I attended last week’s LGC Summit, held in Marlow, with many senior local authority folk, a few sponsors, and an impressive speaker list. So what did we learn?
As ever from these events the learnings are a mixture of points of detail and some broad themes – I’m going to try to capture the wider themes as they seemed to me, and try to give a feel for the mood, as it seemed to me.
Attending an event called a “summit” makes mountaineering analogies seem appropriate. This event felt like the evening discussion after a hard first day’s climb.
We’ve come a long way – Local Government’s record of achieving cost reduction in the last couple of years, and having good plans at least for the next one or two is phenomenal. The muscles are aching but generally it’s the good tired of effective labour. There are a few twinges and some slight injuries that it wouldn’t do to hurt further, though.
People haven’t noticed we’ve gone, yet – Despite the fact that services are being cut, and very many local government roles have gone, public satisfaction with local government has actually slightly risen – a possibly important exception to that is amongst users of adult social care, where satisfaction is beginning to fall. This would not be surprising, since some of the easiest ways to turn off the tap of social care spend involve withdrawing or reducing service in noticeable ways.
We’re starting to get grumpy with the climb leaders – Chief executives are noticing a greater degree of tension (in some cases) with the local politicians, and the balance of officer versus member leadership is being reviewed in many places – there’s a bit of a debate about who should lead the climb. Moreover, in sessions where representatives of government departments spoke and were quizzed there was an element of polite tetchiness about some of the tension between objectives being pursued – the best example of which was concern that some of the transition issues associated with universal credit implementation are likely to worsen the complexities for troubled families, at least in the short-term.
We need new routes to the top… – People are rightly proud of innovation to date, and there were many schemes and examples on show which are actively helping, now, to improve the situation, but absolutely no sense that we have all of the tools we need to tackle this, and many calls for more solutions, more innovation, greater involvement of outside partners and more risk-taking.
… but the destination is not yet clear – The fundamental problem is that this mountain has never been climbed before, and the top of the mountain is in fog – we don’t know how far we have to climb, nor indeed whether some of the directions we could travel in will turn out to be false peaks, requiring a painful further journey to get back on track. I ran a workshop which used four very deliberately extreme views of the future for local government to generate some useful discussion. It is clear that some of the items we need to load up into our packs for the journey ahead are an increased ability to engage and behave “commercially” , creating flexibility in our services and cost bases, exploiting information to target services and ensure no effort is wasted, and to pay a lot of attention to the characteristics of the people we need with us on the journey.
This blog also appeared on www.localgovernmentmatters.co.uk