Category Archives: Leadership

A budget round like no other

Sir Peter Rogers

The worst summer for weather has strangely produced a feeling of euphoria throughout the country because of the Olympics and the achievements of our British athletes.

However, now that summer is over, reality has resumed as local authority Chief Executives and their management teams take stock of the difficulties facing them. Last year’s financial results are finalised and with half a year over, they will know whether their ambitious plans they hatched 12 months ago are on track. Directors of Finance will be able to judge their ability to balance the books over the medium term and appreciate the effects on the budget of maintaining standards and dealing with increasing demographic pressures.

As Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens’s ‘David Copperfield’ pointed out:  “The ability to match expenditure and income is the only true path to happiness.”

It is natural that local authority leaders will try to protect the front line services which get them elected. Local authority Chief Executives will also endeavour to protect the standards of service that they have worked so hard to deliver.  But what is inevitable is that with the rising cost pressures of an aging population and the ever-increasing expectations of an impatient public, new ways of working will be required to enable those services to get the resources they need.

This is a time for visible leadership. It may even be too late for those Chief Executives who are yet to make the changes they require. A blind faith in central government coming to the rescue or a reliance on the sector to produce a magic solution will inevitably lead to disappointment.

Rather, this is a time for local authorities to be clear on their ambitions and their ability to fund them.  Difficult choices will have to be made and those things taken for granted may need to stop, or be done by others.  Therefore, any opportunity needs to be considered on the basis of what it produces and how long it will take to deliver results.

Local authorities can help each other but the third and private sectors offer opportunities too. Knowing best practise and how to learn and adapt is a new skill set but needs to be learnt quickly within local government. It increases the probability of success, it reduces risk and it speeds up results. It is even better if public and private partners are able to avoid the pitfalls of drawn out procurement exercises where the only parties guaranteed to win are the external advisers whose fees are guaranteed irrespective of the outcome.

Nothing can be regarded as sacred but this is a time when a council’s management team needs to be exactly that; a team that gives where it can to help others deliver what otherwise would be lost.

Corporate shroud waving and warnings of disaster have been widely experienced in the past but cannot be tolerated going forward. Instead there must be an increasing recognition that services can be delivered better internally or by others. It may be that alternative delivery structures within groups of local authorities can offer the step change in costs that is needed.

A ‘summer like no other’ followed by a budget round with a similar description will test the local government sector. Plans will be made and budgets will be created but that is just the start. The plans for their delivery will need to be robust and the risks of backsliding or failure, well managed. Council leaders and Chief Executives will need to be visible and articulate this new reality to their communities. Managing existing citizen expectations will be virtually impossible for many but setting new expectations to match and manage the new financial reality will be a real test of civic leadership.

Sir Peter Rogers

Chair of CapacityGRID and former Advisor to Boris Johnson for Regeneration, Growth and Enterprise at the Greater London Authority.

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Filed under Leadership, Local Government finance

Who’d be a chief executive in these troubled times for local government?

We’ve already tackled a series of spending cuts and radical policy shifts against a backdrop of recession; but there’s much, much more to come. Poor growth projections and bleak prospects for future funding means the tide has truly gone out for local government as we know it – so what lies ahead?

Seismic changes in our landscape call for radical new approaches to the way we do business as leaders. While we’ve all had conversations about the importance of place shaping over the past few years, it’s never been as important to grasp this concept and start to make a fundamental shift in the way we help shape our places. Creating prosperous, sustainable and liveable places is the key and, I believe, the only answer to the massive financial policy and societal challenges we’re now facing.

That means understanding what really makes our communities tick – not just getting a feel for what residents are thinking and saying about us, but using sophisticated research and insight to build up robust evidence about how it really is in our streets and neighbourhoods.

Only then can we build the platform of trust we need (but in many places still don’t have) to begin to shift the pressures of demands for our services through behavioural change.

So how do we get there? This is no time to be timid about change. In Coventry we’re developing a bold and radical vision for redefining what a local authority is, what it stands for and how we reshape our relationship with the people we serve and every individual and organisation that has an interest and stake in our city.

This is not easy for any of us, but it’s a crucial first step in changing our relationship with residents. If we’re brave enough to let go, we empower others. If we’re not always the direct provider of services we become catalysts for change. If we don’t pretend to have all the answers all the time we energise people to come up with some of the answers for themselves.

Above all this calls for humility in leadership, and that’s a big challenge to the many hardworking professionals in local government, some of whom in the past have been able to use the comfort blanket of structures, processes and governance to avoid taking risks or leaps into the unknown.

The challenge is as massive for managers, staff and councillors as it is for chief executives; but it’s chief executives that need to lead this organisational change, inspire staff and convince elected members that radical shift is the only way ahead. Maintaining the status quo in this climate is not going to lead to standstill – it will lead to regression at a time when we must not allow that to happen.

SOLACE will be debating and making sense of these complex issues at its perfectly timed Summit in October in Coventry. This will be no talking shop (although there will be plenty of challenging conversations!), but a forum for us all to get into the heart of this necessary, but difficult debate as we begin to make the radical shift towards this new model of place leadership.

Who’d be a chief executive? As challenging and uncertain as it is; I cannot think of a better time to be a chief executive in local government.

Martin Reeves

SOLACE Senior Vice President

Chief Executive, Coventry City Council

This article first appeared in the LGC on 13th September 2012.

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Filed under Coventry, Leadership, Learning and development, SOLACE Summit