On Thursday myself and Glen were the ‘official media partners’ for the Local Government Strategic Leaders Forum. We heard from Brandon Lewis MP, the Chief Executives of multiple local authorities (including Cornwall, Derby, Barnet, Liverpool, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire) and the input of multiple delegates.
Afterwards we agreed that there was so much at the conference that piqued our interest that it would be impossible to document it all in one post (or even write such a post so soon after the event). However, as is traditional and would be expected here are a few takeaways from the event.
1) An interesting thought from the Chief Executive of Cornwall. It is possible that in five / ten years we will no longer talk of local government or local councils. Instead we may have local public services; brought together in a single form.
2) Meanwhile, a comment from the Chief Executive of Northamptonshire. If local leaders aren’t operating across the public sector then they aren’t doing their job. Taken together this shows a continued recognition of the necessary blurring of the lines between local government and other local public services.
3) Speaking of integration During Brandon Lewis MP’s keynote he made an interesting big picture point about the long-term impact of integration programmes. He sees the transforming families and BCF programmes as being trail-blazers within Whitehall. If local government and partners can demonstrate the systemic value of these programmes it will help open up Whitehall further. This was the first time I’d heard it argued like that and demonstrated an interesting big picture view.
4) Talking of the troubled families programme the minister told us that one county council estimates that the troubled families programme can save £50m per year.
5) Another argument for more integration: Local councillors have a 77% approval rate: almost 70% more than MPs
6) We’d predicted that there would be a lot of talk of economic development but a surprising number of Chief Executives referred to a concept we had only previously heard in regard to the UK government; that of growing our way out of austerity. We’re going to look at this further in another post.
One council planning to do just that is Liverpool. I don’t want to labour this point but the scale of cuts facing Liverpool is insane: Liverpool have taken £173m out of their budget. The next three years they will take 25% from every mandatory budget and 50% out of every discretionary budget line which is £156m over the next 3 years. The cuts make more sense when you realise that Liverpool's government grant makes up 76% of their income. What’s more 80% of Liverpool stock is in council tax bands A and B.
8) Speaking of Liverpool they have invested in a car company, a waterfront building development and a pharmaceutical company. All will make a return for the council and more importantly bring valuable jobs to the area. For those who want a broader role for local government this approach is fascinating (and not as unusual as might be expected; Eastleigh just bought a shopping centre and Southend invested in an airport).
9) Manchester and Leeds City regions each have a bigger economy than Wales (and Wales is about to get a local income tax). If that’s not an argument for more devolution to city regions then what is?
10) From the excellent Tony Travers: The cuts in local government since 2010 have been unprecedented in the last 4 years... No comparison is any other period of history. Equally since 2009 local government has shed 500,000 jobs (from a starting point of 3,000,000).
11) In a discussion about health this interesting observation was made. Despite local authorities agreeing with health professionals that we want to move people away from hospitals and into more localised care the political imperative to protect hospitals makes this difficult. Because moving money to social and community care means impacting hospital budgets the conflict between the two will need to be overcome. I wonder whether it will be possible to overcome the politics of hospitals and whether this is a bigger risk to integration than GPs?
12) Tony Travers picked up on this there later pointing out that the NHS (and their lobby groups) have been pretty good at developing a crises narrative; something that local authorities have (prudently) avoided. However, this crisis narrative could probably apply just as much to hospital closures or reallocating budgets (as above).
13) It was nothing short of inspiring listening to the Chief Executives discussing what their authorities were up to. Understandably they all agreed that now was a brilliant time to work in local government, interesting, diverse, challenging and rewarding. I think we agree that local government is fascinating right now but I wonder if this joy de vivre applies to those working further down the food chain.
14) Cornwall has 92% super-fast broadband... Who knew? And if Cornwall can do it what’s stopping the rest of us?
15) Through LGSS Northamptonshire spend less than 3% of their total budget on back office functions. If they can do it what is stopping the rest of us?
16) Having the same hashtag for multiple conferences is a little silly.
17) An interesting question from one of the audience members asked why, when so much interesting stuff is going on it can feel so difficult within some local authorities to do anything at all? Not all local authorities could do the things that every other council is doing but we could all be much better by learning from others.
I’m sure there is much more that we have missed but I hope the above does for you what it did for us; make the thinking juices flow and provide the inspiration to try that slightly radical idea or push the boundaries a little.
Hopefully, we’ll follow up with a few more posts in the coming weeks and if there is anything you’d like to know more about please do drop us a line in the usual places.