LGA Refocused Sector-Led Improvement Offer: Highlights and Summary (March-September 2020)

LGA Refocused Sector-Led Improvement Offer: Highlights and Summary (March-September 2020) COVER image
This report tracks sector led-improvement activity undertaken between March and September, 2020, focusing on support provided through our COVID-19 refocused offer.

Introduction

This report tracks sector led-improvement activity undertaken between March and September, 2020, focusing on support provided through our COVID-19 refocused offer.

Peer support

Headlines

  • Recovery and renewal panels
    The panels offer focused remote sessions, which create space for councils to pause and reflect on their response to COVID-19. The sessions facilitate an open and collaborative conversation about recovery and renewal plans, capturing and sharing learning about developing practice from across local government. There has been strong interest from the sector and the feedback from the first councils participating (and peers) has been positive. The first panels were Telford and Wrekin and Sefton in July, with further sessions scheduled in August and September.
  • Remote Peer Support
    Building on the strong peer-based approach of the LGA Recovery and Renewal Panel, our bespoke Remote Peer Support is another remotely delivered offer that focuses on a specific issue or set of issues that a council wants to review in greater depth. This involves more detailed interviews and discussions with the council which are all remotely facilitated using a similar approach to the traditional peer challenges, delivered over two to three days. The first Remote Peer Support work took place in Rotherham in July and focused on transformation.
  • Bespoke Support
    Bespoke support, including mentoring support, has been provided to over 45 councils since April, including extensive support to a new leader who took on the role during the pandemic, mentoring of a number of leaders and cabinet members, and secondment of staff to two authorities who needed additional strategic capacity. In addition, bespoke support is being provided on issues ranging from workforce, overview and scrutiny, change of leader, finance matters and interpretation of legislation.
  • Engagement and wider support
    Principal advisers and regional teams have continued to support councils through engagement in chief executive meetings, one-to-one meetings and by answering queries. We have engaged or provided information to every council during the first quarter. Calls and meetings were held with 188 councils, including 60 one-to-one meetings with chief executives and directors to discuss support needs in June alone.

Finance support

Headlines

  • Support via the Finance Improvement Support Advisers (FISAs)
    As of September, FISAs have worked with 30 councils to support them in reacting to and assessing the impact of COVID-19 on their finances, including advice, guidance and support to devise strategies for addressing the financial consequences of COVID-19.
  • Collaborative finance panels
    These panels, developed in June, bring small groups of councils together to reflect on their responses to COVID-19, presenting an opportunity for councils to compare notes and good practice and build resilience through this process. The first of these panels took place on July 15, involving seven district councils from the north east, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber.
  • Case studies
    We have created ten case studies to support understanding around the typical financial impact of COVID-19 across a range of councils.
  • Chief Executive Finance Roundtable
    In May we brought together a group of chief executives from some of the most financially challenged councils to explore their issues and to share good practice.

Leadership

Headlines

  • Coaching for chief executives and senior officers
    We created a brand-new offer to provide coaching for chief executives and other senior officers and by July individuals from 88 councils were engaged in coaching with some councils have signed up for group coaching. Evaluation will cover the difference coaching has made to the leadership experience of the coaches and will feed into a report looking at ‘what we've learnt about leadership through COVID-19’.
  • Coaching for councillors
    We also launched a similar programme for councillors, and for leaders in particular. By June there were 44 signed coaching agreements.
  • Learning resources
    We have produced a range of webinars, workbooks and e-learning modules on COVID-19 related topics in order to build skills and capacity. These include:
    • e-learning module on handling intimidation
    • workbook and e-learning module on mentally healthier communities
    • webinar on chairing of remote meetings
    • webinar series on the role of the ward councillor in responding to COVID-19
    • webinar series on effective opposition during COVID-19
    • webinar on rapid innovation to support councils working toward recovery/renewal.
  • COVID-19 Knowledge Hub (KHub)
    Councillors can access key COVID-19 documents on a newly launched KHub group and are also signposted to the full COVID-19 pages and support package for councils on the LGA website.
  • Finance portfolio holder guidance
    Published and shared via social media, bulletins and website. The guide offers context, strategic questions and guidance to senior councillors with responsibility for council finances to help them respond effectively to the present context.

