Expect further significant announcements for local government on November 25th. That's becasue the Chancellor, George Osborne, chose to use the podium at the Conservative Annual Conference to announce a “devolution revolution” which will shake-up the way local government is funded.
We should expect more detail on this in the Autumn Statement. In the meantime, this is what we do know: the sharp cuts to local government finances, down 37% since 2011, continue to bite, while according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, local government spending will continue to decline to 2020 and beyond.
As a partner to 94% of local authorities in Great Britain, we’re only too aware of the critical nature of the situation, but also the opportunity we have to shape the future of local public services. Earlier this year we polled local government and social housing directors and managers on the future of public service delivery. Given steep efficiency cuts, many were bracing themselves for an impact on front-line services, such as continued closure of libraries, leisure facilities and parks, the deterioration of our roads and poorer care for family members and vulnerable people.
So it seems clear that the role of local government will continue to change, with the emphasis moving from organisations to places and from transactions to relationships. However, an essential element of this will be the transition to digital services, stepping out of an era of data blindness, focusing on re-designed end-to-end services and outcome-led intervention, and becoming more commercially astute.
Underpinned by constructive partnerships, this new way of working will form a cornerstone of the smarter state – Prime Minister David Cameron’s vision for the public sector.
The smarter state will come into being through partnerships which blend the best of public and private; enabling the public sector to adapt and to harness new technology to adopt new business processes and new methods of delivery to improve citizen services while reducing costs.
And it will embody key elements from the government’s productivity plan (presented in July 2015), which values the exchange of ideas and knowledge, a culture of innovation and the rise of resurgent cities, necessities for a dynamic economy.
So when the nation hears the Chancellor’s plans to empower councils to manage their own revenue next week (for instance, money raised from business rates), they will trust in their local authority’s ability to succeed and improve their citizens’ quality of life as a result.
Then stand back and watch some Darwinism at play – the evolution of the fittest? – as local authorities try to to deliver benefits to communities at large.
The author is group business development director at Civica
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