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As lockdown restrictions are irreversibly eased, we are no longer asked to continue to work from home (WFH) if we can. Over the last few months workers returned in the hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail sectors, yet many more businesses have had workers continuing — even preferring to — work from home.

Pre COVID, the majority of businesses favoured more traditional ways of working with a workforce based at a place of work. But the pandemic accelerated the need to adapt, coupled with increased take-up of technology (much of which already existed), and highlighted that the physical place of work is not as important or deemed as essential as previously thought.

At the moment there are two contrasting approaches to either the return to business or getting to grips with the new norm: either the hard-line return to the place of work or to indefinitely working from home. The latter though is likely to be a mix of WFH and some in-person attendance at the employers’ premises, so-called hybrid working.

Certainly, it is challenging for employers to decide what might be best for them, having to balance the needs of the businesses and those of its employees. In many cases WFH has suited employers and employees alike, often providing for a better work/life balance, without loss of productivity, and perhaps even some sense of novelty.

Though WFH has not suited all, either due to the nature of their work, access to suitable technology, lack of a ‘space’ to work in, general wellbeing and mental health. And we should probably expect for COVID restrictions or the need for COVID security to mean that we might not see a full return to work for all.

So are businesses really under pressure to consider how they manage workforce? Is it paramount that we decide whether it’s a full return or time to offer hybrid working for all? It would seem many small and medium sized businesses have not considered their approach, perhaps either because they are pre-occupied with day to day matters, or more likely they don’t know where to start.  

Perhaps the start pointing is asking the question, what has changed? What is different about my business, how, who and where we work?

Whilst doing nothing may seem the easiest option, it could be the costliest. Those businesses that don’t consider the lasting impact of the pandemic on the way we work and want to live our lives could be at risk of loss of personnel, challenges in recruitment and find themselves less competitive and profitable in the longer term.

There is also a risk that those offering hybrid working or perhaps even more extreme full and permanent working, fail to consider the wider implications.

For centuries the place of work has provided a sense of identity and purpose, it has been a place that has harboured and embraced an organisations culture and values, it has been a power house for innovation, creativity and collaboration, a place to nurture, train and develop staff and physical representation of the business to its customers and marketplace. Can all this be replaced purely by digital connectivity?

Please don’t think this is the viewpoint of a luddite advocating a return to the office, more is the thought and concerns of someone who feels there is a real need for a well-considered approach to the way we all work in a post pandemic world.

James Pinchbeck is Marketing Partner at Streets Chartered Accountants, a top 40 UK accountancy practice. James, as a specialist in marketing professional services, is responsible for the development and implementation of the firm's strategic marketing as well as its engagement in the community it which it works and serves. His role allows him to capitalise on his broad interest in the national and local economy as well as his passion for enterprise. As part of his wider interest in enterprise, marketing and education, James is a board member of NBV – the East Midlands Enterprise Agency, an FE College Governor and a board member of the University of Lincoln’s Business School. He is also an Institute of Director’s past Branch Chairman.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the NHS. Although COVID cases in our hospitals have now reduced we are still having to work in COVID-safe ways. This means that it will take a long time for the NHS to restore services to pre-pandemic levels.

In Lincolnshire, we will work hard to tackle the backlog of patients whose care has been impacted by the pandemic. We need to do this whilst also keeping our patients safe.

Patients are understandably anxious about the length of time that they are having to wait for their hospital appointments. Unfortunately, we are unable to confirm how long the wait may be in many cases.

Hospitals are contacting all patients to understand their current situation and prioritise those in most urgent need. Our hospitals are doing their utmost to ensure patients receive the treatment they require and to resume normal services as soon as possible.

Our hospitals follow very strict rules for preventing all types of infection, including COVID-19. If you need to be admitted for surgery, you will be cared for in a low risk area. All patients who are admitted to this area will need to have had a negative COVID swab test before they are admitted. Staff working in these areas will regularly be tested too, and wear suitable personal protective equipment (PPE).

