Time to focus on local solutions

We are in the first flush of a new government; two parties who have been in opposition for 13 years and longer and have had plenty of time to think about how they would do things differently if they were able to control the levers of power.

Now that moment has arrived and the leaders are enthusiastic to turn their ideas into action. As a former local authority director I know that this is an interesting time as the bright eyed and bushy tailed newly elected councillors want their manifesto proposals speedily implemented. They then come into contact with the local authority machinery and it begins to become apparent that they may not be able to achieve all of their aspirations and certainly not straight away.

This becomes particularly obvious when they learn of the unresolved or unfunded issues that they have inherited from their predecessors and consider their new advisors forecasts of the tough environment for the coming few years.

So far as housing is concerned, the new government has begun to set out their stall. Less top down and more bottom up approaches are the answer. So out go national and regional targets for the provision of new homes and in come financial incentives for local authorities to permit new housing developments. The Minister is clear that there is going to be little money to grant aid affordable rented homes so low cost home ownership solutions are back in fashion as are homes for intermediate (sub-market) rent. For existing homes the Liberal Democrat influence has ensured that standards, particularly environmental requirements, will at least be maintained if not raised further.

The Coalition Government also professes a commitment to restore freedoms and powers to local authorities and communities so that they can deliver solutions that meet their needs. But with the scale of the proposed spending cuts, a cynic might feel that it will be difficult to exercise these freedoms when resources are severely constrained. Effectively the incentive to individual Councils to permit housing may not be more money; but rather lower reductions in spending power than would otherwise be imposed!

But there is scope for local authorities, freed from some centrally imposed standards, regulations and an increasingly centrally prescriptive inspection regime, to rethink priorities to better reflect the communities they serve. Similarly housing associations and other independent or third sector organisations may well find that they have greater freedom to tailor services to suit localities. Indeed such third sector organisations are very much seen as part of the solution by the new government, provided that they operate efficiently.

Given the depth and likely length of time of the expenditure cuts we are now past an approach that relies on salami slicing across budgets. Rather thought has to be given as to what services are essential or at the very least highly desirable and which less so. Now is the time for a fundamental reassessment of what the organisation or department does and how it does it. This is where independent external input provided by PMCDE can be so valuable and cost effective. PMCDE have a successful track record in systematically project managing the significant changes required using tried and tested techniques and always with a strong focus on the service to the customer. More crucially for the successful delivery of the change they will develop capacity, helping to manage the team, ensuring that they have ownership of the solutions and maintaining enthusiasm and commitment to the new approach.

Given that the financial constraints are likely to be with us for some time to come it's vital that we look at the changes needed to deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness. Project management of this style, helping the team to develop their own service delivery solutions, really chimes with the new government's commitment to local solutions and bottom up approaches.

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