How will Covid-19 change the world?
In the space of a year Covid-19 has upended life as we know it.
None of us have known anything like it.
But while we have experienced the pandemic as a rupture, it’s becoming clear that in many areas Covid-19 has, in fact, acted as an accelerant, turbo charging changes that were already underway: exacerbating existing inequalities in health, access to education and employment; quickening the impact of technology on how and where we work, live, shop or meet.
It’s still not clear how many of these shifts will be permanent and what their final form will be.
In the initial stages of the pandemic there was a degree of optimism that for all the suffering involved we could “build back better”, that we would see more and smarter state investment, an increased valuing of key workers, a recognition of the importance of social care and a reset on social values and sustainability, with new thinking about growth and what really matters to us.
But this optimism is also tempered: by a fracturing of the common purpose that characterised the early stages of the pandemic, by compliance fatigue and most of all by the scale of the looming economic crisis.
Over the course of 2020, councils across the world have made heroic efforts to support their communities through the worst of the crisis: they have staged massive public health interventions, have supported the vulnerable, and have tried to hold together their local economies.
As we move into 2021, with the advent of vaccines and mass testing, we will see the balance shift from dealing with the immediate health crisis of Covid-19 to dealing with its enormous social and economic impact and its long-term effect on people’s wellbeing.
This journey – not of recovery, but of adaptation – will be a central purpose for local government over the coming years.
There’s no roadmap for what lies ahead, so our framework is intended to help local authorities ask a set of structured questions that will help them begin on this path.
It’s not intended to replace detailed planning in individual councils but to help place that planning within an overall context so that we can begin to imagine the shape of local government post-Covid.
We are populating this framework with a range of contributions: from policy briefings to music videos, from podcasts to academic research. They contain different perspectives and different voices.
Together they comprise six pillars that we hope will enable those in local government and beyond to think constructively about the choices we can make now to shape our lives beyond the pandemic.
Read our Location of Power work.
The Covid-19 pandemic shows that we need collaboration at international level and strategic national leadership. But it also demonstrates a vital role for local government and for community action.
- What can we learn about the appropriate levels of power and decision making?
- Does this crisis shed any new light on how power should be exercised at different levels and why?
- How do we play these lessons forward into the debate on devolution/levelling up?
- What are the dangers of excessive centralisation? How do we resist this?
- How do we measure the mission creep of centralisation? What are appropriate yardsticks for marking changes to devolution and centralisation? How would we know if localism was working?
- How do we make the case for a cosmopolitan localism; a connected localism that is outward-looking and open, not nativist or isolationist?
LGIU’s Sustainable Futures theme, as part of our Post-Covid Councils project, aims to highlight the practical and pressing opportunities open to local government and its partners in building a cleaner, greener, more sustainable and ultimately fairer future for all.
Topics we plan to cover range from energy reforms, transition towns, employment, tourism, wellbeing, place – shaping, resilience and much more. We will be working in collaboration with our members and others through briefings, blogs, case studies including international examples and events to develop a long-term strategic vision about how to best support a sustainable future for councils and the communities they serve.
Read the Place and Community page. What have we learned about place and community? The immediate danger of Covid-19 seems to have generated a degree of community spirit and common endeavour, seen in everything from mutual aid groups to clapping for carers. Will this continue as the pandemic drags on and the economic impact begins to bite.
On the flip side the impacts of the pandemic have not been equally spread with BAME people and deprived communities affected most severely. Will we start to confront these inequalities or will Covid merely enhance pre-pandemic levels of social injustice?
- Do we pull together or fall apart?
- What have been the levers of community in this time and what can we learn?
- This is a shared event but with different experiences: how do we learn and apply lessons from the impacts to all communities and groups?
- What concrete things can be done to support place and community cohesion into the future? Are there mechanisms, structures, institutions etc, at the local and national level that we can draw on, develop or create?
Local government was in crisis even before Covid-19 struck. All the challenges local government faced pre-Covid – social care, sustainable finance etc. – are only getting worse while attention is focused on this crisis. Now, Covid-19 may leave councils across the country at risk of financial failure.
- What needs to happen post-Covid to fix this and what damage has been done in the meantime?
- How can we ensure that less visible or popular services like community mental health do not get left behind?
Read our Trust and Governance work.
Covid-19 landed in a world in which levels of trust in institutions and faith in democratic processes were already eroding. We are at the point where fears of decline are crystallising to signs of demise. This poses profound challenges to political and public life that need immediate action to counter.
- How can democratically accountable institutions restore trust?
- In a world of networked news, how can institutions fight against misinformation and disinformation?
- How has the Covid-19 crisis changed the role and perception of institutions and elected representatives?
- What is the role of expertise and evidence in political decision making? How has the crisis highlighted the tension between advisors and deciders?
- Have the people lost faith in democracy? If so, what do we do to remind them of the power and value of government by the people, for the people?
View our new municipalism work.
Responding to these challenges means that councils will have to change. We need a new form of municipalism for the twenty-first century. Not just about bureaucracies but about relationships. Not just about bricks and mortar but about a new social architecture that we are all part of.
- What is the role of local government in the future? Services? Economic growth? Or a more expansive idea of place-leadership and wellbeing?
- How should councils emerge as institutions?
- What different forms of working and of organisational culture do we need?
- How do councils function as institutions in a networked world?
- How can local authorities be more embedded within their communities and build community resilience?
We need your insight and experience as we develop scenarios and support for our member councils. There are many ways to get involved and shape the discussion – from online events to sharing your own case studies and think pieces to share with LGIU Members and Followers. Let us know how you would like to be involved and which topics you are most interested in.