More and more councils are emphasising the development of commercial strategies and skills in order to hold services together and give them a fighting chance in the current age of austerity.
Some commentators may view local government, innovation and entrepreneurship as unlikely bedfellows. But I see evidence all over country that a commercial culture is expanding and flourishing amongst council staff.
Participated in a really interesting event today on the transformation of the public sectors estate. Organised by Westminster sustainable business forum the event was a follow on from last years launch of the influential research report 'Leaner and Greener: Delivering effective estate management.' This identified that local government in England's property portfolio was worth £250billion and that £7billion could be saved in annual running costs by better space utilisation.
APSE's recent Housing and Building Maintenance seminar In Leeds gave me a chance to hear the views of colleagues working in this sector of local government and the issues that were vexing them, three main issues came to the fore.
This article is based on a recent column I did for the MJ magazine.
What will local government look like in 2020? My answer is that it will depend significantly on what elected members and officers want it to look like and the policy choices they make.
Whilst I accept that central government decisions will always have an impact in shaping local government, it is members and officers, in conjunction with the local public, who will decide what the political vision for an area is, what outcomes are pursued to achieve this and how this is implemented through the services the council is responsible for providing and delivering.
Someone who has influenced my thinking on local government greatly over the past couple of decades has this week published a new book, 'A Guide to Solar PV Projects - in Local Government and the Public Sector'. The first books of Stephen Cirell's that I read were thick local government law encyclopaedias around Compulsory Competitive Tendering, followed by similar tomes on Best Value, then the Private Finance Initiative and Charging and Trading. So how does someone go from this background into the arena of climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency? And do they know anything about the topic?
To the workforce in local government this is your day.
Getting up at the crack of dawn to grit and maintain the roads infrastructure, sweep the streets, clean the schools and public buildings, this is your day.
Maintaining the parks, picking up the bins, feeding school kids and looking after those who need care, this is your day.
Connaught, Rok, Southern Cross, Mouchel, IBM in local government, not to mention wider public sector outsourcing problems with A4E and G4S- there really is a lengthening list of problems with outsourced contracts.
And then there are those contracts that are quietly ended ‘by mutual agreement’ to avoid costly legal action, saving reputations, but often masking serious problems.
APSE's latest research reveals that innovation and entrepreneurship is alive and well in local authorities the length and breadth of the UK.
APSE's new report, Municipal Entrepreneurship, challenges the myth that local government is monolithic, bureaucratic and incapable of change. It demonstrates that commercial skills and business acumen are flourishing in local government and that elected members and entrepreneurial managers are fostering a commercial culture among council staff.
Eight steps to becoming a greener council
Firstly, there needs to be political buy in at the highest level. This is about the Council leading on tackling one of the biggest public policy issues of our time; it requires political vision, commitment and leadership.
Secondly, you need to do an audit of the local area, what natural assets are at your disposal will depend which strands of renewables or energy efficiency measures are most appropriate.
My latest column from MJ
The recent LGA report into future financing signalled that the very role and shape of local government in the UK is hurtling towards a significant crossroads. What it showed was that based on current projections there will be a £16.5bn shortfall in council budgets by 2020.
It predicted that 45% of budgets will be spent on social services by the end of the decade due to increased need and with waste collection also creating significant cost pressures, services such as road maintenance, libraries and leisure could see their budgets eroded by 90% compared to present comparative levels.