Much has been said and written about Barnet councils emerging new approach, officially the ‘ Future Shape’ project, better known as ‘Easy Council’. I have talked to the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley, and the lead Director, Max Wide, about it and I agree with much of their analysis of both the scale of change needed in the years ahead, and the importance of a new relationship with citizens. I don’t believe that all councils are going to have to say ‘Barnet or bust’ in the way they approach the challenge, the great thing about localism is that council’s get to do it their way, to suit the needs of their own community. Learning from what others are doing is really important though, especially the councils like Barnet who are prepared to challenge the orthodoxy. To that end, here is the latest report on the project that went to the council this week and I would urge people to read it. I think these two key passages provide a quick insight into the thinking:
One of the key principles guiding the Future Shape Programme is to create a new relationship with citizens. This is to address the fact that satisfaction with local government is declining and citizens are expecting more personalised services and different forms of dialogue and involvement in public issues. Just continuing to do what we have always done is no longer an option; we have to do things differently to meet these challenges while at the same time ensuring that Council Tax stays at an acceptable level. Personalising and customising services in the future may therefore mean offering customers options to pay for additional value added services above and beyond the basic provision. It will also mean ensuring that the relationship between public services and citizens is one where they play an active part in helping one another to access the information and support they need rather than always relying on the state. Any future proposals to change the Council’s charging policies for services
Core to the new relationship with citizens will be giving our residents more involvement in public sector service delivery and delivering a more personalised response. To do this it is recommended that we utilise new technologies and tailor communications to increase the level of citizen engagement in issues affecting their local area and find ways to ensure that citizens can actively participate in the debates about the changes they want to see. We also need to be more effective in influencing people’s behaviours (for example in reducing waste) so they can play a more active role in helping us to deliver these changes. However, if we are really committed to personalising and customising services, we also need to be prepared to have conversations with customers about the kinds of additional services they would like to see and the value they would put on such services to see where there are opportunities for charging for services above and beyond basic provision.