Dr Andy Johnston of LGiU Scotland reflects on the journey we’ve been on since we starting piloting the LGiU Scotland service back in September.
Today LGiU Scotland went live. This week marks the end of the free trial period – and most local authorities across Scotland are either already members or are discussing the cost of the service. When we set out we weren’t sure if our service would be needed or useful. Since then we have been pleasantly surprised at the positive feedback we’ve received and gratified to see so many organisations join.
Our first member was Shetland Islands Council. Soon afterwards we did a deal with all the Grampian local authorities to join en masse. In addition to local authorities, we have been gratified by the interest shown by other bodies such as the NHS and a lot of small charities.
A week ago the City of Edinburgh joined LGiU Scotland. I spoke to Andy Nichol, Members Services Manager, about why Edinburgh joined and how they hope their membership will develop. There were two main reasons for joining. Firstly, the cost was considered reasonable for a regular daily service that presented policy in an independent and neutral way with no obvious agenda. Secondly, there was a gap in provision and local authorities valued the timely nature of the briefings.
The main recipients of our service are senior managers and elected members, with the leaders and CEOs of most local authorities being avid readers. The challenge for new members is to work with us to ensure that all interested staff and Councillors have access. Andy has emailed everyone at Edinburgh who had already signed up to let them know that the council had joined – and has contacted all staff letting them know that the service is available and they should sign up.
As part of the membership fee, LGiU Scotland will be running free regular policy events. We are keen to know what topics these events should cover but also how they should be delivered. The feedback from Andy was to recognise that there are already a lot of high quality events being delivered and to look for a niche. The sort of things we’re interested in are events around the country with a local focus and comprising discussions between members and officers. We are also interested in hosting informal ‘Chatham House’ sessions with leaders and senior Councillors. There was a feeling that webinars don’t really work, and that we should make the effort to go to local authorities.
In recognition of the changes sweeping through local government, Scotland, the UK and Europe it was considered important to encourage local authority leaders to get on the road and see what can be learned from others, then reflect their experiences locally. This might mean study tours followed up by dialogue between leaders and Holyrood. We are at the early stages of planning so any suggestions as to the best way we can operate would be helpful.
Beyond the big constitutional issues I asked Andy what big topics we should be covering. There were a lot, but the main topics seemed to be the election, the EU referendum, local government funding particularly in the light of the Commission on Local Tax Reform, empowering communities, changes to the number of Councillors in Scotland, the impact of the ‘City deals’, ensuring lean, agile and responsive councils through shared services and greater use of new technologies to provide the most suitable delivery channel for customer needs and make transactional savings. We appreciate that other local authorities will have similar but different priorities so please let us know. Having said that, we know a topic of interest for all is finance.
There is a very lively debate about financing local government in Scotland and there is also a tough settlement backed with some challenging penalties. There is a lot of disquiet, but deals will be done and local authorities will need information and support to help them implement the savings required, while simultaneously taking advantage of the opportunities presented in devolution deals.
This is an exciting time for LGiU Scotland. We want to visit all our members in the next few months, and start to build a programme of events backed up by the independent, authoritative information in our briefings. We would welcome the help of our present and future members.
You can check whether your organisation is a member here or sign up for our email bulletins here. If you’d like to ask about joining LGiU Scotland, or have questions about your membership, or just want to get in touch please drop us a line here.