In the wake of May's general election, the landscape for influencing national government has never been starker. The Comprehensive Spending Review is imminent and dark clouds gather. The potential for lobbyists to make requests of Government for funding of projects is severely limited.
But what of local government? The Decentralisation and Localism Bill is a crucial piece of legislation and one of a number of reasons why local government has never been more important for our sector and those we advise.
We're about to undergo a period of change as significant as the Local Government two-tier Reforms of the 1970s. If you work across some of our core sectors like waste, energy, education, planning or health and social care, you will be following local government more closely than ever.
There will be more academy schools, the planning process will have to evolve beyond the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, central government will need to be brave on major green energy projects, and demand for personalised care and support for the elderly and those with learning disabilities will continue to grow, while budgets decrease. At the Policy Exchange fringe at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles confirmed that 'local councils will indeed be asked to do more for less'. Who will close the gap and how?
Local authorities, under huge pressure to restrain spending, have for some time been looking at innovative new ways to protect existing services and save money.
Emerging forms of local government across the country, whether dubbed as 'John Lewis Councils', 'Easy Councils' or 'Enabling Councils' should be watched closely as they are at the vanguard of massive change.
There's the Guardian-friendly idea of the 'Co-operative Council', exemplified in Labour-run Lambeth, where I served for nine years, with its plans to devolve power down to the community to understand what services are best provided by people or organisations other than the council. This is a grassroots-aimed idea with consultations in the community involving big-hitters, such as Matthew Taylor from the RSA and Martin Green from ECCA, and is aimed at getting people more involved with the provision of services. Embedded in the values of the co-operative movement, and led by Councillor Steve Reed, Lambeth is soon to report publicly on its work, and its pilots will send out big signals as to whether the ideals can be delivered.
Then there are Suffolk County Council's plans - spearheaded by Jeremy Pembroke - to be the first 'enabling' local authority in the country. The recently approved plans are nothing less than sensational in their boldness and constitute an open declaration to outsource almost all services and thus save the council millions. This will, for the first time, take a major county council out of its traditional role as provider to that of an 'enabler'. If Suffolk succeeds, watch other Tory-led authorities follow suit.
Lambeth, Suffolk and other authorities such as Barnet believe their vision will build community capacity and enable people to take greater control of their lives. We shall see. There are opportunities for companies to do more for councils. There are opportunities for community groups to run large concerns. Day-in day-out, national politics will rightly dominate our news agenda, but with the coalition in place until 2015, there has never been a better time for our sector to monitor, explore and anticipate the emerging opportunities at local and regional government level.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
- Which public sector budget cut is likely to be the toughest for the Government to push through?
Research and science funding. I am convinced the back draft to any cuts to the science base, research and higher education will prove to be very difficult.
- Who would make the better lobbyist - David or Ed Miliband?
I would have said David before the result and was sure he'd win. So much successful lobbying depends on soft skills and emotional intelligence, as well as the pre-requisite technical knowledge, and I found David hugely persuasive in person. But the leadership race was about lobbying wasn't it? And Ed won. So I suppose it's him.