When I first started thinking about my year as ADEPT President, I knew it was going to be challenging.
A comprehensive spending review, the development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26 – now scheduled for November 2021) and the impacts of Brexit have huge implications for place. Now, on top of these, we must manage and recover from COVID-19.
The ADEPT leadership team has been monitoring the impacts on service provision, and working with key government departments to produce guidance and provide intelligence. May’s online ADEPT spring conference was our first opportunity to stop, debate and listen to the thinking and experiences of members, and to start mapping out the first steps towards recovery.
I was struck by how conversation revolved around people. Building resilient communities is critical to our work and is at the heart of ADEPT thinking. The pandemic has drawn attention to social inequalities – educational attainment, housing, health and employment – and how, inevitably, they will increase because of COVID-19.
“It’s not enough to insist on social distancing: we need to enable it”
But coronavirus has also highlighted some positives – improvements in air quality from reduced traffic; an increased connection to our local places, with more people working from home; and what it will take to address the impacts of climate change.
How this translates into our work for the coming year boils down to a very simple message: we know our places and communities, we just need the resources to enable us to rebuild and develop clean and inclusive growth.
ADEPT has long been making the case for place and it has never been more important as we plan our way out of COVID-19. We must continue to work with colleagues in public health, and adult and children’s services, to ensure the Government understands that the preventative role of place is intrinsic to long-term health and wellbeing, and coronavirus recovery.
Rebuilding our local economies safely is a huge challenge that, in the short term, must focus on reducing fear and increasing confidence, so that people can re-engage socially and economically. In this new environment, we need to ensure people feel safe in their local places, as that’s how we will get our businesses back up and running. It’s not enough to insist on social distancing: we need to enable it.
Place directors will be redesigning systems and reallocating spaces, such as prioritising walking and cycling, as part of their recovery and renewal planning. They also need to be thinking through what is needed for the longer term. To support them, we have set up an economic recovery and renewal task force to gather intelligence and evidence, provide best practice and develop a clear offer and ‘ask’ for place.
Recovery and renewal are not just concepts; they require adequate resources, and that means influencing government. Rather than putting funding together from disparate pots, we have a chance to shape our places for the future. We need an end to intensive, competitive bidding processes, and a joined-up, place-based approach to funding allocation.
All our places are unique and our communities know best what they need. As place directors, it’s our job to make it happen, to make our places extraordinary.