With the spending review close upon us and an overwhelming need for fresh thinking in the public sector plain to anyone not within it the unanswered question is do the various bodies know what it is that they are trying to achieve?
Having been in enterprise support for almost 14 years I think that I have seen most of the various strategies designed to help boost enterprise. Unfortunately I am not impressed with much that I see. Economic Development is approached in an academic way more akin to a Planning Department than one designed to stimulate enterprising activity in an area. Most published aims and objectives in the local authority arena are identikit and fail the “Tippex test” – white out the county/district name and put in any other.
If there is no differentiation in tactics then the results will be broadly similar and yet it is almost impossible to get the relevant people to understand this. There are some notable exceptions however who have attempted a different approach and been regarded with a better than average result but these forward thinking authorities are all too uncommon – Suffolk County Council take a bow.
To me an Economic Development department should be tasked to understand what it is that motivates enterprise in their patch, find out where there is a real strength, seek to isolate local weaknesses and produce, tender and contract for an appropriate solution to their bespoke needs. Not radical perhaps but rarely seen. What is second nature in the private sector is anathema to the public sector. The fear of being different and the knowledge that there is no sanction for failure leads to a spiral of waste both in monetary terms and of opportunity.
So what should happen? We hear much about the Big Society which in turn must lead to Smaller Government. This is to be applauded but for this to happen we need Council officers and members with vision and backbone to make real changes. I want to see local authorities move away from the “transactional” approach currently seen to a “relationship” approach whereby trusted partners in the private sector are fully engaged to make a long term aim become reality. This a a real “win, win” situation but not widespread practice.
What we currently see in this sector are unrelated tender opportunities not forming any part of a long term strategy but instead driven by budget availability which are often won my what I would term as the “mercenary” tendency who write good bids, move in on an area but deliver appalling results before hoodwinking the next gullible authority elsewhere in the country. The time is ripe for long term relationships to be made by local authorities with organisations who have a great track record and will be around for the duration of the journey. I know of so many examples of tenders being won by companies who have failed in previous contracts but “due diligence” is not a phrase that I see when councils award contracts!
Where we see good practice the results follow and these are the areas performing better than everywhere else. The converse is also true; perhaps the only way to change the results is to change the people and methods – same activity = same results.
At NWES our mantra is that we always deliver and that is exactly what we do 100% of the time and yet past delivery is rarely a high scoring aspect in any tender. Make economic officers responsible for economic growth and if they do not deliver change them – this is what happens in the private sector and until it happens in the public sector my hopes are not high for the very areas that need innovative intervention.