The Council's response to the Covid crisis
Objective: To consider the outcomes and lessons learned from the council’s Covid response – what went well and what could have been done better?
Darren Knight, Executive Director People and Change
Darren Knight, Executive Director People and Change, introduced his report, acknowledging that it had been a challenging couple of years, and that it was important to learn lessons wherever possible. The main focus had been on maintaining essential services and keeping lead members informed throughout the pandemic. He outlined key achievements, including the rapid payment of business support grants and the Gloucestershire Community Help Hub. The SWAP internal audit had seen positive results, and they had received external recognition for their work. He thanked different departments and the council’s partners for their assistance as well.
One Member noted that the report reminded them how well council staff had adapted to the radical changes caused by the pandemic, and thanked the Executive Director People and Change for his work. Another Member echoed this, noting that the transition to working from home across the council could not have been easy. They suggested that CBC needed to make more of the awards it had received. The Executive Director People and Change agreed, adding that awards were not just a morale booster but also a useful way of seeing how their response compared to others around the country.
One Member praised the work of officers and members during a situation that was unprecedented and impossible to predict. Going forward, greater engagement with parish councils was needed, and it would be useful to have a template for this. The Executive Director People and Change responded that the C5 group met on a regular basis, while he and the Leader of the Council had met parish councillors throughout the pandemic and would continue to do this. Local leaders who were embedded in their communities and understood residents’ needs were clearly of great value.
One Member added that the Grant Thornton recommendations on improving the scrutiny process should be taken forward to ensure lessons were learned from that too. The Executive Director People and Change agreed with this, adding that business continuity arrangements were in the process of being reviewed.
One Member agreed about the importance of parish councils, and praised the way community support sprang up in their ward early on in the pandemic. They asked whether the emergency response management arrangements had stifled innovation. The Executive Director People and Change responded that on the contrary, they had enabled good ideas to be reviewed at pace, as evidenced by the numerous examples laid out in the report.
One Member asked whether Cheltenham had been affected by any of the fraudulent business grant claims that were currently in the news. The Executive Director People and Change responded that they were looking into a handful of cases, but there had been effective checks and balances in place to prevent it becoming a widespread issue. They had benefitted from insight and local knowledge from ward members and the BID.
One Member highlighted the focus on staff wellbeing, and asked whether the wellbeing group would continue. The Executive Director People and Change confirmed that it would continue, and added that the last employee wellbeing survey saw an improvement on the year before.
One Member suggested passing on CBC’s positive experiences and lessons to other councils so that they could learn from it. The Executive Director People and Change noted that the LGA and South West Councils were both helpful in doing this. Officers had published case studies on how they had helped businesses, and they were working with regional conferences and other events to spread these lessons, such as how they strengthened their business communication during the pandemic.
On behalf of the committee, the Chair thanked the Executive Director People and Change and the wider council staff for their work throughout the pandemic.