IT overload almost brought council services to standstill at start of lockdown

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Borough Hall

Most Bedford residents noticed little substantial change to council services during the coronavirus crisis. But it could have been very different as internal council documents seen by the Bedford Independent have shown.

In part two of this three-part report into how COVID-19 (coronavirus) affected our Borough, we can reveal that in the early days of lockdown, council services were almost brought to a standstill.

Read: How Bedford coped with COVID: The Borough rises to the challenge

Borough Hall by the river quickly became almost empty. Most council staff worked from home. The speed with which this happened proved crucial. COVID infection among staff was relatively low.

Because they were outside and weren’t office based, worst hit were staff working in parks and other open spaces, public toilets and car parks. By early April between 30% and 40% were either self-isolating or unable to work because they lived with others at risk.

But technology, the one thing that proved so vital during lockdown, also proved to be the biggest problem the council faced.

Initially, its internal IT systems simply couldn’t cope with hundreds of staff working from home. With a total of just under 800 office based staff only 250 could log in using one particular type of system.

An internal report says only by logging in before 8.30am was there a chance of being connected. Otherwise the delay could be three hours or more.

“One staff member could not obtain access to any files until 14.00 yesterday. We have a number of documents that require daily updates at present which sit on the network; these could not be accessed for update”.

Calls flooded in to the IT department, but early in the crisis 13 IT staff were self-isolating at home and another 10 were diverted to work on the Community Hub. Supplies of some headsets ran out and replacements weren’t expected for three weeks.

“Cisco AnyConnect VPN users bursting to limit for Windows 7 users. Headsets for Jabba out of stock.”

The situation was resolved. But it’s easy to see how vital services like providing PPE equipment to hospitals and care homes, looking after the most vulnerable, providing childcare to vulnerable children and the children of key workers could have been badly jeopardised.

Tomorrow, Municipal Man will reveal how much coronavirus has cost the borough and a solution that Mayor Dave might just be brave enough to consider…

Municipal Man also writes at bedfordiana.com

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