Plugging the gaps

 In a recent survey of 50 local authorities by the RCA a third reported achieving budget savings by cutting a little from every budget where as the majority were cutting costs by setting up shared services and contracting out services. On top of this over a quarter of authorities had been forced to cut discretionary services such as grants to voluntary organisations. Chief executives were now expressing concerns about internal support services, children services and adult social care.

Only one in five local authorities thought engaging with the voluntary sector would enable them to plug the service gaps.

 Whilst authorities have met their short term budget reduction targets they are finding it increasingly difficult to soften the blow of spending cuts.

 Public consultation has been a feature of delivering service cuts but any cuts to front line services are controversial as seen by the experience of proposals to close libraries, day centres and residential homes.

The longer term challenge facing local authorities is to scale down their operations to live within a smaller budget. This isn’t just a case of doing a little less of everything it involves stopping some services altogether, out sourcing services where this is cheaper and combing with other organisations to gain economies of scale.

 Despite the fact that other surveys have shown that many chief executives are not convinced that the private sector is more efficient or is an appropriate partner for a public sector organisation this looks increasingly like the way forward especially as they is no confidence in the voluntary sectors ability to fill the gaps.

RSA in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) are producing a series of reports to share what local authorities are doing to plug the gaps, how services and service delivery is being re shaped and how authorities are attempting to soften the blow of spending cuts.

It is of course extremely useful to have best practise pulled together in one place and able to be shared but who is going to come up with these new ways of doing things? Many of the experienced operational mangers, policy officers and project managers who might have been tasked to do so have been sacrificed in restructurings to achieve short term budget savings. Those left in the new slimmer and flatter structures are fully occupied managing a broader range of service, hitting ambitious performance targets and delivering ever demanding efficiency targets. In addition to which these major changes have to be delivered in a political environment where unpopular decisions can cost you in the ballot box something that will be on the minds of many local politicians as they digest the result of the recent local elections. 

Blair McPherson author of UnLearning management published by Russell House. Follow Blair on Twitter @blairmcpherson1   




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