Last Week’s LGA Conference Day 1

As is tradition before the LGA Conference proper the political parties gather and at the Conservative group meeting I was delighted to be announced as re-elected to the Conservative Group Executive. A real honour and I was quite chuffed at the faith shown by colleagues after what has been a bruising year, (self-inflicted I might add) and I hope I can use the role to, in some small way, help local government have that vital voice, it needs, in setting the local government policy agenda at Westminster and across the increasing partnership working with Health .

As is the way of these things the conference was its usual mixture of networking, breakout sessions, some interesting and some less than interesting plenary sessions, drinks, food, and many, many planned and casual conversations. Beyond these I had a couple of formal contributions to make as I was booked to make 2 speeches and take part in the subsequent discussions. The first was in the, well……innovative, innovation zone hosted by the great Chairman of the LGA Innovation Board, Cllr. Peter Fleming, how was his usual self, fun, irreverent, enthusiastic and beyond the somewhat colourful outfits actually someone who has really championed and driven innovation as a key way we are going to continue to serve our communities as the money diminishes. I gave a short speech about my commitment to the Networked Councillor programme being delivered by the excellent Public-I and hopefully contributed to the important debate about the role of social media in how we connect with our residents, and hopefully explain and co-produce some of the new ways we need to deliver services in the future.

Then later, as other headed down the pier or to this or that venue for drinks receptions, I delivered a speech on Complaints with Mick King, Executive Director of the Local Government Ombudsman about the value and way in which we interpret complaints both to Councils and ultimately to his organisation, are they a reputational threat or something to inform organisational learning, which was the point I hope I got across.

A picture paint a thousand words

They say a picture paint a thousand words and this was never more true that this great pictorial summary of the LGA Digital Summit; which was a great opportunity to really explore how the internet can deliver improved services and access.

07.03.2013 - Cartoon Summary of LGA Digital Summit

The day was hosted by BBC News Channels technology programme Click’s presenter Spencer Kelly who was a quite suburb choice and kept a packed agenda on track with wit.

For me this was the third day in a series of days looking at the role of technology in Local Government from the brilliant first Facebook Councillors Boot camp day at Facebook’s London HQ to the Digital Services event with APSE at Elstreet studios; across all three there were two key themes. Firstly technology is here to stay and that the successful application of this is about leadership rather than just how brilliant you can build that app.

Secondly how do we move systems and channel shift when there are still people that such a single minded approach would exclude, often the very people we are seeking to support.

I suppose there is a 3rd that we are current trying to solve with an investment decision by us Conservatives on the County Council to invest £11M in bringing Broadband to 100% of our county, till then there are some parts of the county on dial up!

But perhaps the future also belongs to the penetration of mobile devices, there are some wonderful applications that could say Suffolk County Council millions of pounds, such as the Love Lewisham one where through a simple picture and an app you can report pot holes, fly tipping and graffiti to the right teams the data can almost immediately they will get the job paperwork going.

Future Council Suffolk

Last Friday Senior Councillors and Local Government officers from across the county meet for a Future Council workshop; the event was facilitated by Cllr. Peter Fleming, Chairman of the LGA Improvement Board and Leader of Sevenoaks District Council and Simon Parker Director of the New Local Government Network.

Essentially the programme is about how do we as a group of 2 tier authorities find ways to work together better and a sort of post unitary? what next?

The unitary debate was a bruising affair in Suffolk, a centralist Labour Government coming into a Conservative county with a sort of ‘man from the ministry’ dictate forcing us all (they had the legal right to compel us all to engage) into a boxing ring we did not want to be in and then fighting for their amusement spending millions of pounds in the process for a potential outcome none of us were interested in and never actually happened.

So 3 years on, how to find better ways to delivery services across Suffolk with the financial imperative of far less money.

To me the key is to harness the corporate strengths of the County Council and the local knowledge that comes with District and Borough Councils. I have surprised myself, having had the honour of being elected to my local council Forest Heath; about the more personal way in which officers and members view the area both approaches have strengths and weaknesses but together local government can be much stronger.

The conservative government’s approach is far more democratic than the previous allowing us to consider how we might work better together.

The previous process was a true reflection of Labour’s years in power:

  1. spend a fortune
  2. dictate how everything will be done
  3. Achieve absolutely nothing

During the course of the day Simon Parker presented the results for the survey of senior local government figures conducted by the NLGN and it was interesting that across Suffolk there was a real willingness to come together protect frontline services and find ever more ways to cut costs in the back office.

There are challenging times ahead but I firmly believe that resident have the right to demand that Councils across Suffolk work together to strip out every last penny of costs to deliver quality services to our residents.

Some services are always going to be delivered by local government officers, but to my mind, I want to see far more of our staff creating their own companies, their our mutuals, their own not for profit organisations and together with the all the councils across Suffolk, private providers and the Suffolk voluntary sector deliver for Suffolk.

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