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Blog from Paul O'Brien

August 19, 2019
Tackling the housing crisis

Will new Housing Minister Esther McVey succeed where her predecessors have failed and finally make significant inroads to solving the housing crisis? Only if she recognises that 100 years on from the Addison Act local authorities must once again play a key role in delivering quality affordable housing.’

 

There are three main areas of Government housing policy that APSE has called for action on in our latest research, with the Town and Country Planning Association, ‘Housing for a fairer society’.

 

The first issue is delivering and retaining genuinely affordable housing. A good start would be for Government to reinstate a definition of affordability that is linked to income. Government also needs to provide significantly more direct grant for social rental homes. It should also suspend the right to buy in England as happened in Scotland and Wales, where the numbers of council houses are increasing, for the first time in a generation. In the meantime, Councils should be allowed to keep 100% of their right to buy receipts to reinvest in building. The current validity test also needs reformed in order to close loopholes that allow developers to avoid contributing affordable housing.

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Tags: Housing, housing crisis, council housing, permitted development, right to buy, validity test, APSE, TCPA
July 4, 2019
Turning up the volume on climate change emergency

The prevailing issue that has exercised the minds of those in local government for the last decade has been dealing with the impact of austerity. Whilst rumours of its demise may be somewhat premature it is likely to be overtaken by something that may have an even more fundamentally profound impact on councils, dominating almost every decision they make over the next decade – that of climate change. 


Whilst many councils are alert to this agenda, with dozens declaring climate change emergencies, particularly in response to high profile public protests by young people, it is easy to move the date you expect to be carbon neutral forwards by ten years or so, but unless you focus on deliverables then achieving such aspirations could prove to be difficult in practice. The clock is ticking. There is an urgent need to move beyond strategising and rhetoric to making significant progress. 

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Tags: Climate change, local communities, Local government, waste management, APSE, highways, street lighting, local government finance
May 13, 2019
Being a chief officer in a changing local government world

For those MJ readers of a certain age they will no doubt remember the magical world of Mr Benn; as a spaceman, a zookeeper, a cook or a diver. The adventures were always captivating and of course he received his souvenir medal once he returned through the changing room at the fancy-dress shop where his adventures commenced from. Now you may of course be wondering what Mr Benn’s has to do with local government? Well the current crop of chief officers, those who report directly to chief executives, often find themselves in a Mr Benn like world.
 
Local government was once a place of Weberian style municipal discipline; clearly defined roles and with that silo working, along delineated professional functions. Planners did planning. Engineers did Highways. Mr Benn would have stayed bedecked in his bowler hat! Today’s local authority chief officers, not only look different from that bygone era but are increasingly working under different guises; changing costumes to suit the adventures of the day.

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Tags: Local government, chief officers, Commercialisation, local government finance, partnerships
February 22, 2019
Time for some honesty on how local taxes are spent

It’s time for an honest conversation about tax in the UK. Successive Governments have pledged not to increase the tax burden on the public in their manifestos and then once in power they put in place policies that do the opposite.


Just look at the shift that has taken place in tax revenues since austerity started. In 2010, local government’s core spending power of £50B was around 80% funded from local tax yield with a further 20% subsidy from direct taxation. Fast forward to 2019 and the £46B or so that local government will receive in core spending power in the coming year, is outstripped by the £52B that will be raised in local taxation. Local taxation is now clearly subsidising national spending. 


Local people and local businesses are now paying significantly more in council tax and business rates for the services they receive at a time when many of the neighbourhood services, that determine the look and the feel of the place, are being decimated. Add to this the fact that fees and charges have also either been introduced or increased, in order to try and hold local services together and we really are testing people’s patience.
 

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Tags: APSE, Local government, local tax, austerity, council tax, business rates, fees and charges, Neighbourhoods, fair funding review, comprehensive spending review
December 10, 2018
Brexit and its impact on frontline local government services

Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer and that definitely applies when it comes to all things Brexit. I was recently asked what I thought the impact of Brexit would be on local government frontline services and after a pause and a few caveats I was able to give an answer which sounded something akin to the famous Donald Rumsfeld response about ‘known knowns and unknown unknowns.’


We already know that the devaluation of the pound following the referendum has increased the cost of UK imports like construction materials for housing and highways, plant and equipment for fleet, refuse and grounds maintenance; food ingredients for school meals and even chemicals and cleaning supplies for janitorial responsibilities.

