A Saturday shift in the impressive surroundings of the Guildhall in London for the London council’s annual conference today.
As well as devolution and local government finance, housing was also a dominant issue amongst discussions at what turned out to be a really useful and lively conference.
Headed North today to speak at an APSE fringe meeting at the SNP Party Conference in Perth, on the future role of elected members in Scotland. This was also an opportunity to launch our research of the same name.
Waste not, want not
Whilst much of the focus of the graph of doom theorists has been on adult social care and children’s services, local authorities haven’t forgotten that they also continue to have statutory responsibilities for collecting waste and that this waste needs to be disposed of in a cost effective and environmentally friendly way.
Huge efforts are being made to eradicate waste in the first instance by encouraging a reduction in unnecessary waste and the reuse, recycling and recovery of any materials of value that can be derived from the waste stream, prior to going to landfill. With this in mind authorities are looking to develop integrated strategies that deal with all stages of the waste hierarchy.
I recently had an opportunity to examine Barcelona City Council’s approach to waste management and found an impressive approach that also links closely to wider ambitions around renewable energy.
Recent signs have been good that a new spirit of municipal entrepreneurship is starting to emerge amongst political leaders in local government.
Significant debate is taking place about devolution and the wider role local government should play in society. Whilst discussions centre around freedoms, funding and powers, it is important to also ask for what purpose? And what can councils actually deliver?
Taking a long hard look at what 'democracy', 'citizenship' and 'ethics' really mean in local government in the second decade of the 21st Century may seem like a luxury when councils are struggling to empty the bins, house the homeless, care for elderly residents and meet a million other demands with ever fewer resources. But reclaiming the vital connection between the mightiest of principles upon which local government was founded and day to day actions that matter to local people is the best way for local authorities to take control in these difficult times.
Last week's BMJ article, which accused local authorities of 'raiding' public health budgets to prop up other services, shows a surprising lack of insight into the reasons why councils actually took on the public health role in the first place. It also fails to grasp well-evidenced connections between health and wider social factors that are dependent upon public services such as housing, sport and leisure, greenspace or school meals.
With the Public Accounts Committee warning central government to sharpen up on procurement and transparency, high profile failures at Serco hitting the headlines and authorities including Liverpool reviewing their private sector partnerships, public service outsourcing seems to have reached a crossroads.
Everyone knows that on top of the financial problems local government faces there is also an ever lengthening list of public policy challenges. From public health to housing, from struggling local economies to climate change, from youth unemployment to the ageing population, councils need to consider how they can deploy the resources and assets at their disposal to ensure maximum public value outcomes for years to come. This calls for flexibility and skills to respond to continuous change.
It’s time for national politicians to show more bravery and think long term if we are to make the money available for public services go much further. Whilst I welcome the Chanecllors announcement of funding for free school meals for junior school children in his Autumn statement I would like him to go much further. In my view one of the best invest to save schemes available would be extending free school meals to all primary school children.