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Solace blog

18th November 2016

Life (in local government) is a risky business!

Zurich Municipal has been a Lead Business Partner with Solace for a good few years now, and the mutual benefits of that active collaboration are significant. Recently Amy Brettell, Zurich Municipal’s Interim Head of Public Services and I met with two serving chief executive colleagues and Kim Ryley to share our understanding of how risk in local authorities is changing and of how emerging new trends will need to be managed effectively if financial and reputational damage is to be avoided.

The broad-ranging discussion was a fascinating one, reflecting the effects of lifestyle, social and economic changes in our society. Talk of claims from motorists about pothole damage to their vehicles quickly turned to the rapid increase in serious injuries experienced by some cyclists on poorly maintained roads, particularly minor roads in rural areas.

Despite much good practice in councils in terms of risk strategy and mitigation measures in this area, B roads are unlikely to figure highly in our current maintenance priorities, when money is tight.

But the growing number of cyclists and their particular needs and behaviours need to be factored into Risk Management arrangements, as local authorities encourage them onto our highways and byways, given the sometimes life-changing effects of serious accidents. Zurich and Solace will be working together on new guidance for chief executives, highways managers, and councils’ risk managers, which should prompt a review of the criteria Councils use for such risk assessments in future. The need to directly involve local cycling groups early in this dialogue will also be encouraged.

Not surprisingly perhaps, our conversation turned also to the safeguarding of the most vulnerable residents, both infants and the elderly. Whilst, thankfully, the numbers making claims against local authorities are small, the cost of lifelong care for those who sustain avoidable physical injuries from abuse can be eye-watering. The extent of outsourcing of care provision and the major pressures on Health and Police resources can add to the complexity of risk management in this sensitive area. Without an improved approach by cash-strapped local councils, this could
become something which is uninsurable in the longer term, despite the personal liabilities involved for senior council staff and elected members.

There is much good practice locally to mitigate these risks, and Solace and Zurich Municipal will work together to publicise this as guidance for frontline staff in all the local agencies involved, as well as for social care directors and other senior managers. Such joint initiatives are just some of the benefits the SOLACE Business Partner Programme brings to your members and, by getting involved directly in similar workshops in future, your input can guarantee the Programme’s continuing success.

By Rod Penman, Head of Sales, Zurich Municipal