This year’s 2018 Solace Summit was a three day event in Brighton for senior and influential local government leaders to network, learn and debate the most pressing topics in public sector. The focus theme was ‘Future Horizons’ and had particular emphasis on data, the place agenda, managing risk and financial sustainability.
As a Solace Business Partner, Agilisys was at the Summit to find out more about the burning issues that current and future local authority leaders are experiencing. Here are our top five takeaways:
1. It’s a difficult time to be a public servant
Speakers and attendees reflected that there had never been a more challenging time to lead in local government, characterised by the increasingly hard decisions they’re being asked to make. In response, many are taking a brave and bold approach to leadership, which is undoubtedly needed right now – but simply working harder and longer was not believed to be the answer. In the summer, it was reported by LGC that 59% of local authority chiefs and senior officers were working more than the 48 hours a week legally permitted. Margaret Heffernan, author of Wilful Blindness and keynote speaker at the Solace Summit, urged her audience to think twice before working longer hours, recognising that they need to preserve their effectiveness for managing the ethical decisions they have to make as leaders in public service: “You may think it’s heroic [to work longer]. The truth is it’s not effective and it’s dangerous.”
2. Financial sustainability is a key concern for most local government leaders
Jo Miller, in her final conference address as Solace President, outlined the “terrifying, inept, grossly unfair” impact of the government’s failure to plan ahead for sustainable public services. Speaking on behalf of Solace’s 1,800 public service members, the Doncaster MBC chief exec explained that lack of funding and a coherent plan beyond 2020 is creating a paralysis within local government. She stated the need for greater financial freedom for councils and talked passionately about the difficulties faced both by senior officers and frontline staff in the era of austerity.
3. Emerging technologies are seen as new solutions to tackling old problems
The complex business of delivering local government services is an ever-changing landscape. The technology architecture of a council supporting anywhere up to 700 services is vastly significant and whilst it was acknowledged that technology is not the answer to all problems, identifying the right technology solutions to support service delivery was front of mind. AI, robotics and data analytics were widely discussed as areas local government leaders are piloting, indicating that local government is looking to continue to accelerate innovation at a local and regional level by investing in new capabilities.
4. Local government is looking for new ideas
Attendance at the breakout sessions revealed that local government leaders are running out of ideas to tackle the really big challenges and are looking for fresh thinking to assist and support in helping to bring their visions to life. In some cases, this means looking for insight and advice from outside the sector and identifying ways for public, private and community partners to work together right across a ‘place’. LEPs have a key role to play in helping this collaboration and are largely responsible for bringing the industrial strategy to life at a local level, addressing the Grand Challenges as set out by the Government.
5. Social capital is a thing and local government is hoping to leverage it
Margaret Heffernan also highlighted the merits of ‘social capital’ and talked about the value and importance of it to help build trust, generate valuable connections and increase productivity. Local authority leaders talked openly about their commitment to generating real social value and reaffirming their purpose within communities. It was acknowledged that some of that involved taking a commercial approach to how local authorities operate and redesigning services that are not only fit for today but will serve citizens needs in the future.
The Solace Summit remains one of the flagship events in the local government calendar. Despite being asked to lead in increasingly challenging environments there was a distinct energy and commitment from senior leaders to make things better for the citizens they serve and build more resilient places for the long term.
For actionable insights from our transformation consultants who share experience of designing programmes that deliver lasting change, read our latest 'Rethinking digital transformation' article.