Ready for a restart?

By Kersten England | 01 July 2020

We might be in the midst of a global pandemic but much of the response, both in terms of managing the coronavirus crisis and spearheading the economic and social recovery, is innately local.

However, getting central Government to recognise this key fact and work not only with local authorities, but local resilience forums (LRFs) too, has so far proved problematic.

There are 38 LRFs in England which are made up of emergency services, a range of government agencies, health bodies and local authorities. LRFs – like local authorities – carry significant responsibilities across a wide range of important issues.

In March the secretary of state set up a taskforce to ensure local plans were robust enough to respond to the pandemic. Having a good plan is one thing but you need the right support if you are to deliver it – and sadly that support from central Government has, to date, been somewhat underwhelming.

LRF efforts to secure sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, testing facilities, and space for excess numbers of bodies – to name just a few – have all been hampered by delays, shifting approaches and an unwillingness from the centre to share information and data in a timely manner with local partners. This has been particularly frustrating in relation to modelling data and planning assumptions, which have not been shared with LRFs after the initial early iteration. There seems to be a fundamental lack of trust in those at local level who live, breathe and have to deliver on what is agreed at the centre.

However, despite direct central government interaction with LRFs, getting these issues addressed and resolved is easier said than done.

For a start it has been difficult to secure consistent attendance at LRF meetings from many government departments who don’t seem to recognise the key role these bodies play. And even when Whitehall departments are represented at LRF meetings, those attending are often relatively junior civil servants who find themselves participating in discussions on issues that they are not sighted on or which fall outside of their remit. This problem is exacerbated by regular changes of personnel from meeting to meeting. The result is that effecting change is extremely hard.

As someone who once worked in a regional government office as a director of local government I really notice the difference. The regional offices, before they were disbanded, had senior civil servants from across all major departments which created an immediate cross-government, joined-up response to crisis situations at local, sub-regional and regional level. These people were also connected at a senior level into their host departments meaning issues could get escalated and resolved far quicker than now.

This sense of remoteness translates to other areas. Weekly briefings for LRF chairs tend to adopt a ‘top down’ approach with no real appetite for co-design, co-production or joint problem solving. This is a missed opportunity.

LRFs, just like local authorities, are keen to work with our colleagues in central government to keep our people and places safe, and ensure we collectively do everything we can to make our recovery not only timely but successful. But we cannot do this to the best of our abilities if we are not given the right support.

At Solace we have been talking a lot about the need for a reset in central-local relations, not just a recovery to the old normal – and the problems with the operation of LRFs show why that would be in everyone’s interests.

Kersten England is Solace spokeswoman for civil resilience and community safety, and chief executive, Bradford City Council

Time to give LRFs back some value

Government's 'top down' approach hindering LRFs

comments powered by Disqus
Solace Emergency planning Coronavirus