Having met with three very different local government chief executives recently I was struck by the commonality of understanding of the challenges that council’s face in the coming years. Fiona Lees from East Ayrshire, Manjeet Gill from West Lindsey and Carolyn Downs of the LGA all shared a vision that the answers to the tough times ahead would be found in working closely with and within local communities.
With demographic change towards people living longer we know that a smaller percentage will be working in the future and that there will be greater demands for care services amongst an increasing elderly population. With increasing social problems created by alcohol and drugs, the number of children being looked after is also rising.
A tough economic situation over the coming years will throw up further challenges around poverty and deprivation. Increasing unemployment will mean local government having to contribute significantly in terms of promoting local sustainable economic growth.
Demand for affordable housing is at its highest for a generation reaching crisis levels and now at the top of the political agenda. Energy costs and fuel poverty are also creating considerable worries.
So how are smart local authorities responding to these challenges?
Firstly, by redesigning services with users and communities, starting from the service interface and working backwards rather than top down. Secondly, by then reducing cost through stripping out unnecessary posts within structures.
Thirdly, by looking to focus on protecting and increasing local employment, the public sector makes significant spend, if as much of this as possible can be retained within the local economy then the multiplier in local supply chains will be significant. Never more so than in these times does every £1 spent have to be a £1 well spent, a message that APSE has pushed hard through our economic footprint work.
Fourthly, by reprioritising spend to focus on outcomes, with 80% of local government’s budget spent on 20% of the community; we need to think more strategically about how this cycle of dependency can be changed over the longer term. Perhaps a way of doing this is by reinventing relationships with local communities and working with them to develop the solutions to the collective problems faced.