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'Learn the language of commerce'

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As budgets come under pressure, old expectations and conventions fall away. More risks are taken. Everybody wants to find income to mitigate expenditure reductions.

We are seeing a rash of shared services, new trading organisations, services with charges that are semi-commercial and public assets - parks, buildings, registrar offices joining car parking as key earners for the next generation of councils. What does this mean for our managerial requirements?

The traditional, classic model of Local Government is all about vertical lines. We take leadership and offer accountability “upwards” and we provide service and offer an account “downwards” to our public. Even as we have outsourced we have just interposed agents in this neat single axis.

The future requires us to think more in the round. Many staff will be involved in horizontal, business to business type transactions. We will have a wider range of clients and customers. We will want to manage markets and help create new products that produce new revenue streams as an alternative to taxes. And we must learn to live with some failures, more risks and therefore bigger contingency lines in our budgets.

Definitions of success will become more complex - an entrepreneurial risk taken and income achieved, not just an underspend at year end.

Our managers need to become more multi-skilled-not just good with words but also great with numbers-and multi lingual- understanding the language of commerce not just service provision.

And  Councillors will  need to get used to the fact that managers need to devote time to managing relationships across councils and with commercial partners.

One cautionary tale though. Here in Tri-borough land, Chelsea Town Hall is a lovely place to get married. An even nicer place is the even bigger room which attracts a higher charge. Romantics who book this have been rewarded with a bottle of champagne to toast their nuptials. Sweet or maybe a sweetener, and in the private sector rather conventional. But then we have to explain why staff ordered many cases of champagne staff when they show up on the transparency invoice lists!

The entrepreneurial manager will become commonplace, not the rare exception, but let them have a tough skin as we all adjust.

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