Tuesday 17 May 2011
Launch of APSE's new research publication 'the virtuous green circle: creating a revolving fund for local authority solar energy', at Birmingham City Football Club. The report demonstrates a business case as to how you can undertake renewables projects in local government on a self financing basis.
In opening the conference my role was to place this in the context of the financial cuts facing local government at present. My emphasis is that for local government this is the one bright shining light at the end of a long dark tunnel of cuts.
David Owen an expert on Solar Photovoltaic energy followed me along with Stephen Cirell who is the author of the APSE report, Steve pursued a line that any authority who are not looking at this at present are missing out as it is the only game in town with in excess of a 17% return on investment. He added that he believed in this so strongly that he had a 4kw system fitted on his own house the day before.
Neil Saunders from Swindon Commercial Services gave a first class insight into how you develop a financial model for this type of project. In the afternoon Tim German of Cornwall Council spoke about the programme of Solar PV that they are pursuing on non domestic properties and Jonathan Edwards presented on the scheme Wrexham BC are rolling out on their council housing.
The debate flowed with great enthusiasm all day with a straw poll identifying that around 80% of the audience were already engaged in developing Solar PV programmes. The message is definitely getting through on this, now all we need to do is to get the Government not to tinker with the feed in tariffs.
Monday 16 May 2011
Spoke this morning at a conference at the QE11 centre in London on Outsourcing and Shared Services - except I spoke about the failings of outsourcing over the past twenty years in England and why so many authorities are now insourcing services. I have got to say I was pleasantly surprised that the audience were very receptive to my message and the nine key lessons if still outsourcing services which I mentioned.
The event opened up with Amanda Lewis author of an outsourcing guide, followed by Jonathon Carr-West from the LGIU who suggested that local governments future role should be more about commissioning and less about delivery, I have got to say that the LGIU's position on this surprised me greatly. I then gave APSE's perspective on insourcing as an approach in terms of why so many authorities had returned services in-house following bad experiences of outsourcing. This was in the main because of a failure to deliver on the promises made and because it is a much more efficient method of service delivery whilst maintaining control of your own destiny. There is a significant body of evidence building up on this now ranging from Deloitte to the Obama administration on insourcing and from organisations such as the Audit Commission, Zurich Municipal, SOCITM and LSE who have made various criticisms of outsourcing. Some authorities will continue to have services contracts with partners and when it is kept to specific areas then in some instances this has proven to be successful, the more complexity added to the approach then the less successful it appears to be and the authority appears to run into capacity and capability problems of its own in terms of its ability to manage the relationship for their citizens benefit.
Cllr Colin Noble, who is involved in shaping Suffolk County Council's controversial New Strategic Direction, followed me. Whilst APSE may disagree on the overarching present strategy of where Suffolk are reportedly trying to go in divesting themselves of the vast majority of their services, some of Colin's ideas around community and third sector involvement are interesting and we had a good chat after the session closed. The audience were very fair and their appears to be a bit of a rethink going on amongst many at present as to whether outsourcing services is really the answer to public sector organisations funding crisis or whether it’s going to lead to further long term pain.
One of the things we were all agreed on was if there is to be greater involvement of the third and voluntary sector in public service provision then this will be best achieved on a gradual evolutionary basis by collaboration, facilitation and development. As soon as you start to make this significant in scale then European Procurement Directives will kick in, you will be forced to contractualise the process and the private sector will wipe the floor with the third sector.
Friday 13 May 2011
Participated in meeting of Greenlink today in London. This is the body bringing together organisations involved in the parks and open spaces sector, an area that is being particularly hit hard by cuts at present. Many of the organisations present where third sector and social enterprises, who depend heavily on local authority funding and contracts to survive. This is a point the group has pursued at a recent lobbying meeting with DCLG Minister Andrew Stunnell, along with concerns on skill erosion and a reduction in perceived Government supportiveness for the importance of quality green space.
One of the senior civil servants present at the meeting of Greenlink pointed to the significant linkages to greenspace contained within the Localism Bill. She also referenced that Government would be producing civic society 'how to' guides and that one would be specific to Greenspace. She also referenced that there would be a Local Government Act by the end of the summer and a right to reclaim public land not being put to good use would be in this. I pressed her on whether this would be consulted on prior to issue as it has not been referenced within the Localism Bill.
Greenlink have also undertaken a survey of local authority greenspace teams on the impact on their budgets of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Some of the key themes were around are green services being treated equitably in the cuts and are the cuts eroding the ability to deliver on the Big Society aims of encouraging greater public engagement and involvement. Some of the points emerging are that the average cuts to parks and open spaces budgets appear to be 28% to 30%, although many appeared to think this was unique I pointed out that this was a consistent message coming back from all non statutory frontline services based on the survey work that APSE does across local government services.
The group then swapped stories on the impact of the cuts on their own organisations. As an example the design council and CABE have now merged and there has been a reduction in CABE staff from 110 to 20, they are now a charity and only have guaranteed funding of £2.85m per year for the next two years, previously their budget was between £10m and £11m.
Love Parks week is organised for 28 to 31 July. I managed to get in the launch of APSE's research paper on renewables 'the virtuous green circle' in the organisational round up.
After this meeting I went and had a discussion with Gaynor Hartnell the Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association to look at potential joint working between APSE and the REA.