Other activity

  • Planning for finance workshops for portfolio holders
    Preparation is underway for two half-day online workshops in September, which will provide finance portfolio holders, leaders and deputy leaders an opportunity to share best practice and learn from sector experts.
  • Developing a programme on equality, diversity and inclusion for councillors
    This package of leadership support will help councils understand unconscious bias, provide more representative leadership and find tools to help challenge bias and discrimination. Designed in the context of the impact that COVID-19 has had on Black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and Black Lives Matter.
  • National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) online
    Established a new virtual learning programme and recruitment process to ensure that councils can continue to access the NGDP during COVID-19 and during the recovery phase. The NGDP recruits high calibre and diverse graduates, with the right skills to help councils recover.

Productivity and efficiency

Headlines

  • Provision of support relating to supply chain issues

The LGA, supported by the National Advisory Group, has worked with Cabinet Office, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and others at pace, to get three procurement policy notes (PPNs), and various additional guidance documents, published (PPN deal directly with emerging procurement issues councils are continuing to face, particularly the increased flexibility afforded to councils with supplier relief). We are continuing to work through PPN 04 issues including by facilitating national and regional webinar sessions.

We have ensured procurement officers remain updated on key issues via our weekly COVID-19 supply chain bulletin. In September, the focus of the bulletin has shifted to transition, recovery and opening-up, with all the latest available/relevant guidance for local government. The direct readership of this bulletin remains buoyant at 1,500 from a scope of over 3,000.

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement
    Worked with MHCLG, Cabinet Office and others specifically to develop sustainable supplies of PPE for councils and their partners.
     

Other activity

  • Waste management
    Provided guidance and support for waste authorities with significant private sector partnerships that are experiencing difficulties in balancing waste services resources as a consequence of contracting arrangements that are coming under stress because of COVID-19.
  • Behavioural Insights
    Ongoing and future projects are being pivoted to respond to, and consider implications of, COVID-19. Podcast recordings have been organised for August to highlight COVID-related learning, including a project about the take up of the flu vaccine.

Climate change and environment

  • Carbon accounting tool
    Through our support to Local Partnerships, we are working collaboratively to develop a tool to baseline council carbon emissions. This will provide a free method for local government to measure their emissions in a standardised way.
  • Climate Change web hub
    Regularly updated with new offers of support and good practice. The hub currently offers 28 case studies, 48 pieces of notable practice and captures examples of climate change actions from 100 councils. Since the onset of COVID-19, it has received nearly 5,000 views.
  • Green webinars series
    A series of webinars have recently been delivered on subjects including renewable energy, the decarbonisation of transport and the green reset.
  • Universities and councils partnership programme
    After a successful pilot in April, a proposal for a second phase of programme is being worked up, alongside a collaborative agreement. Due for launch in September, this programme will contribute to innovation support, sharing learning and trialling climate change projects. We are currently putting together a pilot phase of the new programme to help councils and council partnerships with their economic recovery and growth plans.
  • Design in the Public Sector
    The new programme was launched on 10 August for councils to gain skills in design to help tackle local climate change challenges.
     

Other activity

  • Green finance
    We have worked with Local Partnerships to develop support for councils on green finance as part of their green economic recovery. The support offer will provide innovative approaches to accessing green finance and practical guidance, by looking at domestic and international best practice.
     
  • Climate change bulletin
    We launched our first monthly climate change bulletin in July, in partnership with Local Partnerships. This collates various news, support offers and good practice which council climate change leads are interested in.

LG Inform and LG Inform Plus

  • LG Inform
    This platform remains a very well used council resource, spurred on by our COVID-19 reports, which provide information on the number of cases and deaths across England and in specific contexts (council areas, hospitals, care homes). In August, it received 222,000 page views (breaking our previous record of 107,000 in June) and our COVID-19 reports were downloaded over 115,000 times (60,000 in June).
  • LG Inform Plus
    LG Inform Plus provides information for each ward and smaller areas of geography, so that councils can compare with wards within other regions and nationally. Reports published on this platform cover topics including changes resulting from the Coronavirus Act; school admissions changes; fostering, adoption and care. There have been over 3,000 downloads of LG Inform Plus reports since April.

