The challenges of COVID-19 created unanticipated challenges for the culture, tourism and sport sectors. With lockdown restrictions, came a need for everybody to work from home and therefore unable to attend face-to-face events. In the midst of a crisis, however, it was important the both officers and members were still given the virtual space to connect with one another, share challenges, and help the LGA to understand what the future looks like and exactly what support is needed most and where.
The culture, tourism and sport team responded with a series of online workshops to ensure that both officers and members received the support they needed during this critical time. Facilitated discussions, delivered between April and July, created honest, open spaces for officers and members to reflect on the challenges in their own communities and work together to share how they adapt and innovate service delivery, now and in the future.
- Sport and physical activity
Councils are champions for promoting physical activity both inside and outside of the gym or swimming pool. The LGA, in partnership with Sport England, have been delivering Leadership Essentials programmes for officers and members for a number of years. However, the need to engage externally with officers remained crucial, in order to provide them with the support they needed to address the local challenges within their areas. From 29 April 2020, LGA and Sport England delivered a series of online events for alumni of the Leadership Essentials programme which consisted of two phases:
Phase 1: online discussion groups
These facilitated online discussion groups created an honest and open space for officers across the country to air their concerns, but also spread optimism by sharing innovative and best practice as local authorities, trusts and active partnerships had to re-think the future of service delivery. Delegates engaged in discussions navigating the ‘here and now’ and shared learning to explore what they want for the future. This document (pdf) frames a collective conversation that will continue to grow and change as we work together into the future, and we work toward systems change through systems leadership. Some of the major key issues, continue to form a large body of evidence for the LGA’s lobbying efforts, focusing particularly on issues around:
- The future survival of leisure services and the need for Government to provide funding support for leisure providers
- The impact of COVID-19 and digital exclusion on health inequalities
- Building a case for leisure services, due to the increasing awareness of sport and physical activities place in the wider eco-system, particularly with regards to wider public health concerns
Phase 2: online workshops
Engaging with the same cohort, LGA and Sport England then quickly sought to deliver a series of online workshops to support the leadership development of those on the programme, paying specific attention to some of the key issues identified in phase 1. Running a package of different events, content and themes include the following and focused on developing leaders in light of COVID-19 related challenges:
- Developing resilience
- Re-framing sport and physical activity
- Re-framing health inequalities
- Creating new thinking environments
- Scenario planning
- Systems leadership
Whilst the learnings of these events were more personal accounts of officer’s leadership during COVID-19, the cohort left with a sense of optimism about the future and their leadership capacities. The outcome was powerful, with many feeling better equipped to lead their teams, communities and partner organisations during a period of uncertainty.
Lockdown restrictions have seen council cultural services innovate and provide online services in the absence of their physical offer. The independent cultural activities and facilities in local areas have also been innovative, but have faced more immediately significant financial challenges due to the loss of their earned income.
This has placed extreme pressure on them, causing concern among councils who feared the loss of many of their culture and arts institutions which provide spaces for artistic expression and community cohesion. Cultural institutions and activities are also major anchor points for town and city centres, attracting significant footfall that other businesses rely on for their own survival.
The LGA therefore facilitated a number of online workshops to engage with heads of service and senior managers to share their concerns, but also work together to develop their own ideas for delivering services digitally. Also creating a space for councillors, cultural Portfolio Holders were invited to an online discussion group to share knowledge and best practice. Innovative practice was shared amongst delegates, creating spaces for councillors and officers to develop their own ideas and apply them within their own local areas. Delegates reflected on a number of key concerns for the sector which included:
- The impact of digital exclusion in perpetuating health inequalities
- Government funding and the long-term impact on culture and leisure services across England
- The need to extend the furlough scheme in order to protect jobs
- How to keep cultural institutions financially viable, in both the short-term and long-term
- How to reopen cultural services (museums, libraries, theatres) safely
- How to develop models for business activity in a period of uncertainty
The insight gained also helped to inform the LGA’s lobbying and engagement with central government and Arts Council England. In turn, the LGA have lobbied on important issues impacting the sector. These discussions then helped to inform:
Councils have a strong stake in the visitor economy. They are direct providers, running tourism attractions themselves, including castles and historic buildings, parks, piers, amusement parks, and destination management organisations. They run over 350 museums, public archives, numerous theatres and galleries, and are responsible for many monuments. Overall, they are the largest public investor in cultural activity, spending over £1.1 billion. Yet lockdown restrictions and a shortened and smaller summer season, meant their local visitor economies were put at standstill. Through a facilitated online discussion group, heads of service and senior managers were given a chance to engage in groups and have the opportunity to share their own experiences and identify new ways of operating in the future in light of social distancing measures. In a separate session run for councillors, similar discussions took place between Leaders and Cabinet Members, identifying new challenges and ways of working in the future.
Having reflected on some of the key challenges surrounding tourism during COVID-19, delegates reflected on a number of key concerns which subsequently formed a body of evidence for the LGA to lobby on in conversations with partner organisations and central Government. These included:
- Concerns over the need to retain skills and employment through extending the furlough scheme.
- Direct investment in the tourism sector of at least £1 billion to support the sector during a period of recovery.
- A need for a support package for the hospitality and tourism sector, due to a shortened summer season.
- Increased investment in sustainable transport, to ensure that visitors can benefit from a climate sustainable approach to enjoying domestic travel.
In turn, the LGA wrote a letter to Secretary of State for DCMS on recovery in the culture and tourism sectors. Here, the LGA urged DCMS to include the Tourism Industry Council at discussions on recovery to ensure the local voice is heard at top table discussion, whilst also expressing the need to protect the cultural institutions (through financial support) which lie at the heart of English tourism and therefore critical for maintaining a visitor economy in the long-term.
In addition, the views shared from the discussions helped to inform Government guidance on the reopening of the visitor economy.
- Coastal tourism
Whilst COVID-19 presented challenges for the visitor economy, coastal towns and the reliance of many on tourism to boost the local economy created increased pressures on local authorities with regards to skills, funding, employment and economic support. Not only have coastal councils faced immense financial pressures, but the easing of restrictions also meant that they experienced a whole host of challenges around planning, licensing and beach safety due to the increase in domestic travel the slow easing of lockdown restrictions stimulated. Striking a balance between reopening the economy and protecting residents therefore created a host of operational and strategic challenges for councils across the country. The LGA facilitated discussion brought together heads of service from coastal councils to discuss the operational challenges in their local areas, whilst also running a separate session for Leaders and Portfolio Holders to openly discuss their plans for the future and air the support they require at a national level. A number of key issues were raised, which included:
- The rise in anti-social behaviour and the difficulty many councils faced in managing large crowds in the context of social distancing measures.
- The need to boost the visitor economy by encouraging domestic visitors to visit, whilst managing the expectations of potential visitors. This helped to inform Visit Britain’s ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign toolkit
- The urgent need for clearer government guidance due to the witnessed rise in domestic travel. The discussion therefore helped to inform the Government’s Guidance for Managing beaches and coastal areas.
The discussions also helped to shape the LGA’s Government asks, which include:
- Extending the furlough scheme for tourism specific sectors until most organisations are able to return to financial viability.
- Government to support the regeneration of coastal frontages, beach management, transport links and the provision of cultural infrastructure.
- Funding of tourism business apprenticeships, most notably within the hospitality sector.
Coronavirus: council information and support
Useful information and support for councils on novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Options for councils in supporting leisure providers through COVID-19
This advice note aims to update councils on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on leisure providers operating services and facilities owned and delivered on behalf of councils.