It would be foolish to speculate on the outcome of the discussions over the formation of a government over the next few days. Even with a government in place an emergency budget may take longer to debate and also approve. The danger for public bodies is waiting too long for some certainty as to the direction of government policy rather than taking early action now. Some may be used to local authorities with “No overall control” and see this as analogous. That would be a dangerous fallacy. The centralisation of services in the last 30 years means a change of government has far more reaching effects compared to a similar situation in local authorities. At a central government level whole departments or programmes could disappear within two or three months.
At present there are however some certainties that one can start preparing for
1. Budget savings. It goes without saying that there is no change in the likely downward trend in public sector spending in coming year. Whilst it is possible, following CBI announcements over the weekend, that this year will see less change than previously predicted, nevertheless tough decisions are inescapable even in the short-term
2. Managing Change. Apart from budget pressures, technological change and a more localist agenda will also be driving this. Reactive responses will not be enough. In the end taking the lead and taking ownership of the local service transformation will enable one to set the local agenda.
3. Communicating Change. Both the preceding areas will need effective communication. It should never be forgotten that the formation of Governments also leads to the formation of an opposition. The possibility of an early General Election could politicise issues where tough decisions are required. At the same time the election results indicate that there are significant groups of disaffected people in some communities who may feel that they are even less represented by the political process. Many of these are high users of local services and could see change as not representing their values and even more dangerously perceiving them as unfair.
All the above requires thinking through the challenges now and seeking to effectively communicate the changes that will inevitably happen. It can be your change or it can be someone else’s change, but no change is not going to be an option. Managing that change in a sensitive but politically astute way that also takes the local community along with it, will be the biggest challenge in these uncertain times.
Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company