In February, elected members from across the country gathered in Warwickshire for the annual conference of the Conservative Councillors’ Association. Cratus was at the conference in support of our client Merlin Entertainments, who are strengthening their relationships with local authorities.
Whilst the forthcoming General Election was referenced by various government ministers who attended the conference, it remains much of an irrelevance to many of the councillors present, who are focused on serving the communities who have elected them.
Of course we all have our views on who we would prefer to win May’s election, but does its outcome really matter to those of us with a passion for local public services? Whilst whatever party (or parties) form the next government will set the overall direction for where the UK goes between now and 2020, the reality is that whoever seizes the reins of power will be working within the necessity of austerity and an increasing consensus of local decision-making and community involvement.
Public services – and decisions about how they should be provided – are now largely being defined at a local level. This is something which no party (or combination of parties) in the next government will change to any significant degree. Localism is now the accepted norm, and it is only going in one direction.
And that is why, for those of us with a passion and interest in public services, the General Election remains much of a sideshow. Up and down the country, local council leaders are focused on setting their budgets for the next financial year and beyond: looking at new ways of providing public services and responding to the needs of their communities. This is happening irrespective of political colour: from strong Conservative authorities to the Labour heartlands. Innovation and enterprise is being seen across the land.
Since leaving the Chairmanship of the Local Government Association (LGA) in June 2014, I have served as the Executive Chairman of Cratus Communications: the public affairs agency specialising in local public services. During this time, I have seen from a fresh perspective how the expertise of the private sector can work with community leaders to improve the services provided to the public. There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all – and that is the beauty of truly local public services. They can be tailored to local needs, and an innovative private sector will carefully define their offer to respond to what is needed in each locality.
With the wall-to-wall coverage of the build up to the election campaign, you could be forgiven for thinking that local politics is on hold. Nothing could be further from the truth, although it is not local politics as we once knew it. Although a certain amount of tribalism still exists between councils of different politics, there is the refreshing sight of different political colours working together and sharing best practice, and drawing on the expertise of others. Crucially, they are quietly getting on with the job whilst national politics dominates the headlines.
Our clients – a range of private sector service providers – are building effective working relationships with all types of councils: helping them to deliver the best possible services for local residents. This is the future, and it will continue whoever wins the General Election in May. The momentum is too strong to stop it now.
Sir Merrick Cockell