It wasn’t until I started drafting this post that yesterday’s events really sunk in. Thursday 9th June 2011 saw the UK’s first ever Green-led council start making formal decisions. We had our first cabinet meeting at Hove Town Hall.
The Green administration has been in power for roughly 20 days – the formal transfer didn’t happen until the annual council meeting of 19th May. Still we have managed to push some decisions forward in that time.
I’m especially pleased that we’ve been able to approve installing solar panels on up to 40 council buildings across the city. It’s the largest ever solar project in the city which will save a huge amount of carbon emissions, save energy and create new revenue to help offset the central government cuts to our budgets.
Other positive stories were a new vehicle procurement programme which will save the council money and reduce emissions from our fleet. Work is underway to welcome the Olympic torch to our city. We’re also seeking bidders to bring the vacant listed buildings at Patcham Place back into use. Full details on all the reports and decisions are online.
What several of these reports highlighted to me, especially with my Finance & Central Services portfolio, was the tensions between front and back office. The story of protecting frontline services is not always so clearcut. If our “back office” central services functions didn’t have experts on energy and procurement (for example) we wouldn’t have been able to save or generate money with some of the reports we approved. That money will be put back into services, frontline services. But if we only squeeze “back office” budgets it may be a short term saving for a longer term loss. Yet I don’t want to see frontline services reduced one inch.
What’s the alternative for what seems like a zero sum game at first glance? Twenty-odd days in it feels to me that we need to do things differently, and more efficiently. That can sound trite but it’s true and eminently possible. Look at how some companies such as Dyson or Apple leap over the rest. They’re by no means perfect but they chose to do things a bit differently and we have all benefited from their innovation either directly from the products or how they push others to up their game.
Local government is a different tale altogether – dedicated to service and the public – but that’s not to say we can’t innovate. Let’s see what we – residents, council staff and councillors – can achieve together.