Thursday 25 September 2008
Busy few days at the Labour Party Conference opened with a fringe meeting on commissioning on the Sunday night. CLG Minister Parmjit Dhanda MP opened our joint fringe with the LGIU followed by there Chief Executive Andy Sawford, myself and finally John Tizzard. We have a healthy debate and agree that we cannot allow the agenda on commissioning to recreate false barriers like client / contractor splits and shift towards local government becoming an enabler without also fulfilling its crucial role as a provider.
We hold other fringes on the economic footprint of local government (with CLES), insourcing, social housing and joint waste authorities (with Enterprise). They all go fairly well despite the intense competition on the fringe programme.
I am also asked to respond to Local Government Minister John Healey MP at a Fabian breakfast fringe on the future of public services and colleague Mo Baines speaks on a UNISON platform with Communities Minister Hazel Blears MP.
Prime Ministers wife Sarah Brown visits our stand along with a host of Government Ministers. All in all a useful few days which allowed APSE to promote its policies and research to the highest levels of Government.
Saturday 20 September 2008
Started the day with a private meeting with the civil servant charged with sorting out the mess that is the trading and charging guidance for English local government. The meeting takes place at the Chief Executive of Bedford, Shaun Fields office and Steve Cirell from Eversheds is also present.
We spend a good couple of hours outlining our significant views and experience to the civil servant, (Steve has probably the best legal knowledge of the issue in the country and Shaun is recognised has having tested the limits of the current legislation to the hilt). It's a bit disappointing when he takes very few notes and then invites us to a meeting of a fairly wide grouping of 'stakeholders'.
Oh well, I hope things prove more successful than the last time they adopted this approach 5 years ago!
In the evening we participate in a strategic debate on asset management and regeneration at Northampton Town Hall. The event is hosted by Council Leader, Cllr Tony Woods and also present is Chief Executive David Kennedy. Along with Shaun, Pete Murphy from CLG, colleagues from the private sector and other local authorities it makes for a really interesting discussion over dinner. It is really difficult not to allow things to become dominated by the credit crunch and the impact this is beginning to have on asset value, capital receipts and ultimately prudential borrowing.
Saturday 13 September 2008
APSE's annual seminar took place this week at the Albert Halls in Nottingham and proved a huge success. The delegates, exhibitors and sponsors all gave APSE tremendous feedback and when the event concluded in the early hours of Friday morning the dance floor was still packed with some of the 800 guests who attended the service awards dinner.
The conference opened on Wednesday with Local Government Minister, John Healy MP, addressing the audience and taking a range of questions, I then had an opportunity to have a private meeting with John for a half hour before he dashed off on his hectic schedule. That evening we held the AGM of APSE and had an audience with former England goalkeeper and record cap holder, Peter Shilton.
On Thursday morning I chaired a lively session with the outspoken John Seddon who makes a great case for ignoring the legislative and regulatory framework imposed on local government and just concentrating on the service user. John talked a lot of sense and his vision is one that many of us who have worked on improving service delivery for many years have been frustrated at not being able to fully implement because of rules and regulations. Now all we have to do is convince central government and their regulators to hand over the tax yield and allow us to pursue the outcomes we think the customers want rather than what they think they do. Should be fairly easy now that all of the main political parties are committed to localism!!!
The main plenary closes with a highly entertaining talk from on mind surfing that gets people up out of their chairs and involved.
Its onwards to the annual dinner and awards at Nottingham's National Ice Arena, we have floored the ice and the room looks spectacular when the 800 guests arrive, Annabel Croft proves a first class host for the evening and Hull win the overall award.
When it's all over and done with I just want to go and lay down in a darkened room for a week, roll on next year.
Saturday 06 September 2008
Attend a really interesting meeting as a member of the working party established to look at the issue of Trading and Charging by the Scottish Government. One of the key issues in this area of local government is around when does legitimate trading activity cross the boundary into the tricky ground of State Aid.
We received a presentation by one of the civil servants with responsibility for dealing with State Aid in the Scottish Government. It was enlightening to say the least and prompted questions and discussion that lasted for a good couple of hours.
The outcome was clear, anything that a local authority does between itself and any of its inhouse services is in no way in breech of State Aid rules, anything that a local authority does for another public body is also probably fine, anything for individual members of the public or the private sector has to be looked at carefully and probably has to be won in a competitive process. Where a local authority awards work to an arms length organisation, the third sector or a private body or an individual then it probably has to ensure a competition process takes place if it wishes to avoid being challenged on State Aid grounds.
Thursday 04 September 2008
APSE hosted a high level strategic forum at INLOGOV today on the issue of strategic commissioning. Speakers included Steve Griggs and Helen Sullivan from INLOGOV and Michael Hughes, Director of Studies at the Audit Commission.
Debate raged for a couple of hours amongst the audience from central government, the academic world, senior elected members and officers from local government. One of the strongest themes to emerge was the impossibility of entering into long term contracts in today's rapidly changing and dynamic world. I think it is fair to say that there was a general consensus around this point given peoples experience to date.
Another strong line was that there was an orthodoxy which bubbled just below the surface amongst auditors and others that unless you are outsourcing services then you are in some way deficient in your approach. It was agreed that this had to be challenged. Ultimately those present recognised that there will be times when it is appropriate to procure services from the market or third sector but not on every occasion and indeed there are inherent benefits from keeping a significant level of services directly delivered by the local authority.
A healthy debate took place amongst policymakers, politicians and those responsible for ensuring public services are delivered effectively, which hopefully brings some balance and insight for those involved in the world of strategic commissioning.