Cllr Ferris Cowper is the Cabinet Member for Finance of East Hampshire District Council.
The great Peter Drucker was a committed believer in the benefits of change and once said “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”. Since leaving one of the great exemplars of modern industrial success, Mars, Inc., my 20 years in local government have taught me that we really need to embrace this notion.
There are so many “somethings old” that we cling to in local government. We have to raise taxes. We are risk averse. We can’t make a profit. We don’t pay our staff commercial rates. Some even wear the “jobsworth” badge with a resigned fatalism.
I want “something new”, like Drucker. At East Hampshire District Council we have been removing our unwanted “somethings old” for quite a few years now. Amongst the unwanted “somethings old” are freebie government hand-outs which used to kill off our sense of entrepreneurism, and levying Council Tax which hits rich and poor indiscriminately and makes you pay for things you don’t use.
- Over the past 20 years, (the time our Conservative administration has been in power at EHDC), we have the best District Council Tax record in Britain*.
- The Local Government Association’s latest benchmarking survey shows EHDC having the fourth highest resident satisfaction rate in the nation. (The benchmarking data for the councils in second and third place is at least 5 years old and ours is current)
- Over that time front-line services have been improved dramatically with no cuts.
- EHDC are finalists in this month’s Local Government Chronicle “Entrepreneurial Council of the Year Awards”.
- All three of our corporate directors in post last summer are now Chief Executives, so we have peer recognition as well.
We have agreed to freeze Council Tax for the forthcoming financial year.
This success comes from a radical rethink of who we are. Of course we provide vital services for those that need them free of charge. That is never challenged because that is why we are here.
By the way, before readers tell me I’m so lucky to live in a rich person’s leafy lane paradise, we have wards with some of the worst deprivation statistics in England. At no cost to the taxpayer we’re rebuilding one of least affluent communities in record time with a total cross sector investment of £1 billion. We’re about to launch a mold-breaking welfare strategy and we’ve even offered to take on local adult social care from the county council.
So what are we doing that’s new?
We charge for services where customers have choice. We market and sell a range of products and services and in Regenco we have one of Britain’s most respected regeneration consultancies.
We invest and yes, we invest in commercial property. Before Lord Oakshott vents his spleen on us upstart competitors raining on his cosy parade, our property procedures in all aspects have been independently vetted by one of the top UK pension fund advisers.
We look hard at all our jobs and we cut out those that are unnecessary. EHDC taxpayers only pay for half of the top three layers of management because they are shared 50/50 with a neighbouring council. We share premises with the Police. We don’t need these bloated overheads from the “something old” culture.
All of us in the public sector have to face the fact there just isn’t enough tax in the economy to pay for all these public services. That’s why the public sector, across the board is in a shocking financial mess. This tax-and-handouts based financial framework is delivering embarrassing adult social care for our elderly folk and a progressively weakening NHS. Colleagues, it’s nothing whatsoever to be proud of.
But I’m proud of my Council because we improve services all the time, we cut tax in cash terms to be the best in Britain and we have one of the highest customer satisfaction rates in the nation. We did that because we wanted something new and to get that we stopped doing something old.
That should be the mantra of all in public service in order to lead the nation towards post-Brexit prosperity.