By Steven Pleasant, Chief Executive, Tameside Council & John Baker, Head of Local Public Services, EY

During the first part of the classic film Jaws, the Mayor of Amity Island refuses to acknowledge the threat posed by the shark. Before long the impact is clear and the crew assembled to tackle the threat, before long leading to the immortal line “we’re going to need a bigger boat”.

Local government’s Great White is the 2015-16 funding round. Whilst the impact will differ across the country, areas with areas of high historical deprivation and limited ability to raise council tax or business rates will face unprecedented challenges.

The proximity and scale of the challenge is doesn’t require hyperbole. Using LGA figures, councils have had their government revenue cut by 33% in this spending period alone and the front loaded 10-15% coming in the next round will be catastrophic for many areas and the people who live there.

The work of councils over the next 18 months is to mitigate the impacts as much as possible. So what are the options? The consensus at a recent northern forum held by iNetwork was that this comes down to rethinking purpose, people & place, and prosperity.

Reframing local government’s purpose lies at the centre of this thinking. The emerging view is that councils will shift from being providers to becoming coordinators and catalysers, and indeed several are well on with this journey.

With huge pressure on non-statutory services councils are putting more effort into engaging and encouraging communities and not for profit organisations to generate community capacity because, unfortunately, those services are most likely to go.  This in itself introduces whole range of challenges – budget aggregation, risk taking, role changes, service redesign, information sharing and most importantly, helping the communities to adapt.

This wider coordinating role will change the relationship between the council and other local agencies to create new delivery models, some of which will be funded by the council and some which will rely on other sources of income. It will be critical to bind services together in ways that make sense for people, not to fragment services or we will be introducing inefficiencies, worsening services and end up pushing people around the system.

The high profile troubled families initiative is an excellent case in point. This work is highlighting the critical importance of effective multi-agency coordination and a redrawing of responsibilities so that council, police, hospital, ambulance, GP, probation, work & pension and other services work together cohesively. This is not easy when funding and performance measurement at a government level drive different behaviours and priorities.

In Greater Manchester we have been working on the outcomes of a Whole Place Community Budget pilot and building them into ambitious plans for reform. For example, if we can join up the funding across agencies and shift towards preventing the need for reactive, expensive and often poorly aligned services, for troubled families alone we will improve their outcomes save £224 million.

The awareness of the 2015-16 financial position is beginning to be felt in central government – MPs recently published a key report on community budgets with the headline “Grab lifeline offered by Community Budgets or face unsustainable pressure on local services, MPs tell Government”. There is a lot to do though and local government does not have time to wait for a Government led solution.

As a consequence it is more important than ever that councils, police, health, fire & rescue and other organisations come together to share ideas and innovations. For us in the North one of key vehicles for this is iNetwork, which on 27 November is holding one of the biggest events on public service reform this year – “Delivering Whole Systems Change”. The title is apt – the whole system has to evolve.

In Jaws they said “we are going to need a bigger boat”. In local government we know we need a different boat, and it is becoming clear what type it will be.

 

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