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President update: 18th December

18 December 2020

Christmas is going to look very different for most people this year, but even so, it feels something of a relief to be coming to the end of 2020. Although there is plenty of work and more challenges ahead, and it is certainly not a time to be letting our guards down, I think we will all be glad to get this year behind us.

I think ADEPT members can look back on a year that has been one of the hardest we have known, but also one where we can really say we have stepped up to do what we do best: support and advocate for our places, communities and people.

Given the increased awareness of the relationships between place and environment, health and wellbeing and social justice, our work to create a joint position with our colleagues in the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services now seems almost prescient. I’m glad to say that the work Darryl began in his year as President has continued, as we present a far stronger collective voice to government about the important preventative role of place.

The pandemic has seen us work swiftly – for example in implementing active travel funding, distributing government support to local businesses, getting our Household Waste Recycling Centres back up and running smoothly, supporting community groups to deliver food parcels, as well as reassigning colleagues to maintain day to day services.

Similarly, ADEPT has worked hard to support members. We worked with DfT and the Highways Sector Council (HSC) to produce safety guidance for highways maintenance teams. It’s great news that representation of local highways authorities on the HSC has grown with the appointment of Ann Carruthers from Leicestershire. We worked with Defra, LAWRAC, NAWDO and the LGA to co-create the weekly Waste Survey that monitored the impacts of COVID-19 on services. We also worked with Defra and IPROW to measure the impacts of more people using our public rights of way. It is hard to believe now, but such was the fear of the virus that we had to create social media campaigns to support our highways and waste keyworkers, but the pandemic has served to help raise public awareness of the importance of place based services and the people who deliver them. 

Like so many of us, we spent more time on MS Teams, attended more webinars and watched our conferences and membership programmes go online. I recall that when we published our Strategic Plan in November 2019, we talked about digital technology being an enabler and predicted more online engagement and mobile working. Little did we foresee how quickly, and for how many of us, our working lives would become home-based and online. We also know that for many of our teams across place based services, this isn’t the case. The pressures on them during the pandemic to stay safe and still deliver our day to day services has been immense, and I would like to thank each and every one of them.

Lockdowns have placed untold pressures on local people and communities, but also our businesses and economies will need huge support to survive. Our high streets feel very different this Christmas and our pubs will not host the same gatherings even for the lucky few in Tier 1. With EY, we published Resolute and Resilient - Safeguarding the economy during local lockdowns to provide a toolkit for place directors faced with supporting their economies through local lockdowns. Even with the vaccine rollout, it will be sometime before we get back to something resembling normal.

And there’s a question so many of us are wrestling with – what should normal look like? Covid has forced us into a re-evaluation that we have all begun in our work to address climate change. It will take some time to have answers, but we know that reduced traffic and increased active travel has improved air quality, and promoted greater health and wellbeing. More people working at home has seen a greater appreciation of neighbourhoods and local green spaces. How much of this will continue and should we plan for? Certainly, the Government has recognised the need for a green economic recovery, but how far will this will be reflected in supporting the critical role of local authorities through empowering local leadership, funding and resources remains to be seen. 

I talk more about ADEPT’s work to tackle climate change and this year’s policy position papers, which have all contributed to the conversation, over on the climate change blog. However, I would like to congratulate all our Live Labs teams for managing to continue developing and running their trials through a global pandemic. As they have proved, it is still possible to create innovative programmes that show how we can adopt new technologies to transform our local places and benefit our communities. This year has seen trials of plastic roads, using and generating kinetic, solar and thermal energy, extending the use of street sensors to support adult social care and much, much more.

Finally, I’d like to thank Ian Fielding for his work as Chair of the Waste Group for the last four years. Ian has steered our response to COVID-19, the Resources and Waste Strategy and driven our thinking on working towards a circular economy. At the same time, I also welcome our new Chair, Steve Palfrey who will take up his new role next month. I’d also like to thank Laura Church for her work chairing the East of England Sub-national Board and in putting together the programme for this year’s Autumn Conference and welcome Steve Cox who will also be taking over in the New Year. 

2020 has certainly been a rollercoaster,  so I hope you all get to enjoy the approaching holiday. All that remains is for me now is to wish you a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas.