Support for local leadership

The scale of the challenge that councils are currently facing requires strong, responsive and resilient leadership.

To address this, the LGA is refocusing its leadership offer so that senior councillors can continue to access learning resources and share experiences with their peers. This includes ensuring that you have access to online leadership tools, including new workbooks, to support you in your vital role in the national effort to respond to COVID-19.

Our latest workbook looks at the role of leaders and cabinet members. It covers: emerging key issues for leading members; local government’s response to COVID-19; the role of leaders, elected mayors and cabinet members; governance arrangements and officer-member relationships; community leadership and resilience; finances; other councillors; and member welfare and resilience.

Most importantly, it draws on the transferable learning that has been acquired from the experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, and includes case studies from council leaders and cabinet members from across the country – such as Warwick’s Cllr Andrew Day, see right.

Councillor Andrew Day (Con) is Leader of Warwick District Council

In this emergency, I’ve focused on giving confidence to the team, making clear and timely decisions, and driving for outcomes rather than political advantage.

All our operations have been thrown into disarray, with more than 90 per cent of officers working from home and councillors being formally disengaged from decision-making/scrutiny roles.

At the outset, it was vital for me to be calm, to listen and reflect, then give clear direction on immediate tasks, while always scanning to try to identify where the next issue was on the horizon.

The hardest part, initially, was to fully embrace the new reality; to put to one side all the cherished projects we’d worked so hard on over the past year, to bring together – and give full attention to – the mundane, routine services on which our residents rely.

I’ve spent most of my time communicating within and without the council. Residents are recognising afresh just how important the council is in leading a positive and constructive response to an emergency. My role is primarily as ‘chief communicator’, even when the messages haven’t been popular – such as suspending the green bin service. As leader, I’ve tried to avoid hyperventilation in all communications or sounding like I’m now ‘Churchill’.

A collaborative, cross-party approach is essential. I’ve invited the other group leaders to join all executive meetings. Our cross-party work on climate action has helped build a good level of trust and cooperation, so this is working well so far. This approach has thrown up real opportunities in planning for the recovery, including examining what council projects can be advanced to create more business confidence, job creation, and so on.

This is not for the faint-hearted. All I do is council business, 16 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m not alone in this response, but I worry just how sustainable this is.

This crisis highlights the importance of effective local government. It begs the question why councils have been under-resourced in recent years. I also believe that the Government will seek to reorganise local government on the back of this crisis, but doubt we’ll get the financial investment needed to strengthen local services.

But that is for tomorrow; just now, I’m determined to demonstrate that this council can be trusted to ‘roll its sleeves up’ and get the job done.

‘A councillor’s workbook on the role of leaders and cabinet members during the COVID-19 pandemic’, see www.local.gov.uk/publications

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