Do councils face an identity crisis?

Zurich Municipal’s 2017 Senior Managers’ Risk Report, which examines changing attitudes about the role of the public sector in an era of austerity and commercialisation, has suggested that councils are facing an identity crisis.

While last year’s report illustrated the regional challenges and varying ambitions and appetites of local authority CEOs across the UK, the main shift in 2017 has been towards assessing the fundamental role of councils, the report’s authors say. There is growing discussion, and in some cases alarm, among council managers about how ethical and commercial priorities fit together within the climate of entrepreneurialism and growing public sector commercialisation.

These discussions are far from being resolved, the report says, adding that most local authorities are between cultures as they consider “jumping out of the frying pan (of austerity) and into the fire (of commercialisation).”


One step beyond austerity

The major change shown in the report from the previous year, is that some councils are now one step beyond austerity. While many are still cutting services to manage new funding realities, others are instead looking at employing new business models, investing in growth and basing their financial futures on new commercial activity.

One contributor gave voice to concerns about the balancing act this new direction necessitates, explaining: “The danger is if councils lose their moral purpose.” These fears are justified according to some contributors: “Local government is being vilified more than the bankers were!”

With this commercialisation, and the difficulties it has thrown up, comes a dawning realisation that despite the changes, it is essential that councils remain closely involved with the communities they represent. This is particularly important given the erosion of trust following high profile local authority failures.

Further commentary on the report and the report itself can be found here.


Addressing the issue

One local authority embracing the change is Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC), which last month welcomed a host of delegates and speakers from around the country to its Transforming Culture conference at The Gateway, Aylesbury, to tackle the complexities of culture change head-on.

AVDC embarked on their own change programme just over two years ago with a clear vision of becoming an efficient, commercial organisation with the ability to generate income to support its frontline services. The conference enabled AVDC to share its experiences with other councils and facilitate best-practice discussions among peers and industry experts.

Andrew Grant, Chief Executive of AVDC commented: “Transforming the culture of an organisation is no easy task, but it’s a challenge which many local authorities face. We put together this conference to share our experiences and provide access to the select group of speakers, from both the public and private sectors, who imparted their expertise throughout the day. I’m delighted the conference was a success and would like to thank to everyone who attended and took part.”



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