Leadership at Local Authorities through the Coronavirus Crisis
For our latest Councils Futr Spotlight Series, we caught up with Lynne Ridsdale, the Deputy Chief Executive at Bury Council, about running business as usual on top of their emergency response and the importance of recognising the amazing work of their employees and volunteers.
Please can you tell me about yourself and Bury Council?
“My name is Lynne Ridsdale and I am the deputy chief exec, essentially responsible for looking after the corporate core services and all of the internal facing services. I have been at Bury for the past 18 months, joining part of a very new leadership team.
As for Bury, it is a council on a significant improvement journey and so we’ve been coming up to this crisis from the double challenge of having to respond to COVID when in all honesty we are an organisation which is on its own strengthening journey.”
How have the last 7 months been for you?
“The challenge within local government is that very little can stop. The issue for us pretty much throughout has been running business as usual on top of the emergency response.
It’s been hugely demanding and, as all local authorities, we are constantly having to evolve during real time – I think we are all living on adrenaline right now! It’s been 7 days a week and there’s no end in sight right now, although if ever I needed to be reminded as to why I work in public service, this is the time.
It’s been absolutely amazing, and I’ve been so proud knowing all of the work that all of us are doing is making a direct contribution in making people safe and assured. So, I think it’s really given that sense of purpose, clear vision, pulled everybody together and really enabled us to connect with the communities.”
How has the transition to working from home been for you?
We were an organisation that was very much behind on the digital journey. We went from 79 remote users to 1000 pretty much overnight. We’ve probably crunched over 2 years of progress within the last 6 months, which I’m personally so proud about.
Like everybody else, we’ve found huge benefits and as a result we are keen to make a commitment to demonstrate that this is how we want to harness the future ways of working. We conducted a survey over the summer to see how people were feeling and the results were extremely positive, in the sense that 67 percent were very happy with this new agile way of working. With that in mind, we will go ahead and properly pilot this when things have eventually calmed down and returned to relative normality – we are still very mindful that people are still operating in crisis mode.
To give you an example of how working from home has positively affected us, you only need to look at our sickness and absence rates. Attendance is so much better than it’s been for a very long time. It’s one thing having textbooks telling you that this will happen, but another thing faced with reality. I found myself constantly checking the statistics as I couldn’t believe that they were right, but they were!
What part has technology played in the councils response to the pandemic?
Technology throughout has been amazing – and looking back on it now I really don’t think we would have done anything differently. For example, we’ve led the way for Greater Manchester in devising an app to coordinate our volunteering activity, allowing us to manage very large numbers of people and knowing exactly who’s supporting where and what that activity profile looks like.
What we ultimately need to crack is digital inclusion for vulnerable people. The question which we are now asking is how do we equip and continue to support those people that are not online and do not have the resources or skills to be online?
How has the pandemic impacted the council financially?
One of the real things that COVID means for us at the moment is huge financial uncertainty. The cost pressures which this has put on us now with a combination of reducing income and additional costs is crucifying our budget. Financially this is an opportunity to think radically about our spend and priorities.
So, for example, going back to your earlier question with regards to working from home and its current success we are now able to look at reducing estate footprint which will greatly save costs when we look to the future.
How have you recognised the great work your employees have done?
There are so many people worth recognising and unfortunately we are just not able to individually recognise everybody, from both employees and volunteers.
That being said, in order to recognise everybody, we’ve commissioned a local artist to produce some artwork which represents the contribution that everybody has made; so the teachers, binmen, care staff, call centre staff etc, and it’s going to hang in the art gallery as a gift to the towns key workers.
That’s our big thank you, and personally I am so glad that we have managed to find a gift that acknowledges every single role which has been vital in tackling COVID.
One of the things which we’ve seen is that the pandemic is a wakeup call to the life you’re leading and just how precious life really is.
As employers we are no doubt going to have to work harder to keep hearts and minds with us rather than assuming people will be here because they’ve always done it. So far, we haven’t really dropped the ball. This has been a real moment for public service, hasn’t it?