Local governments across Australia were required to navigate many different challenges created by the impacts of COVID-19. Now, as the country is collectively recording very low levels of infections, business and government alike are looking to what a COVID normal future might look like.
KPMG has been conducting workshops and webinars with councils over the past few months to better understand the unique concerns this sector faces and have created a framework that can be used to help tackle these difficulties.
Our framework offers a way for councils to direct their thinking around recovery plans and suggests a range of activities that should be considered at the resilience, recovery and new reality stages across six dimensions of organisational recovery – customer, workforce, financial, digital and data, operational and policy and regulation.
COVID-19 has disrupted communities and their day-to-day lives in a way never before experienced, this means councils have had to find new ways to engage with their customers while ensuring there is continuity and compassion at the service delivery level. A majority of councils (66 percent) believe that continuity of service is the key focus area, and nine out of 10 councils selected business continuity as an area of focus. This disruption has meant councils have needed to consider:
For councils, the road to a better future state means that they will need to review the levels of service they are offering, and consider which services are viewed as the most important by the community. Once these services have been identified, consideration will need to be given to the most vulnerable members of the community and how teams can best connect with them, during normal times, and times of crisis. Councils need to refocus on their purpose within the communities that they serve and ensure equitable delivery to all customers.
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The road to recovery for councils’ workforces needs to consider how they can embed the benefits realised during COVID-enforced remote working and create a framework around flexible working arrangements that give staff the options they require, safely. Local governments will need to consider a number of elements to plan for this new way of working.
Local governments will need to consider how to maintain engagement with their workforce and provide support for these new ways of working. Leadership teams will need to understand and review how to manage staff in this workforce model – focus will need to shift towards productivity KPIs rather than time at the desk.
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With reductions in revenue, many councils have needed to ensure that resources were deployed in ways that made the most beneficial impacts to their communities. The areas of focus will need to be on:
Local government needs to undertake strategic financial planning. They will need to focus on refining asset schedules to drive investment in planned works to deliver a reduction in costs. At a time when revenue is down, many councils have been looking for new revenue sources, with little success, so some are revisiting balance sheets and searching for way to commercialise or divest assets. Some are finding they can do more within the same cost envelope through identifying and tapping into skill sets of existing staff and reassigning them within the organisation. Finding this extra capacity can mean less external expenditure.
|Next steps: Discover our roadmap for local governments to guide long term financial planning.|
Having been at Murrindindi post 2009 fires – there was a big line of revenue support from state for recovery funding. Some of the impacts of COVID are similar but I doubt there will be same levels of support available.
Many Regional and Rural councils don't have capacity to raise income from new sources. Asset and service rationalisation may be a new reality. Let’s hope not though. Government initiatives, such as the Victorian Government’s Rural Councils Transformation Program, are now even more important post COVID-19 as a mechanism to mitigate this heightened risk.
The case for scalable, robust and secure technology has been highlighted during this time of disruption. Now is the time to examine what possible risk exposure newly embedded tech may have created, what elements should be taken forward in the architecture solution and what changes are required to create an ongoing, safe and reliable technology environment.
Local governments need to consider:
Data, and its seamless integration and accessibility, continues to be the number one challenge for councils so they need to revisit and prioritise IT strategies and initiatives, and decide what to fund and when. The ability to have a single, reliable source of data is becoming critical, while at the same time the risks that cyber poses are becoming more of a focus. While councils continue to struggle to source the required technical capabilities, more consideration is being given to allowing field services staff access to apps to help them deliver services more efficiently.
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I think data integration is a long-term problem, but exacerbated by current circumstances.
During COVID-19, there was a major upheaval in the way local government services were delivered and experienced. Councils now need to consider the positives that can be taken from this to ensure operational resilience and agility into the future. To do this, they should consider:
The future of what services need to be delivered and what shape they need to be delivered in, is being revisited across all sectors and industries. For local government this means a reconsideration of what role facilities and assets will need to play in this new normal. Councils will need to understand what the cost to serve is with a customer lens, and consider shared, or outsourced, services as a means to reduce cost and find efficiencies – aligned with set benchmarks.
|Next steps: Discover insights from KPMG and the Public Sector Network’s Local Government Transformation event.|
...business continuity in crisis mode has delivered a lot. But to really have hard conversations about what is viable, and most needed into the future is hard.
When situations are changing rapidly, the policy and regulatory environment that local governments work within can be a constraint to the agility required to respond. This recent crisis has indicated a number of ways that change can be enacted or optimised.
The need for speed in the local government’s response to the impact of COVID-19 highlighted the rigidity of many policies and procedures. There is now an opportunity to drive a more risk-oriented approach which can support greater agility while managing key council exposures. In addition, workforce policies require a review to support the new normal ways of working and embed increased flexibility and mobility in the workforce.
The road to the future for local government involves councils’ learning from and leveraging their COVID-19 responses to improve customer centricity, enhance digital and workforce enablement, re-think services and how they’re supported by assets and infrastructure, and become more agile and responsive as organisations.