Rashik Parmar, Commission on the Future of Local Government and President of the IBM Academy of Technology said:
As we near the second Commission meeting I wanted to share some of my perspectives on the Future of Local Government. My aim is to initiate a conversation about the historical value of local government and future needs.
In my business we increasingly recognise the lowering the centre of gravity and leadership to the local level. Effective and efficient operation at the point of service provision is critical for client success. Local authorities have a vital role in providing leadership at a city or geographical level. At IBM we have started talking in terms of local government being the glue that binds disparate parts of a city and generates local and global value. We like to think of local authorities as being the thread that connects the pearls and transforms them from individual units into mutually supporting entity with significantly great value.
This clearly evokes a strong local leadership role for local government and in particular, elected members. It is also a highly challenging role in a world where power is, arguably, more diffused and realities much more complex and hidden. Where thirty years ago a councillor could walk through their ward and see the ‘reality’ of a place (the industry and jobs) this now seems more difficult in a broadly service based economy. This is further complicated as value is in the “digital space” which requires a different lens.
One of the challenges and great opportunities I see is the way in which local leaders harness technology and the digital world to engage citizens and understand this modern world. Using technology creatively allows us to see the world differently and, perhaps, in a more joined up way. I wonder how we can guide leaders to make the most of this? Is it appropriate for local authorities to use information posted in social media sites to plan policies?
I also think that local government could do a better job of articulating its added value. Apart from its traditional role of delivering and commissioning services, local government is a galvanising force. Local government has democratic legitimacy. As imperfect as this may be, it still has the right to shout about its role in ensuring the success of an area, both socially through its local communities and economically, with its businesses. Competition is of course no longer local. Competition can come from any city around the world and services can be provided to any city around the world.
The final thought I had is around the role of local government in austerity and, again drawing on the idea of local government as a strategic leader and galvanising force, but looking globally for different ways of addressing this challenge. In New York, for example, Mayor Bloomberg, whilst making cuts to the public spending, ensured he gave the city a buffer by creating a portfolio for investment. In Leeds the City Council has created a £5m Business Growth Fund which, it is hoped, will perform a similar role. This, for business, is crucial in ‘racing’ a recession, rather than chasing it. There is so much evidence that suggests those who race a recession come out of it stronger, and those who chase take longer to catch up.
I think these things all come together to illustrate what the Commission means when it talks about ‘civic enterprise’. It’s not just about local authorities behaving purely like businesses or businesses all becoming cooperatives. It’s about the added value we can all benefit from when we take good ideas from each sector and make these real by working together openly and efficiently.