One year on, councils will be central to recovery

By Heather Jameson | 17 March 2021
  • Heather Jameson

Today is an anniversary – one year ago today was the last time The MJ editorial team was in the office together. As we packed up our laptops, the enormity of coronavirus was only starting to hit home.

Even then, we never once imagined we would still be sitting at home a year later, adept at virtual meetings and video conferencing, with makeshift workspaces gradually morphing into more permanent desks.

It has been a rollercoaster year for everyone – not least local government.

From the early days of lockdown, of supermarket hoarders and doorstep clappers, there have been highs and lows on a daily basis.

Local government has risen to the occasion. Communities have pulled together building networks from the bottom up. Partnerships with health and the voluntary sector have been forged in the toughest of times.

The relationship between central and local government has never been better, and never been worse. We have had care home crises, PPE emergencies, funding U-turns and test and trace debacles. The past year has also seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and now protests to promote women’s right to safety.

From the early days of lockdown, there has been much pontification of returning to life after lockdown – but it is not a return – and local government will be centre stage in reshaping the future.

Whether working from home, returning to the office, or a new hybrid model – councils will have to flex for their own staff and for their communities. A decade or so ago saw councils selling off their crumbling town halls and moving out of town – now where will the modern civic centre sit?

Local authorities will have to shape their 15-minute cities, rebuild town centres, build back greener and create sustainable transport systems. They will have to work with communities, transform services and support homelessness and those in poverty – all on a shoestring.

In a year of the extraordinary, local government staff have done a remarkable job. They, along with health workers, have been the heroes of the pandemic. They are exhausted, worn down and facing further cuts and I have no doubt they will continue to rise to the challenge – whether it is in an office, at home or on a laptop anywhere.

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