Visiting is now allowed in most areas of our hospitals but is still subject to some restrictions. All our patients, visitors, and staff should wear hospital-issued face masks when they are in our hospitals.

If you are waiting to be seen as an outpatient or inpatient, and your symptoms have deteriorated, you can contact the hospital you have been referred to for a specialist to review your referral letter and to discuss your changing symptoms (see contact numbers for each hospital). Your GP practice is not able to help with getting your referral dealt with any quicker, however they may be able to support with symptom management if your symptoms have worsened.

We realise that this is a difficult time, especially for those people who are waiting for treatment, and we apologise for the distress this causes. We will do everything we can to address this, and are working on initiatives that will reduce the length of time people are waiting.

We would also like to take this opportunity to assure our patients, carers, and their families that we remain committed to providing the highest quality, safe care for everyone.

Dr Kieran Sharrock, medical director for Lincolnshire's Local Medical Committee

If you think that this will be just another article about ‘thanks for getting Brexit done’ or about the ‘vaccine bounce’ or another dose of Johnson and Starmer bashing, you would be wrong. I will leave the deep analysis to others.

This article is about the LOCAL elections, supposedly about LOCAL issues. Were they really only about “potholes and fly tipping” as the Tory county leader, Cllr Martin Hill, claimed that the voters had told him? If that’s all what local government means to you, with officers and councillors on inflated salaries and allowances, that is rather sad. If so, then perhaps you should stop reading now.

First a word or two about the elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). My views on this post are well known. However, it is clear to me now that the idea of putting one person in charge of scrutinising policing is unfortunately not going to go away.

I have written before about abolishing the role and apparently, when questioned by The Lincolnite, at least two of the five PCC candidates replied that, if elected, they would do just that. The question I therefore ask is why they decided to stand for election in the first place?

Having listened to their replies when questioned, I really do wonder how much some of them actually knew about policing in general, or even how much they would be able to influence how it was delivered in the county. In all honesty, some were probably just there to fly the flag, although they would never admit this.

With that in mind, it made sense that the present incumbent was re-elected quite convincingly, without recourse to the second preference vote. You would have expected him to have learned a bit about what the job actually entailed, although, knowing the county, it could equally be argued that it had as much to do with the party for whom he was standing.

Not that his first term went swimmingly. Does anyone remember the tale of the new Chief Constable, who never was? Having worked with him when we were both members of the administration group that ran the County Council between 2013 and 2017, he struck me as a reasonably competent individual.

How much he will be able to be his own man and how much he will be influenced by Home Secretary remains to be seen. One of the features of this year’s election, the third to take place since the system was introduced in 2012, was the apparent demise of the independent PCC. Of the 39 positions up for grabs in England and Wales, the Tories won 30, Labour 8 and Plaid Cymru 1. At least, at 31%, the turnout was a little more respectable this time.

There were also delayed elections for the City of Lincoln Council. I really don’t know why they still elect a third of their council in three years out of four, normally saving the fourth for the County Council elections. Judging by the figures, which also delivered it nearly 9,000 of the 30,000 County Council votes it obtained, it’s clear that for the Labour Party Lincoln offers the only vestige of power in an otherwise Conservative county at district council level.

The Lib Dems managed to win a seat, the first they have had for a number of years, probably, from my own experience, by throwing “the kitchen sink” at the ward in question, as the Council Leader eloquently put it. (Yes, Ric, that’s what non-Tory and Labour parties have to do round here to get anywhere – I bet the Lib Dems also threw a few sinks around in Gainsborough to get their three County Council seats!) Now that UKIP has departed the scene, it’s rather nice to have another party represented other than the dynamic duo at City Hall.

As for the County Council elections, it was very much business as usual, the Conservative variety, of course. Since its foundation in 1974, Lincolnshire County Council has only twice been under no overall control. The first occasion was in 1993 when the Tories lost their overall majority, and the Labour and Lib Dem groups formed a short-lived administration.

