COVID-19: Top tips for chief executives responding to extra restrictions

Resource for council chief executives experiencing local intervention due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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This series of top tips and interviews highlights the experiences of chief executives in areas that faced increasing infection rates between the lifting of the national lockdown measures imposed in March and the most recent national restrictions, which came into force on 5 November 2020.

Local restrictions were used to try to curb the levels of infection in local areas. It is hoped that when the national restrictions begin to be lifted, this will be a useful resource for chief executives, including for those chief executives experiencing intervention at a local level for the first time.  

Background

During the time between the lockdown lifting in early summer and the new national restrictions, Leicester and the borough of Oadby and Wigston to the south of the city, were the first areas to see extra restrictions brought in. Since then vast swathes of the country have followed suit. 

At first, the Government designated places with higher rates as either an area of concern, enhanced support or intervention. It led to a variety of different restrictions being used in different places. However in October this was standardised to create a three-tier alert system – with the top two tiers entailing extra restrictions above the national rules. Over half the country was in that position at the time of the November national restrictions.

But what is the role of councils in deciding when restrictions are introduced? And what advice do those chief executives who have been through the process have for others?

The LGA has been hosting a series of seminars, ‘Leading and Learning together’, where chief executives have discussed their own experiences. SOLACE has also been running their own events to share best practice during the pandemic and have formed top tips which have been fed into this resource.

This briefing document pulls together some of the key themes from all of these as well as detailing the first-hand experience of some chief executives who have been through the process.

How the new alert system works 

In October the Government in England brought in a new three tier approach to standardise the rules regarding restrictions in local areas with different rates of infection. This was the tier system as of October and may be different when restrictions are lifted:

Tier one: medium

Follow the rule of six if meeting indoors or outdoors. Pubs and restaurants to shut at 10pm.

Tier two: high

No household mixing indoors. Rules of six will apply outdoors. Pubs and restaurants to shut at 10pm.

Tier three: very high

No household missing indoors or outdoors in hospitality venues or private gardens. Rule of six applies to outdoor public places like parks.  Pubs and bars not serving meals will be closed. Guidance against travelling in and out of the area.

Chief executive top tips and lessons learned 

Communicate with the public to help maintain trust

The public will be aware when there is talk of extra restrictions being introduced. Provide regular updates and also be clear when they come into force. Keep an eye on inequalities and make sure these are considered or addressed.

You are not powerless 

Don’t wait for the government to come knocking. There is plenty you can do to curb the infection levels by working with the community to promote good infection control.

Be prepared for scrutiny 

The government is closely watching infection levels and will be asking what steps you are taking, while media interest, both national and local, will grow.

Keep your outbreak plan updated 

Refresh, update and share it with key colleagues and stakeholders. 

Use your curiosity 

Ask questions all the time. Ask for evidence.

Get across the data 

This means not only testing figures, but also hospital admissions, occupancy rates at local hospitals for both general wards and intensive care and NHS 111 data.

Communicate with the council workforce 

Keep the workforce updated as much as you can and monitor their health and well-being. Balance realism and hope, take an open approach.

Be prepared to manage competing interests There are a lot of stakeholders to deal with from members and local MPs to national government. MPs have a particularly influential role as they often meet with ministers. Situations can easily become fractious and divisive.

Be clear ahead of negotiations

Try to determine from central government what the key metrics are for your area – cases, admissions or hospital capacity - and what is and is not on the table in terms of extra restrictions.

Work out an exit strategy 

Few areas have seen restrictions relaxed once they are introduced. Be clear in negotiations with government what needs to be done to see them lifted.

Recognise your own vulnerabilities 

The introduction of restrictions is all-consuming. Tiredness and frustration need to be managed. Keep in mind everyone is after the same thing – containing the virus.

Think long-term 

Maintaining capacity through the next 12 to 18 months is going to be difficult at the pace that has been done over the past six months. Find consistency amid the changes.

Case studies