Hello PPMA members and friends
Our blog post this week comes from Peter Bungard, Chief Executive of Gloucestershire County Council and he says that giving local residents a say is key to effectively running your council at this time of reduced finance.
“The average upper tier council will, after 4 years of austerity, have made savings exceeding £100m, as a combination of grant loss and absorbing increased demand on services for vulnerable children and adults. Put another way, every single working day we have had to find a new £100,000 savings opportunity to balance the books. And we have numerous clues as to the Chancellor’s CSR ‘15 plans, with accelerated savings expected from non-protected budgets. So are we ready and motivated for the sequel, running until 2020? I describe it in my Council as looking down the wrong end of the telescope.
Then along comes the next blockbuster: ‘English Devo’. Not quite released, there are still two trailers that you can watch.
The sceptical (but perfectly accurate) trailer is one of devolution of cuts from Whitehall to the Town Hall. Local government’s “reward” for out-performing the rest of the public sector in coping with austerity (through true efficiencies and fundamentally redesigning the public service offer), is to be trusted with more. But surely I can’t sell the concept to local political leaders that we should accept … no chase after … the honour of managing Whitehall’s cuts for them?
Then there is the optimist’s trailer: the first chance for a very long time to look through the proper end of the telescope; to actually see the relevance of local government growing into the future, by shaping the full breadth of locally delivered services; to deliver community health and social care integration, tackle worklessness, economic growth and skills, criminal justice, even if it means inheriting and ownership of a much larger savings target. Is it starting to look tempting now?
The alternative, of course, is that savings are still made to local services by Whitehall or its quangos, without the subtlety of local political influence, or the local democratic input that will deliver those savings in a smart, effective way.
So, as a local government CEO, which trailer do I want to show? I have no difficulty in choosing the optimist’s trailer of ‘English Devo’.
I firmly believe that our savings from 2015 onwards are of a very different type from 2011-2015. Our communities will not buy into cuts as they no longer see the UK in a deep recession. Our future savings will be highly dependent on demand management, usually associated with preventative investment.
But what has this got to do with Devolution? ‘Cuts’ are largely in the gift of a Council, as long as you can convince local people they are necessary. Demand management is rarely in our own gift, and requires behavioural change across the whole system: even if we invest in prevention, payback often lands elsewhere. Devolution is the opportunity to bring the whole system leadership and financial accountability in to your locality. If you invest wisely to reduce demand, the payback dividend can be realised to everyone’s benefit.
Let’s be honest, this comes with lots of risks, perhaps the greatest being the switch from running what sometimes feels like a Whitehall franchise, to true locally shaped services, meeting the needs of local people, and as such being widely open to the “postcode lottery” label. Many of these concerns can be addressed by democratically-run local authorities giving a real say to their local residents.
And perhaps one unanswered question: how do we develop the people who can work fluently across whole system leadership, without the roadmap of a traditional franchised service model?”
Peter Bungard is Chief Executive of Gloucestershire County Council