Local Government Professionals Australia Congress and Business Expo 2016
Averil Price, Director of Community Services, Chelmsford City Council and Solace Group Board member
I was privileged to represent the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace) in May at the LG Professionals Australia Conference held on the sunny Gold Coast. I was delighted to have the opportunity to take part in a private, guided tour of the new multi-million dollar Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct and the 2018 Commonwealth Games athletes village and sports venues.
The theme of the Conference was ‘A New Agenda – The Changing Face of Local Government’ aimed at exploring the concepts and key trends around the changing face of local government and reform. Debates and Key Note Presentations focussed on what are local government’s main challenges for change, the theory of change and its relevance for the public sector and inspirational stories highlighting how humans deal with change personally and professionally. During the International sessions delegates heard how different countries have addressed the changes facing local government in the UK, New Zealand, Canada, USA and South Africa. I was able to present the UK picture participating in break-out sessions, a Panel Q & A plus a keynote address on the pressures faced over the last 5 years, highlighting challenges, success stories and what lies ahead in the future. Thanks to Kim Ryley and Martina Cicakova (Solace) for preparing a conference paper which I aimed to bring to life in my presentations.
The Congress brought together a mix of both officers and elected Members. Key challenges raised for our Australian colleagues were amalgamation, ageing infrastructure, new codes of conduct for elected officials, workforce demands and skills shortages and above all rate capping. Introduced for the first time in 2016, my overall impression is that this new rate-capping regime is being predominantly viewed by officers as a real threat to the future of local government and will test their appetite for change and doing things differently.
The event programme was strong with some excellent motivational speakers in the form of Rabia Siddique and Dan Gregory. Rabia shared her stories of courage and determination from her diverse career touching the hearts of the whole audience and sharing the qualities she possesses to inspire us all to embrace change in uncertain environments. Dan was a second captivating speaker, he injected wisdom and wit into an exploration of change management, innovation and ways to inspire the next generation of leaders in local government. As founder and CEO of The Impossible Institute, Dan brought a fresh style to thinking about what drives our customers and employees and encouraged us to keep asking the impossible questions (e.g. how can we make people want to receive their Council Tax bills?) and to value creativity. He stressed that we need people with the capacity to solve problems in a way we haven’t seen before. A point that really resonated with me.
Input from academics was also strong. Two prominent futurists Dr Peter Ellyard and Dr Keith Suter delivered passionate keynote addresses on strategic thinking and leadership for the future of local government. They both pushed delegates to embrace blue ocean thinking, to value imagination, to move from delivering goods & services to creating memorable experiences. Professors Mark Evans and Graham Sansom built on this theme encouraging the local government community to define the challenges, confront the reality, if necessary change the narrative and have the courage to take the uncomfortable steps to drive change.
The opportunity to take part in these international debates, sharing of experiences, being exposed to new thinking and meeting new people was fantastic.