A conversation about Local Government

In the past couple of days Suffolk County Council have announced that we have asked Respublica, a policy think tank, to come and have a look at Suffolk to consider the next opportunities for making savings in Suffolk’s Local Government administration costs and thus how we can find money in the system to be spent on Frontline services.

This is what I sent out to Councillors, to District and Borough Council Leaders and the Police and Crime Commissioner and across Business, Voluntary and Health Partners.

Given the national and local changes and discussions underway it is the right time to look at the current arrangements for public service delivery in Suffolk. We have asked Respublica to examine the merits of an individual County bid for a retained and reformed two-tier system and this builds on our work in Suffolk to date, as explained in the briefing attached to the e-mail. Whilst Respublica will be working closely with the County Council’s leadership, given the collaborative approach across Suffolk’s public sector, local stakeholders will also be able to provide them with additional information, views and insight to inform the outcome of the work. If you have any questions about the work at this stage, please do not hesitate to contact me.

And that went with the attached Briefing Note: Suffolk County Council work on public sector reform:

Through collaboration, integration and devolution, Suffolk County Council has worked closely with public sector partners to further Suffolk’s collective ambition for thriving economies and thriving communities and to secure the best possible outcomes for Suffolk. Following the withdrawal of the Norfolk/Suffolk devolution deal in 2016, the Suffolk System has continued to drive that ambition and secure sustainable public finances, demonstrated for example, through Suffolk’s recent success as a Business Rates Retention pilot for 2018-19. However, medium term financial plans are clear that the combination of continued budget pressure and demographic demands mean that fundamentally different forms of delivery will be needed across public services in the future.

Central Government has been ambivalent in working with local areas (demonstrated, for example, through the number of places with and without devolution agreements); however, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has recently made four significant “minded to” decisions to create super-Districts in Suffolk (East and West), unitary local authorities in Dorset (2 unitary authorities) and Buckinghamshire (1 countywide unitary authority). This may signal a renewed commitment to public service reform by Government and is significant and consistent with Suffolk’s ambition and direction of travel for better local outcomes through different means of delivery.

The County Council is keen to ensure that Suffolk is best placed to work with Government on creating more sustainable local public services and better local outcomes. To do that will need a clear and compelling case that demonstrates Suffolk’s ambition and credibility as a place that delivers.

To help build that case, the County Council will be working with the think-tank Respublica to examine the merits of an individual County bid for a retained and reformed two-tier system. Respublica will provide additional expertise, experience and objectivity and has established itself as a leader in the policy area of public service reform and devolution, through demonstrable change. Its work with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) (Devo Max Devo Manc) was the catalyst for the Government’s devolution deals and creation of Mayoral Combined Authorities across England along with the transfer of millions of central funding and associated decision making to these new local strategic authorities.

Last summer it worked with the County Councils Network (CCN) on an approach that placed counties as the building blocks for transformative devolution and public sector reform (Devo 2.0 The Case for Counties: Why a new model for local government in the counties is needed). This means that Respublica has a unique insight on public sector reform and devolution. That is why the County Council has asked Respublica to examine the merits of Suffolk making a bid to Government for a reformed system of local government as a way to unlock more local control and better delivery for key functions such as economic growth, housing and care.

To do this, Respublica will analyse Suffolk’s existing plans (eg, the devolution deal, economic strategies, joint strategic needs assessment) and focus on: the link between good governance and productivity; coherence of administrative boundaries and functional relationships. It will consider how a system could give Suffolk greater scope for enhanced strategic decision making over economic development and public service reform. To deliver this, it will use models and thinking developed for its work with city-regions, counties and devolved areas across the UK. The detail of the work is yet to be scoped in detail and it is expected to conclude early Autumn. Whilst Respublica will be working closely with the County Council’s leadership, given the collaborative approach across Suffolk’s public sector, local stakeholders will also be able to provide them with additional information, views and insight to inform the outcome of the work.

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