Thursday 31 March 2011
Spoke today at APSE's Northern symposium on 'Avoiding the road to nowhere' at Formby Hall.
This was the latest event in our roadshow on discussing with our membership the financial challenges they face and debating some of the solutions around efficiency, income generation and innovation.
Also speaking was Paul Sanderson from St Helen's Council, who identified measures that they are taking around energy efficiency and renewables to save money and improve their performance in relation to reducing carbon emmissions.
Caroline Finnett from Walker Morris presented on what social and environmental actions you can include in procurement. She also used the opportunity to promote the research APSE has completed and our publication on a Sustainable Development Toolkit. Walker Morris provide the legal advice on this.
Thursday 24 March 2011
APSE held a strategic forum at Parliament tonight to discuss the opportunities created for local government by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
The guest speaker was Dr Alan Whitehead MP, the Chair of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group.
Alan talked us through the financial incentives that exist to encourage forms of renewable heating from July 2011 and for domestic properties from spring 2012.
This included ground source heat pumps, solid biomass and biomethane, with a range of 4p to 6.5p.
Once again it appear that the renewables agenda is the one area that local government can be expanisve on in the current financial climate.
Wednesday 23 March 2011
Took part in a Guardian online debate today on the impact that the cuts were having on the Green agenda in local government.
A point I made that sparked a bit of debate was about how you generate behavioural change amongst the public, the example I gave is pasted below:
Engage communities by appealing to what matters to them: Solar panel work in Birmingham provides residents with free electricity from the panels. This has resulted in people changing the time of day when they have showers and do their washing, to daylight hours. This is because they save money on electricity. Something as simple as fitting meters in homes has challenged community thinking and generated behavioural change that creates a sustainability benefit.
In APSE we recognise this is a key element of tackling climate change, if energy efficiency or renewable schemes are implemented without the public's involvement then we haven't really tackled the root cause of the problem.
Monday 21 March 2011
Gave evidence today on the future of audit and inspection in local government to the inquiry that the Communities and Local Government Committee is holding at Portcullis House.
Alongside me was Professor John Seddon who has written widely on systems thinking.
It's fair to say that whilst I agree with John's approach to improving systems and processes there are several key areas of policy around how his ideas apply to public services where we disagree.
We slogged it out with the Committee for almost an hour before they called time on us and we then shared a taxi back to Euston.
APSE's views are that there is a need for openness and transparency in public services that is best facilitated by the scrutiny of an independant national body, although we would accept that the Audit Commission's role had become overgrown. We also think that if there are over 400 authorities in the UK some of whom are providing over 200 individual services then there are valuable lessons that can be learned from each other through identifying best practice and sharing amongst the sector. Value for money studies have aided this process. Public Services cannot be exclusively demand driven, there are a number of major policy issues such as climate change that require political and managerial leadership despite the fact that sometimes the public disagree.
Wednesday 16 March 2011
Busy couple of days in London, where I attended a couple of conferences and had several meetings.
The first event was 'The Public Sector Efficiency Expo', where I almost seen Francis Maude outline the coalition Government's policy on Public Services.
I say almost because despite turning up early at the Business Design Centre in Islington the organisers hadn't anticipated how many people would want to get into the main hall and it was overflowing with people. I ended up watching the session, chaired by Ben Page, from a balcony trying to make out what was going on through a dodgy sound system. Don't think I will be going back next year.
Had a really useful meeting in the afternoon at the Department for Transport, where we discussed the development of the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme. The meeting was quite stimulating as the civil servants engaged in an open diaologue as to how we could communicate the programmes aims effectively, including the use of social networking.
I then went off to discuss a research project on Insourcing services that we are undertaking for a client.
My second day allowed me to attend the Sustainable Development UK conference at the QE11 centre in Westminster, whilst their were a number of interesting speakers, Phillip Monaghan was the one who I enjoyed listening to the most as he spoke about his book 'sustainability in austerity'. In the afternoon I met up with another research client to discuss a project we are undertaking on the employment opportunities created in the green agenda.
Tuesday 15 March 2011
Spoke at APSE's latest roadshow event on 'Avoiding the Road to Nowhere' in Landudno in North Wales.
Reg Kilpatrick the Deputy Director of Local Government Policy at the Welsh Assembly gave a useful insight into the efficiency context in Wales. Compared to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland the cuts appear to be on a smaller scale to existing budgets and therefore perhaps give a greater opportunity to come up with responses that can be implemented over time.
Monday 14 March 2011
Spoke today at APSE's seminar in Belfast on 'Avoiding the Road to Nowhere'. Mapped out our narrative around 'The Ensuring Council' and our triangle of excellence response to the cuts of efficiency, income generation and innovation.
Bumper Graham from NIPSA outlined the politics of cuts in Northern Ireland and the impact this will have on public services.
Wednesday 09 March 2011
Much like Colin Firth’s character in the film the King’s Speech, it has taken David Cameron some time to find his voice on his true intentions for the future of public services.
In his recent Daily Telegraph article, he stopped hiding behind Big Society and Localism rhetoric and spoke clearly about something a number of us had long suspected – that he wants a much greater role for the private sector in the delivery of public services.
The Prime Minister’s White Paper outlining his thinking on this is imminent. Local authorities of all political colours may wonder how helpful his plans will be however, at a time when they are struggling so desperately to cope with unprecedented budget cuts that threaten services upon which local communities rely.
It appears that Mr Cameron believes the only way to improve services and make them more efficient is by making markets and competition the default position for delivery, with current provision mechanisms confined to history.
Those who have been responsible for running council service for many years may be surprised by the tone of his comments as it appeared to infer that public services are a closed shop on delivery at present. The review of the ‘public services industry’ by economist DeAnne Julius in 2008 found it was worth £79bn to the private sector and growing. Anyone involved in local government knows that the Prime Minister’s portrayal of some sort of monolith dinosaur is inaccurate when all the evidence shows councils have modernised, services have improved and pluralism of provision has prevailed.
Implementing any new approach takes up vast amounts of time, energy and, indeed, resources; none of which are in great supply in local government at present. Do we really have the capacity for this type of experiment amid the current carnage that local authorities are facing?
For those with long memories, his observations may smack of a return to the failed policy of Compulsory Competitive Tendering, which was imposed upon local government in the eighties and nineties. Indeed I made this prediction myself in the first MJ of the new year, when announcements were made regarding the intention to remove the two tier workforce code.
Commentators who have championed greater involvement of third sector organisations in public services may cling to the hope that this is about divestment of services. But the fact that this has never really been about them is now loud and clear.