How we’ll build on the relationships forged in Covid adversity

19 Jul 2021, 12:30

As the Cabinet Office’s National Leadership Centre launches its 2021 report, Stephen Crookbain and Leora Cruddas explain its part in recognising new models of collaboration that should shape post-Covid life

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything, including the relationship between public services, citizens and communities. We’ve all talked for years about ‘systems thinking’, and often in the abstract. In 2020 we saw what it really meant. To support the country during this time of immense challenge, public servants responded, adapted, and worked together to achieve some exceptional things.

To mark this, the National Leadership Centre has launched the Public Leaders Report 2021. It illustrates what worked and how during the pandemic, and the lessons we learned from both successes and challenges. Its aim is to celebrate the people and organisations on whom we all depended. We want to prompt discussions about what we must all do now to support them and others in similar roles in making the achievements of 2020 an enduring feature of post-Covid life.


Unique pressures and challenges

The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) is the national organisation and sector body for academy and multi-academy trusts. The National Leadership Centre’s (NLC) mission is to help the country’s most senior public service leaders develop the skills, knowledge and networks required to address society’s most complex challenges. Together, we are partners in helping public sector leaders work closer together.

The pressures placed by Covid on the public sector “system” have been unique. Through great adversity, the public sector has worked together and delivered at scale in ways that nobody would have thought possible in February 2020.

Covid has not been the only challenge facing schools and public services of course. Work to keep people safe, to protect the environment and to narrow inequality gaps in education and health have continued. But the pandemic has placed an additional strain on people and organisations, complicating the strategic and operational landscape for the whole public sector.


Insights and lessons

The Public Leaders Report 2021 captures what it was like to lead during such a tough year. The stories, including candid insights, reflections, and lessons on leading through the pandemic from 20 chief executives across the country, are compelling. They put faces, places and context to abstract terms like ‘collaboration’ and ‘ innovation’, and explain what we might retain for the future.

Collaboration and innovation are common themes in people’s response to the crisis

Collaboration and innovation are common themes in people’s response to the crisis, and a shared challenge is how to take “what worked” forward into post-pandemic times. We were particularly pleased to feature two trusts in East London who have partnership models that could inspire others seeking to do this.

University Schools Trust and Reach Academy Feltham have organisational structures that embed the roles of partners in delivering common, long-term outcomes in their communities. The leaders of these teams, Gillian Kemp and Ed Vainker, write for the Public Leaders Report about their models and what others can learn.

But it’s not just the stories that include schools or academy trusts that are relevant. The partnership models that are featured from Newcastle and Leicestershire are different approaches to building relationships around joint community outcomes.

The resourcefulness of the London Ambulance Service to deal with the unrelenting demand during waves of Covid has lessons that apply beyond blue-light cooperation. And in seven Portraits of Public Service Leaders, our interviews with CEOs capture insights we hope apply to many: business continuity, prioritisation, looking after your own physical and mental health and that of your teams’, keeping perspective and focusing on the positive.

Together we are greater than the sum of our parts, and we hope readers find this report refreshing, illuminating, and inspiring.


Working together to support the public sector

Relationships built in crisis will last. Both CST and the NLC will do all they can to help leaders to keep these links strong as we recover and rebuild.

It will be important to ensure a cross-public sector approach. Between us, we’ll share our findings on what works and how, to inform practice, and design and host effective leadership programmes and network events. The NLC will support public servants in senior positions to extend the links that have proved so vital over the past year.

In many ways, the work featured in this report has only just begun.

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