I have been thinking a lot recently about the future of local government not just because I work in local government but because I am really interested in how we (all local government people) are going to tackle the pressures and financial constraints put upon us. In some ways I am relishing the challenges ahead as it will only lead to radical thought and eventually transformation across the sector.
Earlier this week I met up with Steve Dale and Hadley Beeman for a couple of drinks as I was in London for a Knowledge Hub meeting. In the conversation I referred to a model that I had been thinking about which was that the Future of Local Government is purely a conceptual layer of Government.
So let me try to explain this in a bit more detail and why I think we are already moving towards this future.
Huge pressures on Local Government to join up, deliver shared services and this isn’t just neighbouring councils, we are really pushing towards regional shared service providers as well as joining up with 3rd sector agencies to provide and deliver public services.
The cloud is having an impact on ICT services in councils – it is clear that the level of transformation required will require additional investment in ICT but it is unlikely that a single council could justify the spend on its own, so would need to look at a shared arrangement for cloud services or even a public sector cloud – The Government Cloud is obviously driving people’s thinking here and will have a huge impact.
Financial pressure will make councils seriously consider what services they can afford and see as priorities for their specific local areas – Total Place will drive an approach which will inevitably bring 3rd sector and communities themselves to the table as service providers in some instances.
Central Government’s success with Directgov could be seen as a model for local government to drive out efficiencies and cost savings for local government transactional services – either through an enhanced LocalDirectgov portal or directly offered through Directgov.
The drive for open data will allow a greater level of local innovation by social innovators and entrepreneurs and in some instances delivering council services directly and in a more usable and useful way (FixMyStreet etc).
A greater push for more local involvement in decision-making and greater transparency to enable citizens to provide scrutiny and shape services directly.
In my view what all of the above essentially does and could lead to will be the complete breaking down of local government as individual organisations unconnected, uncoordinated and duplicating functions.
So we could get to a situation (I am making some big assumptions here but after all I’m only sharing some thinking) - I don’t believe it will be that long before we see it – where the only aspect of local government which is truly local is the actual service delivery and decision making. The organisation behind it all could well be a mix of local, regional, national and cloud based services all supporting an individual worker (who may not actually be employed by the council) to deliver a service to someone in a community.
To me this will mean that local government is purely going to be a conceptual layer – with greater transparency and openness, radical approaches to service delivery and support services, this will all mean that the only aspect of local we really need to focus on will be the People in the Community. In my view this will be a great outcome, albeit very painful and a political hot potato in some areas. But this approach in my opinion would drive out the inefficiencies in local government and offer greater local involvement in service design and creation.
I could of course be wrong about this :o)