Learning from the pandemic
The immediate, operational impacts of the pandemic are receding. Government has removed the final legal restrictions associated with COVID self-isolation. Although the disease is still in circulation and new variants may yet emerge, policymakers are growing in confidence that the worst impacts of a resurgence can be countered through further (potentially annual) booster vaccinations and the advent of new therapeutic drugs.
For public bodies working at full capacity for the past two years, now is the time to take stock, and to think to the future.
Many councils carried out a first operational debrief in summer 2020, when the effects of the first infection wave lessened. Scrutiny functions, at this time, were also taking regular reports on pandemic impacts; CfGS recommended during this period that councils consider focusing scrutiny’s activity on pandemic impacts through a single committee.
Later in 2020 CfGS suggested that councils embark on “step back” reviews – taking stock, understanding what has gone well and what might need to be refined. This was with a view to the pandemic resuming its intensity, as it did.
It was in 2021 that we highlighted some of the broader opportunities associated with a more general debrief, to learn lessons, and to point a way to the future in a world that post-pandemic feels and looks very different. Although recovery has been slower than we might have hoped, we think the time is now right to embark on this activity in earnest.
In researching this guide we have looked at:
▪ The experiences of council scrutiny as described to us in in a series of workshops and webinars during 2021/22;
▪ Feedback from our 2021 and 2022 annual surveys;
▪ A light touch, desktop review of reviews of varying levels of depth in the pandemic, and its impacts, undertaken by around 100 councils;
▪ Where possible, evidence from operational debriefs undertaken by local authorities following the pandemic. It is worth noting that little documentary evidence relating to such exercises are publicly available.
This guide has been written with English councils in mind, although many of its provisions will also apply to scrutiny in Welsh authorities.