LGC Innovation Supplement - June 2012
Read LGC’s regular supplement on innovation
It’d be fair to say it’s not often in LGC you get the opportunity to quote an ancient Roman poet. But Horace, despite living from 65-8 BC, could almost have been speaking about local government post-2010 when he said: “Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.”
Of course, the fact local government spends public money and is accountable to local communities is (or should be) a constant imperative for improvement or innovation – innovation in the sector did not begin in 2010. Yet undoubtedly since the comprehensive spending review there has been an acceleration of experimentation and innovation; of necessity local authorities have been looking long and hard at where and how innovation in process, delivery, commissioning, technology, management and mindset can make a difference.
To me, this special LGC supplement highlights three things. First: the sheer scale of innovative activity already under way or on the agenda. Technology and channel shift; process re-engineering; partnerships, collaboration and joined-up approaches; new forms of service delivery; new methods of income generation; imaginative international and community links; even potentially franchising – local authorities, it is clear, as our reporter Nicola Sullivan puts it, “are not accepting austerity lying down”.
Second, and just as importantly, local authorities are not getting carried away by this brave new world. As Amanda Wilde of East Riding of Yorkshire is at pains to highlight, in her case in relation to innovation in regards to channel shift, innovation cannot and must not be at the expense of the vulnerable; it must take communities along with it and, if necessary, councils must still offer less innovative choices, alternatives and means of access or delivery. One of the drivers of innovation, we all accept, is that it will save money and create efficiencies, and if this means resources can in fact be better channelled to priority areas, then great. But innovation must not mean cutting councils adrift from those who need them most.
Finally, Northampton CC chief executive Paul Blantern’s vision for the future highlights not only how far councils have already come but how much further it is likely they will have to go. The sort of core activities councils will be engaged in, he predicts, will be very different, as will be what councils are ‘for’.
There are, moreover, huge challenges ahead, not least around changing patterns of migration and dwelling densities and the demands of our ageing, ailing population that will require imaginative and creative solutions. Innovation not only did not start in 2010, it’s definitely not going to end with the completion of the current spending review.
Nic Paton, editor