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Economic growth and local leadership

Source: Public Sector Executive July/Aug 2012

PSE’s Kate Ashley and Adam Hewitt report from the LGA annual conference and exhibition 2012 at The ICC in Birmingham.

The LGA conference and exhibition 2012 heard from the people leading local government, those setting policy nationally, councillors and officers responsible for smallscale but big-impact service changes, and leaders from other parts of the public sector on better partnership working and integration.

Speakers included chief executive of the NHS in England Sir David Nicholson, who said local government would have a greater role in health than ever before; CBI director John Cridland, who spoke about planning law and commercial property taxes as a barrier to economic growth; SOLACE managing director Kathryn Rossiter: and many leading politicians – though not quite as many as last year, when David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all made an appearance.

But shadow chancellor Ed Balls may have won a few new friends with his love-letter to local government. Balls praised local authorities’ “measured and quite visionary” response to the financial challenges and added that new approaches to efficiency are already being developed and implemented throughout the public sector.

He said: “I think the Government needs to do more to recognise the hard work which you have been doing and are doing.”

Balls called the LGA’s analysis of the grim financial picture “very powerful” and said: “It should be required reading for every government minister – there are issues in there which we can’t duck.”

Police and crime commissioner candidates Tony Lloyd, Cllr Lisa Brett and Simon Weston, who has since abandoned his bid, joined Stephen Greenhalgh, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the new commissioners, who will be elected this November.

Weston, who was to stand as an independent before pulling out in July due to overpoliticisation of the race, said a good PCC would have a role in “bridging the gap between the police service and the public”.

Greenhalgh called for “real responsibility for those elected to do their very best to hold the police service to account” and acknowledged that this will be “hugely challenging.”

He reiterated that “the relationship with local government is absolutely critical.”

Liberal Democrat Brett focused on the importance of communities, victims and witnesses of crime. She said reform provided a great opportunity to “move away from central government, Home Office-based targets and really meet the needs of local communities”.

Lloyd said: “The politics of policing really do matter”.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles was also full of praise for local government, labelling it the “quickest, most adaptable part of our constitution”.

In response to the “graph of doom” (more on page 24), he stated that “councils have shown their ability to adapt to changing conditions” and added that “there is still more we can do to improve procurement and share services.”

This could be achieved through greater transparency, collaboration and sharing of resources, he said, and concluded: “Be bold, be brave, be pushy.”

He also presented the winner of the Local Government Challenge 2012, Hannah Rees, corporate communications manager at Cornwall Council, with her trophy.

Last year’s winner, Paul Knight, gave a speech emphasising the ways technology can unlock social capital. He said it is all about “breaking rules and getting stuff done”, adding: “I want to work for an organisation that takes risks.”

Representatives from each of the four areas trialling ‘whole-place’ community budgets updated the conference on their progress: Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese, Essex Police chief constable Jim Barker-McCardle, Westminster City Council leader Philippa Roe, and West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group chairman Dr Huw Charles-Jones.

Sir Richard spoke of the need for a “complete reorientation” in public sector service delivery, but said whole-place budgets are “not an objective in themselves” and instead should be seen as a tool to make savings.

Cllr Roe, speaking on behalf of the tri-borough area involved, said a key problem was datasharing and data protection, with the legislation and guidelines getting in the way of improved services.

McCardle said closer working with different agencies and authorities in his area made him excited for the future, while Dr Charles- Jones said integrating the work done by local authorities and health organisations was the only way to cope with the increasing numbers of people needing care, while reducing expensive emergency admissions to hospital.

In the Q&A, Wokingham Borough Council leader Cllr David Lee, a Conservative, said it all sounded well and good – “but are there any actual pooled budgets?” Sir Richard admitted it had so far been more about pooling activities than budgets, and spoke about how hard it was to pool the subsequent savings in a fair way.

More coverage from the conference on pages 24-25.

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