Busy time at the LGA conference this week in Harrogate. Not only is APSE exhibiting at the conference but we also have two strategic forum dinners in the evening and I am also down to speak at one of the lunchtime housing fringes.
The start of the conference is shrouded in speculation as to what announcements the Housing Minister John Healey will make on the review of the National Housing Revenue Account. When he does make his views known at a fringe event they are broadly welcomed by those at the conference but caveat ed by most people wanting to see 'the devil in the detail.' Basically he has suggested a one off equalisation of existing debt across all local authorities with responsibility for housing. He has also announced additional funding for local authority new build.
Our first forum on citizen engagement goes well with a speaker from the Citizen's Advice Bureau explaining how they interact with local government and the crucial role they play in the current climate. They receive £67m in funding from local authorities, dealing with 1.93m clients per annum which leads to 6m problems being dealt with. 2m of these have been debt related in the last year which is an increase of 11%, benefits inq uiries have also risen by 13%, with redundancy queries by 17% making an overall rise of 9%.
The next evening we host a debate around the housing announcements in an attempt to get our heads around what it all means in practice.
On the final day I get into the hall to see economic visionary Vince Cable. It's not good news. Vince uses the analogy of most people thinking that the economy has caught a cold when really it has had a heart attack. Like all heart attack victims it's a long and painful road to recovery and one that can suffer serious relapses at any given moment in time.
Next up is David Cameron who gives an honest assessment of the impact the global recession will have on our own public finances in the coming years. He doesn't pull any punches and talks about giving more power to local authorities but with less money. He talks about a post bureaucratic age and raises the spectre of google government, where people will be able to go online and view any item of expenditure a local authority has made of above £500 in value. Running through his speech is a thread of doing more for less and achieving value for money.
All in all a successful few days for APSE having plenty of visits to our stand, meeting a lot of our key people and picking up some pieces of work whilst there.