Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Wave Two – The Perfect Storm


By David Caplan, CIPFA Head of Analytics and Research and Wajid Shafiq, Founder and CEO of Xantura

With the recent easing of lockdown and the decreasing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths across the UK, it is easy to believe that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. There is however a very real possibility that September and October will see three significant events coalesce to create the perfect storm, and councils who are already in dire financial straits will once again bear the brunt.

Firstly, the impact of three months of lockdown is only just starting to be seen.  

The UK economy contracted by a fifth in the second quarter of 2020. Roughly 1.6 million people have already lost their jobs since the start of lockdown, and some predictions suggest unemployment will rise by 1.3 million when the furlough scheme ends in October. The economic downturn has already dented councils’ income from council tax, commercial rents and fees and charges. And further pressures on council resources are expected in the future.

The Centre for Mental Health is forecasting that an estimated 500,000 more people will experience mental health difficulties over the next year. Domestic violence charity Solace Women’s Aid has seen a 200% rise in helpline calls during the first easing of lockdown and is braced for a significantly higher spike later in the year. A cross-party Youth Violence Commission has recently released a report expressing concerns over rising knife crime as children who have witnessed domestic violence are released from lockdown. 

These are just a few examples of the unseen consequences of lockdown. The impact on children’s and adult social care, community safety and the NHS will be huge over the coming months. These issues, combined with the pressures of mounting public sector debt, will place unprecedented levels of demand on council services.

Second are the challenges that would be presented by a possible second wave of COVID-19 towards the end of the year. The recent local lockdowns in Leicester and more recently Blackburn with Darwen are a reminder that the virus is still in circulation. Senior doctors and scientists convened by the Academy of Medical Sciences said this month that, without urgent action, a resurgence of cases this winter could overwhelm the NHS. Their “reasonable worst-case scenario” of 120,000 hospital deaths represents more than double the number that have been seen to date. Assuming that the elderly would again be most at risk, the burden would continue to fall on adult social care and the NHS.

Thirdly, as the UK enters the winter season, services will already be stretched because of flu and other seasonal pressures. This seasonal increase in demand will only exacerbate the pressures services are likely to face in the coming months. As we enter what could be the eye of the storm, authorities now have a short window of opportunity to learn the lessons from the first wave of the pandemic. 

One of the key challenges that councils faced as COVID-19 gathered pace from March was how to identify and prioritise those residents most at risk from both the pandemic and the surrounding sanctions of lockdown. With information on residents largely kept on separate systems, with no embedded data sharing protocols and information governance controls, councils were unable to build holistic views of individuals and households to understand which were facing the greatest challenges.

Data sharing is not a new challenge for councils, but it is one that needs to be solved in the next few months to stand any chance of delivering a targeted, cohesive response to the breadth of expected challenges.

Xantura and CIPFA have come together to tackle this challenge. With our support, councils will be able to draw upon a more diverse range of data sets that can be used on a predictive basis to inform more accurate and sophisticated decision making. 

Strong predictive data from Xantura’s OneView platform, combined with CIPFA’s expertise in financial management and organisational resilience, allows authorities to predict demand and model spend to create a deep understanding of future financial need. This reduces the risk of future budgeting, allowing pressure points to be spotted and dealt with earlier. 

There is a very short window for councils to prepare for the next stages of the pandemic. Now is the time to address these issues in a way that places local authorities in the best position to respond to whatever the future holds.

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