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Council staff on swine flu alert

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Nearly nine-out-of-10 councils are preparing to shift staff from low-priority roles to secure key frontline services during a severe outbreak of swine flu, an LGC survey has revealed.

The move is the number one measure chief executives and senior officers said they were planning to deal with the anticipated effects of the pandemic on both staff and residents.

Meanwhile, 82% of respondents said allowing staff to work from home was part of their strategy, while 74% said closing non-essential services was being actively considered.

I’ve got a lot of confidence in people’s preparedness – this is what local government does and why residents pay us

Paul Bettison, LGA

And 40% said staff leave could be cancelled to keep essential services running while 18% said recently-retired staff could be brought back to provide essential services.

The Department of Health’s latest reckoning suggests that councils and other organisations should be planning for swine flu related absences of up to 25% among social care staff alone.

Paul Bettison (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s environment board which leads on civil contingency planning, said councils would find themselves making unpopular decisions in a bid to keep vital services running.

But he said that leaving grass uncut to free grounds staff to deliver Tamiflu to vulnerable residents, or closing leisure centres because of staff sickness rather than drafting in workers from other areas should be considered.

“This will be all about local authorities showing leadership in their areas,” he said.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in people’s preparedness – this is what local government does and why residents pay us.”

Jim Bagley, emergency planning officer at South Norfolk Council, told a Local Government Association swine flu briefing that audits should be conducted to identify officers with unique knowledge or access to crucial passwords, whose unplanned absence could cripple services.

He said cross-training staff to cover roles in such events was vital, as was the potential transfer of staff from non-critical services like ‘blue badge’ administration, mobile libraries, and debt recovery to front-line roles.

Mr Bagley added that councils would be well advised to make contingency plans with groups such as the Royal Women’s Voluntary Service and WI to help with extreme staff shortages.

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