Matt Hancock has captured very nicely the quandary so many councils, councillors and of course officers find themselves in when proposing new projects, or trying to do things differently – fear of failure and the subsequent criticism from local taxpayers for wasting ‘their’ money.
Neither he nor I would suggest that local government should be cavalier in the way it uses public money. However, if we are going to do things differently, as we are constantly being entreated to do, we have got to take a certain level of risk in order to be successful in our endeavours. If something that was being proposed was a racing certainty, we probably would have been doing it years ago, or certainly would have given it serious consideration, even if it had not been pursued, because of the level of upfront investment required.
However, we are now in a world where it’s literally sink or swim when it comes to not just surviving as ‘the council’, but actually growing and continuing to be relevant and important to the area we represent and care about.
So, will we see another project like the Red Lion Quarter in Spalding being pilloried by all and sundry, simply because one minor element of it didn’t work? Very probably, it seems to be the nature of the beast when it comes to the activities of government and the spending of the taxpayers’ cash. The supermarkets and in particular Tesco, can get their business model seriously wrong, spending millions of pounds on the wrong approach, or the wrong projects and bounce back, reputation intact a few years later. However, if the local council makes a mistake and a project doesn’t deliver as expected, certain elements of the public and local business organisations, will continue to drag it up at any opportunity, until their dying day.
On the positive side, given the plans this government has for local government – a self sustaining, non-public money funded service provider – we should be free to rise from the ashes, reputation untarnished as needed, just like Tesco’s will, should anything go askew in that brave new world. Of course there’s always the fate of the likes of Woolworths, Comet, Whittards, MFI, HMV, etc, etc, to consider……and then there’s always Detroit.
Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Cast aside caution on transformation, minister urges22 October, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin
Local government has been too risk adverse and should be prepared to confront failure as it reforms services, a Cabinet Office minister has said.
During a speech on public service reform in central London yesterday, Matt Hancock also said greater control over business rates would allow councils to reform services to make savings.
Mr Hancock said: “The first question for government shouldn’t be what’s the best model for delivering public services, but rather what is the user need?
“Getting this right inevitably involves trial and error… In public services we are too cautious about using that phrase.”
Speaking to LGC after the speech, Mr Hancock acknowledged local government faced further funding constraint this parliament but insisted ministers were offering the sector freedom to reform and improve services.
“Reform both in terms of giving more freedom to operate according to how people on the ground see fit, policy freedom and the big business rate freedom that was announced,” Mr Hancock said. “These freedoms are given with the knowledge that people can use them to meet very tight spending limits.”
Asked how genuine this freedom was, Mr Hancock highlighted the general power of competence introduced by the previous government under the Localism Act 2011. This allows councils to do anything an individual can do, provided it is not prohibited by another law.
Mr Hancock said local authorities were free to try new things as long as they complied with relevant legislation, for example the Data Protection Act or rules governing social care.
He added: “I believe in the power of human ingenuity which includes the ability of people working on the frontline to constantly improve the services they deliver.”