What does living with COVID really mean for local government?

Twenty months after the start of the pandemic, with the Omicron variant in the news, we are really life with COVID-19. Local government is adept at dealing with crises, and while COVID has been a crisis like no other, we have done a tremendous amount of work during this time. But as the emergence of Omicron shows, we cannot afford to relax our vigilance, and so this is a useful point to reflect on what we have learned from our response so far, and what it is. means to live with COVID in the coming months.

We have learned a lot since the first confinement, in particular the advantages of a single mission so that everyone is galvanized, the vital importance of partnerships with our public and associative and community partners (VCS) and the strengthening of relationships and commitment. with our residents. We saw a lot more of our partners – one of the benefits of the explosion in the use of digital technology – and learned a lot more about each other’s worlds and how we can better work together to support those in the world. need it most. The pandemic has really shown how hard people in the public sector have worked, how passionate we all have for our communities and what can be achieved by working in partnership.

We have also seen that the policy is best when designed with a solid understanding of the delivery context. Throughout the pandemic, Whitehall’s policy approaches that were developed with local government have generally been much more effective and have had fewer unintended consequences.

We also learned a lot more about our communities. We thought we already knew a lot, but understanding some residents’ reluctance to get vaccinated, or talking with local businesses about the support they need to stay afloat, gave us invaluable insight. We have had to go even further in our communities, learning and adapting what we do. We know more, and we know better how to share it with our partners.

So what does living with COVID really mean for local government, and how can we make the most of what we’ve learned so far?

We are not only living with the virus itself, but also with its ripple effects. The next few months for many will be dominated by winter pressures – not just the usual health and social pressures, but rising fuel costs, household finances and living with the new COVID rules the government recently announced.

But COVID continues to have a much wider impact locally. At Haringey, we see residents struggling to find new jobs, and I am particularly concerned about the effects on the mental health of our residents. One of my local VCS mental health organizations has seen a 56% increase in referrals over the past few months, as a prime example.

Demand pressures on children’s services and adult social care also continue, in part because of increasing mental health issues and domestic violence. When we look at the workforce in particular, the structural issues we knew we were facing in the health and social services fields were not only highlighted, but exacerbated. There may be additional funding in the short term, but there are real questions about what we can achieve in the longer term when we are faced with issues such as competition between health care providers and social services. for staff, and where many retail jobs pay higher rates. that care. And let’s not forget that we’ve been fighting COVID on the frontlines for almost two years – our staff are exhausted.

These are the concerns we have to grapple with. But there are also plenty of reasons for optimism. Strong partnerships and new relationships will continue to help us find our way. And the structures and methods that we used to problem-solve at some of the greatest times of crisis in the pandemic, we can use them again.

The local government has shown incredible pragmatism, flexibility and problem-solving ability, and we’ve seen what we can accomplish when we work hand in hand with our residents. Our task ahead will be not to lose sight of this. We need to consciously look into these ways of working, embracing the new skills and relationships we have established. The next few months will continue to be difficult, I’m sure, but I’m confident that by working in partnership, with our amazing staff, we can continue to have a meaningful impact on the lives of our residents.

Zina Etheridge is Managing Director of Haringey LBC