I’m on the train home after a great few days at the LGA conference in Manchester. Apart from slight RSI in my hand from all the tweeting (!) I’m buzzing with ideas and energy from hearing so many great examples and ideas, and from meeting so many passionate people.
I was particularly struck by the different atmosphere and tone at this year’s event. Unlike at some other conferences in recent years, I haven’t left feeling slightly depressed by the relentless pressure on local government and the public criticism of its efforts. Instead there was a sense of acceptance about the financial position of the sector. Even though we might wish it were different, there was a lot less grumbling, and instead people are focused on doing what local government does best – getting on with it. And as someone I spoke to said, this is even leading to a bit of competition – so many councils are showing they have not just responded to the challenge but seized it as an opportunity, and this is raising the bar for other councils. The financial position for the sector is undoubtedly tough, but it’s also freeing up authorities to be bold and innovative, and for them to show just how much they can do with even less.
Another key message I took from the conference was about integration. Even though much of the national rhetoric and emphasis is on shared services, this isn’t where the need is. We haven’t cracked partnership working, and this was articulated most powerfully by Louise Casey’s honesty about how the sector (herself included) has failed so many families by not joining up services, and by not really understanding the root causes of their problems. There have been many attempts to work more closely together across the public sector over the years, and community budgets are just the latest incarnation, but until we address it to the extent that the whole health, social care and wider support system is integrated around the individual, there is much, much further to go. There are some great examples of authorities and their partners making real progress in this area, but it reminded me yet again that this has to be the focus for making public sector money go further.
So thanks to everyone who shared their ideas, successes, failures and plans – as soon as I get over my tweeting-induced injuries I’ll start putting my new ideas into practice!