Members of the CIPFA C.Co team recently presented at this year’s Public Finance Live conference, which took place earlier this month, on how local councils can best prepare themselves to address the current unprecedented financial challenges they are facing.

With a focus on ensuring that councils are financially sustainable and delivering value for money, the discussion brought together practitioners and experts to explore how radical financial structuring can be undertaken and how services can be redesigned so they are fit for today and ready for tomorrow’s citizen needs.

Our Chief Operating Officer Natalie Abraham chaired the discussion, which was also attended by C.Co’s new Chief Executive, Michael McDonagh and Donna Hall, Non-Executive Director at C.Co.

Our C.Co representatives were joined by both the Leader and the Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, Councillor James Lewis and Tom Riordan, who shared some insights into how their team has devised and delivered many examples of best practice within their wide-ranging local framework for COVID management and recovery.

Michael McDonagh, CEO of C.Co, said,

“Over the last 12 months we have supported many clients, including Leeds City Council, to meet the challenges faced, including diminishing central funding, pressure on social care services and, not least, the impact of Covid-19 and the global pandemic.

“The public sector has responded brilliantly to the challenges, but the post pandemic environment will create perhaps even greater pressures on already strained services. Our role is to provide our public sector clients with pioneering solutions to the myriad challenges they are facing.”

The CIPFA C.Co presentation on ‘Future Councils’ highlighted how some of these solutions can be delivered.

COO Natalie introduced the session by talking about future councils aligning to the needs of local communities and being affordable. We can’t skirt round the financial pressures on local government, and the need to balance the books whilst having a robust medium-term financial plan to take us through the pandemic.

Councils need to be adaptable, and although local government has had a tough pandemic, they have responded amazingly to the challenges that were presented, in a set of circumstances that we never quite imagined would come together over a relatively short period. Local government should be very proud of itself and the sector, and how it’s contributed to the UK.

Donna Hall talked about different types of leaders; and whether that’s a chief executive, chief officer or a politician; and the need for brave leadership and for leadership that listens and considers change across the public sector and local government. This plays a pivotal role in drawing the public sector together.

Undoubtedly, where we see organisations being most successful is where they are able to join across the public sector and operate for the good of the broader public and the people they represent. And that is really important from a leadership perspective.

Listening to Leeds City Council’s achievements across local government, there are some themes which really resonated with all of us.

Councillor Lewis talked about cherishing and valuing staff and the importance of communication. It is really important to focus on staff and the C.Co team sees that all the time, with staff being pivotal to any change programme and to the future direction of councils.

Learning from a modernisation perspective

Our CEO Michael also chairs an adult social care business, whose staff, along with many other organisations, have been at the forefront of the pandemic, responding to increases in demand, changes in policy, etc. Michael commented,

“What we learned, from a modernisation perspective, was the need to be agile and to be able to respond to changing environments quickly and effectively.

“I know from my role in adult social care that the staff have been the single most important element of our organisation for a long time, but even more so, if that’s possible, over the last 18 months as we’ve driven through some very tough times.”

Tom Riordan and Councillor Lewis also talked about working across the broader public sector community and drawing resources together to benefit citizens and achieve better outcomes. They also spoke about ambition, and a restlessness about delivering change and improvement. Their ambition was built clearly on inclusive growth, and inclusiveness is incredibly important, as well as the health and wellbeing of the citizens, and safeguarding the climate.

Michael concluded,

“It’s important in any change journey and in any modernisation programme to have clarity of objective. That doesn’t mean that other things don’t matter, and it doesn’t mean that it’s not important to have good quality housing, transport, education etc. But it is important to have a focus and to be clear as an organisation where you wish to drive towards, and to have courage in your convictions to deliver a change programme.

“Change is difficult, but just because it’s difficult it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, and it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the effort when you get to the end. It’s important to lock into that. Things that are worth achieving are often difficult to achieve, and organisations should focus on that.

“So, from a C.Co perspective, what we see in the market around change and modernisation is really some fantastic outcomes and examples of collaboration and organisations working together. So, to echo what Tom said; there has been lots of good work done, but there’s still lots more to do. Importantly, we all need to recognise that we are all on the same side, and what this pandemic has shown us is that, by pulling together, we can achieve an awful lot.”

Talk to us to find out more about our Future Councils model.