Learnings from LGA Conference

The Local Government Association Conference (LGA) in Birmingham last week was, as always, an opportunity to learn and to understand what is going on across the country in our sector.  There was no stated theme this year, but finances and lobbying dominated every presentation and conversation.  It was clear that central government understand the situation in which we find ourselves, and more importantly, they understand what has to be done to square the books.  I had the chance to sit next to Melanie Dawes, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and had a fascinating insight into what is occupying their time in London.  What struck me more than anything else was the lack of freedom of action that our central government has at the moment, and that although they completely understand that we are under severe pressure, they simply haven’t got any easy or ready solutions.  We’re going to have to solve this pretty much for ourselves.

I attended a closed door session on the problems in Northamptonshire.  Out of respect for the honesty and openness of the speakers, I won’t divulge any of the details that they mentioned, but the central theme was that Northamptonshire County Council did not have an open and honest culture in which officers and politicians challenged themselves on the deliverability of their plans.  In essence, they had a very optimistic view of the world in which any challenge or criticism was put down as being not sufficiently visionary.  The line that stuck out from the report for me was, “In local government, nothing beats doing boring really well”.  I have to say that is so true on many areas, including from my experience, in military operations.

Back in Staffordshire, we are making good progress on the MTFS and there will be reports at Cabinet on Wednesday on how we are closing the financial gap next year.  There remains much to do, and our Members of Parliament are very much in support of our lobbying efforts.  That is hugely important, as we attempt to get a business rates retention pilot, and support for children’s and adults’ social care.  We have a number of planning sessions over the coming weeks, in which many of you will participate, and I would ask you to continue to give this the outstanding and selfless efforts that have characterised the process so far.

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