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'Helicopter views' to combat local silos

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Facing what is likely to be a particularly negative financial settlement after 5 December, one is already seeing an outbreak of protectionist behaviour. 

Essentially, it is universally intellectually and emotionally understood that there will be blood and cuts… but so long as it’s someone else’s blood and cuts, that will be alright.

At a local level, we indulge ourselves in the view that Whitehall ministries are incapable of acting collaboratively and we end up with disjointed government priorities and budget strands. 

It is fundamentally destabilising when individual professional disciplines inside the local authority ‘family’ seek to secure favoured protection from cuts

We also enjoy the prospect of further letters from different Ministries persuading us that “their function” continues to be an absolute priority. I’m often tempted to put the letter from Ministry A into the envelope from Ministry B and vice versa…sending them back and seeing if it registers. 

Locally, we talk of “helicopter views” wherein we have a collective understanding of the public sector landscape and are able to take better informed judgements about the merits of each function.

A unique selling point for the future local authority is to deliver that helicopter picture. It has a legitimacy to be able to arbitrate between differing and sometimes conflicting constituencies of interest and arrive at solutions which does attempt to meet local needs.

However, we are at risk of grounding our own choppers.

When faced with 4% efficiency targets, some NHS colleagues have recently been openly pushing to protect certain areas of functionality…therefore raising the potential that there will be a shunt onto more amenable public bodies like local government…when Whitehall needs to deliver the bottom line. Equally, our own house is not in order.

It is fundamentally destabilising where individual professional disciplines inside the LA “family” seek to secure favoured protection from the cuts.

The high risk here is that one ends up knee jerking solutions which protects functions that could be much lower risk/lower priority and shunting solutions onto other areas. Senior managers and politicians need to get that chopper off the ground and have a line of sight that goes beyond the boundaries of our currently understood local government set of functions.

In an uncertain world, we may need to prioritise funding future activity that isn’t even in the current menu of local authority activity.

Jim Graham, chief executive, Warwickshire CC

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