Workforce

Headlines

  • Bi-weekly surveys on local government response to COVID-19
    Surveys collect key workforce data – size of council workforce, recruitment, deaths in service, furloughed staff, redeployment, unavailability, service disruption, PPE and testing,  with a participation rate of 60 per cent of councils (ie a third of the workforce). Reports are offered to, or shared with, local resilience forums (LRFs), MHCLG, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and are available through LG Inform.   
  • Regular and ongoing guidance for councils on workforce implications of COVID-19
    These resources support councils to navigate and understand government guidance and cover themes including health and safety, funding issues, recruitment flexibility, and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Also includes guidance and engagement with employers and trade unions on extended opening of schools and COVID-secure workplaces. 
  • Provision of joint guidance on workforce issues relating to COVID-19 

Working with trade unions, we have helped to maintain positive industrial relations and limit workplace disruption by producing guidance around sick pay, quarantine, contractual treatment of self-isolation and home working.  

Working with National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers (NEOST) and government departments to produce guidance on the further opening of schools in the summer term and also on the full re-opening of schools in the autumn. The support ensures councils and schools are able to interpret government guidance on a complex area that requires local discretion. 

  • Return to Social Work programme
    Continued delivery of this programme supports councils to meet urgent demand challenges resulting from COVID-19 by providing access to an available pool of qualified social workers. Training has commenced for 200 participants.
  • Social Work Together
    We have continued to support this campaign with partners: Department for Education (DfE), Social Work England and DHSC. The campaign has attracted more th an1000 expressions of interest from social workers. We are encouraging councils to use the talent pool to cover need. 
  • Wellbeing support
    Working with councils, professional partners and government departments to provide advice, resources and other support for HR leads dealing with wellbeing and mental health issues stemming from COVID-19, including around supporting staff with suspected or actual issues of domestic abuse. Workforce and policy colleagues are helping to provide evidence to MPs/Parliament on wellbeing issues for the social care workforce on the potential long-term wellbeing and mental health issues arising from working conditions during coronavirus.
     

Other activities

  • Workforce bulletin
    Provision of general and specific assistance to councils, schools and others with workforce issues. Council engagement with these publications has increased significantly as a result of the demands of the COVID-19 challenge as councils seek to manage their staff and new service delivery demands.
     
  • Sharing of workforce centred best practice
    Covering issues encountered by councils (eg skills shortages) and facilitating planning and preparedness in the light of changed mechanisms for working and delivering services resulting from COVID-19.
     
  • Equality and diversity
    We are preparing a range of advice, guidance and other materials for councils wishing to respond appropriately to workforce equality, diversity and inclusion issues for BAME staff highlighted by COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter.

Communications

Headlines

  • Direct support
    We have worked with Herefordshire Council and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight LRF (via Portsmouth Council) to develop recovery communication strategies, campaigns and messaging. This feeds into the creation of our recovery communications resource, which launched in September and gives practical advice/guidance on communicating the move to recovery and living with COVID.
  • COVID-19 communications good practice hub
    This hub holds more than 150 examples of good practice in the public sector in response to COVID-19 and provides key information to enable communications teams to use and adapt content for their own channels and audiences.
  • Sharing information via bulletins
    • The chief executive bulletins provide updates on the latest COVID-19 guidance from central government and support offers within the LGA. These bulletins were sent to councils each day between April and June. Now we are moving from the response phase, bulletins are sent three times per week. A similar bulletin is sent from the LGA Chairman to all council leaders.
    • Weekly first magazine COVID-19 bulletins are sent to over 18,000 councillors and are reaching over the industry standard for engagement. These bulletins ensure that frontline councillors are kept up-to-date and informed on national policy developments and the local government response to COVID-19.         
    • CommsNet bulletins have also been performing above industry standard for both unique opens and click-through rates (upwards of 59 per cent).
  • Communications Health Check
    We have launched a virtual health check offer to support councils to review their recovery communications plans and learnings from the COVID-19 response. This direct support focuses on ensuring councils have the right capacity, strategies and plans in place to engage with their communities around recovery.
  • Virtual events programme
    Our events programme carries a focus on COVID-19. In June, there were seven standalone events, which were attended by more than 2,000 people. We are co-hosting events on place leadership and another with DHSC on local outbreak plans and communicating local lockdowns. We also held an event on supporting mental health of communities during COVID-19, which was attended by 350 attendees.

