Town Hall Revolution Coming, Predicts New Report

Posted on 13th September 2012 | Share

Localis/Capita Symonds research into local government service delivery


Local government think-tank, Localis – in partnership with Capita Symonds – has launched a major new report that predicts that the world of local government is about to change irrevocably.

Instead of the 'traditional' council  that does everything itself,  a more diverse approach will see councils working with a patchwork of organisations from across the public, private and voluntary sectors to deliver the local services that communities rely on – waste collection, road maintenance, social care, planning, housing, environmental health etc.

‘Catalyst Councils’, launched today by the Minister for Government Policy, Rt. Hon. Oliver Letwin MP, and the Chairman of the Local Government Association, Councillor Sir Merrick Cockell, finds that, in these testing times for town hall budgets, more than a third of council leaders and chief executives think that there are no local services that could not delivered by a third party – whether a private or voluntary sector provider.

Catalyst Councils, which has received cross-party support from leading figures in local government and beyond [see below],  looks at the various ways councils are developing services that meet savings targets while retaining quality (e.g. ‘next generation’ partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors, co-operative and mutual models, shared services, trading ventures and more) and concludes that both councils and external providers will need to embrace more risk and reward, as part of a more mature and strategic partnership approach.

The report demonstrates councils’ two-fold need for skills – with more than two thirds of council chiefs saying that making use of external expertise and skills was a major reason for working with partners. It also finds that, despite having more experience than the rest of the public sector at commissioning, many councils would like to have greater skills in order to successfully commission these external poviders. Hence, the report calls for the Government and the LGA to establish a ‘Commission on Better Commissioning’ which could close the commissioning skills gap across the public sector by training up public service commissioners, and helping them to understand what they can and cannot do with regard to e.g. EU procurement directives.

Alex Thomson, Chief Executive of Localis said: “The financial situation faced by local government is serious and the status quo is not a viable option. Across the country, local authorities are forging ahead, trying new things, but it will not be easy for them. This report describes some of the innovative approaches councils are working on and highlights some barriers to success that need to be tackled. But I’m confident that if everyone is willing to play their part: the public sector to be more receptive to new ideas, the voluntary sector more open to working in collaborative alliances, and the private sector more of a risk sharing partner – then we’ve got a decent shot at continuing to enjoy high quality public services in the years to come.”

Christian Rogers, Director, Capita Symonds, said:  “This research provides a template for the future of public service delivery. It demonstrates how councils can use innovative models to respond to - and solve - the myriad challenges they face in these difficult economic times.

“The private sector needs to re-invent the way it engages with local authorities and their communities, just as councils have to re-invent the way they fulfil their local leadership role.  Contracts need to be more flexible to accommodate both changes in circumstances and evolving citizen needs and priorities. Innovation - including commercial enterprise - needs to be at the heart of this new approach. These are difficult times but they provide an impetus and an opportunity to make significant changes in the way public services, including those relating to property and infrastructure, are delivered in this country.”

Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, Minister for Government Policy Advice, said: “As this timely report recognises, for a number of reasons – not least among them the economic reality we face – the status quo is not an option for our public services. Fortunately, with challenges come opportunities, and it is good to see that local government is leading the way in developing innovative new approaches to public service delivery. Localis should be commended for producing a report that not only points out the options – as well as the pitfalls – open to councils, but which also in its recommendations describes some of the key barriers that need to be overcome for local government to pursue this agenda further.”

Lord Shipley, Government Cities Adviser, said: “This is an important contribution explaining how local services can continue to be delivered in the face of rising demand and declining resources. It rightly identifies the need for citizens to have a more central role in defining service needs. The proposals for simpler procurement and a stronger role for cooperatives and mutuals will resonate with local government leaders who must innovate to deliver the services and security so many of their residents need.”

Councillor David Burbage, Leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council, said: “With spending reductions to make, all councils are having to look at ever increasingly diverse methods of service provision. This report provides a valuable guide to the different kinds of delivery models being used across the country and encourages politicians and senior council officers to go further in exploring the right kind of service delivery for their area. The days of only using in-house employees to deliver services to residents have gone as the marketplace for local authorities to secure service provision continues to expand.”

Councillor Keith House, Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, said: “As this report ably demonstrates, local government is leading the way on public service reform. As a sector, it is ahead of the curve in sharing services across organisational boundaries and thinking about new ways of working with partners to get the best services possible for residents, while still delivering value for money. The report does an excellent job of highlighting the innovative approaches being explored, and makes a number of recommendations that will help this culture of innovation to flourish in years to come.”

Councillor Jim McMahon, Leader of Oldham Council, said:“This is a timely and salient report – local authorities need to re-evaluate the way that they meet their responsibilities. We can't meet this challenge by doing things the same way, and the savings that we can achieve through conventional efficiency measures won’t last forever.”

View all news articles