July 23, 2020   By Pawda Tjoa, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

As councils prepare for recovery from COVID-19, we asked leaders in local government how their councils are preparing for a potential second wave of the pandemic. Here are the three highlights from our latest Leadership Index survey:

Read the full report

  1. Councils are putting in place plans to deal with a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases but they are not getting enough support from central government.

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    A large majority of councils (90.7 per cent) are concerned about the impact of a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases in their local area. This is particularly acute among London and Metropolitan boroughs, with 100 per cent saying that they are either ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’. In response, as many as 95 per cent of councils are already putting plans in place to deal with a potential resurgence of cases.

    But councils are still not getting enough support from central government to help them deal with a potential resurgence of cases. The top priority, shared by 85 per cent of respondents, is for more funding, as the government’s spending looks likely to cover only about 80 per cent of the total costs.

    This is followed by calls for more, and better-quality data from government. Indeed, since the launch of the national tracing programme, local public health teams have struggled to obtain necessary data to help them spot new outbreaks in the local area at the earliest opportunity. One respondent said, “enough testing facilities are key along with quality data and rapid sharing on outcome from testing and identified contacts”.

  2. The lack of clarity in government’s messaging and popular fatigue could harm compliance to new guidelines

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    As the country emerges from the first wave of the pandemic and moves from a national lockdown approach to a more localised strategy, there are questions about how the level of public compliance this time would compare with that during the national lockdown. According to our survey about three quarters of council chiefs feel that people in their area are likely to comply with new government guidelines.

    When asked what factors they feel might undermine this compliance, respondents point to the lack of clarity in government’s messaging (81 per cent), popular fatigue with restrictions (78.6 per cent), and low confidence and trust in the Government (58.3 per cent). Several respondents point to the effect of high-profile flaunting of previous regulations, with one saying, “Compliance was good until the Cummings affair. Since then the compliant are those in fear and many others can’t see why they should obey rules that don’t apply to elites”.

  3. Confidence level across all key service areas have plummeted

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    Following the government’s pledge of full reimbursement of local government response to COVID-19, we saw a rise in confidence across all key service areas last quarter. Since then, the government has rowed back on that promise, and will only be covering about 80 per cent of the total costs to councils. This has put several councils at risk of bankruptcy, while others are forced to make their staff redundant. One respondent expressed this frustration, “We were told to do what was necessary and that the govt would stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with us. The government have not kept their promise and we are having to cut services and make staff redundant to pay for their lack of promise keeping”.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, we’re now seeing a significant drop in confidence across all key service areas, to the lowest level ever seen since we launched the first Leadership Index survey in 2018. This confidence drop is most severe in adult social care, falling by 30 per cent since last quarter, to its lowest ever level of 34/100. A similarly bleak picture can be seen in children’s services and environmental services, both falling by over 25 per cent. Confidence level across housing, economic development and health and wellbeing has also fallen since the last quarter.

    Councils continue to work under extreme financial pressure as the country recovers from COVID-19. But councils recognise that more than additional funding support, there also needs to be a fundamental change in how the government communicates with local government. Council chiefs are calling for clarity on their new powers to act, as well as more flexibility to use any funding to meet local needs. Several respondents emphasised the need for better local-central government partnership, with one respondent saying,

    “The Government should stop making announcements about things happening before communicating those proposed messages with local government. And local government should be consulted on proposed changes.”

    The full report can be found here.

    The press release can be found here.

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