The vital support services we have offered over the past year have provided a lifeline for many Gateshead residents. This includes community hubs - offering services such as the distribution of emergency food parcels, prescription collections, welfare checks, and support on issues including financial management and maintaining positive physical and mental health. As the pandemic has progressed these services have expanded to include an enhanced contact tracing service and rapid testing sites, as well as providing support to local NHS led vaccination sites.
It would not have been possible to support residents in these ways without the redeployment of employees from other parts of the Council into alternative roles. We'd like to once again place on record our thanks to the entire workforce for their continued dedication and support. In particular we have seen many employees from our leisure and libraries services courageously stepping up, and inevitably if we are to continue to prioritise our Covid-19 response, it will affect our ability to reopen these services.
While we fully understand demand for our leisure centres and libraries will be high, particularly as we approach the provisional reopening date for these services set out in the national roadmap, our pandemic response activities must remain our priority. We therefore intend to adopt a phased approach to reopening facilities that is entirely dependent on our ability to maintain essential frontline services whilst gradually releasing staff to resume their regular roles.
We appreciate this decision may contradict the approaches of neighbouring local authorities and is likely to be disappointing for you, but tough decisions must be made and protecting health and wellbeing of our communities is both a statutory and moral duty of the Council. Thank you for your continued commitment to helping us support our recovery efforts.
All GO Gateshead customer Direct Debits will remain suspended and details of the phased reopening of our leisure centres and libraries will follow shortly.
Councillor Martin Gannon
Leader of the Council