Astrid Davies looks at the impacts of the pandemic on UK Public Services.

There has been much written in recent weeks about how much people have been suffering during the coronavirus crisis. It has been an obviously dreadful time for millions of people, worldwide.

Now, the emergence of “lockdown-lite” here in the UK is creating a myth that things are getting better. The reality is that this is only, as Churchill might have said, the end of the beginning. There will be a need for massive changes, in people’s lives and also in their local areas. And those local changes will be long lasting, maybe even permanent.

One area where permanent change is inevitable, but hard-hitting in its consequences, is in your local public services. Local Government is one group which has not received much mainstream coverage (it rarely does unless it’s viewed as having done something wrong). Who cares about their local council? What’s the local council got to do with this? That’s simple. Cashflow. And that matters, because when your council is low on income, it means cuts in local services. Your local public services.

With an estimated £6 billion (yes BILLION) lost to the virus (Local Government Chronicle, 29 May 2020), through missing business rates and council tax, councils the length and breadth of the UK will be struggling to break even this year. They have to balance their finances each year, by law. That means people’s jobs and local services will be cut. Again. That in turn will result in even more hardship for individuals, but also for local economies, and the health and wellbeing of whole communities. This is the harsh face of unwanted change.

Local councils have been trimming their budgets since Austerity came into force (and some way before that). This means public services have been being trimmed or cut for over a decade. This, in turn, means there simply is not the “fat” left to trim – this is now down to whittling at the bones of local services – public service scrimshaw. It is likely that local authorities will now have to look at extreme measures, such as mergers with neighbouring authorities, or outsourcing services to other authorities or even the private sector. All of these financial coping strategies will bring significant, and probably unwelcome, change. Change imposed on the staff in the councils involved, change for the service users, change for the supply chains. That’s change on a grand and far-reaching scale. It is starting to sound a little grim, isn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Some local authorities have already started to merge, seizing the opportunity to maximise the opportunities arising from their pooled budgets. What if other local authorities could find a way to work through their change, so that it made positive and smooth progress? What if the customer viewpoint was used by existing council staff to completely redesign services to be slicker, more effective and yet still costing less? What if … these changes could end up being … a good thing?

It might not be a brilliant outcome for every single person involved. There can be no guarantees. However, it is possible that changes can be introduced which streamline service delivery AND improve the lot of many of the people involved, both staff and customers. How? By using effective change management approaches. Obvious, but true. And the key part of that is effective change management centres around the people involved. Working through change by making people the heart, drivers and owners of the change is a winning approach.

At The Change Maker Group, we are all about the people at the heart of change. We feature several Change Makers with experience of delivering change at senior levels in local authorities. We have a range of change-leadership tools and techniques which have been tested and proven in local authorities that have been facing extreme hardship in the past few years. Most importantly, we have the vision to partner with local authorities as they embark on the most significant change journey in their history, and help them to deliver brilliant outcomes for their residents, staff and politicians.

So, we are monitoring the changes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, and we are readying our consultants to support clients to deliver the significant changes that will be required. It may be local authorities, it may be health trusts, it may be non-governmental organisations. It’s the individual stories which have been making the headlines, and it is also the contribution of individuals in their teams, to deliver their piece of change well, that will drive the recovery in local areas and local economies. That’s where The Change Makers come in, working with individuals and teams, leaders and staff, to build change programmes that deliver, and deliver well.

This blog may have touched on issues close to home. If it has, and you would like to discuss how The Change Maker Group might be able to support you in making the vital and difficult changes you need to make for your organisation to survive Covid, please get in touch at [email protected]

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