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03.12.15

‘LGA will have to earn its corn’: Interview with Mark Lloyd

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Mark Lloyd, the new CEO at the Local Government Association (LGA), says that retaining councils as members depends on representing them effectively.

As local authorities are likely to be faced with tough decisions to implement service reductions over the course of this Parliament, the LGA must ensure it is effective in representing its members or risk losing them, according to the organisation’s new boss. 

Mark Lloyd, the former CEO of Cambridgeshire County Council, who took over from Carolyn Downs as LGA chief executive just before the chancellor’s Spending Review, told us that he is determined to help his new colleagues “understand what a tough gig it is right now running councils, politically and managerially”. 

Lloyd’s role as chief executive is distinct both from that of LGA chair, a political position currently occupied by Conservative Lord Porter, and LGA president, a role which exists to represent and champion the interests of local government in Parliament. This year’s president is crossbencher Lord Kerslake. 

First-rate organisation 

Lloyd told PSE that the LGA, which he believes is in “good shape and good heart”, needs to be a first-rate organisation “able to support, promote and improve local government”. 

“The LGA is a membership organisation, and councils will only stay in membership if they think we are doing a good job for them,” said Lloyd. “An absolute necessity for an organisation like the LGA is to be in touch with our members and working on the issues that matter most to them.               

“We will have to adapt each and every year to the changing ambitions our members have and the circumstances that they face. 

“The organisation will have to earn its corn, using the old saying, and we’ll only do that if members believe in us and the work we are doing for them.”

Lloyd previously led the development and implementation of LGSS, the sector’s largest shared services operation, spanning five authorities in the south Midlands and East Anglia. He told us that his frontline experience of how hard it is for councils to balance the demands of a community with the scarce resource they have will influence his approach. 

“I’m coming into the LGA absolutely fresh from those almost insoluble challenges for councils,” he said. “We [the LGA] need to ensure that we are in tune with those challenges and are doing everything we can in our work – both in representing local government to central government and winning flexibility to us round our own resourcing and in our sector-led improvement work – to be able to respond to today’s environment, which is so different from the environment five years ago and a different world to the one that existed 10 years ago.” 

Focused business plan 

The LGA’s business plan is focused on achieving four outcomes: funding for local government; devolution; economic growth, jobs and housing; and sector-led improvement. 

“Those are priorities I have inherited, and I absolutely 100% support them,” Lloyd told us. But he did note that the first few weeks in his role had been dominated by one item: spending, with a particular focus on social care and the funding crisis it faces.

The chancellor’s Spending Review created a social care precept to give local authorities the ability to raise local taxes by an additional, ring-fenced 2% to help pay for social care services. From 2017, the government will also provide a £1.5bn uplift to be included in an “improved Better Care Fund” by 2019-20. 

But ADASS president Ray James warned that he does not believe the funding for the next couple of years will meet the costs of the national living wage and the increasing demand for social care. 

Lloyd said that in the negotiations he had been trying to ensure colleagues in central government paid “proper regards” to the social care challenge in the Spending Review. “I don’t see any easy solutions to the social care challenges that local government faces,” he added. 

“The job for me is to work with my committed and passionate political leaders, and my dedicated and talented group of officer colleagues, to continue to work on the issues that the LGA has been driving forward previously.” 

PSE was told that another area where the LGA has been fighting hard has been in explaining to central government why councils must have reserves in their bank accounts, “given that we have to run balanced budgets”. 

“The reality in the world of a body like the LGA is that issues change day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour. It is about being able to respond to those,” said Lloyd. “We have to be passionate promoters of local government work and be very effective in our activities to help councils to be better. If we are not good at it, they will go elsewhere.” 

Devolution 

Another area where the LGA is helping councils is in their devolution negotiations. Lloyd told us that many in local government view the current wave of devolution deals as a “first stage” in a multi-layered process of strengthening local authorities and their communities. Lord Kerslake, the LGA’s president and the chair of the APPG for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution in the UK, reiterated this position in his interview with PSE. 

“Some councils, leaders and chief executives have said to me that they are viewing their initial devolution deal simply as stage one,” Lloyd said. “That allows them to build their credibility, allows them to demonstrate capacity and competence. 

“And their expectation, and mine, is that we add layer two, layer three and layer four of the devolution deals as part of a move from such a centralised state to a much more localised approach to shaping and leading public services and driving growth.”

Asked how the current approach to devolution dovetails with the ‘Rewiring Public Services’ campaign, the LGA’s new boss said the goal is about local leadership and allowing local politicians to place-shape at a local level and having the resources under their control to deliver this work. 

He said that devolution is rightly focusing on economic development, against the backdrop of huge financial challenges for the nation. But it also has to stretch into driving public service transformation at local level. 

“Certainly councils have achieved an amazing amount during austerity,” noted Lloyd. “They have taken the largest cut of any public service, but public satisfaction hasn’t fallen away. But we shouldn’t hide away from the fact that there have been cuts in services and some people, who previously looked to their council for very important aspects of their life, are now no longer able to do that. 

“I think the reality of life beyond the Spending Review is that the public are going to see significant reductions in local public services. Councils have done so much on the efficiency agenda, and I’m sure they will find the odd little bit of efficiency to drive out, but real life now says that it will be about service reductions in the next phase. 

“How we manage that and the public reaction will be a significant test of local and national government. Public services have reduced their capacity, but you do need good quality employees in public services and good political, managerial and supervisory staff to lead transformation in public services and do the kinds of integration we see as being necessary through public service reform. Councils and other public services have lost much of that capacity.” 

He added that devolution is the right thing to do, but layers need to be added to drive it into the public service transformation agenda. 

Asked about the LGA’s position on metro-mayors as part of devolution deals, Lloyd said that the LGA is committed to trying to get very strong deals for its councils, and it is doing everything it can to support them in those negotiations. 

“This includes supporting them to evaluate different governance models – but they have to pick one that is right for their local area, not have somebody like me tell them what the answer is,” he said. 

“It is relatively clear, so far, that the partner in the negotiation – central government – is prepared to agree bigger deals if local areas adopt the model of governance they consider to be the strongest.”

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