She works hard for the money

LGiU Scotland’s Kim Fellows follows up from her “Money Talks…” blog with some further reflections from the April meeting in response to some of the points made by a commentator on the first blog.

It all matters. In 1001 different ways councils deliver a myriad of both simple and incredibly complex interactions with the public on a daily basis. For example: litter is picked up; a carer spends time with a lonely person; vulnerable people are supported; cafes are inspected; and children get healthy meals in schools – to name a few services that are often overlooked.

Behind those numerous daily tasks is an army of dedicated public servants going above and beyond their duties to keep the show on the road.  Not bureaucrats – but hard working people, often part of the communities they serve, doing a consistently good job.

Local goverment funding pays for the obvious services schools, social care and our favourite – waste management. However beyond the bins, the meeting agreed that local government funding buys efficient and effective services at an operational level.

It is at a strategic level that the more difficult to answer questions are posed. Is local government funding with funding from partners delivering services that effectively tackle inequality (gender, rurality, economic and social) in a modern and diverse Scotland? Those are questions that are more difficult to answer. For example the so-called “problems on the high street” are not going away. As councils in Scotland become more dependent on local taxation “it is the economy, stupid” resonates deeply with public service providers. When shops are vacant, business rate yields go down and that has the potential to impact council services.

So imagine you are responsible for future proofing public services in Scotland. A Scotland where, post Brexit, we are raising more and more of our own funding, producing and eating more of our own food and energy whilst also delivering a wider range of welfare benefits to citizens.  This, after all, is the path we are on in this brave new world of public services in Scotland – funding and working in collaboration with other partners to ensure delivery will be fit for the 21st century. Designed to meet the needs of the local population who live in a globally connected, ever-changing world.

Perhaps this is the time to put the public even more at the heart of delivery. After all, the public need to care deeply about all local services, not just the National Health Service. The meeting agreed to return to this theme, in particular considering the economic impacts of different means of raising revenue including local taxation and how that funding can be best used. As the local governance review proceeds in Scotland it is important that everyone contributes views and ideas into the process at an appropriate time.

Photo Credit: Rural Matters Flickr via Compfight cc

    1. Derek Miller says:

      The Community Empowerment Act is pushing Councils to be more pro-active in involving communities in decision making. Some are seeing the benefits of community involvement and ‘buy-in’, but a few are dragging their feet. In some areas, community asset transfer would be better described as community liability transfer as Councils try to off-load expensive to repair and maintain facilities. But the joke can still be on them – community organisations can often access funding Council’s can’t and jaded buildings can be re-energised as focal points for community action. But Councils have to involve communities at a strategic level by making community planning relevant and inclusive, and removing barriers and providing support to enable communities to contribute. For too long Council services have been planned and ‘handed down’ to communities from within the ivory towers of the town hall or city chambers. A culture change is needed to get the public to a position where they can make informed and thoughtful choices and contributions. But culture change doesn’t happen itself. It needs investment of time, money and skilled support to bring about change. There’s the challenge for cash strapped Councils – how do you do that in a time of austerity and squeezed budgets? We need more public involvement to generate more civic pride and local understanding of and commitment to the services we’ve all come to rely on, and will soon be missing. Government, local and national, needs to act sooner rather than later!

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