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Let's change with the times

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I believe this is a good time for local government. The age of the councillor is coming. Which means first class management is needed more than ever.

Local government has three main tasks in the teeth of this recession and the overall shrinking of the state.

First, to protect individuals and families. This takes a number of forms. It needs to include the protection of many vital front line services, but finding new ways of delivering them. It should also include measures to support people who may be presenting themselves to the council for the first time through unemployment or imminent redundancy. Some of these people will recently been our own staff. Councils should also be looking at existing and new forms of support for people who are at risk of losing their home, either because they can’t pay their mortgage or have lost their benefit.

Ultimately it comes down to political and budgetary decisions. These are the areas of councillor primacy

Second, local government must support its communities. One of the first casualties of recessionary times is usually community cohesion (assuming it existed in the first place). Councils need to engage with their broader community in meaningful ways, but also engage directly with particular groups who may be particularly hard hit or aggrieved.

Finally, we need to maintain the integrity of the institution of local government. Local authorities must ensure their organisation is sustainable in the tough new environment. If we don’t, we will fail local people.

So why does our response to recession make this the age of the councillor? The core function of the Council is not to provide services. The core function is to ration an increasingly rare good called the tax pound. It may choose to provide direct services, but it must make fair and sustainable rationing decisions against a backdrop of increasing needs beyond the existing resource levels.

Ultimately this comes down to political and budgetary decisions. These are the areas of councillor primacy. Every councillor, executive member or not, has an equal vote in the council chamber.

And it is because this is the age of the councillor that good professionals are needed as never before. It is the senior management cadre who must advise on all the difficult decisions that councillors face. It is the senior management cadre that must be able toimplement decisions quickly and sustainably. It is the senior management cadre who must be good enough to innovate new ways of working with their communities and with other potential partners. They are charged with ensuring that the council can adapt to survive.

The workstream that I am part of at the summit will look at the challenges of transforming an organisation to achieve all this. It will look at the skills that an organisation must have to transform itself, anticipate future changes and keep adapting to meet them.

David Clark, director, Solace Enterprises

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