Local Government – no way back?

In just a few weeks we’ve seen the Public sector come together and respond with positivity to one of the biggest challenges of our generation. But when the situation improves and public sector returns to a more recognisable patterns of work, what comes next. Whist we don’t have a crystal ball, we can learn from this crisis and the positives, opportunities and challenges that can be applied  when “we beat this”.

  1. Sense of Community: We have seen the most wonderful demonstration of solidarity and unity coming from ordinary people who are required stay at home. This is likely to have a profound impact and lasting legacy on how we view each other; our sense of duty and role as citizens; the relationship between people, public, private and community sectors and the value we place on public services.
  2. Technology enabled change: Overnight, we became home-workers; we embraced Skype/Teams; had video consultations with our GPs; children had lessons on-line; we video-chatted with family and friends; and our customers embraced digital to contact us. We see the opportunity that technology provides and learn we can both mobilise it and embrace it when we need to.
  3. Customer Need: It has been necessary to close valued, but non-essential, public services (e.g. libraries, leisure centres) and a focus on ‘core’ public services to keep the country going. Essential services have still been delivered, albeit very differently, innovation has been seen in how services are delivered, including; online fitness classes, digital libraries. This provides us with the opportunity to reflect on innovation, think carefully about what is of importance and value to our customers and radically think about the future form and function of public services.
  4. Workplace and workforce: Overnight, the way we did our jobs changed – millions of people worked remotely and we have had to adapt our working patterns, the processes we follow and how we deliver. We learn what works and what doesn’t. After all this, will we start to question the value of physical workspace, the need/cost of buildings, work/life balance and working 9-5 in favour of increased productivity and wellbeing – could working patterns change forever?
  5. Integrated and Partnership Working: The challenges of partnership working have been are well documented, from organisational sovereignty, money flows/finances, geography, professional boundaries, governance and decision making, systems and data. Yet, we have seen partners come together to tackle COVID-19, from central to local government, health and care, community, voluntary and commercial sector. The challenges are still there, but a unified goal, a single focus and forcing those historic barriers that prevent progress with decisive action means integration is possible.
  6. Adult Social Care: “Proud to work in social care” a slogan across social media over the past few weeks. For many years, the hidden army of social workers, residential homes, home care workers etc have been supporting the most vulnerable in society. We have seen how important social care services (and its people) are in getting people out of hospital and keep them safe in the community. This doesn’t mask that demographic and funding pressures facing ASC (and care providers). Could this be the opportunity to re-think the value (in both public perception and finances) we place on social care and address the disjointed and disparate service offer?
  7. Governance & Decision Making: Councils have responded quickly to get their governance and decision making arrangements in place, ensuring the vulnerable remain protected, core services are maintained (and funded), financial support is available to businesses. Cabinets have met virtually and decisions/authority delegated with trust and confidence – a world away from the tales of bureaucratic town halls with red tape to cut through to get a job done. Time will tell if decision making rigor, audit and scrutiny has worked, but surely it provides some pointers for the future?
  8. Public Finance: The scale of the government response to the crisis has been unprecedented and no doubt, councils remain optimistic that government will cover the initial / short term cost of the crisis. But, what is the impact as council leaders and executive teams start to plan their 2020/21 budget? officers will be asking themselves what this means for their financial survival, resilience and sustainability. Clearly, most bets are off on next years budget, but at a time when public services have never been more needed, how is the finance circle squared?
  9. Engagement: The Coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on how responsive, adaptive and effective public services can be when there is no option but to react. This ability to react and co-design solutions with staff, service users, businesses and customers is equally important in stable times. People are keen want to engage in the design of future public service delivery now more than ever. Whilst we all know deep down that the rebuild of public services post pandemic must not be based on what was, but what is needed, there is equally a risk that we will overlook actually asking residents what is valued, what hasn’t been missed, what is critical.
  10. Investing in prevention: Increasingly the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the additional pressures placed on services supporting the vulnerable – e.g. homelessness, domestic abuse, food, fuel and financial poverty, social isolation, children’s early help. The lockdown has seen increases in demand on them. But what happens when we return to normal? How will authorities reduce the unsustainable levels of support offered during the crisis. How do public services continue to support those in need and prevent more costly interventions ‘down stream’?

We will never be able to go back to pre-covid-19 times but we have the opportunity to think differently about the challenge we face and how we build local government into something new, better, than before.

Natalie Abraham
Managing Director – C.Co
Natalie.Abraham@Wearec.co

C.Co are the change management consulting subsidiary of CIPFA. Our role extends across all areas of public sector change and transformation, with a hands-on approach that adds value and insight to the sector. To find out more about C.Co, contact us at SpeakToUs@WeAreC.Co or visit www.wearec.co

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