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Simon Fletcher: It’s transformation, but not as we know it

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Two months ago, at the year’s flagship event to celebrate the best in local government, we witnessed the innovative methods councils are applying to transform their services and introduce new ways of working, even in the most difficult of times.

A stand out moment for me during the LGC Awards was the recognition received by Barking & Dagenham LBC on its journey to create a new kind of council; a journey now increasingly acknowledged as something very special.

Both the political and executive leaderships, with their ‘no-one left behind’ mantra, share a common vision for the borough and residents. Yes, probably a bit of that vision is driven by the impact of austerity. But this is a remarkable council taking risks and leading its communities – genuinely place shaping, to change the borough.

As part of the work Agilisys does with local authorities, I spend a lot of time visiting councils nationwide, discussing the challenges they face. Nine out of 10 tell us their issues are lack of money, rising demand for children’s and adults’ services and greater expectations of residents. I often see first-hand the exciting ways some are developing opportunities and adopting new principles in response. But not all are. I hear many stories about councils that are not coping with austerity, cannot see a way to set balanced budgets in the coming years, do not know how to respond to the rising demands and expectations of citizens and have no capacity for forward-looking, place-shaping, leadership.

These councils often rely on reserves to buy time, yet seemingly do little with the time bought; reduce or cut key services; close important local amenities, which will never return; and are still focused on blaming central government for an admittedly ruthless period of austerity, which started nearly 10 years ago.

The differences between how councils are responding to what are very similar challenges are becoming more and more stark. What can be learnt from the approach that councils like Barking & Dagenham have taken? And what are the next steps for local government to take to successfully embrace change, create new opportunities, enhance services, develop new skills and accelerate innovation?

One thing we know is that imposing costs savings and looking for efficiency gains is no longer a sustainable model for change. Transformation as we know it is evolving. Now is the time for local government to adopt new models of change with the needs of its citizens at the very heart.

Simon Fletcher, managing consultant, Agilisys

Column sponsored and supplied by Agilisys

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