Other activity

  • Communicating improvement at the virtual LGA Conference 2020
    The conference programme included speakers from across local and central government and focused on the local government response to COVID-19 and recovery. The launch event alone was attended by over 600 people. Overall, over 5,000 attendees took part, including in a series of improvement sessions, putting the spotlight on the fantastic work councils have been doing in response to COVID-19 and providing learning and advice to councils (see below for more information).
  • Chief executive briefings
    These briefings, hosted by Mark Lloyd, are for council chief executives and directors of public health and have concentrated on Local Outbreak Plans and the Test and Trace service. Numbers attending have ranged between 299-430.

Conference ‘Spotlight on’ sessions

During the LGA virtual Annual Conference 2020 we delivered a programme of improvement focused webinars, putting the spotlight on councils and their officers that have been doing incredible work during the pandemic and beyond. The sessions were very well received and included:

  • Spotlight on learning through crisis: Brought together councils that have done remarkable work in response to COVID-19, providing an opportunity to reflect and learn from programmes relating to the use of data and analytics to provide targeted support to vulnerable groups; homelessness; mental health in young people; and organisational flex and leadership. It was attended by an audience of 185 and can be watched on our website.
  • Spotlight on Green Reset: Provided lessons on how new ‘green’ behaviours and a renewed focus on the environment can achieve a more sustainable recovery. This session achieved an audience of 388, with presentations from the session available on our website.
  • Spotlight on the chief executive: Brought together chief executives from across the country to reflect on individual responses to COVID-19. It was a closed session, attended by 118 council chief executives, which helped to facilitate open and honest reflections on responses and ways forward.
  • Spotlight on the councillor: This session gathered a panel of councillors to discuss what they have done differently, innovatively and what they have learnt about their role as a community leader during COVID-19. It also highlighted good practice and shared learning around how councillors can continue to affect positive change during recovery and beyond.
  • Spotlight on sector-led improvement (SLI): This session was attended by 150 people and involved a virtual Q&A/polling exercise, allowing the audience to provide views on the future direction of SLI. It also launched our end-of-year report, which highlights that 94 per cent of leaders and 98 per cent of chief executives say support from the LGA has had a positive impact on their authority. The feedback from this session will be used to assess how we can build this standard so that SLI continues to meet councils’ needs now and in the post-COVID world. It can be watched on our website.
  • Separate sessions were held with chief executives who took up their role since last summer, and another private session with MHCLG Permanent Secretary and directors to provide briefing to all chief executives and provide them with the opportunity to ask questions.

Recordings and other resources from these sessions are available on the LGA website.

