New report calls for long-term funding for councils to enable them to invest in resilience

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2021 | 09 June 2021

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Councils have ridden the waves of the Coronavirus pandemic exceptionally well but they need a long-term funding settlement to invest in organisational resilience, a new report has found.

The report, ‘Riding The Waves: Strengthening Council Resilience’ from IMPOWER and the County Councils Network sets out a framework for how local authorities can improve their resilience following the pandemic. Download it here.

Based on evidence from over 100 sector experts – including council chief executives, leaders, and senior councillors – the report finds that local authorities’ ability to quickly adapt to the daily challenges of the pandemic are ‘testament to their willingness to grasp everyday disruption’.

But IMPOWER says delivering on successful economic recovery strategies, revised budgets, and postponed service transformation projects could be challenging for local authorities whose workforce is exhausted by the pandemic and those with inadequate central resource to co-ordinate efforts.

The study finds that whilst councils have invested in staff nurturing and wellbeing, alongside system leadership, the dedication of their workforce during the pandemic has seen individuals pushed to their limits, and this risks burnout over the coming period.

The report calls for a sufficient long-term funding settlement for local authorities in this year’s Spending Review so they are able invest in efforts to bolster resilience to avoid workforce burnout and ensure that their organisations are best placed to horizon-scan and address future disruptive events.

CCN and IMPOWER launched the report at a webinar – watch a recording of the event below.

A ‘resilience framework’ designed by IMPOWER sets out three areas councils should be strong in:

Absorbative capabilities: to undertake rapid change to be able to keep going during a shock

Adaptive capabilities: to make incremental changes to be able to move forward

Anticipatory capabilities: to ensure positive changes are sustained and optimised, and to prepare for future disruptions

Based on their interviews with key stakeholders in local government, IMPOWER finds that councils are strongest in their absorptive and adaptive capabilities, but less so in their anticipatory capabilities for future disruptive events.

To improve resilience, CCN says the certainty of a three-year minimum funding settlement for councils in this year’s Spending Review will allow them to plan for the future, whilst a greater degree of flexibility on decision-making from government would be beneficial.

Over the past few years, local authorities have had to transfer a greater amount of resource to frontline services due to funding pressures, which has led to a reduction in the ‘corporate centre’ of some authorities. CCN argues that councils must be adequately resourced to re-invest in their generalist corporate centres – staff such as policy and communications officers – to improve co-ordination through the council and bolster resilience.

Simon Edwards, Director of the County Councils Network, said:

“Local government has come out of the pandemic with its reputation enhanced and this is in no small part to the tireless work of staff across the country, with councils’ ability to adapt testament to their willingness to grasp every day disruption.

“Whilst facing fresh challenges every day, it has been ‘business as usual’ for many council services since the first lockdown, showcasing councils’ strong absorbative and adaptive capabilities. But 15 months on, staff who have gone the extra mile face burnout whilst horizon scanning is something some councils felt they could improve on.

“This report is a key learning exercise from the pandemic and sets out how – and why – councils should invest in resilience from crisis events and be better prepared to predict disruption. This cannot be done on a shoestring though, which is why CCN will continue to make the case for additional funding.”

Jon Ainger, Director of IMPOWER, said:

“We are delighted to publish this report in partnership with the County Councils Network.

“Investing in resilience is not a statutory requirement, it is a deliberate leadership choice to enable councils to deal more effectively with future disruptions and to be in a better position to operate within complexity.

“We look forward to sharing the research findings with councils and the wider sector, and supporting councils in their journey to strengthen their organisational resilience.”


Notes to editor

  • Download the report ‘Riding the Waves: Strengthening Council Resilience’ here.
  • In total, 11 councils, 28 chief executives, and 89 council leaders and deputy leaders gave evidence to inform the report.
  • The County Councils Network (CCN) is the national voice for England’s county councils. It represents all 23 county councils and 13 county unitary authorities. Collectively, they represent 25 million people, or 47% of the country’s population. For more information click here.
  • IMPOWER is an award-winning independent consultancy focused exclusively on improving public services. By enabling our clients to grip the challenges of complexity, we supercharge their ability to improve lives and save money. At the heart of our work is respect for the users of public services and the staff who work in them, and a belief in the importance of unlocking their contributions to positive change. For more information, click  here.