Can councils convene local systems to develop resilience against future shocks?

By John O'Brien | 13 May 2020

It is far too early to stop thinking about the work of responding to the impacts of COVID-19. Councils and their local partners have done some remarkable things through this period and that effort continues.

Gradually, we are all turning our minds to recovery. As everyone has said, this is not likely to be recovery to a previous state. There will be many things we have started doing in the last couple of months we will want to carry on with, or build on, and we are well aware that there are some things that will need fundamental redesign.

Some of our work will be very near-term. Recovery will be in the sense of what will help ease the lockdown and mitigate the enormous economic shock the country is facing. But doing this will be in the context of an unknown length of transition where we live with the virus in some form and where social distancing and other restrictions will still be required.

There are enormous challenges here as we all know, not least of the capacity of the public transport to move a reasonable number of people around safely to jobs and schools.

Looking a little further ahead, there are going to be a range of thorny issues for local leaders to confront in terms of medium-term recovery.

A few examples include the future of local economies and high streets, new business models for building social housing, the residual dependency in our communities as, progressively, some of the temporary safety nets that were put in place are removed. Many councils have become significant providers of food in the last eight weeks – how easy will it be to exit from that?

Looming over all of this, however, is the question of whether councils will have a stable financial base from which they can provide the leadership that local places and communities need.

Will councils have the capacity to convene local systems in ways that will help develop resilience against future shocks?

Equally, there needs to be recognition of how vital councils are going to be to any successful national renewal. The discussion about future funding needs to be seen in that wider context. Stable financing is essential if councils are to make that vital contribution.

John O’Brien is the chief executive of London Councils

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