At times like this local government comes into its own

By Anthony May | 07 April 2020

We are quickly adapting to the ‘new normal’. By the time this column is published, it will be less than one month after the chancellor’s Budget – remember that?

This shows how much our lives have changed, and the sheer scale of the challenge for local government leaders.

Colleagues across the sector have adapted with lightning speed and tangible determination. We had flu pandemic plans in the wings but who amongst us can say that were fully prepared? Certainly not me.

Yet, local government has pivoted to this new normal, perhaps faster that anyone could have imagined. The way in which this pandemic has moved, along with the government’s guidance, has led us to rapidly change in an evolving situation, and to anticipate the weeks ahead, bending service models and ways of working.

Every day brings a new challenge. How do we successfully re-deploy hundreds of staff and ensure that thousands of others are able to work from home? How do we marshal the spectacular volunteer effort? How do we ensure that our frontline colleagues have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe?

So far, we are rising to the challenges, but this is by no means perfect and there are many unresolved issues – PPE being one of the biggest and most troubling for us all.

All of this in real time and working closely across our local, regional and national networks – all on conference calls, of course! There is definitely a feeling that we all in the same boat, and that we are stronger together.

There is a litany of examples of councils’ innovation. These include using hotels to free up beds for social care, establishing community hubs to support vulnerable people, and moving rapidly to offer digital services for fostering, libraries, and even webcast funerals.

The mission we have been given by government is to keep people safe and protect the NHS.

Up and down the country, this mission is being played out in myriad different ways but one thing has shone through: local government is the backbone of local communities and civic society, and at times like this it comes into its own.

Anthony May is chair of the Association of County Chief Executives

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