Can the local government continue at this pace?
As we continue to fight the pandemic, the campaign to recover and rebuild our nation is well advanced. Huge efforts by central and local government, frontline service providers and the citizens themselves have brought us this far, but to steal a line from Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the case. end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But maybe this is the end of the beginning… ”Returning to some form of pre-pandemic lifestyle is going to take years, and things will certainly be different when we do.
Even in the darkest hours of 18 months, there have been countless uplifting stories and greater appreciation for the unsung heroes of our communities and public services. Working together, the councils have accomplished a lot, responding in weeks when previously it would have taken months or years due to politics, budgets or the complex web of council governance. It has shown the nation how valuable local government is and the potential, if we choose, to seize this unique opportunity for change.
A great opportunity
In a recent survey we conducted with YouGov, we asked senior leaders from various industries to assess how they and their organizations fared during the crisis and their prospects for the future. Unsurprisingly, in local government, an industry at the forefront of the fight, 72% said the pandemic had negatively impacted their board, with 65% indicating a negative impact on them personally. When asked about the next six months, 86% expected a transformation in the service or organization, while 81% expected a transformation in the local government sector.
There were some positives. 86% saw their organization evolve faster than expected and 61% collaborate more with their peers to achieve their goals. Adoption of new technology was rated “good” or “very good” by 86% of boards, with half saying productivity had increased (around 25% said it had decreased).
The most surprising result was the 44% who said the current pace of change could be sustained over the next 12 months and the 7% who thought it could be faster.
Finally, many believed that the next 12 months would bring further disruption. The results suggest that there have been changes in employee expectations about work and that organizations need to rethink how and where work is done as we emerge from the pandemic. Despite the clear sense of disturbance, there were also positive signals. Respondents indicated that they collaborate more with other organizations, that they are more willing to embrace innovative ideas, and that there are suggestions that the shift to remote working has led to higher levels. individual productivity. Despite the scale of disruption encountered, resilience, adaptability and a sense that the crisis may in fact be a catalyst for change were all highlighted in the results.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, finance and funding have been seen as the top challenges for the industry over the next 12 months as executives grapple with shrinking incomes, a lack of funds and growing demand, along with the burden. to allow local recovery. On a personal level, burnout and adaptation challenges are at the heart of concerns. So how do we maintain this pace, as 44% believe, while ensuring that we and our teams don’t give in to the pressure?
Adopt a mindset of resilience
In the short term, funding for key services is not going to improve dramatically. Without careful management, the accumulated holidays of millions of people could be taken in December to enjoy a longer than usual Christmas vacation. Well deserved, but demand will remain high for a while and will need to be met. The first step is to reach out to partners and peers who can support you despite a peak in demand or a lack of resources, but it is worth considering mid-term measures such as service redesign and some automation to free up time for officers.
Go digital differently
Many councils have moved services to digital channels during the pandemic as a necessity. But, while the move to portals and web services has provided access to citizens, much of the underlying process is still mandraulic or a digital replication of the old process. Taking the time to rethink these processes, automate administration and open up new channels to citizens takes time, but must be considered as the long-term benefits are significant from a cost of service perspective and the welfare of officers.
Go deep into the data
Turning raw data into insight, then intelligence and insight will be essential if we are to proactively manage demand. Legacy systems, technical debt, and the inability to share easily between departments and agencies make this step difficult. Past efforts in other sectors have not always been seen as successful and councils still have to deal with citizens whose views on the use and sharing of data are mixed and often very emotional. While we can continue to evolve our approach to data within local government, I believe we have the opportunity to transform everything from our data infrastructures, our hardware parks, our software, our citizen interfaces to IoT to within the community.
Always put the customer first
It’s not just organizations that have had to radically rethink the way they deliver services – citizens and businesses have also had ample time to rethink how they want to engage with public services. With so many individuals and businesses now based from home, previous geographic restrictions and the importance of face-to-face contact are less important, but transparent and intuitive customers are. Make sure you listen to how your customers want to interact with your organization rather than assuming they too want to revert to pre-COVID-19 customs and practices. Be brave and take this opportunity to redesign your services and processes around your customers.
it won’t be easy
I don’t think we can keep this pace any longer without transformative thinking and courageous action from all who serve citizens in communities across the UK. I don’t think the transformation will be easy. Public sector leaders will need to maintain and build on the cultural changes that the pandemic has enabled – openness to innovation, speed of decision-making and pace of change. Local government leaders will also need to become inter-organizational leaders, bringing together the best ideas and capacities from the public, private and third sectors. Organizations that can continue to build on the momentum created by the necessities of COVID-19 will reap significant benefits. The future may well favor the courageous.
Paul Abraham is Managing Director and Client Partner of Capita Local Public Services
- To find out how we are helping local authorities transform, please contact me for an informal conversation at [email protected]
This article is sponsored content for The GM