Local authorities consider their future...
27 October 2011
Councils are still locked into processes rather than outcomes when it comes to outsourcing, delegates to the SOLACE annual conference heard. Colin Cram was at the Edinburgh event
The Society of Local Authorities' Chief Executives (SOLACE) annual conference got off to an excellent start in Edinburgh on 11 October. Avoiding the usual 'big name' speakers, the event consisted of five parallel work stream sessions addressing key issues for local government. Its aim was to make use of the knowledge and expertise that exists within local government – and it succeeded. So, no sitting back for delegates.
The propositions that the work streams were to address were:
1. The times are changing and we must change with the times;
2. Local government is a public health organisation;
3. We must put the democracy back into localism;
4. We must re-design public services for a networked world; and
5. Local government can drive economic growth.
The plenary introductions set the tone. Anne Torry, Managing Director of Zurich Municipal, argued for a revolutionary approach to savings, using outsourcing, shared services, location rationalisation and 'lean'. But one should beware unintended consequences and that post implementation reviews are necessary to understand the consequences of one's actions. She argued that the best people need to be put on transformational work, not those who happen to be available. Also, change needs a strong governance framework, for example, in outsourcing, how often does one test third party security of data?
Dermott Joyce, CX of Liberata, asserted that there are 42 strategic partnerships in local government and that 11% of back-office services are outsourced. He expressed concern that many councils fail to understand the difference between outsourcing and partnership. Councils may claim they want partnership, but they really want outsourcing. Joint ventures are very different. Risk is shared and does not sit with one party. Swords must be turned into ploughshares. He also argued that, when outsourcing, local government needs to move away from defining processes to defining the outcomes that it desires and allowing for innovation.
Phil Swann, Programme Director Shared Intelligence, posited that the health and social care bill is a good thing. More integration at a local level may be worth greater fragmentation at a national level. Tony Hunter, CX at North East Lincolnshire Council argued that the phrase public health doesn't work and what does the phrase 'health and well-being' really mean?
Anthony Zacharzewski argued that the big challenges to putting democracy back into localism are community budgets, neighbourhood planning localism and 'big society'. Giving neighbourhoods planning responsibility and budgets are difficult areas and there is a risk that decisions could be driven by unrepresentative groups of people. In a challenge to Dermott Joyce, the question was raised, how can we maintain democracy with outsourcing?
Carrie Bishop of FutureGov asked what is meant by the glib phrase 'networked world' and argued for co-design of services – provider and user.
Catherine How, Public-i, argued that local government had a responsibility to create a vision of 'place' and follow this up with putting in the infrastructure for sustainable growth. Infrastructure can mean skills and jobs, but also structures such as Local Economic Partnerships. Sue Bruce, CX Edinburgh Council, argued that local government can be a catalyst for bringing in foreign investment and a catalyst for SMEs and Edinburgh was doing just that.
So, an excellent start to the conference and energy levels were high. Local government will be in for an interesting time during the next few years.Colin Cram is Managing Director of Marc1 Ltd