During the coronavirus pandemic, residents and businesses are relying more than ever on the public sector to help them through this period of uncertainty and right through into normalisation and recovery.
Certainly, the critical role of district councils in the multi-agency response to coronavirus has again highlighted to Government and communities themselves, the huge value of local government and the dedicated public servants and key workers who serve at authorities.
As place leaders, district councils are at the centre of the community-level response. Like our district colleagues, our direct response work so far has included welfare calls to the most vulnerable, delivery of food parcels and medicine, shielding the homeless in temporary accommodation, business advice and administering business grants and other reliefs.
As chief executive, I am proud of the way that my colleagues, whether working from home or out in the community, have pulled together and worked flexibly to respond to this challenge, with many being redeployed to completely different roles. Together with our voluntary and community sector partners, we have been able to move quickly to support our community, thanks to strong networks, relationships and infrastructure we already had in place through our ongoing neighbourhood management and community resilience work.
The financial impact on councils of coronavirus will be significant, and additional Government funding is essential to support both direct expenditure on the response and loss of some normal income.
While we’re still in the response phase, I’m sure we aren’t the only council starting to plan ahead to normalisation and recovery, preparing our economy, community and organisation for adapting to the challenge of the ‘new normal’.
Coastal resorts, with their seasonal tourism economies and higher than average levels of community deprivation, are particularly vulnerable. The Government’s national plans, including timescales, for easing social distancing restrictions will be critical in localised planning.
It is how we recover – and how well – that’s going to count in the longer- term and this will take innovative thinking and action from the public, private and third sectors, supported by targeted funding and a strong political lead.
Sheila Oxtoby is chief executive of Great Yarmouth BC