Service-specific support

Headlines

  • Coronavirus enquires helpline and issues log
    Established to provide an online enquiries helpline with national coverage to receive, categorise, consider and answer issues and ideas relating to pandemic support in local government. Between March and June the enquiries and issues log managed 2,500 complex cases involving over 15,000 email communications.
  • Frequently Asked Questions hub
    At the beginning of the outbreak we launched an FAQ hub to help provide councils with the most up-to-date responses to their enquiries on an ongoing basis. The hub currently contains over 150 answers to questions on 22 different topics, ranging from business rate relief and support for business to waste and recycling.
  • Town centres toolkit
    This toolkit has been updated to reflect present challenges and national guidance, including guidance to help councils and place partnerships to develop COVID-19 recovery planning as part of wider revitalisation.
  • Supporting locally-led jobs and skills recovery
    We engaged with member councils to inform views and policies relating to COVID-19, including with the Combined Authority Employment and Skills Network. We also organised a roundtable between local authorities from non-devolved areas with DfE, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and MHCLG officials to address challenges relating to the present environment.
  • Culture, tourism and sport (CTS)
    We have developed or contributed to a range of COVID-19 centred publications in this area, including guidance on parks management and a joint statement on working together during COVID-19; held10 webinars for councillors and officers on all aspects of CTS (with a further 16 planned); and contributed to Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) working groups that are drawing up reopening guidance for libraries, museums, and leisure centres. We also carried out interviews with 20 councils to help gauge the financial impact of COVID-19 on their cultural, tourism and leisure provision.
  • Local Partnerships have also been working closely with councils to support them with their leisure providers. In addition, they worked closely with Sport England, DCMS and MHCLG to help pull together the funding bid to HM Treasury to rescue councils and their providers. Sport England are now hoping to commission Local Partnerships to help areas set out their need for that funding.
  • Business Support
    We have continued to support councils in the distribution of the Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund (RHLGF) schemes, promoting the efforts of councils and raising issues relating to the schemes and interpretation of government guidance.
  • Specific support to MHCLG
    Provided support and guidance, including administrative support, to the nine regional chief executives as well as their associated networks. Further support has been provided in form of a member of staff seconded to the MHCLG shielding team. Regular meetings with various MHCLG teams have been held to provide support and intelligence where necessary.

Other activity

  • Other publications, guidance and support
    In addition to the support outlined in above sections, we have provided councils with support to interpret government guidance and legislation on topics including regulatory services, scams, beach safety, and mortuary services.
  • A list of our publications is available at the end of this report.
    Included with this, guidance on the role of councillor role during COVID-19 has been downloaded more than 10,000 times; guidance on COVID-19 Domestic Abuse Support has been downloaded more than 1,500 times.

Other developments

  • Remote Meetings hub
    The hub was developed in two weeks, has been seen by more than 40,000 people, was retweeted by the Secretary of State (incl. three tweets that reached around 28,000 people) and ensured the democratically elected voice of communities continues to be heard during this crisis. The hub includes advice and case studies and a new hybrid meeting section, with guidance from partners in line with social distancing regulations.
  • Remote council meeting interactive map
    We have launched an interactive map, which sets out which virtual platform and streaming platform councils are using with a link to each council’s calendar of meetings.
  • Collection and sharing of good practice
    There are more than 120 examples covering nearly 20 themes on the website, which in July had more than 20,000 page visits. Collection efforts are now focused on recovery and renewal examples so that this database remains a valuable tool for councils as they respond to current challenges. Topics include: communications; adult social care; children; young people and education; culture, entertainment and other activities; cyber and digital solutions; deaths management; emergency food provision; finances and economy; governance; health and wellbeing; PPE; procurement; social distancing; supporting vulnerable residents; and waste and recycling.
  • Testing, contact tracing and outbreak management
    Support provided to government in relation to testing, contact tracing and outbreak management programme. This includes logistical support for the organisation of high-level national meetings. In addition, a KHub platform was developed to bring together key resources, the latest government guidance, case studies and current information around these issues so that councils are better equipped to respond to and prevent outbreaks.

Resident Satisfaction Polling Survey

We measure resident satisfaction with councils every three to four months. The June (2020) survey showed satisfaction with local councils reached its highest level across each of the six key indicators.

Table 1: Summary of positive responses for key measures

 

Average

Feb-20

Jun-20

Percentage point change from Feb-20

Round

1 to 26

25

26

 

%

%

%

p.p. ±

Satisfied with local area as a place to live

82

81

87

+6*

Satisfied with way local council runs things

67

63

75

+12*

Trusts the council

61

59

71

+12*

Feel well informed about council’s services and benefits

63

60

69

+9*

Agree council acts on residents’ concerns

60

57

68

+11*

Agree council provides value for money

50

48

57

+9*

The biggest increases from the previous round are the proportion of respondents who are satisfied with the way their local council operates and the number who trust their local council, both increasing by 12 percentage points.