Blog – The Good Exchange looks back on The 2018 Local Government Association Conference

#LGA18: Funding and digital take centre stage at the Local Government Association’s annual conference

Held over three days in Birmingham in early July, the Local Government Association’s (LGA) annual conference and exhibition offered opportunities for delegates to engage in a range of sessions on how innovation and best practice can deliver the best local public services for our communities. Policy discussions were held on everything from housing, local government finance, health and social care, Brexit, devolution, children’s services, education and schools and local government transformation.

As expected, concerns around the level of funding being made available to local government was a hot topic. When Councillor Nick Forbes, Labour Group Leader and LGA Senior Vice-Chair, took to the stage on day one, he said: “At heart what we all want are empowered communities, individuals who are supported to live independent lives, and economies that support prosperity and inclusion… We’re here every day getting the basics right and standing strong in moments of need. But we carry out that role with increasing difficulty.” Elaborating on the financial challenges facing local government, he added: “Our new analysis shows that just to stand still, councils need an additional £7.8 billion by 2025. Only to stand still. To keep applying sticking plasters.”

The accumulative impact of several years of local government cuts is certainly being felt up and down the country. In fact, in our own survey of 201 corporate social responsibility (CSR) managers, 75 percent agreed that corporate and employee fundraising was becoming more important to their local community as a result of ongoing budget restrictions at central and local level.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP gave a speech in which he praised the work of local government and acknowledged the concerns regarding funding, stating that “our overriding priority must be to make the best use of resources available.” To this end, he moved on to the importance of modernisation, adding: “The smarter use of technology is also driving improvements and helping develop more efficient, targeted and responsive services. This has the potential to be genuinely transformative.”

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Local Government), Rishi Sunak MP, announced a new “Charity Digital Code of Practice” at the conference, backed by £7.5 million of government funding to help councils transform their online services. He spoke about how technology can transform public service – “Getting digital right has a huge impact – both saving people’s time but also saving our councils money” – and stressed that an understanding of digital in now essential at board-level; it can no longer just be the domain of IT departments.

Modern technology has much to offer for local government, with the potential to do more for less and create greater transparency. As the budget constraints facing local authorities show no signs of going away, it is vital that digital transformation is embraced.