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.
Many councils are taking dramatic steps in reaction to budget cuts and indeed some are finding creative solutions. A note of caution must be sounded however, about the need to consider carefully whether local government can continue to allow itself to be eroded of the very capacity and capability that is needed for ongoing transformation.
Whereas some authorities believe that divesting themselves of resources and assets is the best approach, facing the fact that perpetual reinvention is now the norm may lead to a different conclusion. Adaptability requires skills and experience of transformation to be nurtured, grown and retained within councils' own employees. The alternative is paying a premium to external organisations to hone their skills at your authority's expense and repeating that process on a cyclical basis. This is not good use of public funds and could leave councils incapable of acting in their own or their communities' interests when required to reinvent themselves all over again.
APSE is currently undertaking research into how councils can build the necessary attributes to see them through to 2020 and beyond. We are already discovering that a number of forward thinking authorities are making rapid progress as a result of structuring and bundling services in new ways to make them both more operationally effective and customer-focused. The dynamic environment faced by local government requires not only expertise around such things as efficiency and demand management, but also continual role reinvention through an emphasis on innovation, municipal entrepreneurship and income generation.
Change has become the only constant in local government. So perhaps it's time to realise that one of the core elements needed for the future will be skills that ensure councils are able to cope with constant transformation.