The second time was in 2013 when a large number of UKIP members were elected, all of them disappearing four years later, with a couple becoming and returning as Conservatives. During that period the Tories were able then to continue in power with the help of our small Lib Dem group and three independents.

With 54 seats out of 70, there will, as was the case four years ago, be precious little that the opposition (Labour 4, Lib Dems 3, Independents 9) can do to influence things and, judging by an average turnout of around 30% not that many of you seem to be bothered.

There was not much evidence of an election taking place where I live in North Hykeham. I did get a combined leaflet from the Conservative candidates for County Council and PCC, so I can now say that I have heard from my local councillor, having chided him last February, and I also got a leaflet from an independent candidate and that was it.

It was a bit different when I used to stand for election. Not only did I try to get at least two election leaflets delivered by hand; but also at least two or three FOCUS leaflets during the year. I also knocked on a few doors as well. You really do have to ask yourself how serious some of our ‘candidates’ really are about actually wanting to win.

Is Lincolnshire such a Conservative voting county?

The answer is probably yes; but not as massively as election results show. Had seats been distributed according to the percentage of votes cast for each party, the Conservatives, with around 55% of the vote, would have won around 38 of the 70 seats, still a workable majority; but not the massive one they currently enjoy.

Even allowing for the customary low turnout in local elections, I reckon that this ratio is about right. Of course, we are not very likely to get a change in the voting system for local elections in a hurry. In fact, the government is thinking of changing the rules so that future PCCs and Regional and City Mayors will also be elected by what is called ‘first past the post’ instead of by first and second preference votes as is the case at present.

I am rather surprised that the Labour Party doesn’t champion a change in the voting system. After all, it got 31,240 votes last week compared with the Tories’ 98,570 and ended up with four seats, all in the City of Lincoln. The Tories got 55.4% of the votes and were rewarded with 77% of the seats. By my reckoning, Labour’s performance should have entitled it to around 12 seats.

Ironically, the only other party that actually did quite well out of the current system was those champions of a change in the voting system, the Lib Dems, whose still active base around Gainsborough yielded three seats. Using the same calculation as I did for Labour, the Lib Dems’ 5.1% overall should have given them two seats at the most.

The real difficulty in making the voting system reflect the relative support for all parties is that there is clearly a need to maintain the link between the councillor and their division. Possibly something like the Alternative Vote, which was rejected in a referendum nearly ten years ago, while not strictly PR or even the second preference vote as used in PCC elections might be the answer in some closely fought areas, or even keeping the present system for most seats and having a ‘top up’ system as in the Scottish and Welsh Parliamentary and Senedd elections might work. Whatever system you adopt, baring a political earthquake, I cannot honestly see the Conservatives not being the largest party or group around here.

As I wrote at the start of this piece, for many voters the elections around here were probably not really about schools, social care and the environment. They should have been; but, more likely they were more a reflection on national issues. 

Local government at any level can do little to change things if central government isn’t in favour. Councils like Lincolnshire have to a greater extent morphed into commissioners rather than direct providers of services; most schools now take their orders from the Education Secretary rather than the Local Education Authority.

I am also suspicious of how much autonomy the 30 Conservative PCCs will have when the Home Secretary casts her beady eye over their activities. Perhaps I am just being paranoid. I hope so. 

Ever more reliance on the discredited Council Tax to plug the holes created by austerity has left many councils in dire straits. The fact that Lincolnshire can still provide services to a reasonable standard is great credit to both councillors of all political persuasion and officers. However, it could be a great deal better.

We could streamline our councils and reform our local government finance. We could devolve more power to local councils instead of relying on individuals to make a difference. This will only happen if local government grasps the nettle and puts its own house in order.

Then, with elections riding on more than ‘potholes and fly tipping’, we might start to get a much higher turnout at elections and some councillor candidates, who are serious about making a real difference.

John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.

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