Councillors are providing visible and responsible local leadership on COVID-19.
The LGA has issued guidance to help elected councillors as their local authorities grapple with the worst public health crisis we have experienced in a century.
It focuses on specific issues relevant to your involvement in leading and protecting our communities, as well as in delivering the full range of our normal services. In addition, it highlights the helpful and strong role that individual ward councillors can play in supporting their communities through these difficult times.
Councils are category one responders under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which sets out the legislative framework for responding to emergencies such as the COVID-19 outbreak. As part of local resilience forums (LRF), councils work with local partner organisations to plan and activate their emergency responses. Given the nature of this emergency, there will be a greater focus on the work of councils and health partners than on the ‘blue light’ services.
The role of councillors within this context is to provide vital local leadership, rather than to become involved in the operational response led by officers. Ward councillors will be among the people who know their areas best, and have an important role to play by:
- acting as a bridge between councils and communities
- amplifying consistent messaging through disseminating council and government information
- identifying local vulnerabilities – particularly of residents, but also businesses – and feeding this intelligence back into councils
- working with local voluntary sector groups to provide support and advice to local communities
- offering reassurance to, and offering support for, residents.
Your council should have a mechanism for keeping you informed about developments and national and corporate messages. This should make it clear how regularly you can expect to be updated, given that your council’s overall priority will be supporting local communities.
In some recent emergencies, councils have found it helpful to designate a senior councillor as a first point of contact to take the lead role in engaging with other elected members.
The LGA’s guidance covers: understanding the emergency response framework and your role; community leadership; using social media; community mapping; enabling community resilience; facilitating support for residents; empathy and reassurance; community cohesion and monitoring; and your own wellbeing.
Key messages for councillors include:
- Take a responsible approach to the information you share and the messages you give by following guidance from your council and using confirmed messages from official sources.
- Consider collating your local knowledge and ward contacts, and seek advice from officers about how this intelligence can be shared.
- Try to engage with the many neighbourhood groups that have been established to support local residents, to share official messages and find out about local concerns and vulnerable residents.
- Provide empathy and reassurance – residents and your officers need it!
More than ever before, our role as civic and community leaders requires us to offer visible, responsible leadership that links community-led support with council structures, to help build and sustain our overall resilience.
Finally, it is undoubtedly the case that the coming months will make huge demands on all of us connected with councils, as well as a great many other people in our communities. Please take the time to balance your hard work with the need to maintain your own health and wellbeing.