Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Breaking out of the Bunker

In the last few weeks I have had a growing number of conversations with local authority leaders, CEO’s and officers interested in outsourcing. Driven by financial constraints local authorities of all political denominations are looking at social enterprise with renewed interest. What strikes me is how little they are able to talk to each other, their peers or anyone really, about their plans. There are often good reasons for this silence, such as due process and press management, but the result is folk making some very daunting decisions with minimal support or access to experienced advice.

Since SEL has set up the Transitions training which gives local authority staff that want to set up as standalone service providers advice and support, each session has been heavily oversubscribed. In fact we haven’t got any places left on the program until the 31st January which gives you some indication of the demand. Our consultants are all out and about meeting with local authority managers, and again one is struck by the innovative thinking that is being adopted by some boroughs, and also how hard it is for them to gain a sense of being part of a growing movement.

Well having just come from yet another bunker, full of lovely people doing their utmost to “ac-cent-uate the positive and e-lim-inate the negative” I am here to report that other than the handful of boroughs touting the line “War, what war?” the vast majority are planning to outsource a significant number of services. You cannot predict which boroughs by their politics, nor can you predict which services, I have been surprised on both counts. But this year is going to see a fundamental shift away from direct provision which in my view will dwarf the changes we saw after the introduction of Compulsory Competitive Tendering.

My hope is that as folk start emerging into the light they will be reassured by the company they keep, and in the meantime I at least can say, “you are not alone.”

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