Local government shown 'four futures' vision
Capita paper outlines possible 'scenarios' for local councils' role
A paper presented at the recent Socitm conference has set out four prospective future scenarios for the role of local government a decade ahead in 2022.
The scenarios, envisioned by Capita in a document called 'Planning into uncertainty', discuss whether a mood of localism will continue; whether there will be a centralising retrenchment; whether local government will be given more powers and a wider remit; or whether that remit will be gradually chipped away.
In 'Future One', which looking back from 2022 visualises a centralised and growing role for local government, the scenario discusses the trend of action and control given to local authorities and through them to central government.
The document suggests that an imaginary Local Public Service Act of 2017 could introduce the concept of 'local government oversight' - giving local authorities immediate formal powers to scrutinise any and all public services within their locality, with the act suggesting that by 2018, local authorities would be required to sign off the budgets of their local service partners to say that opportunities for closer working had been maximised.
The document suggests that while local authorities have considerable power over services now, by 2022, they would have little choice over direction, with each government department writing an 'Annual Outcomes Statement' for its area of remit, setting out specific targets for outcomes in each locality.
In effect, the scenario suggests, local government becomes the head office of a local public service conglomerate and will require the characteristic of needing to be exemplary at performance management, translating national policy into local action, with the most effective councils being the ones best able to lobby central government departments regarding what should be in nationally set objectives.
Resources will be constrained, meaning that authorities will benefit from being able to tap into private sector scope and scale economies.
'Outsourcing partnerships with flexibility built in will be key, as local authorities seek to integrate and bring synergies across their new domain. Such agile, relationships and strategic service partnerships will be a real as long as they deliver well. Underperformance will not be tolerated.
'There will be a compelling case for back office centralisation within the locality, but extending this beyond the boundary may be seen as too great a risk.'
The other future scenarios predict the idea of a localised and growing remit for local government, a 'smaller spider, bigger web' characterised by spun-out mutuals from councils and health services; a localised, declining role as local government is bypassed; and a centralised declining role on the back of 'national commissioning' featuring milestones that include 'the accelerated move of schools from local authority control' and 'the success of Universal Credit, which paved the way for greater national centralisation of local authority processes.'
According to Capita's market director Jonathan Flowers, the most likely scenario is that each one will happen to some extent. The shift towards alternative providers for some services is being encouraged with leisure and libraries heading towards the community-based world of 'smaller spider, bigger web.'
"What that adds up to is that local government won't be faced with the difficulties of one of these worlds - it may be faced with all four, to some extent," said Flowers.