What next?

The UK Experience by Malcolm Morley*

I am currently reading an excellent book by Chris Patten with the title, ‘What Next? Surviving the twenty-first century’.

The book tackles the big questions about what is happening in the world and the impact that these things are having on us all.

The title of this book could be applied to Local Government and councils. How will Local Government and councils survive in the twenty-first century?

This is a key question for councils not only in England but around the world.

Think of only two years ago and the issues that you were thinking about then. How many of those issues have not changed? How many new issues have forced themselves onto the agenda?

What issues have you identified that are likely to have a significant impact upon the Local Government sector as a whole and on your Council in particular in the next three/five years? Have these issues been shared within your Council and plans put in place to deal with them?

Local Government is pressurised by financial restraint, by complex and diverse public demands, by legislative requirements, by politics, by the legacy of past investment in assets and services and by sheer volume.

Councils are also pressurised by their own ambitions for the communities that they serve and for themselves as organisations. There is huge pressure for improvements in all of the three Es, economy, efficiency and effectiveness.

Given all of this pressure and the need to make budgets balance, it is understandable that many people in Local Government find it hard to resist the temptation to concentrate on now rather than the future.

This is like the person seeing someone drowning in a river, diving in and pulling them out only then to see someone else drowning and diving in again with this being repeated. Eventually having dived in again and becoming exhausted (and at risk of drowning) they look up the river to see someone pushing people into the river.

While it is absolutely important to manage the present it is also vital to look to the future to seek both to influence it and to prepare the organisation for it.

While saving people drowning is important, stopping people being pushed into the river needs to be part of the solution as well.

Local Government and councils in England will not be the same in five years time. I believe that there could be a shift in the balance between councils being service commissioners and service providers.

I also think that as more public sector organisations become service commissioners rather than service providers, there will be pressure to rationalise the number of organisations commissioning services for local communities.

Councils, as community leaders, need to decide what roles they want to play in the future.

Thinking about this now will enable them to influence the policy debate and enable them to not only plan but to evolve as organisations for the benefit of both Local Government and the communities that they serve.

*Malcolm Morley is Chief Executive of Harlow District Council and can be contacted via the Editor, email info@lgfocus.com.au The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of his employer.