Self-isolation as a council leader during Coronavirus
The key to self-isolation and working from home is routine.
That’s the message from Linda Haysey, leader of East Hertfordshire District Council, who is now two weeks into self-isolation due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Councillor Haysey, who has been the leader for five years and a ward councillor for Hertford Rural South since 2005, decided to follow advice and self-isolate with her husband David.
“I have asthma so Coronavirus could have caused further respiratory problems,” she explained. “At the time, our decision seemed a little extreme, but it turns out that it actually was the most sensible thing to do.
“At the start of self-isolation, it was very strange. You absolutely have to build yourself a new routine. Set out what you are going to do throughout the day whether it’s work, lunch, odd jobs around the house or getting out for a walk in the fresh air – while adhering to social distancing guidelines – it’s important for your physical and mental well-being.
“I’ve been doing Pilates classes via Zoom meetings and my husband has been doing gym workouts through an online platform. These things are very valuable for mental health.
“In a way, being at home is giving yourself the permission to do these activities or jobs that you might not ordinarily do.”
Huge numbers of public sector workers are now working from home and are reliant on technology to stay in touch with colleagues as well as family members.
And that is something Councillor Haysey has relied on; with a daily call to the East Hertfordshire District Council chief executive as well as regular contact with colleagues over WhatsApp, email, Zoom meetings and conference calls.
Councillor Haysey, who is vice chairman of the East of England Local Government Association, said: “The internet has been of paramount importance during this pandemic.
“Initially, a lot of the work the council was doing was very much operational; how staff were going to work, coping with reduced staffing levels, transferring staff from one area to another, identifying the key services that needed to be maintained and the additional IT facilities people would need to work remotely.”
New measures are expected to be implemented by the Government which will include a change in the law to allow council meetings to take place virtually – something which is currently prohibited.
Cabinet decisions continue to be made by Councillor Haysey, with cabinet members liaising remotely to debate the agenda before any decision is approved.
She said: “The positive to come out of this lockdown is that our meetings do tend to be shorter! Our members have to be disciplined in how they interact and debate with each other.
“We might not get the same range of discussion but what we have found is that you get a very focused meeting on what specifically needs to be talked about.”
Councillor Haysey said the both her and her fellow members owe a great deal of gratitude to the council’s officers.
“All of my fellow politicians really need to thank the officers. Every single one of them has gone way beyond the call of duty,” she added.
“There has been a huge amount of support. I have been liaising with parish and town clerks to encourage them in helping keep our residents safe.
“Some of our councillors have been volunteering in the community to help support vulnerable residents.
“The public have been tremendously generous in helping each other where they can; it’s been truly humbling.
“Obviously, there are pockets of people who still feel like they can go and do whatever their like, but the vast majority are being very responsible and heeding the message to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”