Local councils face burnout from Covid-19, government projects - risk advisor

6:25 pm on 20 November 2020

The local government sector and wider communities could be close to "breaking point" after a rollercoaster 2020, risk expert Philip Jones says.

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The mayoral chains and responsibilities of public office in local government may well be weighing heavy, and could prove too much for some, in the wake of Covid-19 and amid numerous government projects and initiatives. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Jones, a Tauranga-based local government consultant, chairs the audit and risk committees at Carterton and Masterton district councils.

On Wednesday morning, he warned Carterton District Council [CDC]'s audit and risk committee over the combination of high-profile work programmes and the covid-19 lockdown aftermath.

He said burnout was already being felt by councils, their staff, and their residents.

Senior CDC manager Gerry Brooking raised the concerns as part of her report to the committee.

She said the council was monitoring the "emerging risk of burnout, fatigue, and stress in our teams".

"We are heading into a busy time of the year, in what has already been a very difficult, challenging year due to Covid-19."

Many community members, including council staff, ran double duties during the lockdown.

Jones said additional strain may come from a plethora of central government programmes in the coming months.

Residents, ratepayers, and staffers needed to be aware of the extra strain ahead.

He named a list of major projects, including Three Waters, "shovel-ready" initiatives, and resource management reviews, which could make 2021 another busy year for local authorities.

"Normally you would expect to coordinate two or three on that list.

"But what worries me the whole sector is not at breaking point, but getting pretty close.

"One more thing, and we could face significant issues.

"This is not a criticism [of CDC], it is a theme across the whole sector that I am aware of."

Mayor Greg Lang said the community and council had faced "enormous pressures this year" and staff would be supported.

"I'm sure our managers are taking every opportunity to manage that."

Lang said regional cooperation is "imperative" to manage the risks.

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