We’re living in unprecedented times. After more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic only now are we seeing a glimpse of the light at the end of a long tunnel.
As we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, our focus is now shifting from crisis response to recovery, ensuring that we have the right support and resources in place for our residents and colleagues as we make this transition together.
Throughout the pandemic I witnessed unprecedented levels of inter-departmental partnership, collaboration and camaraderie in the face of adversity; a dedication to keeping our essential public services running, to mobilising thousands of volunteers and protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.
As an authority we have risen to the challenge to support our county through the most troubling of times and working ever closer together has taught us that we can overcome adversity.
We forged this same ethos with our external partners and stakeholders too, working closely with organisations including the NHS, the police, district and borough councils and the voluntary sector. The result of this collaborative working was creating a united front to tackle the coronavirus outbreak – and our approach has been exactly the same for the recovery.
Our departments have been busy developing an overarching COVID recovery strategy, prioritising and developing our plans in a cohesive way, and then working to allocate funding to make sure these crucial recovery initiatives happen.
This targeted £9.6m support fund was made available through the county council’s Integrated Plan approval process, enabling us to create this new budget specifically designed to tackle some of the underlying issues of inequality in our county.
We were led by data from our services across the organisation which gave us an evidence base to be able to prioritise funding needs ranging from wider initiatives benefiting larger population groups, to smaller community projects.
Departments were asked to submit bids to achieve the broad objectives established when the fund was created, using a set-criteria to prioritise the bids. Questions included ‘Why has COVID made the position worse? (or will do if we don’t intervene)’ and ‘What is the intervention? And how will it improve matters?’.
We were able to mobilise funding for big ticket items such as a joint package of £2m in public health and children’s services which will provide support for families, as well as funding for more grass roots projects through our locality budget scheme, which was boosted from £10,000 to £15,000 per member. This vital funding proved a lifeline during the pandemic by supporting local projects and other good causes, many of which might have suffered significantly during the pandemic.
The fund is part of an ambitious agenda for Hertfordshire’s recovery, with future priorities including improving residents’ health and wellbeing, delivering on our pledge to tackle climate change and ensuring responsible and sustainable growth.
It has also allowed us to move forward quickly with our own internal transformation programmes, taking advantage of the unexpected opportunities that the pandemic has provided for us, such as working away from the office in a more flexible and sustainable way.
The last 18 months haven’t always been plain sailing – like every other organisation coping with an unprecedented global pandemic, we’ve occasionally tripped up along the way. For example, I misjudged the pace of temporary recruitment needed to support our health colleagues deliver the vaccination rollout. As a result, we had to divert colleagues from across the council to form interview panels to deliver on time. However, every hurdle we’ve encountered has been a new opportunity for improvement and growth, and has made us stronger and better equipped for the future.
Our return to ‘normal’ will certainly look different, but I am confident that our community-focused approach will play a key role in securing Hertfordshire’s social and economic recovery over the years to come.
The pandemic has firmly demonstrated that by working together, we can provide support to those who need it, and enable everyone in Hertfordshire to live healthy and full lives, where they can contribute and connect with their communities.
The county council has always played a central and important role, but now more than ever we have shown how much we are determined to ensure that Hertfordshire remains a county of opportunity for all.
Scott Crudgington is director of resources at Hertfordshire CC