We’re all living through an era that threatens to mark the end of local government as we know it. Some Leaders I have met, to keep with this Star Trek script theme, believe that you canna’ change the laws of council physics. At East Hampshire District Council we think you can, but more importantly, you must.
This is largely the fault of the Labour Government, possibly the worst national administration since the Second World War. Not only have they stolen our local role and tried to centralise it, they have also stolen our grant funds to shore up their incompetent financial management, handing poor George Osborne the biggest overdraft in British history!
Our Income Generation strategy is based on our view is that, thanks to Labour, local councils have an unprecedented income crisis looming that makes today’s budgets seem as tight as your favourite baggy jeans.
It is so much more than car park charges and wasp nest removal. One of our flagship businesses is Woodland Burial. This is a rapidly growing alternative to traditional ways of celebrating your end on this Earth. This new service triggers the opportunity for several other value add-ons such as horse and buggy transport to the burial site from, e.g. a local church, and it also offers an important solution to the growing problem of churchyards full to capacity.
In addition, our DVD production and sale business is going very well and we are in the early stages of a scheme to bottle local spring water found on local authority land, for sale locally.
Shields up, Scotty.
On the costs side, having spent several years now, implementing ever more creative methods of screwing down budgets we decided to look at our costs from a more strategic perspective. As a result we have just decided not to replace our Chief Executive but, instead, to enter into a radical, full time Chief Executive sharing arrangement with our neighbours, Havant Borough Council.
This idea is so much more than just halving the cost. In fact it doesn’t do that because the new Chief Executive is paid more due to the wider responsibility. We think it just might be the solution to the most talked about and talked up failure in local government; shared services, an idea that has underperformed spectacularly. Why? Because the opportunity is being assessed by people who are protecting their jobs; no wonder results are poor. It’s turkeys and Christmas of course.
And let’s not forget what happens to you if you don’t share your services. The Government will make you a Unitary.
So, let’s fix it by giving the boss an incentive to make it happen. Start at the top with a shared Chief Executive, set him/her performance linked pay objectives to slim down the top team of Directors and Heads of Service and then watch the shared service agreements flow in. Our experience at EHDC has been transformed from extreme frustration at the unwillingness of partner authorities to enthuse about the idea to one where our list of tangible, achievable, sharing ideas with Havant will keep us all busy for a good two years or more.
Phasers on stun.
So we all have a choice. I think there are about three.
Stay as we are, do nothing and let the Government, (of any colour), reorganise us out of existence. It will be the cheapest option and we do have a national crisis. Talk a great story on shared services, say how tight our budgets are but then whack up Council Tax and complain about how small is the Revenue Support Grant. Those who do that will become Unitaries. Think outside the box. Find brand new sources of income. Come up with new organisation structures and make sure that they break down the internal inertia that obstructs shared services. This is the new horizon of local government.
Take us out of here Mr. Sulu, warp factor nine.