Saturday, 6 October 2012

Reflections on consultation

Having just completed 5 consultation evenings at each of the market towns of Breckland I thought I’d share some reflections based upon these. These thoughts will not influence the conclusions which members come to based upon the consultations but may be of interest to others planning similar events. 

The consultation events began with a presentation by William Nunn, the elected leader, in which he explained the background to the increasing funding gap in the Council’s budget as projected over the next five years. He asked for views on two income raising options, increasing Council tax & introducing car parking charges and ten savings options from the Council’s discretionary services. Year on year efficiency savings were assumed.

# 1 Adult to adult. It was evident that when given the facts and asked for their opinion people were prepared to enter into a discussion on the options as adults to adults. 

# 2 Will you listen ? People wanted reassurance that their views would be listened to. This led to some interesting discussion on the difference and tension between participative democracy and representative democracy.  

# 3 Evidence. People asked for evidence to support the worth of some services. A sound and healthy request I thought. I found it interesting that we are more likely to seek evidence on a service we are predisposed to reduce (e.g. CCTV) but for other services that we want to protect (fee car parking) we have our own views and we don’t require any evidence on the impact.  

# 4 Attendance. Whilst we were generally happy with the attendance, 60 - 90 people at each, it was interesting to note that during the period we were carrying out these consultations a village in Breckland had a meeting on a single hyper local issue - the future of a building. This meeting had a greater attendance than any of our meetings. This supports the view that citizens are increasingly participative in single local issues more than wider general issues.  

# 5 Business interests v residents interests. My impression would be that more business people spoke at the events than residents. All views were welcome but of course we do not set the level of Council Tax for businesses (NNDR) and they do not benefit from from some resident services. The views of business and of residents are often the same - they both care for their market town - but not always. 

# 6 Respect for councillors. Overwhelmingly people were grateful to the elected members for coming into their communities and talking with them. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Collaborative Leadership

Here are the slides I used for my presentation to the Public Sector Leadership conference "driving cultural change". click here

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Evolve 2012 Presentation Slides

  You can download a copy of the slides I used for my presentation from this link

Local Authorities on the Cloud

An inspiring presentation by technology one's executive Adrian Di Marco. A strong advocate that the Cloud is the way forward - big companies are moving in this direction, start up businesses are going straight to it and consumers are already using it. Great benefits for local government to now get on board with this transition. Rather bravely they demonstrated a version live with the software hosted on servers on the west coast of USA - impressive. Next theme was simplicity defined as straightforward elegant. They are about to introduce "Apps" linking to their software, so that an an employee might have an App on their smartphone which would enable him or her to access their payslip, book leave or self certify sickness. Other Apps for different stakeholders.
This was an excellent presentation and I would describe Adrian,who I had some time with later in the day, as the Steve Jobs of local government new technology applications. Who knows he might do the next presentation in blue jeans and a black polo shirt.

How about starting a bank ?

I had a very interesting conversation with a representative of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. No big banker's bonuses or call centres in this bank. It is owned by the community and operates on a franchise model. Profits from the bank are invested back into the community with the community deciding where they should be spent.

As we already own the RBS maybe it could be transferred to community ownership? Definitely feels like an idea whose time has come in the UK.

"Community Bank is an innovative franchise program in which the local community owns and operates a Bendigo Bank branch (which is separately incorporated) and Bendigo Bank provides all the banking infrastructure and support. The community company and Bendigo Bank share all branch revenue with whatever is left over, after the company pays its branch running costs, remaining as profit. The program was a response to the massive closure of bank branches in rural areas. Bendigo Bank has since extended the program to areas that have bank service."

CIOs the same the world over

Meeting with chief information officers (CIOs) from Australian local authorities facilitated by Technology One their software supplier. Many similar issues to those which you would get from UK equivalents. Getting more from existing systems, running change programmes, improving productivity, move to on-line services, integration across Council etc. Wanting to learn together and share information. Not the same imperative to shrink or redefine the services or to move services out of public sector through commissioning. As always clarity of vision and the role that new technology can play to support vision, not lead it, is a critical issue. Technology One have a clear vision for integration "One Council" aErewash were teased about cloud based developments for the future. If we want One Council then my view is that it's not CIOs who need to drive this but chief executives.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A lesson from public conveniences

Some years ago when I held a more junior management position I worked for a local authority who at that time needed to make savings from its annual expenditure. ( some things never change! ) This authority provided and serviced an amazingly high number of public conveniences and it was not difficult to persuade the elected members that they could make a saving by closing three of these. However, I spent the remainder of the year trying to reach agreement on which three from the multitude should be the ones to close. I learnt a valuable lesson from this. It is often easier to get agreement on the general principle than it it is to get agreement on the application of that principle. 
This experience has recently come back to mind. The government has committed to a smaller state and reduced public expenditure. Not just because financially the country needs to but because they believe this to be the right approach to government. My observation is that it is not uncommon for those who sign up to this policy and strategic direction as a general principle to be the first to object and stand against its application to any given set of circumstances. Local Authorities are often the ones who are the sharp end of applying this policy change. It appears to me that as they apply the general principle to the specific circumstances they often face opposition from the advocates of the policy. Still, there never was a rule that we have to behave logically and consistently.