Thursday 17 July 2008
Launch our latest research publication 'Governance, Neighbourhoods and Service Delivery', at our one day seminar at Old Trafford today. INLOGOV have done an excellent job with this research.
DCLG Minister Iain Wright MP opens proceedings with the keynote address where he concentrates mainly on the White Paper launched last week 'Real People, Real Power'. Iain praises our research and comes across as being passionate about the empowerment agenda and also makes a few lighthearted quips about Hartlepool's (his constituency)football prowess. After he has finished his spot I whisk him over to the trophy room to get his photo taken with both the Champions League and Premier League trophies.
Dr Steve Griggs of INLOGOV outlines the main findings of the research pointing out that the Neighbourhoods agenda is not a panacea for all policy problems, but that it can deliver benefits in terms of public engagement and involvement in public services, via the medium of the local elected member. He also mentions that it looks at some theoretical models of neighbourhoods.
In the next session, which I chair, David Mallaby from Blackburn and Nick Kavanagh and Ken Harrison from Knowsley, discuss the neighbourhood management models that both authorities have put in place. This puts a lot of flesh on the bones of the theory and generates a great deal of debate amongst the delegates.
All in all its a good event with over 140 delegates present with most staying the full day and participating in the afternoon workshops.
Tuesday 15 July 2008
Participated in a Strategic Commissioning Masterclass today at the Admiralty Arch in London, with the National School of Government.
Peter Housden the Permanent Secretary at DCLG opens up and outlines the Governments views on commissioning. He talks about how services improved by 25% from 2001 but at the same time public satisfaction fell. I question him about this anomaly and we agree that maybe CPA wasn't designed with public opinion fully in mind at the time but was based around Government priorities. He understands the arguments around investing in refuse collection and the highly visible services but that the high spenders of education and social services soaking up resources and investment.
Professor Tony Bovaird and Dr Barbara Allen from Birmingham University lead the next session and outline several versions of what commissioning is. One of Tony's later slides suggest a model as to how commissioning, procurement and contracting should work, which suggests getting to a fairly advanced stage before considering delivery options and when doing so to treat them all as neutral. I challenge some of the assumptions behind this and point to the DCLG statutory guidance issued this month on strong and prosperous communities that outlines local authorities commissioning roles as, regularly assessing and reviewing services (including those delivered externally), and where they are under performing in comparison with others and having failed in terms of an improvement plan only then should you move towards a competition process. Basically there is nothing statutory that says you need to turn every area of service delivery into a commissioning process that leads to a procurement exercise.
The debate goes on and John Tizzard (ex Capita) comes in on the points I made and says we don't want to turn commissioning in to a mechanistic process, there needs to be an element of political choice about it. So long as this is based on tangible evidence I am fully supportive of this.
I believe we are still in the early stages of shaping the strategic commissioning agenda and it will formulate more coherently over the coming months. However local authorities should be clear about what their statutory duties are and not be scared or cajoled into doing something they don't necessarily think is correct for them, just because some spiv in a sharp suit tells them it's whats required.
Thursday 10 July 2008
DeAnne Julius published her review into the Public Services Industry today and its hardly earth shattering conclusions that she draws.
Having poured over 'evidence' for a number of months she thinks that the £79b of public sector contracts awarded have brought great benefit to the UK economy and that the Government should accelerate the speed of outsourcing to gain even further!
As an ex Non Executive Director and Senior Independant Director of SERCO, which she stood down from 9 months ago I didn't really expect her to say things had gone too far. I am sure she is professional enough to be objective about her findings and wouldn't allow producer interests to get in the way of the facts.
Friday 04 July 2008
At the LGA conference this week in Bournemouth and its the usual gathering of the great and good from the local government world.
Arrive down on the Monday night and once we have dropped of our exhibition stand its straight into the networking opportunities that are so useful at this type of event. Go out for something to eat with a long standing friend who is a local authority chief executive and we catch up on what has been happening in recent months around reorganisation, commissioning and the upcoming white papers themes.
The Tuesday sees the full opening of the conference and its busy around our stand most of the day. I go out with colleagues from Northamptonshire County Council and gather some useful information on what they are doing with scrutiny. On the Wednesday I end up being roped into speaking at a Housing fringe and the timing turns out to be useful as the LGA launches a major change in policy that morning. They along with a number of other organisations are now supporting vociferously the replacement of the current housing finance system and its replacement with one which provides a sustainable solution to funding, managing, maintaining and improving stock, whatever stock ownership option authorities choose. APSE has pushed this line for years.
MJ editor Michael Burton goads me into meeting him at 8am on the Thursday morning to go for a swim in the sea and when we arrive Nottingham City Council Leader Jon Collins is just emerging from the waves. We end up getting our photo taken with a copy of the MJ. Anything for a bit of cheap publicity!
Need to leave at 11.30am for meetings in London but before I go I visit the main hall to hear David Cameron's speech to conference. He is very engaging with the audience, speaks without a script and answers questions from all round the hall. This is not the usual stage managed stuff and he comes across as having a wide knowledge of local government. What he said was if/when he is Prime Minister he will bring forward a local government bill early aimed at pursuing devolution of power to local authorities but they then must also devolve to the private, voluntary and third sectors to deliver. Its classic Conservative policy of reduce state provision by involving the market (this time several sectors of it). I wasn't about to hear Hazel Blears in the afternoon, but I would expect the message would have been almost identical. I did notice that the bits about devolving power to the community and his call for elected mayors were not met by rapturous applause and I overheard a couple of Senior Conservative Councillors near me comment "What was the point of us working hard to get almost 50% of council seats in England, if we are now going to give everything away".
Reflecting on the week, we have met up with a number of senior people from APSE member authorities, raised our profile as an organisation, picked up a couple of strong leads on consultancy jobs and made some useful contacts.