Like many other organisations, Auckland Council is preparing for how widespread community transmission of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 might affect its services, service delivery, workforce and customers.
Auckland Council Chief Executive Jim Stabback says the council is doing what it can to plan for the impacts of an Omicron outbreak and, while some of those impacts can’t be mitigated, there are some important considerations to be made.
“We’ve taken a ‘not if, but when’ approach to our planning and we’re thinking carefully about how the council delivers essential services if our region and our own workforce are affected by Omicron.
“You only need to look at how Australia has been affected, with large numbers of people having to isolate or stay home to recuperate.
“The knock-on effect is seen in areas like manufacturing, supply chain and delivery of critical services,” says Mr Stabback.
If a large percentage of Auckland Council employees were unable to work, some of our services and facilities like libraries, pools and leisure centres, and community venues may need to close or operate in a limited capacity.
“While we may also see this happen as a result of increased (government-led) restrictions due to community cases, we acknowledge that we may also have to make some hard decisions around the continuation of these services ourselves.
“Staffing, workforce distribution and the high likelihood of exposure events or our sites being locations of interest could all play into these decisions,” he says.
“It is also important that we do everything we can to protect the ongoing delivery of the critical services that we operate.
“These are the things that Aucklanders need from us – not just the services that they want or are nice to have – like waste collection, cemetery and crematoria services, water services that we deliver alongside Watercare and some of our regulatory and compliance services.
“Delivery of these services may look different or be pared back somewhat, but what is most important is our ability to still deliver the most critical aspects of our business.
“We will also support our council-controlled organisations to do the same,” he says.
As in previous lockdown situations, online options will remain available – either to complete transactions or access services like the Auckland Council Libraries e-collections.
“We’re talking to our central government counterparts about what contingencies we might need to have in place if statutory timeframes for our regulatory processes need adjusting or if there are other local government process deadlines that cannot be met due to workforce challenges,” he says.
The council is due to start consultation on its Annual Budget 2022-2023 in February and is also considering how it might deliver a predominantly online engagement programme.
“With Auckland experiencing numerous lockdowns over the last two years, and this having a significant impact on the council’s finances, our Annual Budget is more important than ever to steer us through one of the most financially challenging periods in this council’s history.
“Alongside this, we are delivering a revaluation programme that has also been hampered by COVID delays.
“We are not alone in facing challenges with workforce and financial planning right now, but our commitment to 1.6 million Aucklanders and the importance of the services we deliver make carefully managing the next few months – or longer – crucial,” says Mr Stabback.
The council introduced a series of vaccination policies and guidelines in late 2021, including an interim position on customer vaccination, to help protect people working in our workplaces or using our sites and facilities.
“More than 97 per cent of our people are double vaccinated and with many also becoming eligible for booster shots in the coming weeks, we have a well-protected workforce which we hope will lessen the impact of Omicron.
“We’re also working with our contractors, suppliers and others that work with us to make sure similar expectations apply.
“Vaccine passes are required at all of our staffed sites and venues, like libraries, pools, leisure centres and gyms, galleries and visitor centres.
“The safety and wellbeing of our people and our customers is at the centre of this approach and remains vitally important to us.
“Lastly, on the whole, our customers have responded well to the introduction of vaccine pass requirements or safety requirements for site visits but some of our people continue to experience aggressive behaviour when interacting with the public.
“Our people are just doing their jobs. They are family members and belong to local communities – just like you.
“I expect them to represent our organisation with pride and treat our customers with respect; please do the same in return.”
For more information about what you can and can’t do under the Red setting of the new COVID-19 Protection Framework, visit OurAuckland.