Can I thank everyone who has contacted me about the blog – rarely do politicians receive such comprehensively positive feedback for an idea – I shall relish it whilst it lasts!
My party had its Regional Conference in Blackpool over the weekend, and I was asked to take part in a Question and Answer session on the future of Local Government. Whilst I hope I managed to answer a few points, I went away from the event asking myself a number of questions about what our future will look like.
The Government clearly sees the future for local government being one of commissioning services from a wide variety of providers – rather than directly providing services, as they have traditionally done. I’m wary about this approach for a number of reasons.
- Will the services delivered be of the same quality?
- Will the staff who deliver these services get paid at a decent rate, and have decent terms and conditions of employment?
- Will the necessity for any private sector provider to make a profit out of the service damage the service?
We have looked at, and will continue to look at, whether traditional models of service delivery are the best way forward – quite simply because we have to – our income is falling sharply every year due to Government cuts. But I am clear that a central part of that dialogue has to be that I don’t want to see public money being diverted into the pockets of gigantic US conglomerates – nor do I want to see service levels fall unnecessarily.
The creation of Arms Length Management Organisations, like Blackpool Coastal Housing, encouraging a co-operative approach, or staff buy-outs, are all systems which have been, and are being trialled, across the UK, by progressive Local Authorities, and I remain open-minded about these possibilities.
To bury our heads in the sand, and imagine that we can in some way be immune from unusual, but clear Government policy and harsh funding decisions would be to deny ourselves the opportunity to make sure that we emerge from this situation stronger, and able to continue to drive forward the positive changes we wish to see in our community, for the benefit of this, and future generations.
Cllr Simon Blackburn