Resilience? Don’t forget the workers

20 Mar 14

It’s not just the economy that needs to be resilient. Public services must be too, and this will require an empowered and engaged workforce

Chancellor George Osborne defined the national priority yesterday as he declared ‘this is the Budget for building a resilient economy’. Though the majority of his announcements were directed towards the private sector, the sentiment is just as vital for our public services and our communities.

Despite an upgrade in the growth forecast to 2.7%, an expected return to the pre-recession economic peak this year and a looming election just months away, the deficit reduction programme remains the top priority for the chancellor. With few policies offering a reprieve for local government, maintaining the resilience of local services will continue to be a challenge.

As such, the overriding message for public sector leaders was ‘more of the same’. It will be no surprise to anyone that budget cuts are still required, and expectations remain high to achieve further cost savings without adversely impacting public services. The chancellor reaffirmed his expectation that authorities maintain a council tax freeze.

Council leaders still face ‘a long road ahead’, and the enduring nature of the budget restrictions creates a renewed test each year. Councils have performed well, improving efficiency and adopting innovative ideas to modernise core services.

There is no let up in the pressure to realise yet more savings, and councils now face the dual challenge of ensuring recently introduced innovations remain effective, while identifying new opportunities to save. Against a backdrop of pay restraint, employee morale and empowerment has never been more important if this is to be achieved.

With no end in sight to budget cuts, innovation is essential to ensure local government can continue to deliver high quality services. Maintaining new initiatives will require long-term support – through high quality and skilled talent as well as adequate infrastructure.

Council leaders must not neglect the operational changes they have already adopted as they shift their focus on to new areas. Creating the foundations for long-lasting change requires an engaged public sector workforce and it’s this that will ensure councils can manage long-term risk and deliver more resilient local services.

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