It’s Time To Dismantle Local Authorities


Let’s dismantle Local Authorities. We should’ve done it ages ago and frankly, I don’t know why we still hold back.

In a week when Northamptonshire County Council acknowledged it faced an 18 million quid spending black hole, likely to balloon to 180 million over the next 2 to 3 years, it really is time to get radical. Council’s throughout Scotland are not immune from this kind of financial challenge of course. Clackmannanshire, North Ayrshire and the Highland’s neighbour Moray Council will all run out of reserves in 2 to 3 years if they continue to use them at levels planned during the 2017-18 financial year.

Cost cutting measures and some more complex schemes are devised and then expensively implemented, only to deliver additional running costs to an administrative system already creaking under substantial load.

There’s a general move toward selling off Council assets which makes quite a lot of sense, but it seems very clear to me (an ordinary punter) that the time’s come for a really radical reconfiguration of how Local Authorities function.

Many, many office buildings can be dispensed with. Sold off to developers. Repurposed for community ownership and use. Flattened and turned into car parks.I can’t see why the majority of any Council’s highly bureaucratic work can’t be done by home-based operatives with lap-tops linked into a digital network. And before anybody says, “Great. Let’s devise and build a bespoke system to better meet Council’s needs…” No. That’s a No. We all know that’s not what’s needed. Big tech companies coming in to build unweildy dinosaur networks at eye-watering cost to the tax-payer. Over-complex networks that are redundant before they even start performing properly.

Why not meet in a field? I do…

What we need to do is use what’s already available – and free. It’s as simple as that. There’s a…don’t know quite what to call it…well, something close to an entire digital universe of platforms, interfaces, programs, open-source and free software, cloud capacity, security packages with more and better coming on stream every day. Where a pain-point exists, digital entrepreneurs will undoubtedly fill it, and fill it fast. The pace of digital evolution is picking up steadily. We think the last 30 years have seen mega-changes, but things are now moving faster

Torfaen Borough Council in Wales has a nice eco building…

than ever and the next 10 years will see a total transformation in how we live and work.

I find it peculiar that when I try to send a large file to the Council department I’m working with, I’m told they don’t accept downloads from the cloud. Why not? I’m baffled, and prevented from working efficiently on their behalf. It might possibly be that said department is not technically calibrated to perform the operation but somehow I doubt it. If it really is the case, that’s an appalling oversight given the millions handed over to Fujitsu in order to build the Council a bespoke digital capability. No, my best guess is that this is some kind of security sensitivity – and I just don’t get it.

For a start, all Council’s should be shit-hot on transparency these days. It’s shocking to look at the Sheffield Urban Tree Felling Debacle and see that plans for the furiously-resisted felling scheme were being ‘discussed’ in Council documentation a good 6 years ago. Arguably, although no Council wants to draw fire on early proposals, it would’ve been a heck of a lot better to have confronted all of the issues, to have let this cat out of its bag and faced objections, early enough to have changed tack relatively cheaply, or had a productive re-think. As it is, the clandestine nature of plan formulation recently exposed by the people Sheffield Council is supposed to represent may well result in said Council’s slow annihilation.

Energy networks and communication

Every day we use digital platforms and networks requiring us to log-in and identify ourselves, to describe the data we’re prepared to submit and limit its re-use, and

sometimes to allow our location to be determined. All of this easy-to-use technology could quickly and easily be put to use in the service of local public administration.

Working from home, securely located within the local administration’s network, the administration’s officials would organize their meetings in public spaces, even outdoors in the summer. This would support not only a high level of transparency but greater engagement with local communities, enabling the building of bridges of communication, fostering a sense of personal familiarity with locally accountable faces and names, breaking down the them-and-us barriers.

Remember dial-up?

Funds could then be targeted toward services that do require heavy real-world, physical provision. But for heaven’s sake, let’s not try to situate any of these in ancient building stock requiring expensive on-going maintenance, big heating and lighting spend and inefficient space provision. Sell those buildings, get rid of them, and let’s build small, warm, sustainable, low cost buildings instead, suited to the rapidly changing economic, political and environmental challenges we face today and will face for a long time to come.

A small, warm, up-to-date service point, where help with all digital services can be obtained alongside modest library provision, rentable computer terminals, an up-cycling workshop and a healthy-eating coffee shop trading to bring in council funds. I love this idea. I could play with such ideas all day, honestly I could, it’s like Lego for the mind.

I know him

But, talking of minds, I believe it’s some unhelpfully-dominant, dreadfully out-dated mindsets that need to be prised open and altered in order to get any big changes set in motion. It could all happen surprisingly quickly, with unexpected ease, and yielding very positive benefits – if the people in positions to instigate change, who just can’t seem to find the courage to do it, would simply step up and…retire.

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