Monday 03 December 2012
More and more councils are emphasising the development of commercial strategies and skills in order to hold services together and give them a fighting chance in the current age of austerity.
Some commentators may view local government, innovation and entrepreneurship as unlikely bedfellows. But I see evidence all over country that a commercial culture is expanding and flourishing amongst council staff.
As budget cuts bite, managers are looking to alternative forms of income generation to offset reductions and spread overheads. APSE’s recent State of the Market survey on parks and grounds maintenance showed, for example, that 82% of authorities are looking at reconfiguring charges, with 38% selling services to the private sector and 46% to other public bodies. Whilst some decorative work and general maintenance may reduce due to austerity measures, these services are adapting and innovating to survive.
Stockton Council has drawn in almost £2m over the past few years from a diverse range of funders to support its parks regeneration programme. Wakefield is sharing specialist quad bikes with police partners. Sefton has received over £400,000 from the PCT to create outdoor gyms. Nottingham has acquired £3m lottery funding. Lewisham has used a mobile app to increase its trade waste income. And Tower Hamlets has made one of its top park facilities available for hire for weddings, civil partnerships and children's birthday parties.
So where are these public sector entrepreneurs? APSE’s recent research with De Montfort University on ‘Municipal Entrepreneurship’ found they exist across every authority. They fall into four broad categories. Catalysts scan for new opportunities, understanding the value of innovation and entrepreneurship. They are normally chief executives, senior or operational managers. Stewards are convenors who ensure collaboration and interaction to allow creative thinking. We found elected members, senior and area management teams playing this role. Mediators manage and resolve conflicts in the process, arbitrating between different stakeholders. They are normally operational managers or elected members. A fundamental fourth role was also identified, that of Deliverers, who focus on outcomes and improvements in service delivery. Deliverers can be senior management focusing on the bottom line, project managers or senior executives ensuring financial gain, or elected members trying to protect services for communities.
Many authorities have already begun to develop commercial strategy and skills. Chief executives will be ensuring that they continue to foster and develop this culture at corporate and service level if they wish to encourage the creativity necessary to offset budget cuts and become more self-sufficient financially.
This article is based on a recent column I did for MJ magazine.
Friday 27 January 2012
With recent announcements on feed in tariffs for solar photovoltaics creating such controversy, many could have been forgiven for believing the opportunity for local government to deliver local growth through its response to climate change had gone. From what I have seen in councils around the country, this is far from the case. However, the reduction in tarrifs does create an opportunity to reappraise what strategy authorities should pursue in a rapidly changing environment.
It could be said that there has been an over emphasis on renewables to the detriment of energy efficiency measures of late. Indeed, it has been a bit like investing in larger size clothing to tackle an expanding waistline rather than focusing on the fundamental problem of over consumption.
In the current financial climate nobody needs to apologise for building their previous strategy around pursuing feed in tariffs, renewable obligations certificates or the renewable heat incentive to fund an overall approach to tackling climate change. However, I predict a rebalancing of strategy brought about by a shifting Government emphasis towards energy efficiency measures signalled by Green Deal. Significant opportunities exist for local authorities in this area and, as with the feed in tarrifs, councils that move first will get the most benefit, while those that dawdle may fall victim to funds running out further down the line.
One authority that has been at the forefront of strategy development on environmental sustainability over the past decade is Nottingham City Council and there will be very few in local government who are not familiar with the Nottingham Declaration. An ambitious plan has been developed aimed at providing 20% of the city’s energy through renewable and low carbon sources by 2020; the rate is 11.5% already.
I was therefore interested to hear the authority’s plans for Green Deal. It is looking to become a Green Deal provider and targeting an £80m investment with potential benefit for 12,900 properties across the city. This should generate £13m of annual savings with a payback period of 20 years.
Combine this with recent investment in solar and the 8,000 jobs that are predicted from the imminent expansion of the city’s tram system and you can see very quickly how an economic growth strategy built around energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy schemes adds up.
APSE's view is that at a time when local government is once again being looked at as a vehicle for creating local economic growth it would be surprising if the opportunities that the green economy creates were not near the top of the list for politicians and strategists alike.