Solace has been working hard behind the scenes to extend its reach across Government and offer unique perspectives on how policies join up in a place and work on the ground, says Joanne Roney
From newly-appointed apprentices and graduates, through to the most seasoned chief executives and senior managers, we have all had a vital role to play over the last 18 months not just in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but ensuring the important day-to-day services that our residents and business rely on continue to operate.
Throughout the crisis we have seen just how fleet of foot local government is – no matter what is thrown at us, we rise to the challenge. And, we adapt to the circumstances we face.
While most of us have had to work from home for the vast majority of the last year-and-a-half, we have collaborated more than ever. The dynamic ‘just get it done’ attitude across the sector has been phenomenal, and I have seen some of the best examples of teamwork, camaraderie and networking I have ever witnessed in my career.
Adopting a partnership approach has been key. I look back at the first few weeks and in Manchester businesses were stepping up to supply PPE, while hundreds of volunteers were coming forward to offer help and support. That desire locally to work with us has endured.
While national Government might not have worked as closely with local government all of the time, where we have co-designed and co-produced, we have seen stunning results in relation to delivering major improvements to testing, tracing and vaccine uptake, especially among harder-to-reach groups of people.
As a result, I detect a new-found respect between both national and local government. For our part, we have better recognition and understanding of the challenges the Government has and our role in supporting it to achieve its aims.
For Westminster, I think there is a much greater appreciation that we are much more than just an offshoot of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; that we work across multiple interfaces with Government and have the power, ability and agility to get things done in place – and at pace.
Building on this, Solace, the network for UK local government and public sector professionals, has been working hard behind the scenes to extend our reach across Government.
As a group of chief executives and senior managers we are now engaged with Government in more strands of the sector’s most pressing policy issues – and at an earlier stage – than ever before: on health and social care, planning, or discussions relating to schools and the Spending Review, to name just a few. Our policy board, offering its unique perspectives of how policies join up in a place and work on the ground, is seen as a trusted group who can work with civil servants to help co-design and co-produce innovative solutions to policy problems.
I have been clear in all of my conversations with Government that we must put tackling inequalities at the heart of everything we do. If we are to do that successfully we need to build on this new-found respect between local and national Government, further enhance the relationships we have developed and increase our collaboration.
It will only be by working together that we will stand a chance of tackling some of the most complex and challenging issues our communities and economies face.
The fallout from COVID cannot be underestimated and it will require significant support to help our people and places recover.
This resource should not only come in the form of a sustainable multi-year financial settlement for the sector in the Spending Review, but also a sustained commitment to ensuring councils have the right capacity, capability and diversity in their workforce too, so they not only have the right skills, but better reflect the communities they serve as well.
At Solace we are not just sitting back and waiting for things to happen. We are working closely with the Local Government Association to deliver leadership and talent development programmes, as well as offering much-needed support to new chief executives. The work we do in this space is invaluable, but we must do more. That is why Solace is calling on the Government to work with the sector to co-produce a workforce strategy similar to that for the NHS and the civil service.
This strategy must be underpinned by significant investment in education and training to ensure our sector’s workforce has the right skills, values and behaviours – and a strong pipeline of future leaders – to help our communities and economies not just to recover, but to thrive.
Joanne Roney is Solace president and chief executive of Manchester City Council