Modernising Britain - LG crucial

Meeting in Newport, Wales, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) selected 'Under New Management' as the theme for its 1999 Annual Conference.

In his message to the Conference, Prime Minister Tony Blair referred to his Government's strategy for 'Modernising Britain'. He said as well as devolving powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, new arrangements are being putting in place for the English regions through Regional Development Agencies.

"Crucial to the quality of peoples' lives is what their Councils do," Tony Blair said. "So at the heart of our plans to modernise Britain is our agenda to modernise Local Government. We want to see modern Councils leading their communities and striving for continuous improvement in the delivery of local services."

SOLACE President, Sandy Blair told delegates that as senior executives responsible for £75 billion of public money, 'a huge responsibility rests on our shoulders'. "However, there is no point in improving government if the world in which we exist is not sustainable," he said.

With British roads predicted to be gridlocked in the next 10 years, salmon destroyed in Scotland and more, Sandy Blair said that Local Agenda 21 is integral to our social and economic wellbeing. "Sustainable development must be part of our mainstream thinking," he said.

Chairman of the Commission on Local Government for the new Scottish Parliament, Neil McIntosh, said that having lost its Parliament 300 years ago, the new Parliament is an exciting national event. "Local Government is seen as an important player on the national scene," he said. "We are building Scottish values not merely transferring Westminster to Edinburgh.

"Local Government has the capacity to renew itself, develop its own agenda and take the initiative of embracing democratic renewal." Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office, Brian Bender, told delegates that modernisation requires 'Local Government senior management, and us in Central Government, to develop a shared vision'.

He said there must be an effective link between policy formulation and delivery of services on the ground. "In developing the White Paper on Modernising Local Government, released last March, we worked closely with Local Government," he said. "We now need to translate this into reality."

He said policy making must be 'joined up' and strategic, with a partnership between Central and Local Government being crucial. Chief Executive at the Borough of Lewisham, Barry Quirk, predicts that changes in the first few years of the next century will be mammoth. He warned that managers who get left behind will be quickly labelled as using '20th century thinking'.

Heading a staff of 10,500 serving this large inner London Council, that has an annual budget of £630 million, Brian Quirk said the key to modernising is 'relevance'. Services must be relevant to the community Council serves. He identified the following key elements for effective collaboration between the Central Government and Councils.

  • Agreeing not to shift costs
  • Sharing information
  • Better cooperation
  • Jointly devised strategies
  • Joint plans and budgets
  • Seamless service delivery

Australian Managers attending this year's SOLACE Conference included Jon Edwards, Federal President of the Institute of Municipal Management; Glen Innes, General Manager of Parry Council in New South Wales and Dawne Clark, Manager Corporate Development at Rockdale Council in Sydney.