 

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Tags: Brexit, housing, school meals, Environment, roads, parks, workforce
October 18, 2018
Time to focus on domestic policy matters

Reading the recent announcements from Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, about the new trailblazer programme to tackle childhood obesity I couldn’t help but wonder whether there is any joined up policy thinking taking place on domestic matters whilst the shadow of Brexit remains looming large over the country.

Whilst any new money is welcomed by local government, alongside the ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030, a competition where local authorities can bid to be one of five winners who will receive £100k a year for three years to come up with innovative ideas around active lifestyles and healthy eating, isn’t going to push back the tide on the problem when a tsunami of cuts is coming in the other direction and overwhelming public health initiatives; closing parks; forcing greenspace sell offs; and causing significant reductions in accessible sports and leisure facilities.     

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Tags: APSE, Public health, local government finance, austerity, The Budget, Neighbourhoods, parks, leisure centres
June 28, 2018
Time for a change in thinking

Another week, another warning. If we don’t address the funding pressure building in the system around adults and childrens’ social care services then local governments ability to fulfil its more general responsibilities, to its communities, will implode.

So will Government address this impending catastrophe through new fiscal raising proposals in the imminent social care green paper or deal with it in next year’s comprehensive spending review? Or will we remain like mindless zombies on a relentless march to fulfil the predictions contained within various versions of the graph of doom? That money will run out for anything other than statutory services and even then such protection will be severely tested.

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Tags: local government finance, Adult Social Care, Public health
May 3, 2018
Local government should be the key arbiter in shaping place

Many ingredients go into making a community a place where people are proud to live and work, so is there a danger of eroding local government’s ability to place-shape effectively as a result of a series of policy decisions and funding cuts?

Previous governments’ strategies for neighbourhood renewal seem a distant memory, alongside the levels of accessible funding that went alongside them. Whilst criticism existed of approaches being overly centralist, ‘funding with strings attached’, local government remains at the mercy of central government policy decisions and delivering budget cuts is the only thing in which it seems to have more freedom.

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Tags: place, Local government, Local democracy, Neighbourhoods, cuts, Housing, planners, local communities, roads, parks, Leisure, streetscene, community wealth-building, stewardship
March 9, 2018
Towards a new municipalism

Recent events in Northamptonshire have hammered home the message that local government has reached a tipping point in terms of its finances. Anyone who thinks that the problems faced at the County Council are unique is in for a rude awakening. In this context is it time for a new municipalism?

With policy pressures piling up and budgets diminishing rapidly for many services it is time for local authorities to take back control of their areas by reclaiming entrepreneurship, rather than the outdated thinking that someone else should do this for them. This is not about acting commercially in the blind pursuit of income generation but to identify the major policy puzzles facing communities and thinking creatively and innovatively about how to solve these policy conundrums. Where markets have failed to deliver the outcomes that local communities need then it’s time for local councils to step up to the plate.

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Tags: swansea, workforce, northamptonshire, Skills, employment, Local government, community benefits, fuel poverty, new municipalism, Nottingham, municipal entrepreneurship, income generation, bristol, Public policy, Commercialisation, Birmingham, Housing, local economies, Dumfries and galloway, sub contractors, suppliers
February 1, 2018
Focusing on 'local' economic benefits - a sustainable solution for public services

From the eighties up until the late-noughties a fairly stable orthodoxy existed amongst many senior policymakers that the transfer of large swathes of local government services to national outsourcing companies was a good thing, would bring much needed investment, transformation of approach and efficiency in delivery. Anyone who dared question the reality of what outcomes would actually be achieved was ostracised and branded as a dinosaur by the industry that built up around the sector.

 

In APSE, we always try to look for tangible evidence and think through the long-term outcomes in any suggested approach to delivering local government services and it’s therefore fair to say that we held a fairly healthy scepticism of much of the claims of risk transfer, widespread additional employment benefits and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. From around 2005 onwards we also started to see many contracts which harked back to the CCT days or which were early strategic partnerships start to run out of steam and councils start to insource them. 

 

 

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Tags: local economies, Insourcing, APSE, Outsourcing, in-house services, Sustainability

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

 

 

 

 

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