The quicker decision-making and transformative change seen across the public sector in the wake of Covid-19 needs to be harnessed for the future.
That was the central message from a Vital Topics panel debate at AMBS on ‘Recovery, Renewal and Resilience’ in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Panellist Andy Wright, former Chief Executive at Braintree District Council in Essex, spoke about how the pandemic “rocked his organisation to the core”, but also offered a whole range of opportunities to look at things differently.
“To give you just one example, we literally ditched our economic growth strategy overnight and started looking at things in a completely different way. As a council we went through a complete refresh programme, and our speed of responsiveness brought innovation and new thinking.
“For instance, all the Essex councils also began working together at a new level, especially the health and social care sector, and there are a lot of things that did improve.”
However, he feared that the public sector was now losing the nimbleness it showed at the height of the pandemic. “I fear we are tip-toeing back into older ways and losing that power to bring transformation into an organisation.”
Pace of change
Dr Kathy Oldham, Chief Resilience Officer for Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said the Covid-19 emergency brought more council systems together, but said it was hard to maintain the pace of transformative change because of the structures, systems and consultations that are built into the public sector system.
“One of the pieces of learning that we are now trying to capitalise on is the collective community level response that we saw during the pandemic. How can we work in a different way with communities and get communities to think about risks in a different way?”
She added that the experiences from Covid-19 were still “very real” for people and its consequences were still unravelling, while the pandemic also highlighted problems around inequalities, deprivation, lack of open spaces, and digital inequalities. “I’m not sure if we have achieved business as normal yet, I think we are still in the recovery phase.”
Issa Kassis, the Mayor of Ramallah, spoke about how Covid-19 drove the world to a reset, and agreed that life had not returned to normal.
“We have a new normal now, just as we had after the 2008 global financial crisis. I do not feel we are getting back to normal, we are in the process of recovery within a new norm.”
He added that life had become faster since the pandemic, particularly driven by digital transformation. “As a city we have also chosen to listen more since Covid-19, and this has taken many different shapes. People want to have a stake in change and be part of it.”
Duncan Shaw, Professor of Operational Research and Critical Systems at AMBS, has been at the forefront of developing a new framework which supports councils and city authorities as they design recovery strategies in the wake of Covid-19 for all emergencies.
“Renewal is not just about ambitious activity but about being more resilient to the next emergency, whatever it is. It is about trying to support cities, regions and countries in the best way possible.”
The debate was chaired by Dr Simos Chari, Senior Lecturer in Marketing Management and Strategy at AMBS.
You can watch the full recording of the debate below: