The situation Local Authorities find themselves in is a predicament with dire consequences and borders on unfix-able. Faced with the known challenges of year on year budget cuts, greater pressure and demand from the public, managing risk and conflicting priorities, and the influence and political nuances of the Members and their Parties we could almost feel sorry for those running Local Authorities.
Much is being done across the country by our Local Authorities to act more commercially. Ideas ranging from sales of consumer oriented goods, recycling schemes, leveraging IT&T infrastructure, consolidation of property and more, but one cannot throw a blanket across the nation and say 'be commercial' as there are far too many local and parochial variables to contend with.
Take a helicopter ride over a business, any business, what becomes clear is there are two main types of activity taking place. If we were to put these activities into buckets we would have; bucket 1 - 'business as usual (BAU)' and bucket 2 - 'projects'.
Bucket 1 - 'BAU' - in the context of local authorities is filled with the daily tasks that need to be completed to serve the community and run the business. From emptying bins to collecting rates, these activities must not stop and must meet demand.
Bucket 2 – ‘Projects’ - contains everything that starts as an idea or an imperative with a budget and a date to complete. Some projects start and don't finish, some start and run for ever, some start and finish way over budget and some never get off the ground but the issue is every one of these projects will either negatively or positively affect bucket 1, business as usual.
In my recent conversations with local authorities what does loom large as a common denominator in those authorities who are searching for and delivering a more commercial approach is that this cannot impede on 'business as usual'. This could be done though better project management, better understanding of financial information and better decision making processes but it appears the problem in being really commercial is more to do with 'mindset' throughout the authority coupled with a focus on the customer.
Without Local Authorities being able to clearly articulate internally why the business needs to be commercial, and therefore to build a plan with clear descriptions of the benefits and outcomes for the business, its customers and its employees this mindset will never shift.