Thursday, 18 November 2010

Is the Council Opting-In or Selling out? The Co-operative Council - (KOV meeting update - Part 3a)

Several months ago, Jason Cobb, prior to his move, highlighted the risks of the co-operative council for the entire Borough.  Now that he's left for the wilds of deepest Essex, I'll try and keep tabs on how it will affect our hyperlocal patch, but trust me, this won't be the most exciting of posts...

I was hoping for clarification when I learned that Lambeth Council Policy manager, council officer Mike Wiltshire addressed was to address the KOV on the co-op proposition at the beginning of November.  Mr Wiltshire clearly knew his stuff, having been involved with the co-op council project since its starting point in February 2010.  After he had given a run-down of work performed so far, I'm not sure that anybody was more practically informed about what the co-op council might look like.  Question time proved a little more illuminating, but only a little...  Here follows a summary of what we heard (with my commentary added later in square brackets []):

The co-op idea was introduced due to Labour's desire to change the way services are provided and develop them more collaboratively, as well as being a way to provide quality services, despite the budget cuts from central government.  A white paper was published in May 2010 showing the Council's initial thoughts.  After that, a committee was set up chaired by Head of Lambeth Council, Steve Reed, which consists of residents, other councillors and members of national organisations. [I'd have said it's a little light on residents, but never mind...] They've received evidence from community groups, national bodies, private/public sector companies etc. to learn how the co-operative council should be delivered and are now deliberating on that evidence.  A final report, setting out the Commissioners' recommendations is due to be published in January 2011.  That report will start another 3 month consultation process.  At that point, they'll say, "when we talk about the Co-op council we mean these specific things" and see whether their recommendations are supported.  Lambeth Council will produce its response to the commission in May 2011 and will set out any recommendations it might want to accept, reject or amend.  [Any the wiser?  I wasn't.  But it seems to work quite well if you're involved in providing "consultation" services, something that's probably quite lucrative in these times...]

According to Mr Wiltshire, the commission has obtained evidence on 5 key areas, as follows...

1.  Leadership:  Two important questions have been asked: "What type of leadership should the council provide politically?" and "How can the Council be a better leader of civil society?"  The majority of people who have responded to the Commission have provided a clear message.  I quote...
"You're fine giving political leadership, but actually, you're not a particularly good community leader.  You don't listen particularly well...  If the Council are serious about this, there has to be some fundamental change to the way the organisation works... in partnership, as opposed to an organisation which attempts to consult, but doesn't do as well as it should do".  
It is thought that addressing such a matter will be a major challenge for the Council.

2.  Services:  At present, there are problems with the way services are commissioned.  Partnership is not handled well.  Commissioning and  procurement processes would need to be changed, so that the Council could be a "co-producer".  Questions arise about whether the council should be providing services themselves or whether they should be moving to different providers?  Might a social enterprise, charitable or 3rd sector organisation be more effective at delivering a service?

If an organisation shows they can deliver a service more effectively eg. youth services, under a co-op model, the council should support the organisations as opposed delivering it themselves.  To give an example, the Council has commissioned a gang intervention service named Exit.  Apparently, having a third sector organisation working intensively with children has been far more effective in drawing them away from gang involvement than traditional youth services, so the council are asking whether, if a 3rd sector group can be far more innovative, the council might commission such providers directly?  [It all sounds great, but one wonders what will happen to traditional youth clubs that are not "in vogue" at the moment, but are valuable because they're institutional and not fleeting.]

3.  Incentivisation:  People need to be encouraged to become more involved in local public service provision.  The Council want to know whether more citizens can be involved in such delivery and are trying to identify a "range of mechanisms" that would suit people.  Mr Wiltshire admitted this would be challenging because surveys so far have shown that a lot of people are already quite active in the community and the people that aren't have made the choice not to be involved for various reasons.  Consequently, it was acknowledged that trying to find a way to incentivise such people will be tricky.  [It does beg the question of whether, in the end, it might not be quicker, easier and cheaper for the Council to just run the services themselves.  But I suppose the answer to that is that there will be no money... I really dislike the idea of incentivising for voluntary work, as it seems to me akin to bribing.  Perhaps the Council would claim it's just a way of saying "thanks".]

4. Public service management:  How can the Council  manage services more effectively and enable front line officers to innovate and find new ways of delivering services?  At the moment, apparently, Lambeth Council  have "quite a controlling risk-averse culture".  The commisioners are looking at ways to try and change the culture.  They're also looking at joint-management, and asking questions such as; how can the Council more effectively join up services with the police or health providers?  Much work is already performed with Lambeth First partnership, but the Council seek to integrate services more widely.

5.  Financing:  At present, the Council try to co-ordinate budgets with other public service providers. The co-op council hope to try to centralise funding so that council, health services and  police don't just align budgets, but pool them centrally.  It seems that some of the ideas coming out of central government are broadly supportive of the notion.  [Which makes me wonder whether it's all just about cuts, cuts and more cuts].  The Commission is also looking at alternative way of funding/financing services considering a reduction in public sector funding. The Council are looking at ways of drawing in social and private sector finance to continue to fund services.  [All Council services will have to be financed somehow.  Note today a report that suggests Lambeth will consider proposals for an "opt-in" paid-for garden waste removal service and charges for bulky waste collection.  I fear a return to fly-tipping, so I'm hoping they've some kind of social finance scheme up their sleeves.  I've not a clue what "social finance" might be!]

I've split this post in two because despite editing, once I've added the question-time and some of my comments, we're looking at an essay-length write-up!  Continue reading if you want to see the questions that were asked as a result of this presentation....

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