This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

From agility to arthritis in a few short years

In my neck of the woods, the local two tier councils are sharpening sticks in preparation of a battle royale over unitary government. I won't bore you with the details but I will say I don't know what will work best for my county in the future. I do not have enough of the facts to come to any kind of solid view as to whether the Berkshire model (county council fell on its own sword to create six unitary councils) or the Cornwall model (districts were subsumed into one council for the whole of the county) or variations on those themes would be best for local people.

However what I do know is that it won't be easy.

Setting aside the internecine struggles between various Tory factions in the county, what will make any reorganisation 'challenging' will be the legacy commercial contracts currently held by the various councils.

Do you remember how once upon a time, creating a contract culture was seen as a way of introducing agility and innovation into public service delivery? You know... rather than those awful Stalinesque 10 year plans for the monolithic public sector, what was needed was progressive commissioning culture with a variety of providers that would bring public services into the 20th/21st centuries...

But what do we have now? We have public services tied up in Gordian knots of large and small contracts that mean that whatever agility there was, has now given way to arthritis. How many local councils would dearly love to harness the full power of digital working but are weighed down by lengthy contracts with sluggish outsourced partners?

And the same will happen in this county when the structures are reviewed. I fear that what will determine the future will not be the democratic wishes of the people who elect and pay for these local government structures. Instead it will be arthritis in the joints between those structures and their commercial partners that will sway the business case one way or another.

And don't get me started on what needs to happen in policing. (That is probably for another whole blog!) It would be interesting to know, just how much was spent by the Scottish Government on early contract termination clauses as part of establishing Police Scotland... anyone know?

The plain fact is, one of the most significant 'drags' on 'doing more with less' in the public services is a Shard high stack of poorly negotiated & nonstrategic contracts that will take decades to unpick...

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