‘Once in a generation opportunity’ to reset public sector, says UK local authority chief

By on 25/07/2022 | Updated on 04/08/2022
Picture of Edinburgh

The recovery from the coronavirus pandemic provides the UK public sector with an opportunity to rethink how services are delivered and provide greater joining up of provision, a local authority chief executive has told a Global Government Forum webinar audience.

Andrew Kerr, the chief executive of City of Edinburgh Council, said that the response to the pandemic allowed the public sector to “build on partnerships which were there, but which are now much more intensive”, and that the public sector should look at the lessons from the response before “replacing the barriers that were there before”.

He said that Edinburgh had “managed to use emergency powers, which allowed us to go around the inherent bureaucracy in the system”, and had “managed to get trust with our communities, and our third sector partners” through delivery.

“Community empowerment was right at the heart of almost everything we did right at the beginning of the pandemic – food banks were a really good example of those things that we created almost instantly to allow people to survive what at the time was a horrendous situation, and some extent still is.”

The Early intervention: how the public sector can work together to unlock prevention webinar, hosted by GGF, touched on the history of a number of UK local and central government initiatives, such as Total Place, Community Budgets, the Wigan Deal, and the Troubled Families programme. Kerr said that none of these experiments with a more devolved public sector had been sustained.

“Now, I’m arguing, is the time where we should use the fact that we’ve been in a really horrendous place to get better public service. And a better approach to public service… which builds on that which was already there.”

As well as urging public authorities to consider not replacing the barriers to effective action seen during the pandemic, Kerr also suggested the public sector maintain the often informal collaboration activities that developed during the health and economic crisis. He, for example, continues to hold an informal meeting every Friday afternoon with all local public sector partners. “We chew the fat about what we’re going to do next for the community. It’s not going to agenda, but it is about thinking through how we want better with our communities.” Click on the video below to watch this segment:

Another story of public sector collaboration was shared by James Binks, the assistant chief executive of Manchester City Council, who highlighted the work of Manchester around early intervention, building on the One Manchester approach:

Also during the webinar:

  • Grace Pollard senior policy researcher at New Local discussed the role of community power in helping early intervention projects
  • Alice Blogg from the webinar’s knowledge partner Iron Mountain set out the challenges that public sector organisations face in sharing data to collaborate and plan early intervention schemes; and how organisations can make better use of data as they move from physical storage to digital
  • Joe Fyans, head of research at Localis discussed how upstream prevention services had been lost in the debate about levelling up in the UK

Questions answered during the webinar session included:

  • Did the rest of the panel share Kerr’s optimism?
  • Is the UK public sector up for the challenge Kerr set out after the pressures of COVID?
  • How can digitisation help free up capacity for early intervention?
  • How can public sector organisations make sure community engagement is not just prioritising the loudest voices?
  • What are the practical steps to getting organisations thinking about providing services in a more preventative way?

Some of these questions are answered in the following video:

The Global Government Forum webinar ‘Early intervention: how the public sector can work together to unlock prevention’ was held on 23 June 2022, with support from knowledge partner Iron Mountain. You can watch the 75-minute webinar via our dedicated event page.

About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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