Aoife Madden, Head of Business Improvement for Limerick City and County Council, writes on the initiatives being brought forward by Limerick City and County Council to solve problems using innovative systems solutions during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Covid-19 outbreak presents a completely new challenge to local government in Ireland. While ensuring the health and safety of citizens and the staff providing essential services, we must also look to the future to ensure our communities can adapt and prosper in a changing environment.
Innovation is not a new concept to Limerick City and County Council. With a dedicated Business Improvement team specialising in Lean Six Sigma and Service Design, the management team has consistently demonstrated its commitment to implementing the pillars outlined in the national policy framework, Our Public Service 2020. In this regard, there are have been systems put in place that have proved invaluable during the current crisis.
Limerick City and County Council has a fully complete Service Catalogue of the 700 services provided not only to the public but also internally. Data is critical in informing our ability to make decisions and, as our internal CRM system is connected to this catalogue, we have the ability to assess the demand for our essential services through the Covid-19 crisis. Our customer services team is now working remotely ensuring our customer care ethos is maintained while providing a consistent, reactive contact point for the people of Limerick.
As all capital projects are managed through a cloud-based project management system ‘Cora’, financial approvals are completed through a digital workflow, removing the necessity for paper approvals and ensuring payments can be made to suppliers through the crisis without interruption.
Limerick City and County Council’s mission statement is anchored in ambition, innovation and inclusivity and this has never been more evident as we work through the current crisis.
- The Limerick Covid-19 Community Response group has been set up to provide assistance to the vulnerable and elderly across Limerick in this time of need. In association with An Garda Siochana, Limerick GAA, HSE, Munster Rugby, FAI, Liveable Limerick, various religious orders and multiple volunteer groups, a call centre is now fully operational connecting those in need with volunteers across their community.
- Our libraries are partnering with Mid-West Mental Health Services and HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare to provide book stock and other materials to patients in acute units at hospitals in Limerick and to care facilities for vulnerable people who need to, but for various reasons cannot, self-isolate and will be staying in special care facilities during the Covid-19 crisis.
- Limerick City & County Library 3D Printers have been made available to the HSE for the production of face shields as part of a national campaign to facilitate printing for 18 hours per day.
- The Council is also rolling out “Reach Out, Stay Connected”. People who previously contacted the Limerick freephone or email support line will be contacted and asked if they would like to have a volunteer phone or email them periodically to check-in and have a chat in person or virtually.
- The Age Friendly Programme is rolling out Limerick Community Care Connect. The aim of this initiative is to assist people who are staying at home to keep both physically and mentally fit, and to help put a smile on their faces. Care packs will be delivered to people across the city and county. The packs will include fact and information sheets from various organisations, along with a few extra surprises, thrown in for good measure.
- Limerick City & County Council Culture and Arts Office is expanding its online submissions process for the grants programmes. Using the online system, we have piloted the process of holding assessment panels remotely. This ensures that grant calls can continue to be delivered and processed during the Covid-19 crisis, bringing essential funding to practitioners and organisations.
- All Sports Partnership activity has gone online including the delivery of training classes through Zoom.
- A new Covid-19 initiative Shop Limerick has been launched where independent retailers are supported in various ways to take their business online and register on this new platform with Limerick City and County Council.
- The midwest E-Hubs initiative involves building an online booking system under a single brand for the midwest to allow people to work remotely rather than travel to large offices in Dublin etc. This will be launched end of May early June and will cover hubs in Limerick City and County, and the Counties of Clare and Tipperary.
- New Covid-19 Loans with Microfinance Ireland administered via LEO Office, giving businesses with less than 10 employees a 1% lower interest rate.
The local authority was able to reduce contracting time using their new innovative SPOC contracting framework which rotates works between contractors on a fixed price. The team also uses a new surveying tool to design a scope for the contractor in one visit. Contractors were immediately assigned work on a rotating basis and as soon as they complete a job, they will get another piece of work to incentivise a quick turnaround and value for money. Works were assigned on Friday 27 March; when the essential works permits were announced local authority staff went to work over the weekend to design and issue permits so work could begin without delay on Monday 30th. The work also positively impacts building suppliers. The refurbishment team negotiated a local enterprise that provides a spray disinfecting facility and the builders are encouraged to contact them to carry out complete house sterilization before tenants move in. The refurbished units have been identified as social isolation units and for households that are homeless or overcrowded during the crisis. The Allocations, Welfare and Homeless Action Team are working closely to furnish and equip the houses so new tenants can move in without delay while generating sales in the local economy.
Communication and Remote Working
A robust ICT infrastructure meant almost 600 staff could quickly be set up to work remotely. They are now using support packages that include:
- Cisco Webex meetings and Microsoft teams are being used across the organisation to maintain communication and engagement across our teams.
- With almost 500 frontline staff with no access to email, the Business Improvement Department launched a staff app called Council Connect. This app provides information and videos which relate to Covid-19 with our Health and Safety team launching a series of practical videos on the management and use of Personal Protection Equipment. Staff also have access to information on wellbeing initiatives and the Employee Assistance Programme.
The Council is playing its central leadership role at local level, underpinning its democratic mandate and is committed to further advancing recovery of the City and County in the coming months and, indeed, years.