Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus’

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.   

Dealing with the present, and planning for the future

Monday, April 20th, 2020

It is a couple of weeks since I wrote a blog entry, mostly because I have been doing a number of video messages for The Knot, but in the spirit of planning for getting back to normal, here goes. Experts believe we are in the peak of the Coronavirus outbreak, and it is clear, that although the statistics of Covid-19 deaths are shocking, the NHS and Social Care Services are holding up well. Having done a brilliant job of constructing the temporary Nightingale Hospitals in London and Birmingham so quickly, it looks like they might now be used for other purposes, as the rate of illness has been kept within the Health and Care system’s ability to admit and treat. That is the strategy, and it seems to be working. The shielding operation whereby up to 1.5 million of the UK’s most vulnerable people are being supported as they self-isolate for 12 weeks, is, in my opinion, a piece of genius, and makes the most of the “N” in our NHS. To my knowledge, no other country is attempting this, as no other country has the level of personal health data at a national level to be able to achieve it. If it works, and I believe it will, it will reduce the death toll from this disease considerably. 

In Staffordshire, the care sector, in which we count Care and Nursing Homes as well as domiciliary care in people’s own homes, is holding up well so far. Starting our efforts to procure and supply Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) early in the emergency has paid huge dividends; we now have a stable and resilient supply chain with trusted suppliers, which has maintained the confidence of the users. That is absolutely key in a contingency operation where demand surges and ebbs, sometimes unpredictably. Having a reliable supply of PPE is a key factor in maintaining and bolstering the morale and effectiveness of the care workforce, and I would ascribe a good portion of the success to those efforts. Recruitment and training for our I Count and I Care volunteers continues, to create an emergency workforce that is able to fill-in where necessary in Care and Nursing Homes where staff are off work, self-isolating for Covid-19. 

Looking ahead, we are already planning to play a leading role in the recovery of Staffordshire’s economy and society. There will be a huge amount to do, and we will have to adopt a pragmatic approach. That said, there is much that come out of this terrible outbreak that is good; I would cite community spirit, the value of public service and a willingness to look at different ways of working to name but three. At Staffordshire County Council, we have cemented into practice the 4 years of cultural and digital changes that we achieved through our Smart Working programme; over 3,000 colleagues are successfully working from home, and we held our first Cabinet meeting over Skype last week. Many commentators are pointing out that things will never be the same again – we need to make sure that we choose the ones that we want.       

Stepping up to help our most vulnerable

Monday, March 30th, 2020

As I write this blog entry on Sunday morning, the UK death toll from Coronavirus has passed the 1000 mark; the success of the Government’s excellent concept to shield the most vulnerable 1.5 million, 22,000 of whom live in Staffordshire, will be key to keeping the final toll down.  I am not aware of any other country that has adopted this approach, but it is inspired; this is a mild illness for most people – we see the Prime Minister continuing to operate digitally in self-isolation while he recovers from it – but for others, particularly those with underlying conditions and frailty, it is deadly.  We forget that flus and colds take many people’s lives in a normal year, and the key to containing this outbreak to those levels is for those most vulnerable to be isolated from the illness until well after the peak subsides.   We estimate that there are another 130,000 Staffordshire residents who are vulnerable because of their age or conditions, but lie outside the shielded group, a proportion of whom will require our support to remain safely in their homes.  The majority of our efforts this week have been in operationalising this strategy. 

The I Count Campaign has achieved an enormous 700 of our colleagues volunteering to change roles in support of the current crisis, as well as 80 students from Staffordshire and Keele Universities.  The most immediate problem is adding capacity and capability to the adult social care workforce, particularly at the top end of the spectrum in personal care – helping people living in their own homes to wash, dress and prepare meals.  This is to avoid the metaphorical “jaws of the vice” closing on us, with increased demand as the hospitals seek to discharge more patients to care for Covid-19 sufferers, and the workforce reducing as staff contract the illness.  We have already conducted our first 2 training sessions for colleagues this week – a day for each – which demonstrates the urgency of the situation, and we will be gearing up this week to recruit, brief, train and deploy more through our in-house care provider, Nexxus Care.  If you can help, please do.

The I Care Campaign has also launched, aimed at external individuals, partners and organisations to join the Adult Social Care workforce.  We are being deliberately broad in our reach and doing our best to solve the issues surrounding this complex and ambitious scheme before they occur, but with the peak of the outbreak predicted some time in April, we need to act now, and we’ll work out any issues that we’ve missed later. 

Lastly, I’m hugely impressed by the way in which Staffordshire’s schools have “turned to” and looked after vulnerable children and the children of key workers.  We have been quite clear that every Staffordshire County Council employee is a key worker, and, although many of us can work from home, there will be some, and I include myself in that cohort, who must go to the office at least some of the time.  Managers and leaders in the County Council are limiting those to the absolute minimum, but if you are needed for essential work in your workplace, please take the necessary precautions around hand-washing and social distancing and come to the office.  We all must do our bit if we are to get through what will be a very testing time in the weeks ahead.          

Coronavirus, and International Women’s Day

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

The coronavirus has understandably grabbed everybody’s attention this week, with more than 200 cases confirmed in the UK and 4 in Staffordshire as I write on Sunday morning. We are very much part of the Government’s strategy, which is still in the “contain” phase, but preparing for the “delay” phase, which will inevitably come. As Professor Whitty, the Government’s  Chief Medical Officer stated, we have a slim to nil chance of avoiding this becoming a widespread outbreak across the UK. We are fortunate in Staffordshire County Council in having Dr Richard Harling as our Director of Health and Care.  Richard is a cool-headed public health professional, and I listen intently to his advice. As he explains it, the aim is to delay the outbreak until the warmer weather when it will be less intense and damaging. It makes eminent sense – a summer cold is usually a sniffle compared with the full-blown chesty cough in winter. The potential issue, as with all flus and associated viral infections, is for those with underlying health conditions and the frail elderly. Richard and the Incident Management Team (IMT) are working through our strategy and tactics, and my advice is to use them as your first port of call for information – I certainly am.

More locally, we have switched the cleaning of our offices towards cleaning surfaces on a daily basis, and are ensuring that hand-washing facilities are kept hygienic and stocked. I was relieved and happy to hear that our consumption of liquid soap in the lavatories has risen markedly in recent days. There also is much that we can do across our lives to help, whether at home with our children, relatives and friends, travelling or at leisure. Until this passes, we should all be thinking consciously about what we are doing, including those things that come as second nature. I’m reminded of the public information posters from the Second World War, when the government were attempting successfully to change behaviours: one in particular, “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases,” springs to mind. Very little changes – we have faced previous issues, and, with the level-headed approach that we are taking, we’ll get through this one.    

On a more celebratory note, I am writing this blog entry on International Women’s Day. One of the undoubted strengths of Staffordshire County Council is that our workforce is 76% female.  I am reminded of an economic historian, David Landes, who wrote his seminal work “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”, where he examined the seven leading human civilisations for reasons why they succeeded and ultimately failed. He stated that any society which excludes a proportion of its human capital is handicapping itself before it starts, and on that basis there are few dumber things to do than to do that on the basis of gender. My own experience in SCC, having spent much of my life in the Army which is 85% male, is that we get better-considered and more resilient decisions with greater diversity. I’m particularly proud that our Smart Working has been so well received across the organisation, and particularly by female colleagues.  My aspiration is that it, and other measures, result in a more empowered, confident and agile organisation, in which we see greater diversity at all levels.