The pandemic has brought good citizenship and great public service to our attention in ways probably unseen since WW2. NHS and care staff are prized like they never have been; neighbours have become lifelines; and volunteers have delivered shopping, prescriptions and good company. There are so many people who have done so much more than ever before. However, I want to flag a small cohort of white collar council staff across the land as Whitehall has come to depend upon them quite a lot in 2020!
We are shortly about to lodge our eighth monthly COVID financial return for government. In addition we have had to submit returns for Infection Control Round 1 for both tranches one and two; ditto Infection Control Round 2; Contain Outbreak Management Fund in its various guises (originally no requirement for monitoring but restrospectively instituted); shielding returns on the number of people supported and costs; Test and Trace fund; the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) welfare returns; the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Winter Grant; and the numerous business support grants provided. I’m sure I will have missed others.
I understand that funding comes with accountability and the current circumstances are fast moving. I will readily concede that the monthly COVID returns are part of good bureaucracy and they cover nearly all of the grants referred to above. So why do we have to do so much more? Is this simply duplication and inefficiency? Is this a product of the fragmentation of government departments? Is it symptomatic of a lack of understanding of how councils work or even a lack of trust? Or is it an illusory attempt to gain control when so much is beyond all of our control? The public sector has really stepped up, and that’s across central and local government, so let’s hope that this increased correspondence leaves a legacy of greater trust.
Gary Fielding is corporate director of strategic resources at North Yorkshire CC and president of the Society of County Treasurers