Archive for June, 2020

Helping schools and businesses to get back on track

Monday, June 29th, 2020

The announcements this week that pubs will re-open on 4 July eclipsed all other news, it seems.  It is, of course, a hugely important signal that we are emerging from the lockdown of 3 months, and we are seeing a return to a form of normality that is encouraging.  Staffordshire schools have been welcoming eligible children back into their buildings since June 1, and their return has been made possible by our colleagues’ excellent efforts in building confidence in our parents, students and school staff.   The signals are that all children will return to school for the new school year in September, and we will continue our efforts as we have previously.

I was hugely encouraged by the positive reaction to a small scheme of offering PPE to Staffordshire microbusinesses.  Within the first 2 days, 300 of the 2000 small packs of gloves and masks had been dispatched.  Probably as useful as the “freebie” was that around 1,000 hits had been registered on our website to offer advice on where to get their own supplies and guidance on how and when to use it.  The prize is, rather like the efforts in our schools and care homes, to raise confidence in business owners and customers to get the economy going again.  It is in these relatively simple, but carefully thought-through measures, that we will serve the residents of Staffordshire most effectively.     

COVID in numbers

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Today marks three months since Boris Johnson announced that the UK was going into lockdown. For me, it both feels like yesterday, and also a lifetime ago.  That is not unusual when one is working at pace in a stressful environment.  If you’ve not seen it yet, the COVID in numbers infographic gives just a snapshot of the scale of our response to date. £30m spent supporting care for our elderly and vulnerable residents, 1,400,000 pieces of PPE provided to protect workers in health and care, over 3,000 emergency food parcels delivered… the list goes on.  We must remember that this is primarily a human tragedy – in the past 3 months, over 700 people have lost their lives in Staffordshire, but thanks to your hard work, we have seen the number of deaths in the county continually fall in recent weeks and we are now seeing fewer deaths than we would expect to see at this time of year. As a result, our focus is now shifting to local outbreak control and working with the NHS Test and Trace team/Public Health England to prevent the spread of infection. This is a new responsibility and we’ll be submitting our plans to Government this week. So far, we’re thankful that we have not seen any outbreaks in the county, but we are ready to act when we are needed.

It’s a unique feature of this emergency that we are working on response and recovery at the same time. Many of you are now working hard to support our recovery and early plans were considered at Cabinet for each part of the organisation last week. Already we have seen recycling centres and country park car parks reopen and our schools welcome a wider number of children back to education. We’ve also launched our economic recovery strategy and outlined what we will do to support Staffordshire to get back to business. I know how much hard work has gone into making this happen.

We expect an announcement this week that social distancing will reduce to 1m from 2m, along with a raft of other measures designed to allow life to return to a greater degree of normality while staying safe.  Philip Atkins, Mark Winnington and I met with representatives of the leisure and hospitality sector and a number of our MPs on Friday to clarify what was needed to get these sectors working again.  It was not surprising that the 1m social distancing makes a huge difference to occupancy, just as it does in our offices and schools, but also that they need notice of any changes to implement them in time (beer takes 2 weeks to brew, after all) and they want clarity.  Although it is easy to criticise, particularly when one bears no responsibility for the outcomes, these decisions will weigh heavily on ministers and scientist advising the Government.  There is no perfect answer, but it feels like we can take the next steps towards a return to normality.   

I’ll leave you with one final thought.  This has been something the like of which none of us has previously experienced; I only half-jokingly tell former military colleagues that it’s been an odd mixture of the last five years in Staffordshire County Council and the previous 30 in the Army. The challenges and opportunities presented to us have been exciting and exhausting. It is vitally important that you look after yourself so that we can continue to support our communities to the best of our ability as we go forward. Make use of the support available to you through your colleagues, through Thinkwell, Mindkind and iLearn.  In the coming days, you’ll be invited to share your experiences and views in a short survey so that we can learn from them and emerge from the crisis as a stronger organisation.

iLearn, and making our workplace Covid safe

Monday, June 15th, 2020

We have launched our new digital learning library. iLearn offers bite-sized content on topics including leadership and strategy, managing people and teams, and personal skills.  It has been designed to enhance our colleague learning offer and allow people to take their development into their own hands.  Having spent a little time on it, it’s much more intuitive than the GO platform, which is welcome. At the moment the content is generic and can support all areas of our business– I spent a few minutes looking at the smart working section, and learned a few things.  I have to say it is very good and well-presented.

Platforms like this rely on our active engagement and our responsibility to drive our own learning.

On the recent Business Brief, there was a very good question about whether Continuous Professional Development (CPD) was on the platform.  What you will find is a number of resources to help you develop your own personal development plan and ‘playlists’ or learning journeys to help develop specific skills such as ‘project management’.   Within the next 12 months we are looking to replace GO entirely with a new ‘Learning Experience Platform’ (LXP) which will support the development of our own content to support continuous professional development within all our job roles.

I’m getting used to one staircase for up and another for down in Staffordshire Place 1, but still catching myself out if I’m concentrating on other things.  As well await the ruling on social distancing, we are following the guidance of 2m as you would expect, and at the moment, there is no problem with capacity in our buildings.  Thanks to your efforts, and the amazing achievements of the ICT staff in not only maintaining and protecting our network, but in building its capacity, the vast majority of us as working from home, and overcoming the challenges.  Meanwhile, the Lifting Lockdown working group is continuing to ensure our workplaces and practices are in line with Government guidance, for those who cannot work from home. Today, we are releasing a safe workplace video to give colleagues an idea of what we have implemented and how we are progressing.  It’s worth a brief watch if you haven’t already. 

Moving into recovery, and Test and Trace

Monday, June 8th, 2020

As we pivot our efforts into recovery, while remaining engaged in the response against Covid-19, Staffordshire County Council has launched a number of practical measures intended to help businesses to restart and for the economy to get going again.  It is notable that the central government response has yet to get beyond discussions, but then, in their defence, they are looking at very big programmes that will involve huge sums of money for capital projects.  Our job is to roll up our sleeves and get on with the practical things that will make the difference between success and failure for many thousands of small and medium enterprises in Staffordshire.  While we will continue to be engaged in the conversations and the big ideas, concepts as the Small Business Grant Scheme and the Staffordshire Start-Up Programme, launched last week, are where we can really make a difference. 

All of this has to take place while we are still responding to Covid-19.  As the infection rate reduces, there are some very finely-balanced decisions to be made, the most important of which is how to deal with isolated outbreaks.  The national Test and Trace has gone live, and in Staffordshire we have an Initial Operating Capability, which we will develop into a Full Operating Capability through June.  While it is easy to criticise aspects of this strategy, the truth is that nobody has done this before and we will be learning by doing, and from other countries which are ahead of us in the progress of the disease.  The key will be containing outbreaks with rapid testing, importantly with results getting to the individuals and decision-makers in a timely manner.  The really difficult part will come when localised lockdowns or quarantine are required, which will get harder as people get used to their new-found freedoms after long-term lockdown.  We will continue to refine this policy as we learn and as new techniques and technology become available.