Paul Bradbury 03 December 2014

Autumn Statement: avoiding ‘breaking point’ for local government

As predicted, the Autumn Statement disclosed further cost cuts and prioritising decision-making, but despite the ongoing austerity, the devolution debate is at the front and centre, with calls for joined-up public services to quicken in pace.

With this in mind, to protect service delivery, councils need to transform both public and private working partnerships and collaborate more closely with citizens – in particular by continuing to engage citizens through digital services. Only then will local authorities be able to operate more leanly and focus attentions on delivering strategic citizen functions.

Part of this transformation may include fewer, larger and combined authorities, resulting in shared technology, workspaces, teams, insights and service delivery in a bid to make budgets work harder.

It will encompass the emergence of strategic public private enterprises that will evolve to support intervention initiatives, such as the sponsorship of vulnerable families. It will promote intelligent use of data to better anticipate and provide for community needs and it will deliver enhanced personalised services, at a cost to the citizen.

Achieving this future vision requires having devolved decision-making powers - something the Local Government Association (LGA) and Centre for Cities both advised in their government submissions. The government is likely to start looking at how to increase local accountability, empowering local services and council leaders for progress against expectations, as well as managing citizen data and taking action on the voice of citizen.

The blueprint for shared services has started to stick, and we can expect there to be more of this in the year ahead. South Worcestershire councils recently commenced a strategic partnership to achieve savings of £3m by sustaining local employment and improving services. The agreement includes a centre of excellence, the ‘Orchard Centre’, from which it will offer a range of processing and collection services to support other councils around the country as they seek to overcome increasing service and budgetary pressures.

Funding reductions can’t be ignored and as outlined by the Local Government Association, if it continues in to the new Parliament, councils will face a funding shortfall of £12.4bn by 2020. Earlier this year we conducted research that revealed that 65 per cent of local authorities are finding it harder to reach their cost cutting targets whilst maintaining service delivery this year, compared to last year. Seventy-two per cent believed that 2015/16 may be the year that local authorities reach 'breaking point'.

Taking a fresh perspective on public and private sector partnerships will help local councils transform in step with the changing landscape and ultimately continue to deliver valuable services, albeit in different guises where necessary.

Paul Bradbury is group business development director at Civica

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