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Jeremy Cooper

The week the crisis changed for local government

A tipping point was reached this week across the wide range of councils we are working with, and the way the crisis is perceived has changed significantly. There are three common themes to this:

  1. From health to community

The health impacts of the crisis are obviously huge, but the wider community impacts are becoming ever more significant. We have created digital dashboards that enable our clients to more easily track impact, and the decreasing demand levels in some areas are actually causing as much concern as increases due to pressures from Covid-19. One council thought their phone lines must be down as they had zero calls to their multi-agency safeguarding hub for reporting concerns with children’s welfare. There was nothing wrong with the phone line….so how worried should they be? Another council saw significant decreases in domestic abuse referrals for three consecutive weeks, and then a huge spike over the Easter weekend.

  1. From national to local

We track the prevalence of Covid-19 across the different councils we are working with on a daily basis, and they currently vary by over 700%. So far, councils’ preparations have been broadly similar as they have followed the (limited) national guidance. The publication of the adult social care action plan this week was the first time we have seen a more typical response from local government, with a move towards interpreting the guidance to fit local circumstances rather than just attempting to follow it. This means that the main frustration is now about getting guidance rather than not getting it. The crisis has become specific to each local authority, with the loss of parking income within one council’s top 5 issues, but not even in the top 100 for another. The lockdown might be national, but the experience of impact on the ground (and therefore recovery times in the future) will vary enormously.

  1. From acute to chronic

Immediate plans for dealing with the crisis are all in place; councils are now looking ahead and thinking about reformation. Next week, every local area we are working with is having a discussion about next steps at their Gold or top team meeting. We see ‘reformation’ as the most helpful framing because it acknowledges that the end-state of local government will be different, and allows the conversation to be about the sector’s ambitions for the future.

Things are moving incredibly fast, and the crisis for local government today looks hugely different from the way it did two or three weeks ago. What is crucial is that we all continue to share observations, information and analysis. Reformation cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy and there needs to be frank discussion about that as the impacts change and councils’ experience of the crisis diverges.

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