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May 9 2013

Innovation offers solutions to Councils’ financial plight

The London Government Association (LGA) have warned today that non-statutory Council services will be decimated if significant further cuts are made to council budgets (bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22454459). The LGA Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell has described it as a “mathematical certainty” that there will be cuts to local services. It is predicted that libraries, sports centres and museums could be closed, that road potholes will go unfilled and street-lights turned off.

There is no doubting that local authorities are indeed facing a period of unprecedented financial pressure. Difficult decisions have, and will continue to be made. It requires local authorities to find new ways of working to continue to deliver essential high quality services to citizens whilst making savings.

Our work with Nesta, the independent charity that helps bring great ideas to life by providing investment and mobilizing research, networks and skills, demonstrates how innovation offers local authorities the opportunity to address this funding challenge. Their Creative Council programme sees six councils from across the country provided with a grant to implement radical innovations that address a long-term challenge affecting their area.

In Derby, taking an innovation led approach has seen Children’s Services develop a bespoke package of support for looked after children with the aim to raise aspirations. In Stoke, they are pursuing the goal of becoming an energy sufficient working city by taking control of local energy supply. Whereas in Monmouthshire their ambition is to fundamentally shift the behavioural norms of their civil servants by changing the way in which cultural change is supported.

Each of these programmes of work offer the opportunity to explore how establishing new ways of thinking, at the heart of service design, can help to redefine the role for the local authority, and the nature of its provision. Showcasing the Creative Councils such that others can be inspired, and learn from their endeavours is therefore vital. You can find out more by visiting www.nesta.org.uk.

We are working with each of the Creative Councils to provide strategic communications advice that will support their innovation become reality and to have genuine impact on their target communities. We are challenging the ways these local authorities think about the role of communication, the management of their relationships with both internal and external audiences and the need to shape their messages accordingly.

We’re confident that if local authorities can indeed embed radical new ways of approaching their statutory and non-statutory duties then councils can not only protect, but expand the quality and quantity of the services they provide.