Local government change - life after the map
The BIG Question 2016 asked 'does Welsh housing need to change to succeed?' With change inevitably coming to the way local government services are delivered, Steve Thomas had a lot to dig in to. Jon Barnes, marketing and communications officer, summarises the session.
It’s rare that a conference room unanimously agrees with something a speaker says, but yesterday I think Steve Thomas came the closest I’ve ever seen with: “Cuts, what do you think of it so far? Well, it’s a bit rubbish isn’t it.”
Whilst giving The BIG Question 2016 audience a comprehensive overview of the local government situation, and the potential for life after the map, Steve focused quite a lot on the challenging landscape of perpetual cuts that housing services are facing. The increasing shift of resources in to healthcare was stark – you didn’t need to be an economist to decipher a pretty clear graph showing consecutive cuts to LA budget and increases to health. Not that it’s missing the mark, we all know the Welsh NHS is under continuous, intense pressure. BUT what we also know is that housing interventions focused on prevention, keeping people in their own home, supporting people before they reach a crisis point is the name of the game. This continued resource drive however doesn’t compliment this approach.
Amidst the various graphs of doom there were positive messages. Housing is increasingly regarded as a core preventative service, with the case for investment growing all the time.
The opportunity to re-define how those services are delivered is certainly still available, with Mark Drakeford AM recently saying that existing councils may remain the ‘front door’ for people to access services, which may be delivered over larger regional areas behind the scenes. Steve, with a hint of optimism in his voice welcomed the Cabinet Secretary’s position of creating basically two types of local gov mappings. One based on more regional working and the other based around the health board boundaries where services would be aligned to the footprint which complimented delivery and outcomes for local populations.
(Jon’s handy guide to boundary changes: the new map that took us back to the old map might now be an old map with the old, new map being the map going forwards with an overlaid new, new map for services. Hope that clears up any confusion.)
Voluntary mergers of authorities still remain on the table however, with Steve saying that he wouldn’t expect to be talking about 22 local authorities in 10 years’ time. Steve’s message was that change is coming either way, and the opportunity is there for leaders to be a part of defining that through the consultation process.
Steve finished by saying that preventative services like housing can’t continue to take the brunt of all the cuts, asking what happens if, with health spending currently at 50%, we continue to leave it uncut; what happens to local government, and housing, with health spending at 55%, 60%?
The answer seemed to be to focus on providing the kind of value that can’t be ignored. Embracing housing’s role as part of, and advocating, the prevention, prevention, prevention agenda must be the way forward.