I gave evidence in London today to Lord Whitty's inquiry on the affordable housing crisis.
My starting point was that to resolve this crisis local authorities need to play a key role again in providing a quality affordable housing option for all not just a safety net for some.
It's important to place where we have got too in a context, therefore I referred to the fact that the challenge for the new government of the day in 1997 was clearly about tackling the £22b backlog of repairs in council houses and bringing them up to the decent homes standard. However, the process which brought this about resulted in stock transfers, continuation of right to buy and demolitions.
Having met with three very different local government chief executives recently I was struck by the commonality of understanding of the challenges that council’s face in the coming years. Fiona Lees from East Ayrshire, Manjeet Gill from West Lindsey and Carolyn Downs of the LGA all shared a vision that the answers to the tough times ahead would be found in working closely with and within local communities.
With demographic change towards people living longer we know that a smaller percentage will be working in the future and that there will be greater demands for care services amongst an increasing elderly population. With increasing social problems created by alcohol and drugs, the number of children being looked after is also rising.
With a huge amount of market volatility at present, is now really the right time for local government to be looking to the private sector for solutions?
The names Southern Cross, Connaught, ROK and Fountain have probably done more damage to the outsourcing agenda in local government than the collective writings of opponents of this approach since the dawning of Compulsory Competitive Tendering 30 years ago. Throw in recent headlines around A4e and you can see that for an industry that works so hard on its image, the last couple of years have not been a great time.
Copy of an article Neil McInroy from CLES and myself recently did for Public Finance magazine.
Councils should be leading the way with renewable energy schemes. They can reap important economic and social rewards as well as environmental benefits
A report published this week by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) suggests there is still a business case for local government-led renewable energy schemes.
If local government thought 2011 was tough, 2012 may be about to get a whole lot tougher. With an estimated 145,000 job losses in councils over the previous 12 months, some may have thought the heavy lifting had been done. However, my fear is that whilst many have made significant progress in efficiency programmes, this may prove difficult to sustain – and the knock-on effect for councils that didn’t quite get there in year one could be catastrophic. With ongoing redundancies, wage freezes, rising pension payments and inflation remaining relatively high, morale will be near the floor.
APSE’s first strategic forum of the New Year took place last night on the theme of energy efficiency in asset management. Guest speaker was David Kilduff, Head of the Commercial Group at Walker Morris Solicitors, who gave an overview of the issues facing local government in this area.
These events are used as an opportunity to develop policy and share knowledge.
Many local authorities are considering the alternative models of service delivery that exist as part of their on-going plans to deal with the financial austerity they face over coming years. Issues that should be close to the top of any list when weighing up the pros and cons of each option are governance and accountability.
I recently met with colleagues from Bradford Council to discuss how they had been involved in Insourcing the City’s Education Services from Serco. 1,300 staff were transferred back to the authority in July this year from a £53m per annum contract.
Although many Armageddon prophecies have been written about the coalition Government’s proposed cut to Feed in Tariffs for solar PV and its impact on the wider renewables agenda, I have to say that I don’t quite buy this vision of the future.
Now that we are over halfway through the financial year, more and more councils are revisiting plans they have made to generate efficiency savings to see if they will stack up and achieve their desired outcome for this year and beyond.
At APSE, we have noticed an upsurge in enquiries about how you make remaining services more commercially viable by either reducing costs or generating additional revenue to offset budget cuts. This suggests that councils are concerned they may fail to meet existing targets and are attempting a ‘take two’.