Pandemic recovery: scrutiny’s role in looking back and looking forward

Posted on 19/03/2021 by Ed Hammond.

It feels premature to admit it but it feels as though we are moving towards the end of the pandemic. We have a “roadmap” which we are told is “irreversible”, spring is coming, the local elections are on.

As the crisis recedes, it’s time to begin talking about reflection and recovery. In truth we almost started having this conversation last summer, but that was brought to a swift end in the autumn. Perhaps now we can finish the job.

Emergence from crisis is probably the best times to begin planning seriously for the future. The sense of emergency is still with us but so is the sense that better days are, inexorably, coming, and coming soon. It’s a time for bold decision-making, and for thinking very differently about the way that we work.

At the risk of repeating some of what we may have said on a similar subject nine months ago, there are two connected tasks to perform.

First, looking back – reflecting and debriefing from the crisis. How did we change, and what can we learn – as councils, and as communities? We’ve all made extraordinary efforts, and we need to identify what of those changes we want to keep permanently, and which we want to discard.

Second, looking forward. We have a generational opportunity to remake our institutions and priorities for a post-pandemic world. Many of the plans made before March 2020 are obsolete. This is about the economy and economic recovery, but it’s about a “levelling up” of society and of our relationships with one another, as well.

As ever, there’s a role for scrutiny in both of those tasks, but only if we take the action to design that scrutiny in right now. Scrutiny councillors will have the political acuity and understanding of community needed to make a big contribution as local conversations about the past, and the future, snowball in the coming months. Scrutiny could, in fact, be the place where some of those conversations end up happening.

Scrutiny as a crucible for public debate on the future shape of public services, public spaces, local areas? It sounds ambitious, particularly in an environment where those in leadership positions might wish to simply “return to normal”, or where the pressing financial challenge for councils overshadows the need for horizon scanning with an immediate, existential crisis for the sector.

But maybe this is why such a role for scrutiny in necessary – to force that conversation, to provide the organisational capacity for it to happen.

In the coming months we plan to produce material on scrutiny’s role in emergence from the pandemic, and to do so we want to understand more about what you are doing right now to plan for this. Do you have a strong sense in your mind about what you want to achieve? Is scrutiny still up to its neck with immediate, covid-related work? Whatever your experiences or state of readiness, we are keen to hear from you and to talk about this challenge. Get in touch with us at .

About the Author: Ed Hammond

Ed leads CfGS's work on devolution, transformation and on support to councils and other public bodies on governance and accountability.