Planning for the future feels almost impossible at the moment. With the ground shifting under our feet every couple of days, there has never been so much uncertainty about the future. The different post-crisis scenarios for local government are so varied that it is hard to take in all the possibilities.
However, it is not too early to start looking for things that seem (almost) certain to have changed forever after this crisis. With the inevitable risk of being proved wrong in these most uncertain of times, I have five predictions for local government:
- Reincarnation of community. The half a million NHS volunteer applications, the proliferation of community WhatsApp groups and the creation of hubs to support the ‘vulnerable’ are all fundamentally changing our experience and understanding of community. This is bound to have a profound and lasting legacy.
- Transformed adult social care picture. Adult social care strategy has undertaken an almost perfect 180 degree turn. The priority for the last five years has been promoting independence and reducing dependence on formal care. The priority right now is to get people out of hospital by any means and support the vulnerable in any way that is possible. There are no means assessments, and no discussions of whether the NHS or councils are footing the bill. Promoting independence and influencing demand flows will return as the priority in the medium-term – but with more urgency and from a fundamentally different starting point, and with changed expectations from the public.
- Flexible working revolution. With the experience of millions of people doing their job remotely and flexibly (to deal with home schooling in particular) we will learn very rapidly what works and what doesn’t. Most will flock back to the office the minute they reopen, but some won’t, and many will have their working patterns changed forever.
- Integration boost. The integrated working required through this period will change the inclusive ambition between different public agencies, at a relationship level as well as a structural level. There might be backwards steps after the crisis, but some of the integration will remain.
- A new social contract. This all adds up to a fundamentally changed relationship between citizens, businesses, partners and public services. There will be renewed appreciation of the value and coordination of public services, an understanding of what is essential and what ‘vulnerable’ means, and the role of each individual and different parts of the community in responding.
The future is undoubtedly somewhat scary. However, when the crisis does ease, there will be a once in a generation opportunity to reframe how local government is seen, what the real challenges are and how complex problems can be tackled.