Moving from A&E Zones to Neighbourhood Platforms

Local government is at a cross roads. Councils, like businesses, community organisations and citizens themselves, are facing the uncertainty of what will happen next and how to manage the implications of Brexit. There’s a need for spaces to make sense of, cope with and influence disruptive change.

In looking over the next year, what could public services become?

“A&E Zones” as they’ve been left with services that no one else wants to deliver, since they don’t offer any returns. Under threat from Whitehall, looking to take over poor performing services.

“Local Federations”, sharing services & commissioning. Under threat from other sectors who’ve taken advantage of digital to provide more efficient services.

“Stakeholder Democracies” where communities are taking on services councils have divested. Under threat from other groups who want control over how taxes are spent

“Community Investors”, investing in community infrastructure and focus on re-using the investment they make back into the neighbourhood. They use business rates and community investment funds to influence social value.

What do these different types of councils do?

1. Focusing on the vulnerable and competing with other sectors: A&E Zones

Focus on protecting the vulnerable in face of cuts, and continuously review their approach. They are left with services that no one else wants to deliver, because they don’t make any money. Providers who thought they could make a business out of it have gone bust, leaving councils to take back the service.

In response to complaints about performance, central government is increasingly “taking over” poor performing local services, transferring them to national programmes like the NHS or Work Programme.

Council coalitions in London lobby for new taxes on consumption, such as tourist or health taxes.

Community groups act as mediators between the “insider” and “outsider” communities, while trying to fight for competing resources.

2. Sharing services & working more commercially: Local Federations

They share services & commissioning and work together with other agencies to a scale that they can access bonds, be it social impact bonds for services or for infrastructure.

The more successful have set up trading arms to sell their services to others in the sector. More and more frontline services are becoming federations, if not subsumed within the GLA or NHS. Back office services are consolidated into local public service networks across London.

As public services haven’t kept up with economic growth, more and more private & voluntary sector organisations are competing with the public sector for providing services.

Public services try and compete by using their customer data about public behaviour on social issues, to put together social impact bonds to provide preventative funding.

Community groups act as mediators between the “insider” and “outsider” communities, while trying to fight for competing resources.

Political parties act for the interests for individual communities, sometimes to the exclusion of others.

3. Devolving power to residents: Stakeholder Democracies

Co-produced with citizens taking on more responsibility, where collaborations may mix running services and setting up activities.

The public buy much of what they need directly and council tax is reduced. Communities will set up their own services to fill the gap where the public sector is no longer present, while councils will create community investment funds in the most deprived neighbourhoods, to invest in activities that deliver social return on investment.

Tax competition over business rates become the main drivers of how money is spent, leading to a potential “race to the bottom” on council tax and business rates.

Charities & social enterprises fragment provision for specific communities.

Local community groups thrive and gain influence in organising local activity, both in the neighbourhood and the workplace.

Campaign groups tend to articulate needs of the neighbourhood to the local council.

Political parties act as a bridge from the neighbourhood to the local council.

Charities & social enterprises are run at a street level.

4. Investing in community infrastructure: Community Investors

Focus on making a return on any investment they make, through maximising revenue streams from services, as well as trading services not just to other public sector agencies but to businesses, such as their ICT, finance or HR services.

They will invest in community infrastructure like energy, housing or sharing platforms, where they can make a return, and develop joint ventures with shared profits or venture capital investments in local social enterprises.

Community organisations are created or sponsored by brands, charities & social enterprises are financed by corporate philanthropy. Digital online networks emerge as sources of cohesive values with effective memberships, which blur personal & work. Campaign groups tend to be single-issue, short-lived, and often ineffective in connecting their agendas with representative politics. Political parties have diminished, turning into temporary coalitions of single issue groups. Online support networks run their own charity & social enterprise services

However! Faced with significant cuts over the last decade, local authorities have learnt how to manage the impact of these cuts while re-purposing and re-inventing ways of delivering services and supporting local economies & communities to grow. There’s a need for spaces to rethink, test & embed new ways of supporting places and people to flourish.

What do you think the future of councils will look over this year?

How can we learn from different approaches and sectors?

How can we avoid the future of councils being left to be decided by others?

Head of Strategy (Communities) @camdencouncil #localgov Director @euroalter Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese