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Taking the wider view with swine flu

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LGC’s exclusive survey of local authority staff shows they are preparing to lead from the front during the swine flu pandemic. Nearly 90% said they had no plans to avoid the office if there was an outbreak at their council.

Perhaps the ‘show must go on’ mentality of many reflects councils’ confidence in their ability to cope with the pandemic.

Some 86% say they have taken robust action to minimise the impact on staff; two-thirds have a solidstrategy to cut the risk to vulnerable people in the community.

This confidence is founded on sound planning. A significant amount of work, and creative thinking, has gone into preparation — from increasing homeworking to temporarily moving or sharing staff between departments or
authorities and bringing back the recently retired.

But there are areas of concern. Much of the action planned affects staff. About 40% of councils would cancel leave. Some fear for colleagues with underlying health problems. Others looked jealously at private sector employers handing out Tamiflu.

And while most don’t plan to avoid work in an outbreak, 9% do, putting pressure on staff and services.

Local people will support the cutbacks — until the emergency is over

Emma Maier, editor of LGC

Combined with the discontent caused by the recession, pay negotiations and redundancies, the swine flu pandemic will cause significant management challenges for months to come.

Staff might be forgiving as the media frenzy continues but if the pandemic does not reach predicted levels their patience will quickly wear thin.

Public tolerance will be similarly tested. Councils are sensibly cutting back on non-essential services. Local people will support this — until they perceive that the emergency is over.

The press will inevitably have a major role in driving and shaping opinion.

While councils are well prepared to deal with the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, they must also consider staff morale and press relations: plan now or pay later.

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