‘Month and a bit note’ w/c 4 May – w/c 15 June: how time flies

Well, this is getting silly – seven weeks since my last ‘weeknote’. The distractions of busyness have resulted in a growing mountain of stuff that I feel I should include. The perfect recipe for a mental block that stands in the way of writing anything down. And so another week passes…

Anyway, here goes. These are a few highlights from the last couple of months.

What do I think has gone well?

There’s so much I could write about, with teams across Customer Services & ICT (and the wider Council as a whole) continuing to do amazing work. The weekly updates from our Chief Exec summarising achievements across the Council are genuinely awe inspiring, and despite the disruption caused by Covid-19 and lockdown we’re continuing to see great results across everyone’s work. As a few examples:

  • Benefits and financial support payments are being processed at record levels, helping people whose incomes have been impacted by lockdown 
  • Our support for people needing housing advice or in temporary accommodation and the emergency accommodation arrangements we’ve made for rough sleepers are playing a vital role in keeping people safe at this incredibly challenging time (I was also really impressed by the Benefits & Housing Needs service plan presentation which I joined a few weeks back – it was great to see the team celebrating their impressive achievements and looking ahead ambitiously)
  • Registrars have continued to receive lots of heart warming feedback thanking them for the support they’ve provided to people who’ve experienced bereavement
  • Our Revenues teams have also continued to play a vital role in supporting the local economy, paying out over £58 million in support grants (that figure is a couple of weeks old, so it will undoubtedly be even larger now)
  • The Customer Services teams have continued to do amazing work supporting tenants, leaseholders and other residents – including being an essential part of our support for vulnerable people helping them to access food (we’ve now delivered over 15,000 parcels of food), medicine, care services and befriending support
  • And across ICT, corporate business support and facilities our teams are continuing their impressive work helping the Council’s services to run smoothly and adapt the way they work in response to the impacts of Covid-19

I’ve been working closely with the teams who are making preparations for our future workforce and workplace arrangements based on the Government’s guidance for ‘Covid secure’ workplaces and the advice from Public Health England. This is beginning to pick up a good head of steam and last week we tested our vulnerability assessment process and proposed arrangements for office space with users from a range of services. I’m sure that arrangements like one-way systems won’t be universally popular, but the feedback from the colleagues I spoke with when I popped by was very positive overall. We’ll be reviewing the testing feedback this week and using that to make sure that the arrangements we put in place will work well. 

A few weeks ago I joined Tim (the Chief) for Hackney’s first all hands livestream. We had 740 people connect into the session and talked through how the Council has responded to Covid-19 and answered some of the questions that came in. It was nice to get positive feedback from several people afterwards, but it was a slightly odd experience talking to a screen without being able to see the people who were watching. (And the less we say about my inability to mute notifications when taking part in a livestream the better….! 😳)

We are now gradually starting to restore some of the services that we had to pause when lockdown came in. This is a process that needs careful planning and many of the arrangements we’ve put in place are going to have to continue as they are for a good while yet. One area we’ve been focusing on is Registrars, where the law still requires much of the team’s work to be done in-person and we need to take steps to address a growing backlog where we have had to pause important work such as birth registrations, weddings, civil partnerships and citizenship ceremonies. Aleya and the teams in facilities and property have been doing really good work to design a safe way to do this, which will also provide a useful reference point for other services moving forward.

What am I worried about, and what am I going to do about it?

A key area I’ve been focusing on recently is helping our ‘Gold’ management team and Cabinet pull together our plans for the second phase of our response to Covid. This reflects a shift from the initial emergency response to longer term actions, and we’ve been trying to design it in a way that continues the really effective cross-Council working that we’ve seen in the first phase. The ways that teams have come together during the initial response and delivered work at pace has been remarkable. Given the scale of the challenges ahead for the Council and the borough it’s important that we maintain that. 

In my last note I mentioned that I’m making sure that I take some of my annual leave, not waiting until Covid is ‘done’ before I take a break. I’ve found this really valuable and I’m still very keen to make sure that other colleagues are doing this too. We’re nearly three months into the leave year and given how hard everyone has been working I think it’s really important that we all find time to take a pause and recharge.

Following the incredible work at the start of lockdown to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers, the focus is now on how we can help them move on successfully to longer term arrangements. This is a rare opportunity to make a real impact on rough sleeping and the lives of very vulnerable people but is also very challenging in terms of finding the right sort of accommodation and wrap around support. Jennifer and team are working extremely hard to push this work forward and I’m trying to help make sure that this remains high on the agenda for our ‘second phase’ response plans.   

Another area of work that is even more important because of Covid-19 is digital inclusion. With so much of life having moved almost entirely online during lockdown, access to the internet and confidence with using digital tools have become essential for a wide range of vital needs including education, health, employment, access to services and food, and reducing the risk of isolation. This is complex and our response involves a number of teams across a range of work. This includes improving connectivity in the borough, developing our support for digital skills, engaging with community sector partners to support their work tackling the ‘digital divide’, and helping to deliver the Department for Education’s technology support scheme for disadvantaged children. The DfE scheme has been particularly challenging over the last couple of weeks as we want to get the equipment to children as quickly as possible but have had to resolve a number of complications in the way that the scheme has been designed before we can place the orders. The team has done great work to move this forward, including working collaboratively with other London boroughs via our friends in the London Office for Technology & Innovation, and hopefully we’ll see devices reaching children very soon. 

It’s also still early days for me in learning about the work of the new services that we’ve joined together with ICT. It’s been really useful to have some time with Aleya, Bez, David, Jennifer and Matthew to get closer to the work that their teams do, but I’m still very conscious of being a newbie and am trying to focus on listening so that I can make sure I’m getting up to speed quickly.

Something I’m learning

The dreadful killing of George Floyd in the US has brought issues of racial justice into stark focus. This has shone a light onto the history of slavery and racism, and how this still impacts on society today. I’ve been trying to learn more about the history behind this and reflect on what I can do to play my part in making society better and more equal.

I’ve found it deeply unsettling to see how embedded slavery has been in British society, how the law was used to assert that slaves were the property of their ‘owners’, and how slaves were treated as mere cargo, even when this led to truly barbaric acts. I strongly recommend watching David Olusoga’s two part documentary on Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.

I think that the one positive was that there were people with the moral courage to call out the barbarity of these practices and who were able to campaign successfully to abolish slavery. What is clear though is that the work of progress is not done and while we rightly celebrate the abolition we also need to all continue to do our bit to bring about a fair and just society.

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