New Year, New Predictions
Happy New Year!
2011 was a pretty momentous year for those of us working in the public sector with cuts, strikes, riots, redundancies, rising demand for our services and a surrounding narrative that pitted those who work in the public services against those who use those services.
For those of us working in local government this led to panic, defensiveness, stress, pressure, innovation, decisiveness and a lot of hard work. And despite everything I really believe we enter 2012 in a stronger position than we entered 2011.
This time round we know what the cuts will be, most of us are well versed in the attitudes of the coalition government and the vast majority of councils have set themselves a realistic plan for meeting the budget pressures placed upon us.
So with that in mind, what do we think will be the five top story lines facing local government in 2012?
1) The cuts
As I’ve mentioned before many authorities took the easy way out for their cuts in 2011/12. A few bits of low hanging fruit here, some small marginal redundancies there, a little bit of money from reserves and a few budgetary adjustments and most of us got through relatively unscathed. The plans for 2012/13 are severe in contrast. The low hanging fruit has gone and really tough decisions need to be made. Funnily enough, it’s not the decision making I’m worried about but the deliverability of these cuts. Making staff redundant is one thing but cuts to social care, education provision, housing or any other service that is demand led are very hard to accurately predict, especially as the budgetary pressures elsewhere in the economy come home to roost. The big question for local government is ‘are we able to deliver the budget cuts we promised in 2012.’ It’s a mighty big ask and a challenge for us all.
There are no two ways around this; housing is one of the biggest crises facing our country at the moment and 2012 is, in all likelihood, going to be the year that council housing rises up the agenda. We have an active, and dare I say talented, housing minister (and one who has been in the job for more than a year unlike many of his predecessors), a growing recognition of the issue’s importance from the media and increasingly a lot of local politicians wanting to get into the act. The challenge for us all is going to be separating out the good ideas (bringing empty homes into use) from the really bad ideas (putting a cap on the amount that can be spent on housing benefit in central London) and really thinking through some of the more fringy ideas (only giving houses to those in work). All of this will need to happen whilst keeping costs under control which will be a massive challenge.
3) The economy stupid
I am a fully paid up localism bill sceptic (we have membership cards!). I’ve seen too many pieces of Government legislation passed that then have a minimal impact on local government. If, however, the localism bill is to be a success then surely its first test is to see how local authorities can use the powers within it to develop their own local economies. Indeed, it might be that local councils are able to do so without the localism bill but either way the economy is the battle ground where local government can prove whether it is a glorified delivery arm of central government or provides true local leadership. I imagine the mayoral debates of 2012 will fit into this narrative.
4) Jobs, jobs, jobs
I know this is parochial but for most of us this year will be about jobs. Can we keep the one we have? Will we be able to find another job if ours is made redundant? How do our skills match up in the private sector? Do we even want to work in the public sector anymore? Will we end up adding to the great number of unemployed in our country? I fear it is going to be a tough year for us all.
5) The Olympics
We’ve got to end on something cheery and the Olympics is going to be amazing! It doesn’t matter where you are in the country or which council you work for the Olympics is going to have a major impact on you for a good part of the year. I don’t have tickets or anywhere to stay in London yet but to be honest I don’t think it matters. The Olympics and Paralympics will be defining moments for our country and I can’t wait to be part of it. Plus, it will mean our Olympics officer will seem like less of a premature appointment!
All of the above is just educated guess-work but either way we look forward to sharing the next year in local government with you all. Please keep in touch and keep sending us your guest posts and most of all do enjoy what we are sure is going to be another momentous year in local government.
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