Solace president Kim Ryley has called for the future private and third-sector providers of public services to be subject to the same levels of accountability and transparency as the public sector.
Delivering his speech to the Solace annual dinner on Thursday evening, Shropshire CC chief executive Mr Ryley said the move towards councils becoming “strategic commissioners” of services would have to go hand in hand with “behaviour change on all sides”.
“We need all our suppliers to demonstrate long-term commitment to the wider public interest, and to assisting us in our leadership role of shaping, and growing the capacity of local communities and local economies,” he said. “Our suppliers must also be prepared to be publicly accountable and transparent in their operations, and expect to be required to nurture and support social enterprises and SMEs in their local supply chains.”
Mr Ryley also took the opportunity to hit back at comments from LGC’s mystery chief executive columnist who, in this week’s magazine, wrote that Solace should have cancelled the dinner as it “played into the hands of [communities secretary] Eric Pickles in his public bullying of chief executives”.
“Sometimes leadership requires standing up to the ill-informed prejudices of others,” he said, pointing out that the dinner was entirely supported by private sector enterprise. “It is an important opportunity for us to network with senior executives of the private and third sectors, which we would have been unwise to forego. To cancel our dinner would also have deprived and disappointed Macmillan Cancer Support, for whom we are fundraising tonight.”
The dinner also heard from Sir Bob Kerslake, permanent secretary at the Department for Communities & Local Government.
Sir Bob urged councils to embrace the “community rights agenda”, stressing that the Localism Bill would not herald “the restoration of some golden age of local government”.
“You will need to throw away a generation of beliefs,” he said. “Both central and local government will need to fundamentally rethink their roles.
He also sought to calm anger over the local government finance settlement, saying it was as “fair as it could be… within the realities of the spending settlement”. But in stark contrast to Mr Pickles who has repeatedly insisted that cuts to government grants could be dealt with through sharing managers and back-office services, Sir Bob admitted: “The spending review and subsequent settlement have made a tough task exceptionally demanding and I will not insult your intelligence by suggesting otherwise.”