We will do everything we can to save lives

By Martin Swales | 26 March 2020

No matter whether you’re an officer or elected member, a veteran or a recent recruit, these are truly unprecedented times for everyone working across the public sector.

The response to the coronavirus crisis, at both a national and local level, is testing us all and in ways we could never have imagined.  The coming weeks are going to push us even further, both professionally and personally, so it is crucial that we all support one another and do our utmost to stay safe and remain resilient.

This national emergency is seeing the very best of councils and our workforces.  This is what local government is all about – delivering for our people and places, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable.  I want to pay tribute to each and every one of you who are all doing an amazing job in the most challenging of circumstances.  It really is a privilege to work with, and represent, such dedicated and committed professionals, all prepared to go above and beyond for the localities they serve.

Collaboration is in councils’ DNA and every day we are seeing incredible examples of local authorities, working with their many partners, coming together to innovate and respond swiftly and effectively to protect people as much as is possible from COVID-19.  Councils, by their very nature, are rooted in their communities and these strong ties will be vital as we all pull together to respond collectively to this crisis. 

This approach to partnership working is also evident in our work with national Government.  The work of our chief executives, leaders, the Local Government Association  (LGA) and local resilience forums across the English regions has helped inform the decision making of civil servants and ministers in shaping local government’s critical role in tackling this national emergency.  Our host ministry, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), is fully supporting us as key convener across Whitehall. 

Given the all-encompassing nature of the pandemic, the last few weeks have seen an inevitable series of Government announcements, requiring us to quickly digest, adapt and implement.  But our goals are crystal clear: to do everything we can to save lives by curbing the spread of the virus and lessen the pressure on the NHS, in particular in the next few weeks when the number of those infected and needing hospital treatment is expected to escalate.

To do this, councils at all levels will need to work closely with the NHS, Public Health England, and with partners in our communities, to create as much capacity as possible so that hospital patients who can be discharged safely to recover in the community can do so in as timely a manner as possible.  We also stand ready to support the NHS to create further ward capacity where it is needed.  This must be our primary focus.

In addition, we will work to ensure the most vulnerable are protected and remain connected to society over the coming months, whether that be through food packages or other support mechanisms.

Due to the very nature of responding to a rapidly moving multi-dimensional crisis, some of the operational aspects of what we, and other arms of the state do, will not be perfect.  But local government has a unique and vital role to play in the months to come, and I know we will all continue to work together to do our best for the populations we serve and save lives by easing the pressure on the NHS.

Local government has always been a vital and irreplaceable part of our communities and, in turn, the wider UK.  But our work today has become even more urgent.  I am confident that by working together we will continue to rise to this exceptional challenge.

Martin Swales is President of Solace UK, Chief Executive of South Tyneside MBC, and is one of the nine regional chief executives liaising with the Government on the sector’s response to the coronavirus pandemic

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