‘Councils & COVID: Lessons from the Year of Discontent’ was an integral webinar resulting from key findings that emerged from our recent public sector research on the impact of COVID-19 on remote working, communications and organisations’ use of emerging technology.
Hosted on 28th January, RingCentral, in collaboration with Gov News, partnered up to lead our first local government webinar of 2021. Our ambition was to explore and discuss reflections from key local government individuals as the sector undergoes great levels of change. Who better to help us than leading figure speakers driving digital change at the forefront of local government than our esteemed panel of speakers:
- Joe Brackenborough – Digital Transformation Manager at Thanet District Council
- Phil Murkin – Head of Digital and Business Change, Swindon Borough Council
- Cllr Robert Jandy – Cabinet Member for Organisational Excellence, Swindon Borough Council
- Raj Mack – Head of Business Engagement, Information, Technology & Digital Services, Birmingham City Council
- Gareth Johns – Senior Director of Vertical Solutions, RingCentral
Read on as we highlight each speaker’s main points from their session.
Gareth Johns, RingCentral and Joe Brackenborough, Thanet District Council
RingCentral’s own Gareth Johns kicked off the event agenda with Joe Brackenborough from Thanet District Council, who are moving their telephony system to RingCentral’s cloud services. Together, Gareth and Joe discussed Thanet Council’s response to COVID-19 highlighting three key areas:
- How citizens and public services have been impacted
Without the reliability of face-to-face communications, Thanet District Council had to quickly re-imagine how they interacted with and delivered services to citizens, many of whom had little exposure to technology. Through increased telephony comms and substantial website changes to make essential information more accessible, Joe explains how they addressed this challenge with great results.
- The health and wellbeing of staff as they navigate changing work practices
COVID-19 required Thanet, like many councils, to adapt the working practices of over 500 staff almost overnight. Joe’s digital team played a huge role in this transition and immediately provided training and Q&A sessions to ensure all staff had the tools and skills they needed to work remotely.
- The subsequent effect COVID-19 had on the continuity of council business
To keep council procedures running, Joe’s team launched virtual council meetings and streamed them via YouTube to enable councillors and citizens to maintain live open and transparent communication – a crucial aspect of the council’s democratic process.
Phil Murkin and Cllr Robert Jandy, Swindon Borough Council
Phil Murkin led the next session focussing on changes his team made to staff laptops and hardware to enable work-from-anywhere solutions. This included the adoption of contact centre telephony systems, widespread use of Microsoft Teams and AI and machine learning technology – key milestones in digital transformation projects which Phil noted were already underway at Swindon Council, that COVID-19 had accelerated.
The council has also been heavily involved in supporting the redeployment of staff into priority services, which took diligent strategic planning. Alongside this, however, Swindon still progressed with their big HR projects, including launching a children’s social care system – a real achievement.
Cllr Robert Jandy echoed these challenges, from the perspective of mental health and wellbeing of staff and citizens alike, and how this has evolved throughout the lockdown phases. Cllr Jandy observed how COVID-19 had given people the opportunity to build new skills in technology – how supplementing alternatives to office working had enabled people to flourish in new and exciting ways.
Raj Mack, Birmingham City Council
As leader within IT and digital services at one of the UK’s largest councils, Raj determined Birmingham’s COVID response through shared knowledge with other councils. They placed staff wellbeing at the heart of their changes, and part of this was ensuring they had the equipment and support to work remotely. Raj noted it took massive effort from the council to rapidly roll-out around 9,000 laptops to staff, as well as offer training in use of online tools to collaborate more effectively. This, alongside the launch of an IT hub to enhance their communications with citizens, meant the council was able to seamlessly continue all vital council services throughout the pandemic without disruption.
The webinar is available to watch
There was much more rich discussion than this blog can contain. Hear more from local government speakers on what they have learnt so far in the face of COVID-19 challenges.