Saturday, October 3, 2009

Brutal but Necessary

As you probably know am a County Councillor in Suffolk. The word here is of cuts in spending of up to a third over the next few years. Yes, I said a third. Very soon, we’ll be looking at a very different local authority. Delivering less. No longer about `doing things’ - but making sure they are done .

But just how will this gap between budgets and aspirations be bridged? Well, the talk is all about “social capital” – community self-help, mutual support and voluntarism. This is the headline strategy and there’s even a new cabinet portfolio in its name!

Sounds great. Yet can we generate enough of this vintage stuff in the digital, dissociative 2010s? Nobody truly knows but a sensible guess is that it will be no magic bullet, especially in areas where people don’t look at each other in the street, never mind help old ladies across the road.

So, on top, will be the tried and tested stuff - but this time turbo-charged! A pay and recruitment-freeze. A mass cull of expensive in-house people. And out-sourcing of traditional local authority mainstays such as schools, care-management and children’s services.

Enter the third sector. People, quite rightly, don’t trust the private megacorps to organize education and care. Their track-record is patchy. By contrast, charities and social businesses are trusted, have the right cost-base and draw in community effort. They have it all to play for.

It will all be very brutal. But there might be something better – and more financially sustainable – at the end.

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