Welcome to this first column in a series that will focus on the broad theme of partnerships - whether they be public-public or public-private ventures.
I wanted to kick off with a reflection on a similar dilemma both sectors face -whether working in partnership or singularly - and that is when to take the investment risk.
Once again bankers’ bonuses have dominated headlines. Once again debate has surfaced around plans to restructure the banking sector, moving the risky gamblers away from the ‘high street’ operations.
It is against this backdrop that I stop and think about my role as chief executive of a county council. On the one hand I am responsible for the largely artificial setting of a £1bn budget. I am supposed to know 12 months in advance where I am going to spend every last penny, while at the same time taking no financial risks and ensuring I take out my 28% contribution to the austerity agenda.
On the other hand, I am also supposed to be taking huge financial risks. I am supposed to be stimulating the sustainable prosperity agenda with local infrastructure investment and the like, using high-risk borrowing mechanisms reliant on growth in a volatile market. I embark on this work with no substantial reserves, let alone the prospect of central bank bailouts to fall back on.
Such activity goes on, coupled with the rampant inflation of adult social care constantly demanding all the efficiencies made elsewhere in our organisation.
Consequently, increasing the bottom-line cost of borrowing is not sound business sense for ‘my high-street retail arm’ - to quote banking parlance.
Unlike my private sector colleagues working out whether to invest or not, the returns on our investment will go to others - although like many of you I am searching for the golden egg of a recycling capital fund.
As CEO, do I advise to lead and directly stimulate our economy, which I strongly believe we should all be doing? Or do I really have to continue to scrape every barrel and innovate in every way possible just to meet social care bills?
This is not just a prosperity/austerity agenda. It is a societal v age and wellbeing dilemma with no bonus regardless of whether we get our investments right or wrong.
Paul Blantern, chief executive, Northamptonshire CC