Local authority risk managers face many challenging decisions in maintaining essential services and protecting staff during the coronavirus
Parks management, refuse collection and other local essential services need to continue during lockdown, but their risk management needs to adapt
The situation is fast moving and local authority risk managers need to try and keep up to date with a shifting environment and offer the best risk management guidance to council officers and staff.
For example, the advice around the wearing of face masks is fluid  at both the international and national level. It seems likely that the advice to UK citizens, will follow that of other European countries and change to recommend the wearing of masks at least in some circumstances in the coming days and weeks.
In other areas, changes have had to be made to the way local authority services are delivered and risk management has to adapt too.
Take refuse collection services, these are continuing but understandably under some strain. On the 7 April the government issued guidance on how rubbish and recycling collections could continue to take place safely with a reduced workforce, with food and rubbish prioritised, and with some services delayed. Different authorities are taking diverse approaches such as Leeds City Council, so staying up to date is vital.
The redeployment of local authority staff to the coronavirus frontline is taking place across the UK. In one example North East Lincolnshire Council has redeployed council staff to work alongside volunteers to ensure its elderly and vulnerable population has access to essential services.There are a number of issues that need to be considered by risk managers thinking about how to effectively and safely redeploy staff and RMP has issued a guidance note which may be useful in planning.
The policy on the opening or closing of public spaces has been another area where local authorities have had to risk assess and take individual decisions. There have been controversies when parks have been closed, and concerns when they are kept open. On 18 April the Government stepped in and announced that public parks must stay open.
The advice on keeping parks open has some sensible caveats, including that exercise being limited to approximately one hour per day, two meter social distancing rules are adhered to, and that hand washing should happen as soon as people return home.
Managing a changing risk landscape on an individual authority basis could become even more difficult if restrictions are lifted in a non-uniform way.
Experts have been saying all along that the UK is generally around two to three weeks behind Italy’s stage of the epidemic, and that London in particular is perhaps a week ahead of other parts of the country. The focus so far has been on national level guidance from the UK government and the devolved Scottish and Welsh governments.
However, as the lockdown continues, there could be calls for regional variation. Lockdown constraints may be relaxed and different guidance issued for different geographic areas, depending on local conditions as the spread of the virus is contained at different speeds in different places. Although there is not uniform agreement that a phased approach will be the most effective.
There is no doubt that the current coronavirus offers a number of potential snares for local authority risk managers. We are here to offer support and advice as you need it, so please get in touch and we’ll be pleased to help if we can.
Published Date: 6th May 2020
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