‘Ensuring’ not ‘Enabling’: a future vision for local government

Polly Toynbee writing recently in the Guardian highlighted the concern and potential dissent brewing in local government about the terms of the financial settlement following the Comprehensive Spending Review. Local government, one of the hardest hit areas of government spending, faces a front-loaded cut of 28% over four years, meaning that local authorities are faced with finding millions in cuts and savings from their budgets. Urban deprived areas are argued to be hardest hit by this settlement, with many reliant on specific government grants for example in regeneration and housing.

Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), a local government professional body, spoke at APSE’s Full Association meeting in Edinburgh on Thursday about the need for local government to make a strategic response to the current economic situation. Short-termist spending decisions could potentially be a ‘road to nowhere’ for local government, diminishing its current role rather than forging a new one. O’Brien set the challenge of determining a new vision for local government after the cuts.

De Montfort University is now working with APSE on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to develop practical tools for local authorities to respond strategically to the economic challenges they face. THE KTP commenced in early January 2011 and has at its core the aim of developing a vision for local government around the concept of the ‘Ensuring Council’. Following Giddens’ work on the ‘ensuring state’ and in contrast to the model of the hollowed out ‘enabling’ model set out in the 1980s, the ‘Ensuring Council’ model aims to retain core service provision and co-ordinating capacity for local government to allow the continued achievement of strategic goals. However, this is not to say that local government should go into defensive retrenchment rather, the protectionist element of the ‘Ensuring’ Council’ needs to be balanced by both innovation in service delivery and the empowerment of public sector staff and local communities.

Innovation is crucial to the Ensuring Council model and the KTP will explore ideas such as a ‘Revolving Investment Fund’ to generate income for local authorities through investment in renewables and considering whether and how co-operatives and mutuals can complement and support public service provision. Core to the Ensuring Council is the concept of ‘public value’ which seeks to re-focus public sector organisations on the communities they serve, rebuilding trust and restructuring service deliver so as to engage communities and citizens and respond to their needs and priorities in the round.

We are at the starting point of building these ideas…. be part of the conversation!

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