Albert Einstein said that ‘In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity’. A few weeks into the national emergency, this seems relevant in terms of the impressive response from district councils up and down the country to the coronavirus pandemic.
Part way through our own modernisation programme, I am grateful that we had just completed the rollout of laptops to staff, enabling almost all of us to work from home. Although we are further apart, we are working more closely together than ever to wrap support around our residents and businesses at this most challenging of times in new community response, customer contact and communications cells, with our core services running in the background.
It is strange to have just appointed a new team of strategic directors whom I no longer meet in person, but their energy and enthusiasm to help harness the creativity and brilliance of our staff in new ways of working is just what is needed.
Stroud district is known for its local activism and passionate people, and we and our ward councillors are developing deeper connections with our amazing community groups as they rally to support the most vulnerable. There is also some fantastic partnership working going on across Gloucestershire to address the challenges we all face.
In terms of channel shift, in little more than a fortnight we have achieved what I thought would take about a year. Bear with me, I know many of you are ahead of us. We’ve retired Derek, our ancient cash payment machine in our now closed reception, and persuaded cheque writers to switch to online payments and standing orders. We’ve nudged online services and information to serve the majority and all of this means we have more time to concentrate on those who need our help most.
In a parallel universe, I had expected us to spend this period concentrating on addressing the climate change emergency. In a strange twist of fate, the coronavirus emergency is helping to significantly reduce carbon emissions while we concentrate on tackling COVID-19. What other opportunities for a new normal will arise out of this crisis?
Kathy O’Leary is chief executive of Stroud DC