Can the Public Sector Rise From the Ashes?

Now that the reality of the punitive cuts in funding for public services has reached local authorities, the challenge is on for the next three to five years to re-think the way they deliver services. So how do local authorities start re-building themselves to face this challenge? The first key consideration is to consider what…

Now that the reality of the punitive cuts in funding for public services has reached local authorities, the challenge is on for the next three to five years to re-think the way they deliver services.

So how do local authorities start re-building themselves to face this challenge?

The first key consideration is to consider what is already happening. The speed in which councils have had to made decisions has been such that the 'quick wins' were focused on non statutory services eg libraries, school crossing patrols etc. This has led to very poor interface with the community and of course strong emotions about other services that are possibly better reduced.

Some councils ran public surveys to ask them which services they would rather go without. Many of them however, did not include back office services in this choice. Whilst we know that cuts should be instigated across the whole organization, if a member of the public were asked for example if they could do without a monthly / quarterly newsletter from the council communication team, many would be more than happy with this.

Furthermore, if the public were asked if they could do without an Equalities and Inclusion Team given that the law is in place to protect those who are discriminated against, then again, many might agree that this could be foregone.

The list as you can imagine, could go on and on. So why do we know cuts are being looked at everywhere, to what extent are committees simply cutting back, rather than re-shaping and preparing for the future? How will councils deliver on the phrase 'delivering more for less' as many claim they will have to.

The danger is that many local authorities who are currently in the process of making staff redundant without reshaping first will in fact find themselves without staff that they need, without knowledge that has now gone and without skills to be prepared for the opportunities available in the near future.

A council that is fit for the future will be firmly planed in a more business like approach. Many council staff are ill prepared for skills such as bid writing, strategy planning and prediction, working across directorates and creative financial management. The recent abolition of many Quangos does not necessarily mean the money has gone, but rather it will be administrated by another body under a different umbrella.

Creating income streams from services is also a key consideration to continue making them possible. Many people would prefer to pay something for a non statutory service than see it done away with all together.

Furthermore, councils need to start thinking about a new and emerging work that reflects a more business like approach. This demands that they embrace a more flexible and fluid way of working. More temporary, fixed term and external staff should be brought in to work on fixed term goals and projects. The obvious advantages are that a variety of skills and experience can be brought in for a good salary, but they then move on once the goal has been reached. There are no redundancy payments (this has cost the government a fortune), no sickness or holiday payments.

This approach needs to also extend to permanent staff where they can move around the organization where skills are needed and fit, or where development can be harnessed from such a move.

Finally, creating and demanding a more outward looking workforce who are aware of upcoming developments on the horizon. Many councils do not even know what their neighbor is doing, let alone what their neighboring authority is doing.

Councils must try to rise above the cloud they are under where the focus is on cuts this year, and start to think about how they develop the agenda of what they have 'rather than what they' do not have '.

They need to beware of the 'doom and gloom' approach. Be realistic and honest, yes, but avoid constantly sending out messages to staff telling a negative story. This has an effect on productivity and creativity in contributing to the future agenda.

Be brave, be confident and develop a brilliant new local authority fit for the 21st century. And be proud of it, promote it and reach out to the public with it.