Commonwealth Local Government Forum

Local government on the front line of COVID

02 July 2020


Some insightful reflections were given on the local government response to COVID-19 at the second webinar hosted by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, as part of a series of online events focused on Sustainable Urbanisation.


Local government practitioners described how the sector is coping on the frontline of the pandemic - and offered possible considerations for the future. Based on a series of regional meetings with members, CLGF Secretary-General Dr Greg Munro said that, where local government has been central to tackling the virus, it appears that countries and communities have fared much better; and he predicted that the same will be true for the post-COVID-19 recovery efforts.  


Local government and strong local leadership

Highlighting the critical role of local government in addressing the COVID-19 crisis, and the importance of strong local leadership to ensure cities and towns are safe, healthy and sustainable, the panel of practitioners warned that the effects of the pandemic had also seriously compounded the urgent challenge of addressing rapid urbanisation and climate change.

Faciliated by Dr Munro, the Panel offered a range of perspectives: 


Mayor Lisa Morris-Julian, Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, explained the complexity of meeting the needs of local citizens during the pandemic and described how Arima has considered the most vulnerable in the community, ensuring that they received the help and supplies they needed. She also talked about the impact of lockdown on mental health and stressed the need for local government to look at how this has affected the community and the way services are provided.  


Reaching youth through the right channels

Acknolwedging how important it is to have young people around the table at events like this, and to share their views directly, the next speaker was Bristol Youth Mayor in the UK, Ms Alice Towle. She described her work with the city’s mayor, and how, during the pandemic, this involved ensuring reliable, myth-busting information was communicated to young people, using the most effective channels. Involving young people in policy-making makes it much more sustainable. When asked about broadening the scope of her work, she welcomed the opportunity to look at disciplines like planning and architecture and expressed a wish to link with young mayors internationally. 


Sustainability and resilience

Mr Braulio Eduardo Morera, Director, Global Resilient Cities Network, talked about the central role of local leaders in convening a cross-section of stakeholders to create healthy, sustainable and resilient cities - both now, and in the future. There is evidence that where cities have already been working on resilience, they have coped better during the pandemic, because they are able to develop teams to respond to shocks and crises. He praised local leaders for their innovation in increasing the voice of minorities, women and youth; and in creating greener economies. However, when creating a more sustainable, or green world, cities must also factor in resilience. He told participants that local government is at the heart of sustainable development and addressing crises like COVID-19.


Decentralisation and inclusiveness

Mr Ladislas Ngendahimana, Secretary-General of the Rwandan national local government association (RALGA), spoke about the importance of decentralisation. The impact of COVID-19 has been massive, but local government has prevailed due to its inclusiveness. The complexity of the impact of COVID has been overwhelming for global practitioners. It was important, in the first phase of recovery, to compile and consider all data, especially on where people are struggling, and use this information for the longer-term recovery efforts. He stressed the importance of ensuring that everything that's done is environmentally responsive, and to aim for digital literacy: a cashless and paperless future for finances and service provision is vital. 

Contributing from the floor, Kubi Rama, Deputy CEO of Gender Links, an organisation CLGF has partnered with for a project on the political and economic empowerment of women in four countries of Southern Africa, said that the pandemic has seriously affected women SME entrepreneurs, with many businesses failing. She also spoke of a survey that Gender Links had undertaken of more than 10,000 adolescents aged 10-19, which clearly demonstrates the need for local government to become more involved in the provision of health care: to ensure young voices are heard; their needs met; and the rightful respect given to this cohort.


Final thoughts

Asked to provide some take-away advice from the session, the panellists emphasised the following points:


Mayor Lisa Morris-Julian, Arima, Trinidad and Tobago emphasised the importance of working together; sharing best practice; and remembering that local government is the true government serving the people. "In crises, we see the best in people and I am proud of the outreach work the council has done. We should take this to a global stage."


Bristol Youth Mayor, Ms Alice Towle said we should always listen to young people, no matter how unusual the ideas might appear. Ensure that we consult and seek youth opinions, and do this by communicating through the channels that they use; and make the engagement appealing. Stressing the importance of inclusion, she said: "We are at a turning point; we need to do better than before."


Mr Ladislas Ngendahimana, RALGA's Secretary-General said that national governments have to recognise the important role of local government, particularly in providing input to strategic plans and policies. In the future, LED and the role of gender equality will be crucial to recovery and to achieving the SDGs; he warned of the serious obstacles created by gender-based violence. 


Global Resilient Cities Network's Mr Braulio Eduardo Morera said it was time to communicate and engage with people, and local government is at the centre of this. Gathering evidence of the impact, especially in relation to those who need more support, was vital and would lead to providing a better response to crises and support in the future. 


Decentralisation as our 'new normal'

Thanking speakers and participants, Dr Munro concluded that local government must seek to build on the lessons learned during this devastating pandemic, and that a key part of our 'new normal' must be decentralisation - with local government having more power, but also the capacity - financial and other - to act and deliver. Local leaders play a crucial role in sustainable urbanisation, ensuring that citizens are a central part of decision-making and that ciites are places where people want to live, work and prosper. 


Join us at more Sustainable Urbanisation events

To hear the full recording of Feedback from the Frontline of COVID-19 is available here. 


The Feedback from the Frontline of COVID-19 webinar is part of the Commonwealth Sustainable Urbanisation Online Programme. As part of the preparations for the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, that was due to be held in Kigali, Rwanda in June, CLGF has partnered with the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Commonwealth Association of Architects and the Commonwealth Association of Planners, with support from The Prince’s Foundation, the Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure, the Ministry of Local Government, the Commonwealth Engineers Council and others, to develop a call to action on sustainable urbanisation in the Commonwealth, incorporating some of the lessons learned from this series of events.


More information about the full programme can be found here.


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