The new normals: visions and effective partnerships

Phil Swann - CopyWe cannot plan local routes to recovery without clear local visions and strategies

writes Phil Swann.

In May 2020 councils and their partners are focussed on their response to coronavirus, particularly in relation to the people, communities and businesses most severely affected. We are aware, however, that thought is also being given to longer term recovery and aspirations for the future.

There is a growing consensus that the response to the pandemic involves at least three stages. Some talk about the short, medium and long term. CLES refers to rescue, recover and reform. And in a recent blog Mathew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA referred to the immediate crisis, the transitional period and the emergence of a “new normal”. Taylor argues convincingly that the transition period could last some time and should be used to build bridges to the future.

Our starting point is that the precise impact of the pandemic and of the response to it will vary from place to place. This will reflect factors such as the nature of local communities, the local economy, the business base, labour market and the place itself. Each community’s path to a new normal must reflect local dimensions; in fact we would argue there is often more than one potential new normal which must be prepared for.

At the start of the year the pressing public policy issues were the climate emergency, inclusive economy and action on the wider determinants of health. Previous work has demonstrated the links between these themes and the benefits of approaching them through a whole system lens. Similarly, the need to think about the future in the context of coronavirus provides an opportunity to address these themes in a genuinely integrated way, but this hinges on them featuring in thinking about the transition. Attention must be paid to place, communities, vulnerable people and groups, businesses and public services.

A common theme in LGA Corporate Peer Challenges is the need for places to have a clear and shared vision for the future and an action plan to secure the implementation of the vision. This precondition for effective local governance is particularly important in the new context. Where a vision is already in place it will need to be reviewed in the changed context. In other places it will be important to craft a shared local vision of the future and use the task of doing so to refresh local partnership arrangements.

Local partnership arrangements must be fit for this new purpose. This includes the relationship between local anchor institutions, including major employers, and engagement with citizens and the local voluntary and community sector. Visible local political leaders, working alongside other local leaders will be essential. The response to the crisis so far has demonstrated the formation of new relationships, and there will be learning from this immediate response that can inform the next phase of collaboration.

Preparing to map the path to a new future: the key questions

  1. Is there a shared understanding about what more needs to be done to ensure that local government in this area is sufficiently resilient to address the challenges involved in the transition and the bridge to the future?
  2. Are our local partnership arrangements involving the anchor institutions and engagement with civic society and the voluntary and community sectors sufficiently robust to meet these new challenges?
  3. Do we have a shared vision for the transition and path to the future? And, if so, do we have a shared understanding of how easy or difficult it will be to achieve that vision?
  4. Are there arrangements in place to learn from the action we are taking now to inform our approach to the transition planning for the future?
  5. What can we learn from our responses to past crises in ensuring that the same mistakes are not made and that opportunities are exploited?

If the answer to any of these questions is equivocal it is important to act now rather than delay and we would like the opportunity to help you do so.

Read the other essays in our ‘new normals’ series here.

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