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The response to COVID-19 – a regional view

Much of the coverage of the COVID-19 response has focused on the capital. But organisations outside London are facing their own set of challenges in the fightback against the virus. Helen Alwell, Consultant in our Public Sector Executive Search Team, gives the on-the-ground view of regional response to the coronavirus crisis.

At Penna, we work with Councils across the UK on executive recruitment. Much of the coverage of the corona crisis has focused on the South. But authorities regionally have faced their own unique struggles during lockdown. Their geographies, populations and challenges are different. For instance, some are extremely remote. Others are urban authorities with vast inequalities in their resident make-up.

Here’s my view on response in the regions.

It’s hit harder than the headlines hint at

Figures show areas outside the capital have felt fierce consequences of the outbreak too. Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool have all reported high case levels per 100,000 people – with data comparable to that of London[1].

Coronavirus has also hit Council finances in the regions, hard. The correlation between Liverpool’s COVID-19 mortality rate (one of the highest outside the capital) and the fact the City Council had one of the biggest post-austerity budget cuts in the country can’t be ignored. Councils within the Liverpool city region have estimated a £137 million funding gap between government grants and money actually spent on the coronavirus threat[2].

Vulnerable populations are at risk regionally

Many councils are dealing with the increased difficulties arising from providing care to vulnerable individuals during this crisis. In large rural expanses, reaching elderly residents to provide social care is problematic. Where voluntary carers have had to isolate away from those they look after, Councils have stepped into the breach. Coupled with this, one senior figure remarked;

“My authority has also been coping with having to intervene with providers who were withdrawing viability on a much shorter timeframe than usual, providers are reducing on a daily basis, we have supported as much as we can to aid the sustainability of the sector.”

Supporting failing providers is putting strain on an already stretched system regionally.

Outside cities, community support is harder to come by – so social isolation is as big an issue as the virus. Poverty is a known factor in exacerbating the efficiency of COVID-19. Many of the poorest areas of the UK are regional and, in England alone, residents in these areas have died at twice the rate of those in affluent ones from COVID-19.

Adult social care is particularly overwhelmed

As our contact in a regional Council Directorship highlighted, adult social care is particularly feeling the strain;

“The pandemic has completed exposed the total absence of resilience within the sector, as we are all aware Adult Social Care is at the core of the public sector. We are exposing a workforce that is particularly sensitive to Covid 19, the workforce are having to deal with conditions that affect them personally and many have caring responsibilities for family members in addition to having to maintain their roles. Unfortunately, the workforce on a whole are not well paid and many are on causal employment contract which adds to the stresses and strains of the sector.

When the directives came in surrounding restrictions and isolation, the Adult Social Care workforce immediately took a hit within the first weeks, as a lot of workers are so poorly paid they made the decision to leave the sector and switched for less risky or better paid casual employment, this inevitably put more pressure on the system."

Particularly concerning is the decrease in social workers when they’re needed most. A concerted drive to recruit and retain these vital keyworkers is needed. As we’ve discussed in other posts, digital recruitment may be the answer.

Executives and their teams are strained, but coping

At Penna, we’re privileged to be working with Councils on recruitment during the crisis. In fact, we’ve completed over 40 executive hires during lockdown – all done digitally.

In doing this, we’ve connected with senior figures across local government. Conversations recounted the valiant efforts individuals, departments and authorities have undertaken to keep residents safe.

One Director of Adult Social Services, said;

Employees across the Council have been redeployed to keep the service afloat, the workforce across all local authorities have been amazing, they have stepped into the breach at times desperate and the wonderful team who have been able to secure staff with some relevant experience in particular from the Council, Health Sectors and Providers.

Many residents have had to be rehomed following recovery from the virus and being unable to return to their care homes due to capacity and also the issue of cross-contamination, I believe the Covid crisis has thrown a spotlight on just how brittle the sector is and how much finance and support is needed to sustain it.”

We are Penna, and we are here for you

Our conversations with clients and connections paint a picture of a social care system facing significant challenges to continue to provide vital services to the vulnerable. We are here to help you with your social care recruitment and executive-level hires to ensure your service is as strong as it can be.

If we can help you, please get in touch with me at

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