Thursday 08 October 2009
The Conservative Party conference has been in Manchester the past few days and I managed to attend a few fringe meetings on APSEs behalf.
Shadow Treasury Minister Greg Hands and leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Stephen Greenhalgh spoke at the first event on regeneration. Stephen linked successful regeneration to the return of business rates to local government and improving local housing and infrastructure.
At a separate event on localism and economic resilience Leader of Westminster City Council, Colin Barrow spoke along with Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council. Mike makes a very impressive case for Birmingham as a global city and understands the need to ensure community benefits from both public and inward investment. He suggested that the ingredients for local economic success were around keeping council tax rises small, streets clean, a decent housing stock in place, communities safe and educational attainment high.
George Osborne's pay freeze on public servants on salaries above £18,000 in 2011 was a bold move. With inflation likely to be on the rise again by this point it could prove a significant cut in real terms for those who are just above this benchmark.
Tuesday 06 October 2009
Claire Fox succeeded in fulfilling the brief to do her usual thing and ‘stir it up’ when she spoke at our annual conference in Cardiff. She also took the opportunity to make her usual rallying cry for less state nannying.
The underlying tenet that what once constituted the public sphere is being eroded while the state delves further into the private lives of citizens warrants consideration. But is perhaps lost amid her evocation of some sort of municipal Dystopia; complete with spying helicopters and a moratorium on anything remotely resembling fun (Stop monitoring the public, The MJ, 1st October 2009).
We welcome debate on how scarce resources can be best targeted to achieve public value, which was, indeed, the theme of our conference. I think Claire is being slightly mischievous in her interpretation of this point. For us - and for service users - front-line means collecting the waste, cleaning the streets, providing affordable housing, caring for elderly and vulnerable people, feeding school kids, repairing the roads, cutting the grass in parks and a whole host of highly tangible services upon which people rely day in day out.
These local services have a huge bearing on the health and well-being of local communities. They are also important economically; with our research showing every local authority pound spent can generate £1.64 in the local economy. Promoting behavioural change that will reduce the longer-term economic and social costs of ill health and create a better environment actually means more effective use of public resources.
‘Co-production’ was a term used by speakers at our conference with first hand experience of making service improvements and multi-million pound savings by finding effective local service solutions from within their own in-house teams and communities. And doing things ‘with’ residents, rather ‘to’ or even ‘for’ them is surely the intention of all of us in local government. The reality is that the majority of people are happy to recycle and don’t want their taxes used to clean up after the few who drop cigarette butts or beer bottles. Is Claire suggesting that, instead of encouraging healthier lifestyles, school meals and high quality public spaces, councils should instead be promoting deprivation, misery and a return to the dark days of public squalor?
Since way, way before the recession began, APSE has been supporting the delivery of excellent front-line services and fighting against bureaucracy and waste. But focusing on the front-line does not mean councils should stop taking a wider approach to the health and well-being of residents; it goes hand in hand.
And yes, service users will defend against cuts that affect not only their lives, but also their life-chances.
Friday 02 October 2009
Spent a few days at the Labour Party conference in Brighton and found the fringe a useful opportunity to get close to and interact with key Ministers.
Local Government Minister John Denham gave a barnstorming speech at the Compass fringe where he rounded on critics and showed a passionate and fiery side to him that I hadn't witnessed before. I got a quick word with him the following evening where he modedestly laughed off his performance.
Housing Minister John Healey was another who was blanket booked on the fringe programme and he also made platform annnouncements about the second tranche of bidding for council housing new build and linkages on apprenticeships to Government housing new build investment whatever the sector. I managed to speak to John on two or three occasions and he was vociverous on the reform of housing finance. He is a man on a mission and has made execllent progress in his 4 or 5 months in the job, I really hope he has the opportunity to make further advances prior to the general election.
I also had passing chats with Rosie Winterton once or twice and I am sure her ears will still be ringing from myself and colleagues asking her questions on equal pay and protecting frontline services from cuts, on the fringe. The last time was at the CLES / LOCALIS fringe where the excellent Neil McInroy spoke about creating resillent local economies.
Also did fringes on Housing, planning, international aid, public sector reform, the economy and climate change. Some of the notable speakers at these included Douglas Alexander, Ed Milliband, Michael Bichard and Steve Bundred.