The Future of Local Government…

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.

The Drivers

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.

The  Impact

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)

Read The Future of Local Government Part 2  – Social Enterprise Council here.


11 thoughts on “The Future of Local Government…

  1. Interesting and thoughtful piece. I suppose that each council (or groups of councils) could essentially be a series of “clouds” both physical and virtual – a network of customer facing service delivery teams, a group of councilors and the mechanism to support the democratic process and a web based / remote “back office” shared across the public, nonprofit, educational (and private?) sectors.
    So long as councilors maintain a viable and accountable link between the council and the resident there is no reason why this shouldn’t work.

  2. Thank you very much for writing this up! I will indeed be sending it round. I think it’s a great vision. Obviously there are some culture complications (getting people in local gov to think in a new way), but in this era of efficiency and cost reductions, I think it’s a great time to be trying out new ideas.

    Cheers for this, Carl!

  3. Nice post! I agree with you on this
    “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.”

    Keep it coming!

  4. What stands out about this article, for me at least, is how the concept of service delivery has been ‘skewed’ around the latest technological trend in delivering IT, and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.

    That there are challenges facing local government is not in doubt, but I would suggest the challenges are less about embracing new ways of working, and more IT spend in cloud services, but in defining the essential services that local government should provide, and what should be left to other organisations, whether voluntary or not, or indeed whether such services need to be provided at all.

    It is also questionable as to whether or not the local authority should be involved in the provision of services by other organisations. The ‘box ticking’ mentality, so beloved of the last government administration, has been enthusiastically embraced by many local authorities, and this ‘cost’ to service provision can be seen as a deterrent to other organisations, and certainly isn’t desirable in this new era of austerity.

    With the budgetary constraints now facing local authorities I don’t think the ‘brave new world’ is going to be one that revolves around embracing the newest IT technologies, but perhaps more about reducing the ‘footprint’ of authorities.

    All in my humble opinion, of course.

    1. Thanks for the comment Paul,

      I do agree that we need a fundamental review of how services are delivered however we also need to accept that in doing that the public will require transparancy and good value in any alternative model.

      Reducing the footprint will be a driver, but we would need to ensure that maintain the collaboration between all those new providers of service.

      My point about starting adult conversations is exactly the point you raise.

      Thanks again for your contribution

  5. A fundamental review and new ways of working are clearly required. The Cloud concept, together with the ‘App Store” concept should enable LG to make huge cost savings across its operations from an IT perspective and also enable the concept of shared services to be more readily accessible.

    However, in my experience, shared services are not what LG councillors in particular , and LF as a whole, feel is easy to subscribe to. The concept runs totally against individual economic agendas and regeneration and pits council against council.

    Lets look at an example, Rochdale and Oldham are next door to each other, both are deprived areas, have similar demographics, similar economic pressures yet have totally independent LG structures, independent Council Wards etc. They are clearly trying to each others food. Who will be top dog?

    I was involved in the strategic outsourcing of both councils, the agendas were different and yet similar, the politicians ( local and national) had similar agendas yet if a “shared Service centre” was to be built and the savings generated, where would it be located ?

    Each council had a case, councillors fought for their wards, employment, economic regeneration etc. In the end, they agreed to disagree and went their own way – wasting millions of taxpayers money on diverse solutions to the same problem.

    This is politics at its worst and is not in the citizens interest but in the politicians need for survival.

    Cloud Computing opens the door to such services being delivered cost effectively – but is the real appetite there?

    On experience I think not. Yes there will be extensive rhetoric from all involved, but financial desire alone is not enough, political will is the key – so perhaps we need more joined up political thinking in order to deliver real value added change.

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