COVID-19 has impacted every facet of our lives – from hybrid working to the way we shop to the way we travel to the way we socialise; the list goes on – and on. And we have become almost entirely local – all of the time; we are walking more, cycling more, creating more waste and recycling, increasing pressures on broadband effectiveness – all just by being local.
I have been reviewing some statistics for London; residents are walking more with the percentage of trips made all on foot rising by another 11% last year to just under 50% in 2020; cycling in some parts of the capital is up 250% from 2019; commercial waste versus household waste has reversed (we are creating more tonnes of waste and recycling at home than ever before); the use of public places and spaces for socialising and exercising has increased ten-fold. The statistics across the rest of the UK are similar.
This has led to increased pressures on councils – and specifically ‘place’ directorates having to completely re-think how they provide better and more efficient local services to their residents and communities right now, but also for the future. Which is challenging because nobody knows what further lifestyle shifts we will be making as we move into the next phases of this whole new world.
So how are local authorities responding?
We are seeing significant pockets across the country where ‘place’ is currently being prioritised ahead of other corporate directorates and directives – be it the widening of pavements to accommodate social distancing, the upgrade of bus lanes to improve journey times, increased cycle hangars, the introduction of more regularised household waste collections, to the complete overall and regeneration of town centres and re-assessment and re-development of capital and assets (of which there are many right across the country). These types of projects, both small and large scale, require new skillsets and radical new thinking – for now, and for later.
As a leading UK executive search recruiter, we are experiencing a significant uplift in ‘place’ roles coming to the market; those being within public realm, civil protection, highways, environment, and crime, safety and enforcement. One of our recent candidates told us: ‘Traditionally a very structured service provision offer, we are now having to think far more creatively, be more adaptable in our working strategies, and be more collaborative with both our residents and communities, and our local partner organisations. Our corporate plans and methodologies need to be clear and succinct – and both reactive and proactive; who knows what is coming next.’
Another said: ‘COVID-19 was never part of any plan; we are having to respond quickly and effectively to make major town centre transformational changes in order to keep our customers safe.’
The upside is that what we have been through this past 18 months has made working within ‘place’ fast moving, ever changing and critical. For many councils finding the best talent for roles within this area has become significantly more challenging, hence they are reaching out to executive search recruiters to successfully fulfil them – these recruiters being able to map out, identify and engage with candidates with different mindsets, modernised thinking, and a strong sense of commerciality. Natasha Hilton-Keane, our director of recruitment says: ‘In order to respond to the changing world we live in, “place” directorates are going to require increased flexibility within their workforce with a broader range of skillsets so they can effectively respond at pace to these new dynamics.’
The use of alternative assessment methodologies is equally becoming more integral to the fulfilment of the right candidates; while technical capability is still clearly a pre-requisite, we are finding the use of profiling and behavioural tools becoming more integral to the process. Through these forms of assessment, we are able to define candidate’s adaptability and resourcefulness while also testing their leadership and future thinking abilities.
Reality tells us the impact of the virus in the UK differs regionally; the Kekst CNC COVID-19 Opinion Tracker shows +27% UK net positive for local government’s response to the virus but that masks regional variation from a low of 10% in Yorkshire and Humber to a high of 31% in the South West. Ultimately places with good local leadership and the best talent will emerge stronger and will be best placed to cope with the economic consequences.
Kate Wilson is development manager at Osborne Thomas