The relationship between the private and public sectors

I was invited to speak this week at a dinner of the New Local Government Network, one of the leading think tanks in our sector.  The subject was the relationship between private and public sectors.  The narrative in the country at the moment on this subject is quite polarised and sceptical, bordering on cynical.  In essence, we have “public good, private bad” on one side and “public bad, private good” on the other. None of these versions represents the reality, and they do us no good.  We have to change the national narrative.

The fact is that nobody would design a county council like it is if we were starting from scratch.  In a recent exercise to understand the breadth of actions we as a county council undertake, Helen Riley found 153 separate activities and services.  No commercial business would contemplate that spread of activity, but there is no other organisation capable of taking them all on.  The political discourse in the country at the moment in local government is around geographical reorganisation rather than functional responsibilities, so it doesn’t look like there is any appetite to change what we do.  What we can do is identify organisations who have a more focussed skillset, and can take on discrete activities.  The private sector will be better in some areas, and the public sector in others. We have some very effective partnerships with both public and private sector organisations, and we adjust them regularly as the situation and demand dictates.  As we move into the next phase of transformation around digital and People Helping People, we will need the very best from both sectors if we are to meet the needs of our residents in the future, and continue to change the local narrative.

On a different, but in reality related area, thanks also to all who took part in Learning at Week work, both teaching and learning.  I was delighted to meet a highly enthusiastic group of colleagues on the stairs of County Buildings on the way to one of the SUMO sessions. My small part was in hosting a webinar with the assistance of Verity Plumb and Jesica Sotelo, which was fun, and a learning experience.  Looking into the webcam without any feedback from the audience reminded me of doing a live TV interview to camera from Northern Afghanistan on the eve of the country’s first presidential election.  It’s quite disconcerting, but it seems to have worked.  If those of you who have seen it think that it has merit as a means of communicating our policy as we move further into Smart Working, let me know, and we’ll do them again.

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