Community support is key to region’s pandemic recovery – Leigh Bramall

AS a nation, we have proudly clapped our key workers through this Covid-19 crisis in recognition of the important role they play.

Civic leaders in Harrogate during a weekly Clap for Carers celebration.
Civic leaders in Harrogate during a weekly Clap for Carers celebration.

The incredible dedication of those working in frontline services has been the fuel that’s kept Britain running.

More unusually, possibly for the first time in a long time, the contribution of other, often less celebrated workers has also been acknowledged, from postal workers to refuse collectors.

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What changed during the lockdown was that a media spotlight amplified the role they play and caused us to reassess how much we value certain groups in our communities.

A celebration for carers outside the new Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate.

Essentially, we recognised that we all play a role in making things work. It seems that this recognition will need to continue if we are to address the full challenge before us.

Pressure on public services has been a feature of Covid-19. What has perhaps been less obvious to many is the pressure on local authorities. We’ve seen discussion and debate as to whether national government and a range of key services are coping, yet without often recognising that local authorities are the link, the glue that binds much of this together.

Public health, social care, education, business support, bin collections, licensing and the implementation of emergency transport and highways measures: each of these (and more) that have become a key part of our Covid-19 response
fall in part, or substantially, under the remit of local authorities.

While national government sets Covid-19 policy, it is local authorities that are usually tasked with implementing much of it.

The task of managing the Covid-19 response has stretched local authorities that have a significantly reduced capacity.

The leader of Barnsley Council, Sir Steve Houghton, recently confirmed that the council there had seen a 30 per cent reduction in its spending power over 10 years, while demand for social care at councils has increased year on year well before Covid-19 arrived.

Covid-19 has added an unexpected and unwelcome pressure on services operating without a buffer. While an element of the response has required a business-as-usual approach, the demand for service support has been anything but.

Managing the closure of our sports and leisure centres, libraries and market halls; attempting to respond to the huge number of business requests for help; co-ordinating support for groups vulnerable to Covid-19, and leading the wider public health response initially pushed local authorities to the limit of what is possible.

In our work supporting local authorities to plan and deliver communication and engagement around regeneration and transport projects, Counter Context has seen the response of local authorities first-hand.

From our vantage point, the challenges have been met head on. As an example, in little over a month, council highways teams have had to mobilise to roll out a range of emergency highways measures to allow our cities, town and district centres to reopen. Not everything will prove correct or popular, but the determination to help get our towns and cities back up and running, and the importance of doing so, has been clear and should not be in doubt.

This example highlights how councils and the private sector will need to work together to
co-ordinate the economic
and social recovery plan. It’s probably hard to fully comprehend the scale of the challenges that lie ahead but, as each day passes, they become more real to us all.

This partnership approach will require local authorities to engage and communicate both the challenges and potential solutions that are required if they are to build the understanding and trust needed to secure public buy-in. Equally, the private sector will need both the will and the opportunity to help shape plans so that the best solutions are developed.

It would be all too easy to fall into past patterns of blame as the pressures build. However, if Covid-19 has highlighted one thing, it is surely that we all have a role to play and that communicating this matters.

The key to effecting change
is taking people on the journey. It is imperative that local authorities, service providers, employers and educators make time to engage and listen at every level.

By understanding the pressures each faces and co-ordinating the response, we will all have the best opportunity of coming through the challenge that Covid-19 presents.

Leigh Bramall is a director at communications agency Counter Context and is a former deputy leader of Sheffield City Council.

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