This week C.Co will be attending the Rural Services Network Annual Conference and I will be speaking at the event on Wednesday on the alternative delivery models in local authorities.
Having worked with a great number of rural local councils over the last few years we know that their challenges can be an even more magnified version of the austerity measures that all councils have been facing – driven by a range of circumstances from the unfair gearing of the local government finance settlement through to the additional costs of delivering services to sparsely populated areas.
However, such challenges have meant that many of these councils have moved quickly and taken necessary measures to meet them head on, and with a great deal of success. By really delivering a truly local service and by understanding their residents, and what it special about their area they have been able to adjust their operating models to reflect a much more agile way of operating.
Yes, they have had to take some tough decision and either reduce or stop the direct delivery of services, but sometimes this is the right decision, especially where it involves enabling the community to deliver for itself.
Rural areas will always have their own specific challenges, whether it is about connectivity, transport, housing or growth. They have also had to be flexible and adaptable about how they will deliver services and who they will work with and where. Sharing services with other authorities has become the norm but further ‘out of the box’ and cross border thinking needs to be applied. Not just looking to their nearest neighbours, especially in those services that are not reliant on physical geography. Many smaller districts have also had to re-think their relationships with their county cousins. This is a relationship that in many areas has been looked at with suspicion and a ‘take over’, but when handled sensitively and with trust can genuinely add value to both organisations. For the district, they have a partner of scale and resilience and for the county they have an organisation that has a closeness to their community and can manage and prevent demand.
Capability to think differently in delivering services in a different way is critical to all local authorities, and this goes for both staff and politicians. Staff must have the skills and capabilities to deliver the new requirements, as well as the motivation to do so. Politicians, as well as needing the capabilities and motivation, also have to provide the opportunities and environment to allow ideas to flourish. In rural locations, by the nature of their sparse populated areas, finding, and then retaining, enough people to deliver these changes can be a challenge. However, we have seen many examples of this working well and the key to this is two-fold, it is about harnessing those people with a genuine belief and passion for their location, and then giving them the chance to make a real difference and rewarding them for doing so.
One thing we can be sure of is that the future is uncertain, but whatever it holds I am sure we will continue to see rural authorities developing innovative solutions that are focused on genuine social value and the needs of their local communities.
To find out how we can support your Authority contact us at SpeakToUs@WeAreC.Co