Thursday, November 25, 2010
By Henry Kippin
Last night I was speaking at the mining institute in Newcastle at a roundtable discussing themes from LOCAL – a book my Dad and I published recently. The book is a mix of photography (based on an artist-in-residence period at Cumbria County Council), and text (an essay on local politics & identity), and the roundtable reflected a mix of interests in the photographic process, the politics of creating a piece of work like this, and its relevance to the current national and local political context.
Lots of discussion centred on the potential impact of spending cuts on the North East – impacts that no-one can really prejudge, but that most people felt would be socially damaging. Those asking “where is the growth strategy to get places like Sunderland out of the other side?” are asking the right question. This is where concepts like the big society and the 2020 Commission’s idea of social productivity must have practical impact. And it is precisely because the public sector is such a shaper of economic trajectory (the University in Sunderland, for example) that social productivity – which suggests a more active role for the state – is more likely to help people think through what happens next.
Back around the table, one participant commented on the ‘pace’ of the photographic content of the book – “feels almost rhythmic, like its own council logic of movement but inertia, meetings, decisions, problems, meetings, solutions, meetings…et cetera.” What he was getting at was that the pictures carry a sense of the banal, a sense that nothing changes in the machine of (local) government. Our book was created in 2009, before the current politics took shape. But I wonder if this is true now. Bradford council was reported to have sent every employee a letter warning that ‘their jobs are at risk of reduncancy’. This is hardly everyday – and we should be worried if it is the start of a new politics that considers jobs and people as collateral damage as budgets are quickly balanced.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
By Henry Kippin
A couple of good articles have emerged over the last week about the Total Place initiatives being piloted in 13 areas across the UK. This is for good reason – because they are potentially very interesting, but also because the deadline for reporting back initial findings (in advance of the PBR) is fast approaching.
Total Place was designed as a way of generating more substantive efficiencies within local area spending, but is also kicking off some innovative thinking on how to better marry up local resources with demonstrable local needs. Part of thinking in a more ‘joined up’ way, cutting across the traditional lines of demarcation for service funding and provision.
Vivienne Russell in Public Finance has written a good piece, capturing some enthusiasm for the pilots:
“…to have a quarter of a million pounds from the government to spend on thinking big things – but with the imperative of knowing we have to reduce our expenditure by 2011 – is a really positive opportunity…”
But her article also elicits some scepticism as to the real potential for transformational change, citing the inevitable entrenched political and policy interests. On the same day, the FT’s Nick Timmins published an interview with Cumbria’s Chief Exec Jill Stannard (whose team has successfully overseen the Counting Cumbria pilot), reporting a similar sentiment. She warns that “we are used to delivering traditional efficiencies…the difficult thing is transformational change – how do we work together with different agencies to reduce duplication?”
It appears that Total Place has already served a purpose in stimulating some deeper thought on ways in which public spending can be more efficiently allocated. And if the exercise throws us some obvious areas for efficiency gains, then it has fulfilled its stated purpose. Transforming embedded cultures and norms will indeed be harder – but as the article notes, “if we are going to have less money for public services, we simply have to find some way of delivering them better and at lower cost.” Total Place seems like a decent place to start.